As a fifth-generation farmer, Phil Howerton is proud to carry on the family tradition of raising hogs in Missouri. The family’s operation, J.D. Howerton & Sons Farm, is built around their 1,200 sows. From those sows, the family raises roughly 26,000 hogs from birth to market weight each year.
The Howerton’s farrow-to-finish operation is one of the 3,000 family farms raising more than 2.7 billion hogs and pigs and providing nearly 25,000 jobs throughout the state. Missouri’s pork producers also contribute more than $1 billion to the state’s economy each year through sales of hogs and pigs.
Missouri pork producers, like the Howertons, also support the state’s corn and soybean farmers, feeding their hogs Missouri-grown corn and soybeans and selling their hogs to Missouri-based processing companies like Kansas City’s Cargill Inc.
The state’s producers also support one another, as producers often focus on raising hogs during only a portion of the animal’s life cycle, from farrowing to weanling or from feeder to finish, selling market weight hogs to processors.
While the Howerton’s farrow-to-finish operation is somewhat unique among Missouri operations in the practice of both having sows and raising hogs from birth to market, they are not unique in their efforts to connect with their community and to invest in the long-term health of the family farm.
The Howerton family has made their home on land outside the town of Chilhowee in Missouri’s rural Henry County and has every intention of continuing the family-run operation. Phil Howerton returned to the farm after graduating college in 1973 and has managed the family operation since 1977. He and his wife Jan raised three children, sons Nick and Paul and daughter Jill, on the farm.
“My father, J.D. had a document from a commodity sale that was transacted by my great grandfather in February 1929,” Howerton says. “We’ve also been able to trace our ancestors on this land back to the Civil War, and now my son Nick works with me to continue the tradition.”
They also have four grandchildren who are learning about life on the farm, setting the stage for the seventh generation of Howertons to raise Missouri pork.
Today, Howerton manages the business, as well as seven employees. He’s also a fixture in his community, volunteering with the local pork producer’s organization and serving on the local health and school boards.
With their commitment to keeping the family connected to the farm, the Howerton’s have continued to invest in their operation.
Recently, the family invested in renovations that included new practices for managing waste and changes to the way animals are housed on the farm. Through their changes, the family saw a more than 11 percent increase in the farm’s efficiency.
Before beginning any construction, Howerton worked with other producers, the Missouri Pork Association and the University of Missouri to learn about the latest technology for raising hogs and how it could improve their operation.
The farm’s new waste management system allows Howerton and his family to continue using nutrient-rich effluent to irrigate crops on their surrounding 750 acres of farmland. And because the new system is underground, they’ve benefited from reduced odor and waste emissions during the irrigation process.
The Howertons also invested in adding a modern farrowing house to their operation. The new facility protects both the animals, especially the young piglets, and the family members and employees.
The new technology for sows and in the farrowing house includes stalls designed to ensure that all sows receive proper nutrition during their pregnancies and that both sows and piglets are safe through weaning.
“Sows will fight other sows to establish pecking order within their herd,” says Dr. Ron Plain, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri. “The biggest boss sows would consume most of the feed and water if all the sows were in a group, with the smaller sows getting very little.
Providing sows proper nutrition throughout their pregnancies is key to ensuring that producers can count on healthy piglets at birth. Once a sow is ready to give birth, it is transferred to a farrowing house that also has individual stalls.
Inside the farrowing house, the stalls are designed to allow workers to remove the 2 1/2-pound piglets from harm’s way – possibly being crushed by the 300-pound sow. The stalls also allow the Howerton’s and their employees to more easily check on the animals’ well being, Dr. Plain says.
Making those investments into ensuring the health and safety of sows, piglets and employees is vital to the health and future of Missouri’s pork industry, and the future of pork production in Missouri is bright, according to Dr. Plain.
“As long as people enjoy bacon, ham, sausage and other pork products, this industry will thrive,” he says. “Pork is one of the most commonly consumed meats in Missouri as well as the entire world.”
The thousands of family farms raising hogs in Missouri are a testament to that bright future, just as are the hundreds of locally owned, state inspected meat processors, thousands of feed suppliers, veterinarians and marketers supporting Missouri’s pork producers.