The swine health community believes in the philosophy: never stop improving. That’s why the annual Leman Conference in St. Paul, Minn., is one of two “can’t miss” events, along with the American Association of Swine Practitioners annual meeting.

The opening keynote address at this year’s Leman Conference was an overview of The Maschhoff’s by Dr. Bradley Wolter, President; Dr. Aaron Gaines Aaron Gaines, VP, of Technology & Support Operation; and Julie Berling, Senior Director, Strategic Insights and Communications. They shared lessons learned along their growth path and what they see in the future for their company.

The Maschhoffs is a fifth-generation, family owned operation headquartered in Carlyle, Ill. It is the largest network of family-owned pig farms in North America, with approximately 750 production sites and 550 family farm partners. It sells about 5 million market hogs to four customers each year. Its decentralized operations span 9 states: 1,300 employees, 218,000 sows, 4 feed mills, 4 transportation washes.

“As a hog production company, we are members of a much larger multi-protein business: Maschhoff Family Foods; formed in 2013 with the purchase of GNP Company,” Wolter said.

Wolter is excited about the potential for the U.S. pork industry.

“We see rapid expansion, which is certainly unprecedented in my lifetime,” he said. “Pork is the leading meat consumed on the globe. Asia is likely to import significant amounts of pork in the future, and the U.S. remains the leading potential low-cost producer.”

Still, The Maschhoffs is at a crossroads, Wolter said. The company is still largely a commodity meat business and as such, the cost of production is absolutely core.

Wolter also sees the need to align values with consumers’ expectations, because their involvement in food production is not going away.

Berling spoke about the company’s poultry business and its decision to take the path of antibiotic-free (ABF) production or “no antibiotics ever” (NAE). On the other hand, she said the company will “never withhold antibiotics if they’re needed for the health of the bird.

“Going back to 2004, we did a lot of consumer research and we were beginning to see the interest in antibiotic-free meat escalate,” Berling said. “Consumers couldn’t tell us why they wanted it, but niche players were introducing NAE or ABF and we started to fall into the middle (we weren’t the cheapest but we didn’t have the value-added attributes).”

In terms of pork production, Gaines said the company has been approached to look at antibiotic-free pork production.

“But the business reality is that prevalence of endemic and epidemic disease challenges have increased due to increased density of pigs in key growing geographies; health destabilization; new epidemic disease outbreaks; and commingled pig flows,” Gaines said.

“We need to maintain high standards of animal care, which is more of an issue with these new programs. We also need to determine the increased cost of an antibiotic-free program. We believe it means a 114% to 121% higher cost of production over our traditional practices based on internal modeled estimates,” Gaines added.

Doing Right by the Industry and Consumers
“I’m privileged to lead a very focused and determined team and we’re laser-focused on helping our customers succeed. We need to be nimble, responsive and aware of the expectations Julie called out for us. Our history has been one of value-driven innovation equaling new value and solutions. As we move forward from here, we’ll continue to look at the lessons learned,” Wolter said.