#3 Gary Dial – Founder of Aberdeen Farms and Truebridge Foods
Gary Dial Podcast Transcript
Neil Dudley: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Pederson’s Natural Farms podcast. We’re so excited you’re here. We look forward to sharing all about this beautiful industry of better-for-you food, meat, protein. We call the podcast the Pederson’s Natural Farms Podcast Powered by Protein because we’re going to talk all things bacon, sausage, ham, consumers, customers, vendors that support our business, employees that make us what we are, and peers, people that are in the industry competing for your attention and your dollar. And we think that’s healthy and we’re proud of them, so we want to share about them as well. Thank you so much for joining us. Be sure you tune in, don’t tune out, and remember, grab life by the bacon.
Hey everybody, thanks for joining another episode of the Pederson’s Natural Farms podcast. We’re really excited about our guest today. His name is Gary Dial. Well, I’m going to let him tell you all about what his kind of career has been, where his expertise lies, his companies, and get you guys some insight into pigs, raising pigs, finishing pigs, all those things that you do. Gary, thank you for your time; thanks for doing this. Hi, everybody out there on YouTube. We’re filming this stuff so we can put it on YouTube and get people that are paying attention to that platform a chance to hear about what I think is a beautiful industry, a really awesome piece of our agricultural economy that, Gary, you have intimate longtime knowledge of. And so, let’s explore that knowledge and get it to the people.
Gary Dial: Okay. Happy to do that.
Neil Dudley: Awesome. So first off, what are your companies? What is it that you do? What even brought you to this industry? I know you were a professor for a while. Tell us just a little bit about your background.
Gary Dial: Well, I grew up on a farm in central Illinois. It was my dad and his two brothers and grandfather. It was an integrated farm with the backbone of it being pig production. And when I grew up in the Midwest, you could drive across to Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and you saw these beautiful farms with big barns and integrated crop production where they produced corn, and they produced wheat, and they produced oats, and they produced everything that a pig would eat. And they took the byproducts from the pig, the manure, and fed it back to the land. And that was my background. And I loved that lifestyle where a family could make a living just off the land. They always had to have it integrated. They couldn’t have monocultures of corn or soybeans like they do now. But to be able to feed their family and make a living, it had to be integrated. So, they had crops and they had livestock. As I went through veterinary school and on through my career, those farms started disappearing, and agriculture increasingly had become integrated, leaving very little opportunity for independent farmers. So as a veterinarian, that bothered me. I didn’t like necessarily going to these large, big corporate farms as a veterinarian. I liked working with independent farmers. After I finished my veterinary degree and my graduate degree in animal science, by the way, I spent about 20 years as a professor, training veterinarians, American veterinarians and some Canadian and European veterinarians about pig production. And I had my 20 years full of that. I loved that time, but I felt like that to have an impact, I needed to have more firsthand knowledge of how to raise pigs myself. And so, I started working for large scale pig producers in the US, either in the Midwest or in the Southeast, learned a lot about the economics of pig production. I learned a lot and picked up a lot of financial tools and business management tools. But I felt still unfulfilled because as I worked with those large farms, there’s a part of it that was missing. Or really, two parts were missing. And one of the parts was it left out the independent farmer. Anybody that worked for those large integrated systems worked for them. They didn’t work for themselves. Also, as I walked through barns, I felt like we’d lost a little bit in terms of that relatedness between the husbandry man or woman and the pig. And so, after picking up that experience of large-scale production, I left that industry, went to Europe, and I spent a lot of time in Europe, understanding different production technologies and different approaches. The Europeans at that time, and probably still to this day, are much more progressive in terms of animal welfare. And so, I went there learning their production systems. I went there to learn their equipment types and use of their equipment. And I amalgamated that information I picked up from Europe and brought it back here to the Midwest and tried to integrate a European style production system in with the type of business activities and tools that we have in the US. And so, our business now is centered around raising pigs in what I would call a socially responsible fashion.
Neil Dudley: Awesome. And for all those people that are familiar with Pederson’s and what Pederson’s does, I want to paint that picture a little bit that Gary, his team, the people that work for Aberdeen, Truebridge, those people, the partners we have, in this particular set of episodes, you guys are kind of falling within what we’re calling vendors, because you help us manage our farms and then help us source other pigs or really carcasses and pigs that we want and need to keep putting out the bacon, sausage, and ham that we think- Well, we are only able to stay in business because people want to buy it and eat it. And it fulfills what that consumer’s looking for. So just so everybody knows, that’s the role that Gary and his team play for Pederson’s. You guys help us source quality pork that meets the standards we want.
Gary Dial: We like that role. We like to focus on the live side. We like being able to take a premium [inaudible 6:11] product to market. We like being able to walk through our farms and look at our pigs and feel like we’re doing right by the pig.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. Now, out of all the listeners, I’m going to guess there’s very few that have ever actually been on a farm, and I’ve not done it a lot. The truth is it’s dangerous to go onto a farm, right? Because humans will carry disease and sickness into the farm. So just to paint the picture for everybody, for me, the one time – well, I’ve been a couple of times – but you take a full shower before you go on the farm, you put on totally different clothes on the other side of the shower, you go to the farm, you totally shower out. What’s that all about?
Gary Dial: Well, pigs are susceptible to many of the diseases that humans have. And in fact, if you look at the Coronavirus that has a lot of visibility throughout the world today, all of them have been derived from the coronaviruses in humans. And the same thing with influenza. Influenza is a common disease in humans. It can affect pigs. And most of the, some of the diseases, not all of them, but some of the diseases that pigs have, have a human source. And so, we’re very concerned about what we call biosecurity, trying to keep humans from transmitting diseases into our pigs. It’s really not a concern of pigs transmitting their diseases to humans as much as it is the disease is going another way. So, if you go onto one of our farms, you’d shower in and shower out, what we say. So, you’d shower into the facility, you’d change into our clothes, you’d wear gloves and a mask, and you walk around an environment that some would say our farms are as clean as somebody’s kitchen. We try to keep our farms very clean because we want the workers as well as the pigs to be in a nice environment.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. Now Jim says pigs are some of the cleanest- I think consumers won’t necessarily picture pigs as being clean, but I’m interested in your take. Jim will say it like this: You know what, pigs go to the potty in the potty place. They play in the play place. They eat in the eating place. Is that right?
Gary Dial: Well, if you look at pigs, pigs, don’t have sweat glands. And so, if you keep pigs cool, they’ll stay clean, very clean. But if you don’t provide them with a pen that’s designed so that they have the different functionaries, if you look at a typical pen for our pigs, there’s going to be a kitchen where they go and they eat. And they don’t like to have fecal material and urine in their kitchen. They’ll have a nest that they go to, which is bedded. And they don’t like to lay, like cows and horses do, they don’t like to lay in their urine and feces. And so, if you look at the typical pen we have, there’ll be a sleeping area or bedroom if you will, that’s usually a nest, then there’ll be a kitchen with the feeding equipment and water equipment. And then there’s a dunging area or communal area where the pigs go out and exercise. And that’s where they do their bathroom habit.
Neil Dudley: Yeah. Man, there’s just- so that’s just a great kind of place to start. And I want to- let’s maybe jump back a little bit and talk about the kind of mission of what you do or the things that got you to say, okay, I’m going to build a business, like I want to make sure- We were talking on the phone, and you told me something like the reason you do it is you want to make sure the pigs have the right kind of life and treatment, etc., and some other things. Do you have that on the top of your head?
Gary Dial: Yeah, I do. I always have that in the top of my head. Everybody, not everybody, but most people in life have a mission, an objective of what they want to do. And a lot of people in leadership positions, they want to have impact. And so, I haven’t spent a lot of time worrying about my impact on common social issues that our society has, except for the one about animal welfare. The big passion that my team and I have is trying to figure out, over time, better ways to produce pigs in a friendly environment. We want our pigs comfortable. And what we’ve found is that as we made our pigs more and more comfortable, we found that the people working on the farm are more and more comfortable in such a way that we don’t have problems getting people to come and work on our farms or stay once they’re there because they know they’re going to come in an environment that is clean. They’re know they’re going to come in an environment where the animal welfare is a top concern. And over time it changes their attitude in terms of how they view the pig. So, what we want to do is first of all, we want to develop a production system that would have impact on society through how animals were raised. And so, we tried to take a model and develop it and over time evolve it. And so, we’re getting better and better at taking care of the pig. Now, our type of production system is not the old-fashioned production system where sows are outside on alfalfa, up to their bellies and they farrow outside in nice environments. We don’t have that possibility in the upper Midwest because of our weather. It’s either too hot in the summer or it’s too cold in the winter to have those outdoor based systems like some people can have in the South. So, what we’ve tried to do is develop barns that allow the pigs to exhibit some of their natural behaviors and do the things they like to do, like rooting and laying around and touching each other and living together in a herd, in a community. Our facilities are designed like that. And so, in addition to the animal welfare, we wanted to be able to produce meat that tastes good. We wanted a high-quality product. We wanted people to come and take our pork chop and look at the collar and look on the marbling, the fat dispersed in the muscle, and we want to look at that and say, boy, I want to eat that pork chop, or I want to eat that bacon because it’s nice and lean bacon and it tastes good.
Neil Dudley: Matter of fact, I had one of those pork chops for dinner last night and it was good.
Gary Dial: We’re proud of our product. We think that it’s important to not only produce a product that tastes better than what commercial commodity pork is, but everybody can take it and say this is really good product. And we also want something that’s consistent. We want the consumer to come out and if they have a loin eye that’s at our target size, all of our loins are that size, and all of our product is consistent. So, we want consistency as well as high meat quality.
Neil Dudley: Well, I know as a user of the pork, that’s important to us. Consistent bellies make better bacon, consistent trim makes better sausage, consistent hams make better ham, consistent loins make better pork chops.
Gary Dial: So, if you look at our farms, Neil, you’ll see that they all use the same genetics, and the genetics come from the male side and the female side. And so, if you look at the female side, we not only have good maternal characteristics that have the sows that’ll farrow a lot of pigs, sows that will raise those pigs that won’t kill them.
Neil Dudley: Now let me just, let’s chase a string there. Why would you want them to farrow a lot of pigs? I can understand maybe somebody out there hears that and they’re like, oh, that poor mama, she had to have a bunch of babies. Why would a farmer want her to have a bunch of babies?
Gary Dial: We like what we’re doing in terms of animal welfare and product quality. And we got to make money.
Neil Dudley: Right. Sustainability ties to financial performance.
Gary Dial: If you look at just one of our farms, and our farms tend to be on the smaller side relative to commercial farms, commodity farms, but a typical farm for us, what we call farrow to finish, holding the breeding herd all the way to the pigs going to market, is somewhere between $5 and $10 million. That’s a huge investment for somebody, for an independent farmer to make. He’s got to get a return on that investment. And if he doesn’t get that return, he’s going to do something else. He’s going to raise corn, or he’s going to do something else with his money. And so, we have to be able to be competitive in terms of production traits, and we have to control our costs.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. And that I think is such a great insight for consumers out there, and I’m just like them. I want to know where my food comes from. I want to know that the animals were treated with respect. I was born and raised on a ranch, and I mean, the animals were so valuable, so important. We loved them. There’s still the understanding they are going into our food system, but there was no abuse. Or it just was totally senseless to do something like that. It’s funny how people that want to paint the ag industry or animal production in a bad light can go find some people mistreating animals and get it out there for everybody to see. I would just so like to see the owner of that farm ever doing that. Most of the time, it’s employees. It is somebody that probably didn’t have anything else to do, needed a paycheck, and they came on. And maybe the owner is held accountable for poor training or poor oversight, some of those things. I think that’s definitely every owner would agree to accept that responsibility. But the truth is all people that do animal agriculture love those animals. They want them to do well. They want their business to return them money. You can’t do it for free. I guess you can, but you better have a lot of oil wells or something else to kind of sustain the business. And I think a lot of times these independent farmers you work with, the farming is their livelihood.
Gary Dial: The type of farmers, we’re pretty selective in terms of who we work with. We want people that really want to do something different. They want to do something better. And that always means that they’ve got to have that desire to be good husbandry people. They just can’t be somebody that wants to make money. They’ve got to be somebody that really likes being around pigs. And if they don’t like being around pigs, we don’t want them in our system.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. They won’t be successful.
Gary Dial: They won’t be successful in our business. But you’re right, if you look across our industry, it’s rare for you to see animal abuse, because with the capital invested, most owners of farms, most farmers, they don’t want their animals abused. It doesn’t help production, it hurts production. And so, they’ll go to extremes trying to get their staff where they know what to do with that. For example, Neil, on our farms, we have standard operating procedures. Well, we have a book of about 50 different SOPs that guide how we train our staff on the farms. And so, we standardized how things, how people do that. Every week, we’re going over one of those chapters with the staff on the farm, trying to make sure that they’re doing things the right way. Because most people that work on a farm don’t know the specifics of what animal needs [inaudible 16:42] animal needs to be treated. So, it’s our job to make sure that they really know how to best treat an animal.
Neil Dudley: There’s just so much here. And we’re going to try to keep these episodes down to 30 minutes or 45 minutes. And we’ve already spent 20 minutes of time talking about this stuff. It goes by so fast. So, I’m like, okay, what is the- and all of that is great information, but I want to kind of try to get some stuff out to somebody- I’m just picturing someone who eats pork but has no clue what the farming is like. They just need to trust Pederson’s and Gary Dial that we are delivering them a thing that, when I say thing, food, that they can feel good about feeding their kiddos, themselves, telling their friends about. So, let’s battle a little bit those misconceptions maybe that are out there with pig farming, etc. We adhere to GAP one standards at Pederson’s, which means we don’t dock tails or pull teeth, but we do castrate. So, let’s explore those things a little bit. Like why would anybody have ever started docking tails and why do we choose not to? And why would somebody ever pull teeth and now we choose not to?
Gary Dial: I can take those issues as well as others that are in the GAP standards. If you put pigs in an environment where it’s crowded, they’re just like humans, they get aggressive with each other. And part of that aggression is manifest with pigs biting on each other’s tails. Now the end of the pig’s tail doesn’t have much sensation. It’s not innovated very well with sensory nerves. And so, when pigs get a bit aggressive because they’ve been crowded, then they they’ll have a tendency to chew on each other’s tails, they’ll cannibalize each other, which can cause all kinds of internal infections and carcass demerits and so forth. And so, what we tried to do is very clearly think through the housing environment and the stocking rates where pigs don’t want to do that. So, they don’t feel the stress of being in a pen. And so, if you look at our design of our barns, they’re all created so we don’t have that angst. If you’ve got a submissive pig standing next to a dominant pig, that submissive pig can go to another nest or another area of the pen to get away from the bullying pig.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, there you go. I mean, they have personalities. There’s dominant pigs, there’s kind of the pigs that get bullied and they fight. They end up needing to get away. And that’s so cool that you guys think about that. That’s one thing we love about that system is, hey, we’re not putting them in gestation crates- So, we should also totally address that.
Gary Dial: Let me go to your clipping the needle teeth. That’s another example. If you look at why pigs, why a lot of farmers in the past have clipped needle teeth, it is because pigs will fight when they’re nursing the sow. With some of the old-fashioned breeds, the entire utter of the sow is not well-developed. And so, if you look at the rear part of the utter of the sow, those tits are smaller, and they don’t produce as much milk. And so, whenever you have some of these old-fashioned breeds, you had to clip the teeth because there’s always turmoil in the litter because they’re always fighting to get the better teat. And so, what we’ve done is we’ve brought in some European bloodlines that have a very uniform utter. And so, all the pigs have a dinner plate. Now pigs, if they have a dinner plate, they tend to stay on the same teat. And so, a pig, usually nursing order is established within 48 hours or so. By then, the pigs have established what their dinner plate is, and they’ll stick with it. And because we’re putting that sow and her litter in a nice environment, and the utter is well-developed, and the sow’s lactating well, she’s fed well, then you don’t need to clip the needle teeth anymore.
Neil Dudley: Awesome. See, that just is so much good information right there. I hope everybody’s listening to that, and don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Pederson’s if any of that is something you don’t understand, like maybe you don’t know what an utter is, maybe you don’t know what a teat is, maybe you don’t know what a piglet is, whatever those questions you may have, please reach out, ask us. We want to be that resource for you. Okay so, I was kind of going another direction. Oh yeah, gestation crates, farrowing crates, all that stuff. You’ve got no use for them.
Gary Dial: Do we have time to let me visually or mentally walk you through a farm?
Neil Dudley: Sure. Let’s do it!
Gary Dial: It’ll take three minutes or so. If you go onto a typical, one of our typical farms, there’s essentially three phases of production. There’s the breeding phase. This is the phase of production from the time the sow is weaned until she returns to estrous and has rebred. If you go onto our typical-
Neil Dudley: Just real quick, what does weaned mean?
Gary Dial: Weaned means we take the litter away from the sow.
Neil Dudley: Okay. So, she’s grown old enough now to have a litter. And then she’s had them and raised them and we’d take them off. Now she’s back to estrous.
Gary Dial: Yep. So, she comes back to estrous after she’s bred. Now, if you go into a typical one of our breeding barns, remember when- our farms are artificially- our sows are artificially inseminated, and essentially, they have to be fed individually so that all the sows get the right level of nutrients after the ween, which is a critical period for fertility. And so, if you go into a typical one of our barns, a breeding barn, you’ll see small stalls, what we call feeding stalls, that the sows can go in and eat individually. And then they go out into their nests. They can commune with each other. So, they come and go as they want to go. So, then the breeding phase, it’s bedded. There’s a stall that they can be housed individually, or they can commune with others in the pen. Once they’re bred, they’ll be moved into gestation. And these are separate pens. These tend to be large groups of sows. There may be 50 or 60 sows, and these are sows that are all bred within the same week. And so, they stay with their pen mates. And the sows, of course, have girlfriends. And so, if you look at a typical pen of sows, there’ll be four or five or six or eight sows that are always part of the same group, and they go to eat at the same time. They go to the nest in the same place. When they’re moved, they move into the farrowing barn in same group. And so, they’re always together throughout gestation. And in that gestation pen, you’ll have nests that are bedded, you’ll have a dunging area that they’ll come out and they’ll commune with, and then you have kitchens that they go to. And again, these groups can be from 50 to 60 sows on up to over 200 sows in the pen. And in the gestation pen or in the gestation phase, they’ll be fed individually. Each one of the sows will have an ID tag, kind of like an earring. And that earring has a mechanism so that a computer will know that sow. And so, she’ll walk into a feeding station, and she’ll be fed according to how old she is, how big she is, what her litter size has been, what stage of gestation she’s in, what the temperature is outside. And so, the computer adjusts everything she gets. And so, we can make sure that she gets the nutrients she needs for her age as well as her stage of gestation.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. And if one is not eating, you know. And that’s a typical highlight that they might not be feeling well.
Gary Dial: We know every morning, the farm manager comes on the farm, and he’ll look at the computer records and he’ll look up all the sows individually, and he’ll know exactly what she’s eaten that day, the previous day, and all the days in her life. We’ll have an entire record of what a sow eats. If we know the pattern of how that sow is eating, we can go in and intervene if we need to. Because some sows will skip a day. They’ll just go, they’ll say, well, I’m not hungry today. And so, they’ll skip a day, but will that computer will flag that. And so, we have to go out and the staff go out in the pen, and they got to find that sow amongst 200 sows and make sure she’s up and about and she’s feeling well. And the next day, he’ll come in and make sure that she’s doing what she needs to be doing.
Neil Dudley: Now, you mentioned some groups are 50 up to 200. That’s all- the space available to them stays the same though, right? So, in a 200-sow group, the space is bigger, and a 50 sow group, the space could be smaller. It might be determinant on how big the farmer is, how big their barn might be.
Gary Dial: Our business model calls for us to take existing commodity type barns and remodel them. And so, depending upon the configuration of the original barn will dictate how big the pens can be. We like large groups. We find that sows do extremely well when there’s 150 to 200 sows in a pen. We like that model. It’s easy for the management team to go in there and look at the sows and identify them. It’s kind of a community spirit. It’s like living in a small town for those sows because they stay together.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. Okay so, that’s the farrowing. See, I was confused even early in my career, like what is farrowing and finishing? What does all that mean? Basically, farrowing – and Gary, correct me if any of this is not exactly right – but farrowing means having babies.
Gary Dial: Yeah. Farrowing is the delivery process. And if you go into the farrowing barns if you will, there’ll be sows that are waiting to farrow. There’ll be sows that are in the process of farrowing or delivering. Then there’ll be sows that are lactating. And we lactate our sows a minimum of 28 days. In fact, most of our farms are oriented to lactating almost five weeks. And we find that is an optimal length because it allows the pigs to get to a certain size. They’ll be 20 pounds or more. And they’ve already been started on create feeds. So, they’ve already started eating a majority of their nutrients by solid food by the time they’re weaned. So, when they’re weaned, they go into the nursery phase, and they do very well.
Neil Dudley: In contrast, maybe a bigger commercial top operation wouldn’t leave the pigs on the sow that long.
Gary Dial: No, no. It’s expensive to do that. It’s expensive to feed that lactating sow that expensive diet, and the facilities that the sows farrow in, they’re approximately for each one of the beds, if you will, each one of the pens that a sow is in, is somewhere around $5-7,000. And so, letting that sow stay in that space for a long period of time is costly. And so, a lot of commodity producers will have a much shorter lactation length because of the cost of doing that. We find, for welfare reasons, it makes sense to keep that pig on the sow as long as we can.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. And I love just the synergy that has with consumers that care. You know it’s- you believe and have lived the reality that it is better, and you can make money doing it. And it’s a great way to raise pigs. Now, then the consumer on the other side doesn’t know any of these intricate realities outside of I trust that that pig was treated well and had a good life. And I just love the way that ends up just naturally playing out.
Gary Dial: One of the most exciting things to have happen to you if you’re a pig farmer is you walk into a room filled full of sows with their litters, and then one sow will let down her milk, she’ll start milking and all the pigs will rush to her. Then immediately, like a wave of going through the room, all the other litters will go to their mothers and start nursing. So, you walk into a room and the entire room, maybe it’s 20 sows in a room, are nursing their litters and you can smell that fresh milk and you can smell those pigs that they’re getting milk. And they’ll all just nurse very intensely. When they’re done, they’re done.
Neil Dudley: And they sound so happy. It’s just a beautiful noise.
Gary Dial: It’s a phenomenal part of what we do.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. I hope so much that that enjoyment comes across in this podcast that was just in Gary’s face and my voice that, man, that’s just a part of life that is so happy.
Gary Dial: I’ll close down my share of the comments by saying this, I’m getting to be an older man now, but one of the pleasant things that I have in life is usually on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, and I shouldn’t say this, but on a Friday afternoon, what I like to do is grab a beer and walk around in the barn and look at my pigs and just look at them. Because Friday afternoon, everything’s died down. The animals have eaten. The staff are usually gone by then, and it’s all quiet in the barns. The pigs are getting ready for the night. And so, walking around with a beer and looking at your animals and feeling good about what you’re doing, that’s exciting. Or on Saturday mornings doing the same thing without a beer of course, but with a cup of coffee. When you just get up in the morning, and you don’t feel like you want to do anything really practical, walk through a farm and just look at the contentment of the animals on a weekend, because weekends are light activities, so you’re not interrupted by the staff or anything else. So, you can walk around and that’s a time when you see the activity of the pigs that’s not being confused by something that management would be doing. So, you get to see pigs in their natural environment. And I like those two times.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. I think a lot of people can relate. I certainly relate, not necessarily with pigs, but I’ll get up, go work out, come home, shower up, get dressed, and just sit on the porch in a rocking chair in the quiet of the morning and drink a cup of coffee. And I feel like in that one hour of time, I get connection with God, connection with the earth, and my thoughts, I think I just come up with good ideas.
Gary Dial: That’s exactly what I do. That’s when I get creative is when I’m there by myself, looking at pigs. And it also gives me a time to study the pig and find out what’s wrong with what we’re doing. Because I can look out there and I can say, well, maybe we need to make this change in this barn design to make it a little bit better. Because pigs will always tell you what’s good and what’s bad if you just sit there and listen to them and watch them.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely, do a little observation. I want everybody to hear that Gary, an expert in this industry and has been doing it forever, still walks around thinking what’s wrong with this? That is a great insight into any entrepreneur or anybody building a business or trying to improve a system, it is very valuable to accept and be proud of the success you have, but also constantly be leaning towards they probably could be improved in some way or another.
Gary Dial: Always improve.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. Okay. We still got a couple of questions if you don’t mind. We talked a little bit about commercial kind of, well, we haven’t talked a whole lot of comparing those. I want to paint one comparison, which is environmental impact. What would you say is the difference or is there a difference between a let’s say commodity type farm and what we do environmentally?
Gary Dial: Yes. I would argue that in most commercial farms today that use what we call a slurry system, which is essentially taking manure that’s a blend of feces and urine. Most commercial farms today would take that manure and inject it into the ground. And they injected at a time where they can get maximum value for the crops. So, I would say the vast majority of farms we have today handle manure very safely, particularly pig farms. I can’t talk about other species with as much expertise. But if you look at our system, our systems tend to be what we call a solid phase system, because remember we have a bedded system. And so, if you go onto a typical farm, we either have the pens that are cleaned manually or that are cleaned automatically with scraper systems. And so, and with that manure and urine is bedding, and we also feed hay and roughage to our sows. And so, this composition of their feces is a lot firmer than what it’d be in a regular commercial farm. And so, we have what’s called a solid phase system, which essentially takes the manure, which is laden with straw and laden with digested forage, and it moves it into a holding pit, where that material is chopped and made into something that we can move around. And then we can take that material there and we can compost it. We can set it outside, let the fluids drain off and most of the fluids are going to be absorbed by the straw and you’ll let that compost. And then you’ve got a solid phase system and you can take that solid phase system and you can top apply the land and then work it into the soil.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. So environmentally, I don’t know, I’m just wondering- so they talk about methane or something like cows farting and causing problems for the atmosphere. What do you think about that? Is that anything worth even talking about?
Gary Dial: If you talk about the gases produced from the decomposition of manure, those are gases that don’t survive in the environment very long, you’ve got to make that clear as opposed to some of the gases created by combustion and so forth. As people- and eruption of the cow, when she burps and belches, that’s a different type of gas and it’s a short-lived gas compared to some of the other gases that society creates. And so, I will not say that there’s not environmental impact of gases coming from decomposing composts that we have, I would say that society needs to put that in perspective relative to other gases that are emitted the last hundreds of years. And so, if you look at the exchange of gases coming from livestock production, it’s static. It’s not increasing over time. It’s static because it disappears at a rate that’s consistent with when it appears. And so, as people start – and I’m not an expert in this area – but as people start judging livestock productions and their effect on the environment, I’d be careful about generalizing across all livestock systems and certainly would put it in perspective relative to other sources of gases that cause the greenhouse issue.
Neil Dudley: Let’s talk about the feed a little bit. We talked about different sows needing different rations, etc. What goes into the feed?
Gary Dial: Well, pigs are omnivores like humans, and matter of fact, if you look at pigs while they’re dentation looks different than ours, it’s essentially the same. They have molars that grind the grain, but they also like to eat red meat, insects, and stuff like that. And in the wild they’re eating a lot of grubs. And so, omnivores mean they like plants and they like animal sources of food. Our pigs are fed just plant-based diets. There’s no meat byproducts in there. There’s no poultry products in there. Essentially, we just feed what’s called vegetarian diets. And we do that because we don’t want to assume that there’s nothing adulterated coming from animal byproducts. And so, we do that because we want a wholesome product we can control because most of our farmers produce their own grain. We know where it comes from. And so, they can put this feed into their pigs and know that it’s wholesome. They know that there’s nothing in that feed that the pigs going to eat that’s going to accumulate in the fat or accumulate in the liver. And so, we can be very confident that the product we’re selling is a wholesome product.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. I’m just curious, I have a guess, but I don’t know, you’d know better than me, what grains or what vegetable components are in this vegetarian diet?
Gary Dial: Well, typically our diets would be primarily corn and soybeans because those can be bought and they’re competitive sources of food nutrients. Now we can also put wheat in there. We can put milo in there. We can put any one of a different cereal grain in there as long as we control the source of that product. Corn just happens to be a very energy rich source of food. And it’s abundant in the Midwest here. So, corn tends to be the primary source of energy. And the same with soybeans. Soybeans are the primary source of protein. And there’s only one or two amino acids that it’s short on. So, it works very well as a source of protein that satisfies the nutrient needs of the pigs. But we can go into other grains. We can actually go to other different protein sources and depending on the economics, but when we move away from a corn-soy diet, then we’ve got to start supplementing that with a lot of synthetics. And we try to avoid that, synthetic lysine, synthetic methionine, a lot of the other amino acids. So, we try to keep our diets simple as if the pig was out in the field eating that. We want things simple.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. Well, simple is easier to replicate, it’s easier to consistently deliver, all those things. Okay. Now then, we got to circle back to your mission. We touched on husbandry and quality and consistency. Let’s touch on that last kind of piece of that, which I’m going to maybe put words in your mouth and correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s profitability, sustainability. Touch on that.
Gary Dial: The type of pig we produce is very expensive to produce. And it’s very expensive because they require a special diet, they require special housing with difference in terms of the amount of space they get from a commodity pig farm, they require a longer lactation, so they tie up space that’s very expensive, and they require more expensive genetics. And so, if you look at the cost of producing one of our pigs, it’s $30 or $40 per head more than a commodity pig. Then we take that pig, and Pederson’s takes that pig, and it takes that pig and puts in a processing plant. That processing plant is a smaller plant. It’s not owned by a large commodity person, whether it’s SmithfieldFoods or Tyson or somebody like that. And so, the cost of producing or what we call fabricating that pig, slaughtering and fabricating that pig, is two or three times higher than what it is for one of the large commodity concerns. And so, if you look at the cost of producing meat from one of our farms, we’ve got the added cost of live production, and then we’ve got the cost, which is significant, of fabricating that pig. And so, there’s always pressure to reduce costs. There’s limits to some extent to what somebody like Pederson’s can negotiate in terms of their cost of fabricating the pig because they don’t own that plant, somebody else owns that plant. So, there’s limits of how much they can squeeze, if you will, any kind of excess cost out of that. Fortunately for us, Pederson’s is very fair on the life side. And so, we can make a good living producing these pigs. Now, I wouldn’t say that we’re making a living that’s much better than what a commodity producer has made. We’ve got a model where we can make money doing what we do.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. And that’s so beautiful. I think as a consumer of pork, bacon, sausage, ham, and I want to feel good about eating it, I want to feel good about feed my kids, I want to feel good that the farmers aren’t starving out there either. I’m happy that the farmers and everybody along the chain can make some money and have a good living and put it back into the economy, all those things. If it costs me a little more at the shelf or in the restaurant, I value that feeling enough to spend the extra money.
Gary Dial: I think there is a certain proportion of people in society that are willing to do that. I think what’s beautiful about American livestock production is there’s a broad diversity in different types of production systems now. We swung very hard from a lot of independents to we swung to where there’s a lot of just large-scale commodity producers. Now we’re swinging back again where we’ve got a lot of independents re-emerging because people like Pederson’s have supported independents.
Neil Dudley: Well, it’s ultimately the consumers. The consumers are supporting it.
Gary Dial: The consumers are saying we want something better. And better is going to depend on who the consumer is. They may want the better quality that we have. They may want pigs raised in a better environment. But I think society is now being given some choices in terms of what they can have as a source of their meat protein.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. Okay, last thing, a couple of episodes back, Melissa Urban posed me this question and I gave her an answer. I think it’s a great question for you. Why don’t we expand faster?
Gary Dial: We don’t expand faster because we can’t, in our situation, we can’t expand faster than the market is there. And when we have an expensive pig that’s processed in an expensive facility, we’ve got to use all the parts and pieces of that pig. And a commodity guy, if he doesn’t sell all the parts and pieces, he can always have somebody else buy it at a cheaper price. We’re not that way. We’ve got to get all the parts and pieces used at an amalgamated price that pays for the cost of raising that pig and processing that pig. And so, what Pederson’s is challenged to do is grow the market in concert with demand. And I think if you want this industry to grow more, consumers have got to support it. They’ve got to buy the product, and they’ve got to be willing to pay a premium for that product. And in the back of their minds, they’ve got to be saying we’ve got to support all these different products that are coming out of the pig. We just can’t have bacon out of the pig. We can’t just have pork chops out of that pig. We’ve got to do the hams and the shoulders and everything else on that pig.
Neil Dudley: We’ve said it a million times, if we could breed a pig that had 16 bellies, we’d be- because bacon seems to have a higher, more consistent demand for what we do then pork chops. Ultimately, the loin of the pig is kind of what ends up dictating can we raise more or not?
Gary Dial: And that’s a critical point most people don’t recognize is if you look at- I just said that we’ve got to sell all the parts and pieces of a pig when we process it because it’s more expensive. The hardest thing for us to sell is loins. And most people look at that and say, well, everybody wants pork chop. Well, the difficulty is pork chops are what slows up the sell of the pig. We have trouble selling all the pork chops off of our pigs.
Neil Dudley: And we are targeting, and matter of fact, Ben who’s in the room with us is looking, we think educating the consumer, the home cook, even the chefs at restaurants on how to cook pork. I think Americans got scared of pork and they just overcook it and dry it out, especially the pork chops. And if you can cook one of those correctly to the right internal temperature without overtaking it, man, it is like butter. They are just great.
Gary Dial: Let me talk a little bit about pork as something that’s safe to eat. Consumers are stuck in the back of their mind that we have this trichinella organism, which is a parasite that gets in the muscle of meat. The pig is not a natural host of that trichinella, but it has historically been something that the pig would eat something, injected that trichinella and then it ended up in its muscles. But the US is trichinella free. And so, if you buy American pork, you don’t have to worry about parasites or anything like that. So, you only have to cook it to 146 degrees. You want it to cook it so it’s nice and pink. You don’t want to overcook it. There’s a second component of this that most people-
Neil Dudley: Ben’s pumping his fist.
Gary Dial: There’s a second component of this that most consumers don’t realize. If you look at the processing of animals, the safest product to eat, from a bacterial contamination, is the pig. The pig only has one stomach, it has one intestine, it has one colon. It’s easy to take that intestine and that stomach and colon out of the pig and not get the carcass contaminated. If you look at other species, it’s difficult. And so, we have problems with E. coli and salmonella in other meats. And what I love about pigs is it’s wholesome because essentially the amount of bacterial contamination of meat in pigs is far, far, far less than any other red meat. And so, it’s not only a lean product and a good tasting product with no parasites, but it’s also a product that is highly unlikely to be contaminated with things that affect other meats.
Neil Dudley: Yes. Man, that’s so good. And I could sit here and talk to you about this. I mean, even in my mind right now, I’ve got about 29 questions churning. I’ve got stuff left on my piece of paper here. The truth is we just have to come back and do this again sometime. Everybody that listens to this, please ask us questions, ask us what you would like to know more about this conversation. And someday we’ll come back and dive in specifically on what maybe somebody’s specific question is. But I think this is a great broad line, top level, high level, bunch of insight from Gary who lives and breathes this every day. And one of these days, I’m going to come up here and go walk that barn and drink a cup of coffee with you because that sounds like just the most fun to me.
Gary Dial: As long as you don’t talk too much and just watch the pigs, we’ll be happy.
Neil Dudley: That’s right. I can do that.
Gary Dial: Thanks for having me, Neil.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. Thanks for listening, everybody. Please, please, please, go subscribe, tell your friends about this. We want access to your questions so we can help be a resource to answering them for you.
Hey everybody, thanks for listening to this episode of the Pederson’s Natural Farms podcast. If you don’t mind, go hit that subscribe button and check us out at Pedersonsfarms.com. Thanks for listening.
(1:44) – Gary’s background and how he got into pig farming
(6:20) – The sanitizing process when working with pigs
(7:58) – Pigs are actually very clean animals
(9:12) – Gary’s commitment to the well-being of pigs
(16:22) – Staff training and Standard Operating Procedures
(17:11) – Misconceptions in Pig Farming
(21:04) – Gary Walks us through one of his farms
(25:25) – Farrowing and nursing pigs
(30:41) – Environmental differences between commercial and traditional farms
(32:38) – Gasses produced from manure and animals and their impact
(34:09) – What goes into the pig feed?
(35:20) – What grains or vegetable components make up the vegetarian-feed?
(36:39) – Profitability & Sustainability
(39:55) – Why don’t we expand this sustainable model faster?
(43:35) – Wrap Up
The Pederson’s Natural Farms Podcast is produced by Johnny Peterson & Root and Roam.