Dairy farmers expand into hog production

Multiple generations of the Diekemper family pose on their farm in Carlyle (Clinton County). The longtime dairy farmers recently expanded the operation by building a 2,400 head, wean-to-finish pig barn. They hosted an open house last week. (Photo courtesy of the Illinois Pork Producers Association and The Maschhoffs)

The Diekemper family, longtime dairy farmers from Carlyle (Clinton County), found a good way to grow their operation and even save on crop inputs without making a major land purchase.

They recently entered contract hog production with the addition of a new, 2,400-head wean-to-finish pig barn. They recently held an open house sponsored in part by the Illinois Pork Producers Association and Illinois Livestock Development Group.

“We’ve talked about this (expanding into hog production) for the past year,” Jason Diekemper, a third-generation farmer, told the RFD Radio Network. “We contracted with The Maschhoffs and started construction in October.”

Diekemper, who farms with six family members, including his father, two uncles and cousins, said the new hog barn will help support the farm as more family members enter the business.

“There’s a few more cousins coming on, so we wanted to expand and diversify our operation,” he said. “With contract hogs, we’ll have a consistent income, and it will help maybe expand the grain farm more with the younger generation coming on.”

Manure from the new hog barn will fertilize roughly 300 acres, thus easing input costs on the crop side of the family business.

But why didn’t the dairy farmers simply add more cows to grow that side of the operation? They currently milk about 500 cows.

“My grandpa started the dairy a long time ago. We’ve been with Prairie Farms the whole time, and it’s been really good for us,” Diekemper said. “But there’s a quota, so we couldn’t really expand (the dairy) as much as we’d like.”

The opportunity to build a hog barn also gave the Diekempers a chance to add new technology to their farm. The new hog barn is designed to maximize animal comfort and productivity.

“It’s pretty state of the art,” Diekemper said of the hog barn. “A lot of it will be automated. Feed and the temperature will all be regulated on a computer.”

The technology was on display during the open house.

“We mostly wanted to have the open house for the neighbors, to let them see what’s going on,” Diekemper added.

The latest addition to the state’s hog industry continues a growing trend. All hogs and pigs in Illinois totaled 5.35 million head as of Dec. 1, up 1% from the previous quarter. Meanwhile, the breeding herd grew by 30,000 animals statewide in the past year to a current total of 590,000 head.