Uilk is Minnesota Pork Industry Swine Manager of the YearPIPESTONE — When Mark Uilk learned he had been chosen as the 2012 Minnesota Pork Industry Swine Manager of the Year, he was surprised. “I felt very non-worthy at first,” he admitted. “It’s a real honor.”
PIPESTONE — When Mark Uilk learned he had been chosen as the 2012 Minnesota Pork Industry Swine Manager of the Year, he was surprised.
“I felt very non-worthy at first,” he admitted. “It’s a real honor.”
Uilk is the manager at Twin Rock, a 5,000-head hog barn north of Pipestone — one of the 43 barns that are part of Pipestone System (PS). Similar to a co-op, PS has shareholders, who each own a share in a barn. They own a group of pigs they receive in a time allotment. There are 14 veterinarians who do consulting work for the barns, and each barn strives to get top production. PS has barns in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. Uilk’s barn is 15 miles north of Pipestone.
“Twin Rock is one of the bigger farms,” Uilk said. “Most of the barns are at 3,000 head, some at 2,400, and we have a few at 5,000. I am one of the three at 5,000.”
Expanding the barn to 5,000 head in 2006 is one of the things Uilk believes won him the 2012 Swine Manager of the Year title.
“I just did a combination of things that materialized over the last five or six years,” he explained. “With an expansion, there are a lot of different things taking place as far as the construction goes — pre-planning when the pigs are coming in, organizing things. A big thing is finding the extra labor to take on the added workload.”
All of that, he said, is watched by shareholders who actually own the farm.
“They want to make sure it is done right,” Uilk stated. “That is why they are with PS. And if something goes wrong, it falls on my shoulders.”
Uilk has been part of PS since April 1, 1999, and said it can be hard to keep people there if consistent health problems with the animals persist. It adds to the workload, and the bonus shareholders get with healthy herds disappears, so people are essentially working harder for less money.
Uilk said he is a “humble guy” who doesn’t like to toot his own horn, so he was caught off guard when he was named swine manager of the year.
“With all the barns, there is a high spirit of competitiveness when it comes to top production,” he explained. “With some health problems in the barn, I’ve never gotten to the top level, so I was humbled when I received (the award).”
Discussions with Director of Swine Operations for PS Troy Woelber, about what the farm had gone through — and how Uilk had helped build it to what it is today —made accepting the award easier, he said.
According to a Minnesota Pork Producers Association statement, Uilk focuses a great deal of energy and talent on pig production and farm improvements, but also prides himself on the development of people. He is one of the key managers who assist in the on-farm portion of the manager in training program. Many of PS’s top managers have passed through Uilk’s facility during their training.
“(Uilk) is one of the most stable and loyal managers we have in the system,” Woelber stated. “I often measure the success of a manager on how many people in the PS farm leadership can attach their name to a manager’s development tree. We can safely say that a large percentage of individuals can.”
Uilk leads by example, focuses on continuous improvement and takes an annual manager test that measures knowledge in pig production, biosecurity, safety, animal welfare, finance and human resources. He encourages members of the PS team to always do their best and work in a manner that follows best management practices and the animal welfare standards required by PS.
“It shows his commitment to not only Pipestone System, but to personal development of employees who live in our community,” Woelber said.
When he’s not at work at Twin Rock, Uilk enjoys working on the family farm with his uncle, who runs a custom chopping business.
“I help out with that through the summer and fall,” he said.
He was brought up working on a dairy farm near Pipestone, and his father and uncle taught him a lot — from work ethic to “hurry up and get the chores done before church.” There was pressure to get things done, which he said carries on to how he works day to day.
Uilk also enjoys spending time with his family — a wife and three children.
“We do a lot of camping, and we acquired a nice, big swimming pool a couple of years back, so we enjoy spending time together out there,” he stated.
In the winter months, Uilk tries to get as much time in on his snowmobile as he can, although this season he hasn’t seen much track time due to the lack of snow.
Uilk accepted his award in Minneapolis during the Minnesota Pork Congress on Jan. 17.
Readers may reach Daily Globe Reporter
Justine Wettschreck at 376-7322.