Speaking up for pigs: Cando, N.D., farmer is a veteran of working on pig farms
CANDO, N.D. — Excuse her, but Carie Moore would like to share words of support on behalf of ... pigs.
Moore, 40, is a farmer, mother of four and a professional soil conservationist at Cando, N.D. But she wants to speak up on behalf of the pig farming industry as a veteran of a variety of large-scale dairy and pig farms from 2000 to 2010. Today, Moore works in soil conservation at Cando, and farms with her husband, Jason, at nearby Rocklake, N.D.
She is on the Towner County Farm Bureau board of directors and is the Area Four director for the Promotion and Education Committee of the North Dakota Farm Bureau. However, she says she approached Agweek to support animal agriculture for personal reasons only and because she felt boxed out.
"There are a lot of positives for the communities (pig farms) go into," Moore says. "There are jobs for the people who like physical labor and don't like to be behind a desk."
In her experience, employee health issues aren't as critics describe. There have been no catastrophic lagoon spills where she's worked. Animals are treated humanely. She says she's tried to speak up on social media involving some of the proposed projects, but in some cases remarks have been blocked by opponents.
"They only want the negatives heard, not the positives," she says.
Sunny side up
Since 2010, Moore has worked as district manager for the Towner County Soil Conservation District at Cando. She is a volunteer for CommonGround North Dakota, a group of volunteers from agriculture who want to connect with non-agriculture consumers.
She grew up as Carie Marshall in the Logan, N.D., area, and spent time at her grandparents' crop and livestock farm in rural Minot. She was involved in 4-H and FFA and graduated from Minot High School in 1995.
She went to what is now Dakota College at Bottineau and picked up a two-year degree in wildlife and fisheries. She worked at the Roosevelt Zoo in Minot while working toward a plant and animal biology degree from Minot State University in 2000.
Moore started her career as a nutritionist and lead feeder on a large-scale dairy farm near Dodgeville, Wis. In 2002, she shifted to a large-scale pig operation at Spring Green, Wis.
"I absolutely loved it," she recalls.
The farm had 1,200 to 1,500 sows. The farrow-to-finish operation had a boar stud and supplied gilts and boars for breeding stock to other pig farmers, she says.
In late 2004, she moved back to North Dakota, working at Whitestone Farms at Breckenridge, Minn./Lisbon, N.D. (formerly Bell Farms). In late 2005, she moved to Cando to work in sow barns involved with the Gibbens family.
In 2008, she shifted to Viking Pork, a pig operation being developed at Edmore, N.D. By 2010 she married Jason. At that time, Moore left the swine industry because of the 40-mile commute and in part of biosecurity logistics as Jason worked for the Gibbens farming operation.
In 2010, she was hired as Towner County Soil Conservation District manager, but she still has a soft spot in her heart for pigs.
"It wasn't a matter of I don't want to do it anymore," she says.
Pig farms where Moore worked have become important pieces of the Cando area.
Farmer James R. "Jim" Gibbens and his partner Bruce Gibbens, a lawyer and cousin, decided to invest in pigs in 2002. The Gibbenses were approached by Elite Swine Inc. (later rebranded as Maple Leaf Agri-Farms) of Canada to build grow-finish barns.
In 2005 the Gibbenses realigned with Hytek (also HyTek), which became Hylife (also HyLife) company and its U.S. subsidiary Sky Can Ltd. Jim is a former mayor of Cando and is still chairman of its economic development. Several of his family members run or own parts of 10 businesses in town.
The Gibbenses own the barns with loans from Land O'Lakes Finance. Sky Can rents the barns to pay for them. Today, the systems include five sites, including a feed mill. All told, partners have invested some $22 million in the "pig loop" — farrow-to-finish pig production that produces 166,000 weanlings and finishes about half of them. The pig operations provide more than 45 full-time employees and $1.5 million in payroll in a town of about 1,100 people.
When the barns are paid off, the Gibbenses will continue to receive dividends from owning HyLife stock, and the company will have an option to buy the buildings.
After 12 years in operation, Jim says he doesn't know of any worker who has ever quit over any human health concern.
"There isn't anybody that's gotten sick out there," he says.
About half of the sow barn workers have been there since the beginning. The barns are "high-health status biosecure" for the sake of the pigs themselves, he says.
"We haven't had any major environmental concerns," Jim says. "We haven't had an odor complaint in the past eight or nine years. Prior to that we had a few, but we always passed the (state) health department odor test," he says.
The pigs add value to Gibbens corn, and the manure offers more than a $200,000 annual savings compared to buying fertilizer commercially. They farm 2,000 acres a year in a three- or four-year rotation on a farm of about 10,000 acres. Expansion is a possibility, he says.
Jim urges others developing pig operations to consider "location, location, location" when picking a site.
"We try to build them in a spot has the least impact on the least amount of people," he says.
Moore says she understands the public concerns about worker health, but says that's not what she experienced. Her children are ages 20, 11, 7, and 5, and she would encourage them to consider careers in livestock.
"I would never hold back my kids from anything in agriculture, no matter what it is," she says.
Her daughter, Mady, 11, applied for a pig from the Gibbens group for her 4-H project.
"They'll give you one to show for a year," she says, noting the family ate the pork at the end of the year.
Yes, she experienced strong smells when pig barn workers "pulled the pit plug" to drain pit contents into the lagoon so the barns can be cleaned. But many of her coworkers had worked in barns for 20 years and liked their jobs.
"I was pregnant two different times in the barns. My pregnancies went smoothly. I never had any (health) problems," she says.
"People are always going to complain about the smell — you can't get rid of that," she acknowledges. But the odors are not constant and typically involve a day or two when manure is being spread, or if the wind is from a certain direction.
Larger pig farms hire specialists to apply manure as fertilizer.
"It doesn't just get put on so (that) it's going to run off," she says. The amount will vary by the type of crop and soils are tested before application. In many cases the manure is not enough for the crops to use and must be supplemented with synthetic fertilizers.
To Moore, it's still manure — not "sewage," as some critics describe it.
"And it's not a waste site — it's still a farm field, whether you're applying manure or anhydrous," she says, adding, "Whether it's nitrogen from manure or from anhydrous it gets knifed into the ground the same exact way."