By Connie Lechleitner, OCJ field reporter
When Huron County’s Howard and Jane Krikke were approached about starting a contract hog finishing operation, the first thing they did was sit down and run the numbers. The second thing they did was talk with their neighbors.
“Some of them had reservations, but most were receptive to the construction of the new hog barns,” Howard said. “Today, our neighbors feel like they participate in the farm. They seem to enjoy the traffic to and from the barns, and have become a ‘neighborhood block watch’ for us.”
The Krikkes’ attention to their neighbors and the environment is no accident and one reason why Krikke Pork has been chosen as the 2012 Pork Industry Environmental Steward Award winner.
“I think some of it comes from my having worked in industry, but also really its just common sense,” Howard said. “If you live in a community, you all have to get along. We knew that we wanted to do this right the first time, so we took our time planning it and working with everyone to make sure it was right.”
The Krikkes chose many aspects of their operation with their neighbors in mind. Their hog barns are located about a half mile off State Route 224 near Greenwich.
“We used a natural wooded area of about 30 acres to protect the barns to the south and west, which are the prevailing wind directions. This helps reduce the spread of any odors, Krikke said. “The barns are also oriented so that the tunnel exhaust fans are discharged into the surrounding wooded area, that uses the natural vegetation cover as a filter.”
In 2006, the Krikkes constructed two 2,400 wean-to-finish, auto-sort barns under separate ownerships. Among the features the Krikkes chose to include in their barns are tunnel ventilation, drop curtains, self-contained pits, flip-to-clean feeders and Integra-link feed tank monitoring.
Howard had served as a project engineer for more than 30 years for such companies as General Motors, Ford and Mayflower Vehicle Systems, and had farmed 1,000 to 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat part-time throughout his industrial career.
“When the opportunity to build contract hog barns came about, we took advantage of the chance to farm full time,” Howard said. “I had been through the economic downturn, and we especially felt it in the automotive industry. Raising pigs has allowed us the opportunity to farm full time by providing an alternative income stream.”
As the Krikkes were planning their hog barns, the engineer became intrigued by the technology involved in the auto-sort system.
“I appreciated the technology, but I also invested time in research and site visits,” he said. “That resulted in our decision to use the large pen design included in the auto-sort concept. I saw it as the optimal way to care for our animals.”
Howard felt it was important to purchase all of his equipment from the same manufacturer.
“It just fits together so much better and I feel like I get synergies from having the equipment from one place,” he said. “Plus if I have any issues, I only have one call to make.”
The Krikkes said they waited to purchase later technology with their auto-sort system that has resulted in more consistent performance. The auto-sort technology is introduced to the young pigs through a low-stress training program the Krikkes have developed. “We’ve learned that pigs from the auto-sort system load onto trucks much easier, are at a much lower stress level and the loading process only takes two people,” Howard said. “We can load a truck in 40 to 50 minutes.”
The Krikkes walk through their pigs each day. Jane Krikke especially enjoys working with the smaller pigs, which enter their facility as weanlings at three weeks of age and 13 to 15 pounds.
“Howard contracts with me to service his younger hogs, and I contract with him to handle my larger ones,” she said.
The synergies continue in the farm’s manure management system. Each barn has an eight-foot deep self-contained pit under it. The pits are designed to hold a full year’s worth of manure, which is applied in the spring.
“We chose the pits instead of a lagoon for safety and security reasons,” Howard said. “The pit covers are forklift-removable concrete slabs that a person or persons can’t move, preventing accidental entry.”
The lids also prevent rainwater from entering the pits. The Krikkes also worked with the Ohio Department of Agriculture to develop a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, which allows the farm to incorporate manure into nutrients for the corn and soybean crop.
Immediately adjacent to the two hog barns, the Krikkes own 400 acres that are systematically tiled. Each spring, the manure is custom applied through a dragline operation utilizing an Aerway applicator.
“The pits are stirred prior to manure application, and we take manure samples for nutrient evaluation,” Howard said. “We installed shut off valves and pump out features in all of our tile mains. The manure is applied to corn ground, which is then rotated to soybeans. The manure provides 80 % of the nitrogen, 50% of the phosphorus and all of the potash required by the corn and soybean crops.”
The Krikkes monitor ground water during and immediately after manure application, and soil grid sampling is conducted every three years as required by their Comprehensive Nutrient Management Program (CNMP). The application of manure as fertilizer has helped the Krikkes realize a 30% reduction in fertilizer costs in a two-year corn-soybean rotation.
The farm also uses minimum tillage for corn production, and soybeans are planted in no-till to maximize soil conservation and minimize equipment labor and energy use.
After the manure application on corn, the Krikkes perform a tillage operation that includes incorporating any bulk-applied phosphorous, with herbicides applied at the same time.
“This reduces any drift potential and runoff into the surrounding areas,” Howard said. Corn planting also includes the addition of any needed nitrogen. Planting in just two passes over the field minimizes traffic soil compaction. The farm uses crop rotation as well as seed coat technologies (above and below ground genetic traits) to manage pests. No additional soil-applied insecticides are applied to their corn.
In the soybean fields, any needed fertilizer is applied prior to the preceding corn crop and incorporated into the tillage operation to minimize phosphorus run-off. Seed treatment protects against soil-borne pests during germination and the initial growing stage.
The Krikkes also use grass waterways, a wooden weir structure at a railroad culvert and natural water retention features to reduce erosion and protect the environment. The farm follows setback requirements specified in the CNMP.
Through the use of their farm’s hog manure, the Krikkes have observed improved soil health.
“I’ve seen an increase in earthworm populations, reduced water run-off and improved soil tilth,” Howard said. “We have silt, clay and loam soil and the manure helps water infiltration as well as soil health.”
With a natural water recharge adjoining their facility, the Krikkes situated their hog barns so that all run-off water from roofs and driveways moves through grassy waterways and below ground through 15-inch tile. The wells that supply the barns tap into this natural feature. With 80% of the water used in the buildings reapplied to the surrounding farmland as manure, the majority of the water reenters the ground water table.
The Krikkes’ neighbors have been supportive of their operation.
“One neighbor commented that if all animal units were built like these, there wouldn’t be any complaints,” Howard said. “We always communicate with our neighbors when we will be spreading manure in the spring, and many times they tell us they really don’t even notice.”
Adjacent neighbors receive a gift package of pork between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year from the Krikkes, as a small way to say thank you.
“The gift package is really well received, and some of our neighbors tell us this is the best meat they get all year,” Howard said. “This also gives us a minimum of a yearly contact and the opportunity to address any issues or concerns. We get as much enjoyment giving the packages as the neighbors seem to have in receiving them.”