Kyle Hennen earning his ‘Masters Degree’ raising pigs on the family farm in Ghent
GHENT — As far back as he can remember, Kyle Hennen has enjoyed working with the pigs on the family farm.
He was told by his parents that his five sisters helped with raising the pigs since they were 7 years old.
“I was younger when I started helping. That might have been helping just a little bit — catching the pigs when we processed them, things like that,” said the 23-year-old. “I have always enjoyed working with the pigs. Even when I was in high school I helped a lot. We bed the pigs. He (his dad, Steve) needed two people for that. My mom (Melissa) has helped quite a bit and even my sisters have helped a lot. When I was old enough that was kind was kind of my job.”
With an ag degree from Southwest Minnesota State University, Kyle Hennen is launching his agriculture career working with his father on the family farm that includes raising crops and cattle besides the hogs.
They do get some help from his sisters and their husbands and boyfriends. And his wife, Natalie, also helps out when she can.
“My dad and I are the main ones that do a lot of the work,” Kyle Hennen said. “We farrow and then we sell them (the pigs). It’s like right off the sow we wean them. They are about 30 days old.”
The Hennens have decided to get out of the cattle business and concentrate more on the pork operation.
“We are kind of lucky because we have a little bit of a niche market with raising the pigs outside with the bedding. There’s not a lot of people who are not able to that and I want to do that because it’s a lot more labor intensive. It’s a market that not many people can fulfill because of the demands that are needed to do it.
“It’s outdoor gestation. We give them a lot more square footage too. I would say more and more people are starting to buy pork that’s produced that way. I would say I’m pretty optimistic about the market that we’re in.”
His optimism for the future has something to do with his deep interest in raising pigs and not afraid to work hard to ensure success. Part of that is making sure the smaller pigs are not competing with the larger pigs for a feed bin.
“My favorite part is being in the farrowing barn with newborn baby pigs and trying to help with the less opportunity pigs survive. It’s called cross-fostering. So when they are born, I move a lot of pigs around. I take the biggest few pigs and then the medium-sized and then small-sized and within 24 hours I try to size them all up,” he said.
The Hennens are busy this fall with the harvest. The raise crops for livestock feed.
“We raise a lot of corn and soybeans. We plant some rye in the fall and then we harvest it in the spring. We raise a little bit of small green with sometimes the oats and we just use it for the bedding. We have to make small squares of straw for the pigs. We feed the corn to the pigs and we take some of the beans to the extruding plant in Minneota,” Kyle Hennen said.
“I help with all the field work. In the spring, digging and planting. Then in the fall, there’s a ton to and we can make bedding, haul manure, tillage and combining. Then we chop a bunch of silage in the fall. So once chopping starts it’s pretty much going until everything is done.”
The Hennens use pales and drop boxes to feed the pigs. But they plan to computerize the feeding system in the near future. The planned upgrade was delayed because of the COVID pandemic. The installer is coming from the United Kingdom but is facing a travel ban.
“They are called electronic sow feeders that we’re going to have for the outdoor gestation and that will be really high-tech. Pigs will have ear tags in their ear and go on the computer. I will know how much feed they are supposed to get through all their gestation and its going to be on a feed curve so they get closer to farrowing it will slowly give them a little bit more feed.”
But even with the new feeding technology, Kyle Hennen says there will always plenty of work to get done on the farm.
“We have a lot of livestock. You are not busy most of the year and then fall comes along and you are just lost,” he said. “You don’t have enough hours in a day it seems like even though you don’t have to get all done in one day. My dad always tells you, ‘I always like to just keep working because you don’t know if it rains or just want to get done and then you are done.”
That work ethic has become his ongoing agriculture education.
“My dad always laughs and tells people I graduated from college, but I’m getting my Masters (working on the farm). He teaches me a lot.”