A T-shirt seen recently said: “Wouldn’t we all be healthier if vegetables tasted like bacon?”
Unfortunately, they just don’t. But fortunately, bacon does.
Pork is big business in Monroe County, and getting bigger. The latest growth in the industry took place last Wednesday in Valmeyer, as Bruce Brinkman and his family cut the ribbon to open their hog barn near Route 156, about a mile and-a-half southwest of old Valmeyer.
The 20,000-square-foot structure will soon be home to some 2,400 hogs, providing them optimal conditions to grow to a market weight of 270 to 280 pounds.
Brinkman came to Monroe County in 1986, following graduation from John Wood Community College’s Swine program in Quincy. Brinkman came here to put his education to work on a hog farm. He reinvested his earnings and energy, buying the farm he has now expanded from Bob and Bud Rippelmeyer.
He told how originally he raised pigs from farrow (birth) to market. But in August 1993, along with all of his neighbors in the area, his business and home were inundated in the flood of that summer.
Today, virtually no sign of that disaster remains visible on the 1,150-acre farm he and his family operate. In addition to being free fertilizer, the manure substitutes nationwide for millions of cubic feet of natural gas that would otherwise be used to manufacture artificial fertilizer.
The Brinkmans will bring in weaned young hogs. In about four months, they are ready to send to market. His new facility will thus produce about 7,200 market-ready hogs a year. This is in addition to an adjacent 820-hog facility.
The traditional image of a hog farm is pigs wallowing in mud while generating “unneighborly” odors. But the Brinkman farm is not like that.
The new building features automatically controlled ventilation, feeding and watering equipment. Hogs don’t like to be dirty, but traditionally wallow to protect their sensitive skin. Hogs also don’t sweat, so they often try to stay wet in hot weather.
The 240-foot-long building is divided into two long halls with pens and stainless steel feeders. Waste falls through slots in the floor, which is comprised of pre-cast concrete slabs. It is washed down frequently, as well. From there, it goes into an under-floor holding pool area.
In fact, the manure has value. Brinkman said he will draw it from the pit and inject it into some 250 acres of fields during growing seasons.Pictured during the ribbon-cutting, front row, from left, are building contractor Lee Corvus, Monroe County Commissioner Delbert Wittenauer, State Rep. Jerry Costello II and Bruce, Rita, Ryan, Bethany and Dustin Brinkman; back row: Illinois Livestock Development Group representative Nick Anderson and Country Financial agent Chip Bieber. (Kermit Constantine photo)
“I can store up to 440 days worth of waste if need be,” he said.
He uses a similar system in his existing 820-hog building and said visitors to his farm often ask if he has any hogs, as they smell nothing.
Other features of the new building ensure healthy conditions for the hogs. The ventilation system changes the building’s air every 30 seconds. Misters cut in automatically to cool the hogs when temperatures rise. The hogs’ health is critical, as it ensures a better opportunity to generate a profit as well as to provide healthy food.
Pork today is much leaner than years ago. In fact, compared to just 10 years ago, pork in the markets has 30 percent less fat and 14 percent fewer calories. It is indeed, “The other white meat,” as pork tenderloin is as lean as skinless chicken breast meat.
Pork is big business in Illinois, the nation’s fourth largest producer. In 2009, Illinois farmers raised 4.3 million hogs, sent 1.84 billion pounds to market and contributed $1.8 billion to the state’s economy. It is an $11.3 million contributor to the Monroe County economy.
At the ribbon cutting, which preceded a pork burger and pork chop meal for attendees, State Rep. Jerry Costello II characterized agriculture as the “business of Southern Illinois.”
Monroe County Board Chairman Delbert Wittenauer added, “The Brinkmans represent the Monroe County way – they work hard for a living.”
Brinkman told the assembled guests how the farm is his family’s livelihood.
“I work hard every day to ensure that I take the best care possible of my animals, the environment and my community,” he said.
The Brinkman farm also produces corn, soybeans, wheat and horseradish. His family, all of whom watched as his wife, Rita, cut the blue ribbon to herald the opening of the new facility, includes sons, Dustin, 20 (a junior at SIU-Carbondale) and Ryan, 12, and daughter Bethany, 14.
Bruce’s parents, Leroy and Virginia Brinkman of Payson, Ill., were also on hand to enjoy the day.