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Coming home to hogs

Agriculture.com Staff 02/18/2009 @ 1:36pm

A strong wind whips light snow across the farmstead as Scott Sibbel finishes feeding chores on a cold December morning. This farm near Carroll, Iowa, belonged to his grandfather, who raised hogs and owned up to 200 head of cattle here. Today, Scott, 27, is reviving the use of its barns and sheds to raise hogs for the upscale natural meats company, Niman Ranch.

"The environment you work in is a lot nicer than if you go into a confinement building. It's fun to do chores most of the time, unless it's really cold out," he says.

Scott's knowledge of hog production comes from both his late grandfather, Ray Sibbel, and his father, Tom. But raising hogs for Niman is more than nostalgia. It's a practical way to begin farming on his own.

"I have hopes that more guys like me will look at this as a way to get started," Scott says. "It's a low-capital investment. You don't have to put up confinement buildings."

Right now, Scott has several enterprises that bring reliable income for his family. For Niman, he farrows two groups of 16 to 18 sows twice a year, usually finishing about 500 to 600 hogs. He also finishes 20 to 30 head of cattle a year. He's been raising livestock for about three years, now renting the farmstead from his grandmother, Flora Sibbel. His father rents the adjoining farmland, where Scott trades labor for use of some machinery and for cornstalks for bedding. And he applies manure from the hogs back out onto the fields.

Last summer, Sibbel also started farming in partnership with his father-in-law, Mike Stout, near Sac City, Iowa. They rent land from Marvel Stout, grandmother of Scott's wife, Martha. And Scott leases 24 stock cows and pasture from her as well. He and Mike Stout raised 90 acres of corn, 90 acres of soybeans, and 10 acres of alfalfa.

"It was kind of a learning experience to see what worked and what didn't," Scott says after a summer of planting delays and volatile markets.

Martha is an attorney with a practice in Carroll and Coon Rapids, Iowa. They were engaged in Winona, Minnesota, where Scott worked as a draftsman for a custom lighting company and Martha was in college. Scott worked as a draftsman in Des Moines when Martha studied food and ag law at Drake University.

The couple have two children, Anthony, 5, and Ellie, 3."It gets a little crazy around here, between my wife starting her law office and me starting my business," Scott says. They get babysitting help from his mother, Therese, and his mother-in-law, who is also named Martha.

A strong wind whips light snow across the farmstead as Scott Sibbel finishes feeding chores on a cold December morning. This farm near Carroll, Iowa, belonged to his grandfather, who raised hogs and owned up to 200 head of cattle here. Today, Scott, 27, is reviving the use of its barns and sheds to raise hogs for the upscale natural meats company, Niman Ranch.

Niman Ranch hogs must meet several requirements. They must be raised on pasture or in deeply bedded pens (Scott's method). And antibiotics can never be used.

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