I am a proud daughter of a swine producer. It isn’t every day that you hear that phrase coming from a 17-year-old girl. However, that is the best way I can describe how I feel living on a “smelly hog farm,” as some of my friends might say. Oak Hill Farm, located near Julian, Nebraska, has a rich history and a promising future.
My great-grandfather, John Hodges, started our hog farm raising Duroc and crossbred hogs as part of a diversified operation. In my opinion, we should have kept the red hogs, but when my grandfather Dan Hodges took over the farm, he transitioned into purebred Berkshires which we now raise today. My father, Michael Hodges, is a third generation hog farmer and has made the farm the most successful it has ever been in terms of its genetics and meat quality.
We used to sell our high quality Berkshire market hogs to customers in Japan through a production contract with a packer in northwest Iowa. Oak Hill Farms knew no borders, as we also used to sell breeding stock to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and others. I vividly remember a few of our foreign customers coming over and wanting to see the hogs out on grass as they made their selections. We would try to honor their request, but oftentimes they just ended up chasing boars around in the front yard.
Berkshire’s superior meat quality is not a myth — it has been proven by the National Pork Board when they tested nine sire lines for their meat and eating quality. Berkshire pork placed first in 19 of 20 traits, including: loin color, loin tenderness, loin marbling, best tasting in all test categories, and superior cooked moisture content. While the Japanese consumer was the first one willing to pay a premium for this quality, consumers across the United States have now acquired a taste for Berkshire, as well.
In January of 2015, my Dad decided to stop selling to Japan and focus on the domestic pork market instead. To do this, he became a member of a marketing cooperative based in Des Moines, Iowa named Berkwood Farms. This 100% farmer-owned co-op is a coalition of over 60 independent family farmers. As a group, they strive for excellence by never sacrificing quality. My dad has also taken on leadership roles within this cooperative by being elected to the Board of Directors for Berkwood.
So yes, I might live on a “smelly hog farm,” but I am certainly proud of the success that generations of Hodges have accomplished by raising swine. Over the next few weeks, I hope to update you on how Oak Hill Farm is progressing along with educating you on the niche market of Berkshire pork. — Elizabeth Hodges