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Thursday, November 19, 2015

At the End of the Day, It's All About the People

This past weekend I took a vacation from school. Not to some exotic location with warm sandy beaches but to a place I can call home in Southwest Iowa, 4K Farms. Being an Oregon native, going to school in Kansas can be difficult at times since I don’t get to go home as often as I’d like.  However, the generosity and hospitality of the Swanson family has become one of the things that keeps me in the Midwest. That and the pigs. This Saturday was filled with pigs, puppies, and time spent with lots of good people. 

A child involved in feeding pigs on the farm
Max feeding a boar a Gatorade
When I hopped in the farm truck on Saturday morning, I knew it would be a long day of work. As Drake, the neighbor farm help, and I started in the farrowing house (where the sows and piglets are), we fed the sows and checked on the babies while carrying on a conversation on how his high school football season went. We continued from barn to barn, to the Double L nursery where we found a sick pig that would need treated. Part of being an excellent caretaker of livestock involves spotting out the animals that aren’t acting “normal” and nursing them back to good health.

I then got to climb from pen to pen with Kirk (my Iowa dad), his friend from Missouri, Jesse, and Jesse’s five-year old son, Max. We spent this time looking at the young pigs, sorting through gilts and sows, and discussing pedigrees with genetic lines that go back to the early nineties. While many people would think that sounds crazy, standing there listening to the conversations taking place, I got to see two individuals talk with passion in their eyes about the swine industry and ways to help it progress. Even little Max was in on it. He came walking over to us after looking at the pens and pens of boars to say “Kirk, you have some very impressive boars.” I just smiled and laughed, thinking that the ordinary 5-year old probably doesn’t talk about boars everyday. 
Taking pictures of pigs
It takes many moving parts to get the best picture

The main task of the day was to take pictures of some of the elite breeding stock on the farm.  We would wash the pigs and then take them to a big grassy area to capture the perfect shot. It takes a lot of patience, creativity and perfect timing to get those photos, but the end result is highly satisfying. Several hours and over 400 photos later, it was time to call it a day for the pig photo shoot.

As the sun began to set on Saturday evening, Jerra (my Iowa mom) and I worked on feeding the pigs their second meal of the day while the boys snuck in one last picture of a boar before the sun was all the way gone.  After finishing up the evening chores, we gathered in the kitchen where Jerra had whipped up my favorite lasagna and cherry pie. Exhausted from a long day at the farm, and full from supper, we all talked late into the night about hogs, dogs and the livestock industry. One quote that resonated with me came from a conversation Kirk had had a few years back with another swine enthusiast. He said “When leaders begin to follow, the breed will fail to progress.” I think that line is one that could be taken and applied to many different aspects of life.

Pigs eating their supper from a bunk
Kirk feeding sows at the bunk
Sunday I rode around in the farm truck with Kirk to work on morning chores before I headed back to Manhattan. The life conversations in between bedding down pens and vaccinating piglets are when some of the most valuable advice is given.

As I sit on here on Monday back at school and reflecting on the weekend, I can’t help but realize I have been blessed to have the weekend I did. It’s not very often that you find a warm sunny Iowa day in mid November, with views of harvested corn fields, all while being surrounded by people that share the same passion as you. A wise person once told me “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” I didn’t know what that meant at the time it was said to me, but after this weekend I finally do. The classroom is a valuable place to pick up facts, but it’s the unscripted days that I have spent in Iowa outside the walls of a classroom that I have learned the most.  At the end of the day, agriculture is a way of life, and it’s the people that make it worthwhile.

Until next time,


  1. Well written Kiah! I miss my trips to Oregon, helping with your family'sale. Taking in the beautiful countryside, and of course garnering some widsom from your Dad. We would talk about all sorts of subjects, but I really loved sharing his passion for raising pigs and his goal of making each generation better! Each time I was there your Dad's passion for pigs and life would rub off on me. I am truly a better person from sharing those times with him and your family! You are in great hands with your surrogate parents in Iowa with Kirk and Jerra! Soak in the wisdom, as you have already pointed out, those visits Wil make an impact on your life! Sinerely Ty

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