Colwell family takes their hog business to next level

The Colwell family, back row, left to right, Dylan, Kara, Aliviah, Kelsie and Jarrad, with Makinsey up front, pose in their new 2,400-head hog barn on their Morgan County farm. (Photo by Daniel Grant)

Fourth-generation farmer Jarrad Colwell has been involved in the hog industry his entire career, from raising a few head for local sales to custom-trucking.

But he and his wife, Kara, Morgan County Farm Bureau members, recently took their involvement in the hog industry to the next level.

The Colwells constructed and opened a new, 2,400-head hog barn on their farm near Franklin. They hosted an open house Jan. 4-5, by appointment only due to COVID restrictions, and received their first group of pigs two days later.

“It’s hard in this area to buy land and get it to cash flow,” said Jarrad, who operates the row crop side of the family farm with his brother, Brian. “I’ve always loved pigs and this (barn) is something that cash flows. Now, we can start the next generation.”

The Colwells have four children, Dylan (15), Aliviah (12), Makinsey (8) and Kelsie (2) with a fifth due to arrive in March. Kara manages the business side of the farm and also works as a secretary in the physical therapy department at Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville.

“Adding this barn is a way to diversify our farm and start a legacy for our children,” Jarrad said. “We will enjoy doing this together, as a family.”

The Colwells partnered with The Maschhoffs, one of the largest family-owned hog production networks in North America based in Illinois, and will raise pigs under contract from about 12 pounds to market weight of around 280 pounds.

In fact, Jarrad has been hauling pigs for The Maschhoffs for years and it was this side job that really piqued his interest in expanding his own farm.

“We’ve always had some pigs on the farm, on dirt, we sell for local butchering,” he said. “And I’ve hauled hogs for The Maschhoffs for years. I got to talking to some of the farmers who raise for them, and I got interested in it.”

The fact that The Maschhoffs provide contract production opportunities provided some security for the Colwells as they pursued their venture.

“They take care of the hogs and feed and we have the facility and labor,” Jarrad said. “There’s not as much risk in it.”

The Colwells new hog barn is fully automated and tunnel ventilated, with 10, 54-inch fans to constantly regulate the temperature and air flow to maximize comfort for the pigs.

The state of the art ventilation system, along with strategically placed tree buffers and the use of feed additives, will help reduce and mitigate odor at the rural location.

Neighbors and others interested in modern hog production got to tour the new barn during the recent appointment-only open house, hosted by The Maschhoffs and the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA).

“It’s a little different than it normally is,” Kara said of the open house. “We can’t have many people here at once and we can’t have food. Our local FFA was here (Jan. 4) and got to see what a barn is like, and what it entails.”

Since organizers were unable to serve the traditional pork chop sandwiches at the Colwells’ open house, they opted to donate bacon to a nearby food pantry in Jacksonville.

“Even though we couldn’t serve free pork chops, we still wanted to show the community what comes out of here,” Jenny Ring, IPPA director of communications, said at the open house. “So, we donated bacon to a local food pantry on behalf of the Colwells and Illinois pig farmers.”

Illinois is the fourth-largest hog-producing state in the nation, with an inventory of 5.45 million hogs and pigs as of Dec. 1, up 1% compared to last September.