|By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
ALBION, Ind. — Michael and Charlie Lemmon’s father didn’t start out to run a world-famous hog business when he came back to the family farm after World War II, but he was quick to offer advice when his sons started to make changes in the 1970s.
“The first year, we put up a confinement building and Dad was standing in the driveway, looking at the exhaust from the building,” Michael Lemmon said. “He said, ‘before you put up another building, you need to figure out a way to save the heat.’”
That bit of advice from their father, Ben, eventually led to the creation of AirWorks, a patented building and ventilation system. AirWorks is one part of Whiteshire Hamroc, a producer of purebred and hybrid swine breeding stock. The company is in Noble County in northeast Indiana.
Whiteshire Hamroc has the largest Yorkshire herd, second largest Landrace and fourth largest Duroc herds in the country, according to the National Swine Registry.
The Lemmons didn’t necessarily intend to get into developing their own purebreds. In the late 1970s, they were buying genetics from other breeders and multiplying them to sell to local farmers, Michael Lemmon said.
They made the move to their own purebreds for economic reasons, Michael Lemmon said.
“We had no desire to get into that,” he said. “But we looked at the most economically important traits, such as growth rate and the number born live, and we started selecting with those in mind.
“It took forever. We went backward as many times as we went forward,” he said. “There’s still lots of room for improvement. It will never end.
“We’re always chasing after something and never catching anything.”
Whiteshire Hamroc serves producers all over the world. The company’s gene-tics are shipped to North and South America and Asia. They have about 20,000 pigs in inventory, and sell about 40,000 a year, Michael Lemmon said.
The brothers said their father has accepted the changes to the family business.
“We’ve been really fortunate that Dad’s been very open minded, but we had to do a good sales job,” Charlie Lemmon said.
“We had several animated discussions,” Michael Lemmon said. “But he was always progressive anyway, and that’s probably rubbed off on us.”
AirWorks started in 1988 and was an attempt to make the pigs more comfortable, Charlie Lemmon said.
“Anytime we put up a building we experimented with something,” he said. “We would change something in hopes of making it better. AirWorks is a good example of necessity being the mother of invention.”
One of the keys to the AirWorks system is that air is brought into the building and forced downward on the animals, thus providing them with fresher air, Charlie Lemmon said. In the winter, heat exchangers also reclaim the pigs’ body heat, wich reduces propane and fossil fuel costs.
“In the summer, in the heat of the day, in buildings without this, every pig is probably laying down and is lethargic,” he said. “In our barns, at the same time, there are always some of our pigs up and eating. We’re keeping them comfortable.”
The AirWorks buildings are environmentally friendly, Michael Lemmon said. They use less energy, less feed, and are a friendlier work environment for employees, he said.
“The purpose of the buildings is to keep the pigs healthier,” he said. “We see fewer antibiotics being used.”
The AirWorks system is best applied at the time a building is constructed, but standing buildings may be modified to use the system, Charlie Lemmon said.
Buildings fitted with the AirWorks system cost 11 percent to 12 percent more to build, Michael Lemmon said.
“The industry has been misled to a large degree, to think there’s only so much you can spend on a pig space,” Charlie Lemmon said. “In the short term, this is a more expensive investment. But in the long term, it’s a building you’re going to use for years, and you’ll get your money back in healthier pigs.”
The company places a strong emphasis on biosecurity, requiring workers and visitors to wear company clothes, shower and wear masks.
Not only do the precautions protect the pigs, but it allows the company to grow some pigs for use in the medical industry, Michael Lemmon said. Medical companies make use of pig tissues, and heart valves to use as replacements in humans.
Published in the January 4, 2006 issue of Farm World.