Get in the Swine Web- Q&A with Illinois Pork Producer Kathryn Helmink

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Get in the Swine Web is a series of Pork Industry professionals which engage in a Question and Answer session. These professionals talk about with Industry hot topics, there specific expertise, Opinions, and a little insight to who they are personally! 

Kathryn Helmink is a college senior studying Animal Science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She grew up at the 4th generation of her family’s grain and livestock farm. Kathryn was involved with the farm’s wean-to-finish swine operation for many years and exhibited pigs in 4-H during the summer. Kathryn’s goal is to become involved in the pork industry upon graduating from college.

 

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
What is your “Pig Farming” Story and Family Background:

Answer (Kathryn Helmink):
My pork story is: I grew up surrounded by pigs. When I was little, we raised pigs both inside and outside on concrete. We were a wean-to-finish operation until 2018. In the fall of 2018, our finishing barn burned down. We are now a nursery only operation. After the fire, that’s when I knew I wanted to work in the pork industry. I became a student member of the Pork Checkoff’s Real Pig Farming Social Media Force in 2019. Through this opportunity, I learned how to advocate for the pork industry on social media. My love for pigs grew.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
After the fire how did that specifically solidify your wanting to work in the Pork Industry?

Answer (Kathryn Helmink)
After the fire, I realized just how much I loved working with pigs. They never failed to entertain me. I did not realize the path it would take for me to find my passion in the pork industry. If I had known, I would’ve soaked in every 4 am morning that involved loading market hogs before going to class.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
The Wean to Finish System costs more to implement and is more complex. Why did you go this route?

Answer (Kathryn Helmink):
A Wean-to-Finish operation was the best choice for our farm. Each operation is different, but we had the resources to implement the system. With the resources we had, we could run an All-In-All-Out (AIAO) wean-to-finish system with ease. While it may cost more, there is less hassle to it.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
What is most challenging and gratifying part of being a Pork Producer?

Answer (Kathryn Helmink):
The most challenging part of being a Pork Producer is being proactive in sharing the pig farming experience to the general public. With less than 2% of the U.S. population directly employed in agriculture, more and more people are not familiar with how their food is raised and where it comes from. Sharing pork’s story is important, yet it can be a challenge for those who aren’t social media savvy. When advocating for pig farming, you may catch the attention of animal rights activists who will try to attack you verbally. Dealing with the haters via social media is often the most difficult part in advocating for the pork industry, but promoting the pork industry is ultimately rewarding in the end.

The most gratifying part is knowing that we are one of the 60,000+ pig farmers in the United States raising food for the dinner table. It is a humbling experience in knowing that not only are we feeding people, but we are also saving lives. Pigs provide heart valves to those who need heart transplants and blood thinning medication for heart attack victims, just to name some examples.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
It is almost the summertime, do you have any tips for handling Pigs in the warmer temperatures?

Answer (Kathryn Helmink):
With the temperatures rising, it is of utmost importance to have the cooling system prepared, maintained and properly working. This is not the time when you want your systems to fail. Make sure your fans are running, inlets are properly adjusted and sprinklers are ready to go.

As feed intake decreases during periods of high temperatures, you will want to look at your nutritional program or current ration. Adding supplemental fat will increase the energy density to make up for the low feed intake that occurs in summer.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
What is the most innovative product or concept you have come across in our Industry?

Answer (Kathryn Helmink):
This is a tough question to answer. So much has changed in the pork industry since I was a kid. Technology is definitely one of biggest innovative products in the pork industry now; however I would say the most innovative concept in the pork industry is biosecurity.

Biosecurity is the most important factor in disease control for pig farms. It is why this concept is so crucial to the industry now more than ever. With African Swine Fever breaking out globally, our focus as pig farmers should lay heavily on biosecurity. Biosecurity has advanced in innovation over the years, from AIAO to showering-in and out, to protect the health and wellbeing of the U.S. swine herd.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
Do you have any input on the Digital vs Print media in the Pork Industry?

Answer (Kathryn Helmink):
Digital has increased over the last several years with the rise of the latest technologies; however I still enjoy the Print media. There’s just something about holding the hard copy of a magazine in your hands that Digital cannot do.  Both are equally important in getting the current news out to pig farmers on what’s going on in the pork industry. I can say Swineweb.com is one of the websites I access most often.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
Fun question. It is hard to travel now but when Covid-19 is finished where are the top three places you want to visit?

Answer (Kathryn Helmink):
I would like to travel to North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida after Covid-19 is over.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
Where is your future in the Pork Industry going? Where do you hope to be in five years?

Answer (Kathryn Helmink):
My future in the pork industry lies in the production side. I graduate college this fall and I plan on leaving home to work for a hog farm in western Illinois or Iowa. In five years, I hope to work my way up through the ladder and be on the path of pursuing my dreams of becoming a production manager.

 

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