Indiana Pork Farm Cares for Pigs, People and the Environment
Every Friday morning, employees at the Schoettmer family farm kick off their boots and step inside Darla Schoettmer’s farmhouse kitchen to enjoy a hot breakfast. Sometimes, her favorite farm-fresh sausage makes the menu.
From the Schoettmer family’s home to their 13 pig barns, genuine care marks every aspect of Darla and husband Keith’s farm, Schoettmer Prime Pork in Tipton County. The couple and their seven full-time employees raise nearly 23,000 pigs annually from birth to market weight with the utmost respect for the pigs, the people and the environment.
It takes only a brief encounter with Keith Schoettmer to realize that he deserved the recognition when he won the first-ever America’s Pig Farmer of the Year award in 2015.
The honor, sponsored by several leading pork organizations, recognizes farmers who excel at raising pigs under the “We Care” ethical principles and connect with today’s consumers about pork production.
A joint effort of the Pork Checkoff through the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council, the We Care initiative includes principles to produce safe food, protect and promote animal well-being, safeguard natural resources and protect public health. Farmers pledge to uphold the principles and are held accountable.
“Every farm applies the We Care principles, and we’re proud of that as an industry,” says Keith, who started farming 30 years ago. “They’re not just principles. They are what we live by on the farm. The ones that strike us, of course, are animal care, environment and our responsibility to the people. We firmly believe this is a people business.”
People for Pig Care
The person – more than the resume – must meet Keith’s criteria for a job at their family farm.
“We are more interested in the person than their abilities when we hire,” Keith says. “Our philosophy is all about people. The pigs are the vehicle this farm survives with,
but it’s the people who make a difference.”
Keith says he can train a new hire how to raise pigs, as long as the person is passionate, well-rounded and demonstrates care for the animals. The family also occasionally employs interns on their pig farm to expose them to the industry. The grandkids visit to learn about hard work, animal care, machinery and interaction among people. And it remains a long-standing policy that any employee’s kids can work on the farm for the summer. The practice further promotes the farm’s family atmosphere and helps instill the work ethic that the Schoettmers’ own four kids gained from their farm upbringing.
Darla even washes all the employees’ work clothes for farm biosecurity and as an added employee perk. Through it all, the family strives to exceed the expectations for worker environment, one of six components of the We Care ethical principles.
“Consumers begin to doubt when they hear stories, and they get questions in their mind,” Keith says. “The best thing that we can do as farmers is to show them what we are really doing and be as transparent as possible. We invite them to our farms and in our barns.”
Environment is a Farm Priority
Friends, relatives, fellow churchgoers and even strangers have visited the Schoettmer farm for hog roasts, various pork dinners and farm tours. And after hundreds of tours, Keith receives a consistent response: “Wow, I didn’t realize how clean it would be.”
New technology and new ways of caring for the animals and the environment make pig farms much different than his grandfather’s generation, Keith says. For example, the farm washes and sanitizes barn spaces between uses for biosecurity reasons. They also store manure in highly regulated and secured waste containment systems.
The farm applies the manure, a natural fertilizer, at appropriate agronomic rates on a neighboring farmer’s fields. The manure provides necessary nutrients for the corn crop, which the Schoettmers then buy to feed the pigs. And the life cycle continues.
“We feel we have a God-given responsibility to take care of the environment that has been entrusted to us,” Keith says. “That means every day we are conscience of the impact we have on the environment to preserve it for future generations.”