Take a look at a picture of a typical Iowa hog back in the 1950s and you're likely to see a wallowing, round-bellied creature, quite aptly, perhaps, giving credence to the adage, happier than a pig in a pile of mud.
Today, hogs are lean, mean, money-making machines, with less fat per pound than chicken or beef. Derrick Sleezer, manager of Sleezer Fertility Center in Cherokee, gave Storm Lake Hy-Noon Kiwanians a rundown on how the pork industry has changed and what the industry does for Iowa, the top pork-producing state in the nation.
"It's an industry in transition," Sleezer said. And that $2 billion yearly industry produced "the highest possible quality at the lowest possible cost," Sleezer said.
Sleezer pointed to the years 1979 through 1985 when demand for pork fell 4 percent a year "while demand for poultry surged." That was obviously troubling to the pork industry which sponsored research to produce a leaner, more nutritious product.
As a result of that research, Iowa pork producers as well as pork producers throughout the nation specialized in areas such as pork production. Except for a few farms, gone are the days when one could find crops, poultry, pork, and dairy or beef cattle all in the same operation. Pork production now resembles more of an industry than it resembles what it was 30 or more years ago. With a new industrial model, specialty barns are built for each phase of pork production.
"Pigs today have the best care possible," Sleezer said. "Isolating our herds is an extremely efficient method of disease control. When treatment is needed, we are very judicious about how we use medicines. We have made dramatic strides in waste management and other issues."
Sleezer commented on how new production techniques have helped improve conditions for livestock.
"It's clear that animals raised indoors in a clean environment are healthy and fast growing," Sleezer said. "Everyday we work on creating a healthy environment for our animals."
"The pork industry has entered what we might call the era of specialization," Sleezer said. "Increasingly, we have producers working for specific niches, even to the point of producing for specific restaurants."
Current research has perfected a process in which hog waste can be converted into solid fertilizer for golf courses, Sleezer said.
There are also economic benefits as well, said Sleezer.
A typical 3,400-head operation now creates 21 new jobs and 19 spinoff jobs, Sleezer said. Interestingly, more than a third of those employed in the pork industry have colleges degrees, compared to 22 percent of the general population.