Zoltenko Farms in Kansas breeds hogs, long-term family business
A boar stud operation that developed from hard work and grit on a nearly 100-year old family farm at the Kansas/Nebraska border, is soaring into the high-tech industry. Zoltenko Farms, founded in 1917 in remote Jewell County, Kan., near the town of Hardy, Neb., morphed into the boar stud business in 1998, and one of the unique things about it is the way the owners do business.
Until the fall 1997, the Zoltenkos were a traditional family farming operation. They grew row crops and raised cattle and hogs. Lannin Zoltenko, current general manager and partner, said his father recognized an opportunity in the hog semen market for local producers within 50-100 miles.
Their first hog semen was produced in June 1998. The family began conducting artificial insemination by collecting semen for their own sows.
“In those early days, it was pretty humble beginnings with converted facilities. I graduated high school in 1997 and was married with a small child,” Zoltenko said. “We came home the summer of 1998, and I’d always had an interest and pretty good ability to sell…so I made the decision not to return to college (at Kansas State University). Back then, we were still farming all our ground and we’d get up at 3:00 a.m., collect semen, get it cooled, go home and sleep for a bit, and go on our 4-8 hour delivery route of collecting semen two days a week. The other three days – we farmed.”
As the business continued to grow, it became clear to Zoltenko’s father they needed to focus all their attention on the boar stud investment and put the farming part on the back burner.
“We rented the ground to the neighbors,” he said. “Then in 2000, there was an opportunity to takeover a neighbor’s property and use it to improve the bio-security and grow our business.”
The Zoltenkos have grown ever since.
The operation revolves entirely around bio-security, or maintaining the high-quality health of the hog and insuring fresh delivery of its semen, which has a five-day shelf life.
Zoltenko Farms recently installed a high-tech geo-thermal cooling system; a two year project that was recently completed. Additionally, plans are underway for another expansion project.
“When we finish ‘phase three,’ it will enable us to house 1,100 boars. Currently we have 860 boars,” Zoltenko said. “We’ll also have the ability to produce 25,000 doses of semen per week. Currently, we’re producing 21,000.”
Each boar services about 200 sows, so the expansion will enable the boar stud facility to service 220,000 sows.
It’s all about the health and reproductive health of the boars, which inspired Zoltenko to make the investment of a geo-thermal system. The goal is to keep the a/c temperature down so it doesn’t stress the boar and also maintains their fertility. Certain genetic breeds are very easily and negatively affected by high temperatures.
“Even though we cool our barns with evaporative coolers, in summer with high humidity, the temperature can get up into the 80s and can cause the boar to go sterile. So, without the a/c, we’ve had some summers when up to 40-percent of our animals would go sterile, depending on whether a summer is very hot and humid,” Zoltenko said.
A north-central Kansas company, Hood Heating and Air, Plumbing and Electrical Inc., installed the intricate geo-thermal cooling system.
“All of the air has to be air from outside, and as it comes into the building, it’s conditioned to the temperature that the animals need,” said Luke Hood, Vice President of Operations at Hood Heating and Air, Plumbing and Electrical Inc. in Concordia, Kan. “It is then delivered to the boars, and then ventilated outside. It’s the most efficient system they can use.”
Hood will also handle Zoltenko’s upgrade of an older facility to match the geo-thermal system. That installation is expected to begin late this year.
As part of Zoltenko Farms’ bio-security, all of their facilities require visitors and team members to shower upon arrival and departure.
“If one of our team members gets in contact with a pot belly pig, they cannot return into our facilities for three days,” Zoltenko said. “We wash and disinfect everything inside the building, including vehicles coming onto the premises.”
Before traveling to the site at the Kansas/Nebraska border, company vehicles go to a transportation center in Superior, Neb., where the vehicles have first been cleaned, disinfected and dried before and after entering the Zoltenko Farms facility.
“That transportation center serves as the firewall between us and our customers, and between us and the outside world. We run our own Suburban four-wheel drive vehicles, and work year-round except Christmas and New Year’s,” Zoltenko said.
The house which serves as the company office was built in 1903 by Zoltenko’s great-great-grandfather, who homesteaded there.
“My boys are the sixth generation on our farm. We still use that house as our office — the structure is still the same,” he said.
What Zoltenko likes best about the business is making a difference for people and the animals.
“We have an opportunity to be one of the first links in the chain to produce a high quality protein for our neighbors and across the globe,” he said.
He’s also passionate about the opportunities — and responsibilities — that come with employing 44 people.
“It wouldn’t be much of a business if we relied only on the efforts of just our family and me,” he said. “We feel like it’s a family and we do a lot of work for the people who work with us and help them grow while growing the business.” ❖