FAIR Oaks Farms opened its doors to the public in 2004 and quickly became one of the most successful agri-tourism venues in the U.S.
The 30,000-cow farm attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to view commercial production practices and sample tasty dairy treats.
This August, the cows will be "moooving" over to welcome a new neighbor. Legacy Farms, a 2,800-head breed-to-wean commercial sow farm, and a $7.5 million on-farm visitor center that includes state-of-the-art exhibits, a hands-on electronic sow feeder (ESF) and interactive ultrasound machine are in their final stages of construction at the Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks Farms.
This latest agri-tourism venue is situated just west of Interstate 65 midway between Chicago, Ill., and Indianapolis, Ind.
Legacy Farms is a private enterprise owned by Belstra Milling and a number of local individuals. The Pig Adventure is a not-for-profit touring company that has been supported by stakeholders of the pork industry: the National Pork Board, the state pork groups of Indiana, Iowa and Ohio and others, including industry suppliers.
"Those groups saw the vision of being able to educate and promote what the pork industry is about by this tour, but you can't have a tour without a destination, so the relationship is the tour company will take the people to Legacy Farms," said Malcolm DeKryger, president of Belstra Milling and manager of Legacy Farms.
When it opens to the public, nothing will be held from view at the Pig Adventure and Legacy Farms. The 150,000-200,000 expected visitors will see how sows are fed, bred and handled, how gestating sows are treated, how pigs are farrowed and how pigs are weaned and readied for delivery — all within a system that assures quality care for its pigs and consistent product for consumers.
With Legacy Farms, its sixth production complex, Belstra Milling will have 14,000 sows in production. By 2014, it is expected to have production and sales of 400,000 breeding and market pigs.
The two revenue streams for Legacy Farms will be pig production and tickets sold to the public to view the production facilities.
Legacy Farms was designed to typify a traditional hog farm — with a few unconventional twists. There are no wooden trusses in the complex. The tall, clear-span, pre-engineered metal building features virtually no flammable material, making it extremely safe and insurable.
The pull-plug manure handling system is able to be flushed out every week, and the effluent is pumped through a series of pipes two miles to the anaerobic digester at the Fair Oaks Farms dairy. This massive digester, with a capacity of 600,000 gal. per day, mixes fresh dairy and swine manure, and the methane gas produced is scrubbed of impurities, leaving environmentally friendly compressed natural gas to provide fuel for milk trucks and tour buses.
The traditional 10-room farrowing complex at the farm holds 480 farrowing stalls. The holding nursery is expected to house pigs for three to five days, until a capacity of 1,500 head is reached; then, those pigs will be sent to contract growers.
Annual production is projected to be 75,000-80,000 pigs. This week, the first batch of piglets will grace the floor of the new farrowing room, according to Jon Hoek, Belstra vice president of pig production and Pig Adventure board member.
Hoek noted during a recent visit that the farm is looking at a 93-94% conception rate and 90% farrowing rate. The pigs per sow per year rate at Legacy Farms is expected to be similar to the rest of the Belstra operations, which average 29-30 pigs.
At Legacy Farms, the pigs will be weaned at 21-22 days of age and 15-16 lb. They are destined to be fed out in five commercial finishing farms in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.
The public can view the breeding/gestation, farrowing and nursery holding areas from glass-enclosed observation decks above the production facilities.
"Our purpose is to let people see that the pig is amazing and that the people who do such a good job of taking care of the pig are amazing in their own right," DeKryger said.
There will be 12-14 full-time staff working at the farm. Three college interns will begin giving "soft tours" this month. Their summer project is to figure out how best to conduct a tour and handle tourists in the 25,000 sq. ft. observation decks situated above the 100,000 sq. ft. of pig production. Recently, the group, along with the barn workers, went through media training to help them prepare for how to answer some of the questions they may end up fielding from the public.
A lot of activity will be on display in the sprawling, 470 ft.-long x 130 ft.-wide breeding/gestation facility. Gilts and sows will be artificially mated in breeding stalls and, five to seven days later, placed into group sow pens.
"We have two different styles of penning systems as we are trying to find out if more than one kind of approach will work," Hoek said.
In static pens of 80 sows, the sows stay together until they move to the farrowing barn. In dynamic pens of 240 sows, a few animals are routinely introduced or subtracted at a time. The idea with this approach is that the sows won't really remember who is who and may avoid the battles of mixing.
ESFs are found throughout the gestation barn. In Hoek's opinion, the technology has taken individual sow care to a new level.
"It is interesting how the ESF technology has provided us with even more daily touch points for our sows," Hoek said. "In addition to other things, we know exactly how much they are eating and, for that matter, if they are eating."
Hoek noted that the ESF production system does make heat checking a little trickier and also requires an "introduction" period of several weeks to get gilts on board with the process.
In addition, a grow/finish barn actually will serve as a gilt development unit to supply females to the breeding/gestation facility.