Donnie and Rhonda Miller who live south and east of Pulaski eventually went into the hog business after American Welding and Tank closed in 2009.
Donnie had put in 21.5 years at AWT when the industry closed its doors.
“I was used to a steady paycheck,” he said. “That put the clamps on quickly.”
Though the couple had row crops and raised cattle, they decided to make up for the lack of a regular paycheck by building a hog confinement facility in 2013.
“I didn’t want to build a second facility until I knew I wanted to do this,” Donnie said, “but by 2016 I was ready to construct a second building.”
Those buildings now house 2,480 weaned pigs each. The Millers get the pigs at 10-15 lbs. and feed them for JBS until they reach 260-280 lbs.
Both buildings are on the same rotation and finish out a total of nearly 5,000 pigs every five months.
Donnie is the main caretaker of the pigs, but for sorting and loading, the whole family — Donnie, Rhonda, and sons Ryan and Jason — all work together.
Both boys are out of high school and living at home. Jason helps with the field work, cattle, pigs, and has a prize-winning goat herd.
Ryan works at Troy Elevator and helps in the evening when he can.
Donnie says there are advantages to working with a corporation such as JBS when raising pigs.
“The company guarantees so much pay per month for a certain number of pigs,” he said. “If there is a loss, it doesn’t affect our pay. They trust us to give the pigs the best care that we can.
“We had no problem getting a contract for our second barn as they knew how well we had taken care of the first barn full of pigs,” Rhonda said.
The Millers get their hog feed out of Hedrick all ground and ready to go. “We just call JBS and tell them we need feed, and within 48 hours it arrives,” Donnie said.
Though JBS takes care of most of the bookwork, Donnie does keep some records related to feed and water intake.
It is up to Donnie to regulate the temperature in the buildings and respond quickly to any alarms that go off.
For example, at 2 a.m. Friday, Donnie said he received an alarm phone call from one of the barns. He went to the barn and found a curtain had dropped and the temperature was affected.
“Sometimes the alarm goes off if the water pressure is too low or a feed bin runs out,” he said.
The Millers said they haven’t had any problem with disease. They change clothes and boots as they go in and out of the barns to prevent the spread of disease, but don’t shower in and out as some do.
Donnie and Rhonda said their pig operation is more time intensive when they get in 5,000 new baby pigs. “Then it takes a couple of hours work in the morning and another couple of hours in the evening,” Donnie said.
“With a good, healthy group it takes less time because there are fewer shots to give,” he said.
Later on, when the pigs reach about 100 lbs. each, Donnie’s investment of time decreases to about one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.
When it comes time to give preventative vaccinations, the Millers seek the help of five Amish neighbors. “We have a system and it takes us about five hours to do 5,000 pigs,” Donnie said. “They’re a good crew and know what they’re doing.”
Comparing the time invested in pigs versus cattle, Donnie and Rhonda are grateful they don’t have to fight Mother Nature in sub-zero temperatures with their hogs as they do during the calving season. The hog barns are kept at about 60 degrees during the winter and are cooled in the summer.
When it is time to market the pigs every five months, the entire family works together to ship them off to JBS in Ottumwa or Beardstown, Ill.
In addition to caring for the pigs, Donnie has about 35 head of cows and Ryan has 25.
Jason usually takes care of the goats himself, but does call for help from Donnie during kidding time and when he travels to goat shows in the summer.