EDGERTON — When it comes to raising pigs, rural Edgerton farmer Henry ‘Hiene’ Walhof sticks to tradition, using similar strategies as those his father and grandfather employed on their newly designated Century Farm.
The Walhof farm was first purchased in 1918 by Walhof’s grandfather, Harm John ‘H.J.’ DeGroot. Thirty years old at the time, DeGroot grew up near Leota after immigrating to the U.S. at age 4.
He bought the land and house near Edgerton on contract for deed, a financing method in which the buyer pays off the property in installments and the seller keeps the land title until the entire balance has been paid.
The farm’s main source of income was hog farming, but the DeGroots also had a barnyard of other livestock and crops. They grew wheat, corn and oats; milked cows to sell the cream and feed the milk to the pigs; and kept chickens for both eggs and meat. Before tractors, they used horses for farm labor.
Despite working hard and living frugally, when it came time to pay the farm’s balloon payment in 1928, DeGroot didn’t have the money. The beginnings of The Great Depression — plus blizzards, drought and dust storms — had already taken a toll.
On his way to tell the seller he would have to return the land, DeGroot stopped by his neighbor’s house. In the course of their conversation, DeGroot mentioned where he was headed, and his neighbor generously offered to loan DeGroot the money so he wouldn’t have to give up the farm.
After the Depression passed, the DeGroots enjoyed many prosperous years. They eventually got a tractor to make their operation more efficient, added to the farm’s various buildings and, in 1941, installed electricity.
Come 1950, H.J. and Alice DeGroot were ready to retire from farming and move to town. After that, the farm was occupied by various family members until 1964, when the DeGroots’ youngest child, Lavonne, took over the property with her husband, Allen Walhof.
By this time, soybeans had become a popular new crop, and Allen Walhof decided to add it to the lineup of grains already produced on site. Instead of dairy cows, the Walhofs raised feeder cattle to market weight.
Under Allen and Lavonne’s care, the hog operation grew. They added a few more buildings on the farm, including a nursery, grower and finishing house.
In 1972, Allen Walhof purchased the farm from the DeGroot estate and continued farming there until 1999, when he and Lavonne retired and moved to town. The Walhofs’ first-born and only son, Hiene, and his wife, Karen, have been managing the farm ever since.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Hiene prefers to raise hogs from farrow to finish. The farm typically has about 160 sows at any given time, with room to farrow up to 31 at once.
To ensure the best possible quality, Hiene keeps the sows separated into four different groups, based on their age, rotating them as finished hogs go to market and new piglets are born. Gilts are segregated from the others when they first arrive, to make sure they aren’t carrying any disease that could spread to the rest of the group.
The farmer also feeds each age group in precise regimens so each hog is healthy and hearty.
“From birth to market,” Hiene explained, “they get fed nine different diets.”
Feed is processed on site by growing corn and mixing it with other elements, such as distiller and soybean mix.
Occasionally, animal rights’ groups express concerns about modern hog farming, Hiene explained. People who aren’t familiar with the process sometimes think the pigs should be kept outside and free to roam, but Hiene noted that it’s actually more comfortable for the hogs to live in barns, where the temperature is regulated to combat the weather.
The Walhofs love living in rural Edgerton.
“There’s something about farm life,” said Karen, who also grew up on a farm. Although she works during the day at First State Bank Southwest, Karen enjoys tending the garden of vegetables and flowers that she and Hiene cultivate on the farm.
Like many other agriculture professionals, the Walhofs felt the effects of COVID-19 when area processing plants closed earlier this year.
“We have to know 10 months ahead of time if there’s going to be a place to take them (for processing),” Hiene said. It takes about six months for a hog to be ready for market, and with a gestation period of nearly four months, he has to have a processor in mind before breeding sows in the first place.
The Walhofs were used to taking their hogs to Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, so when that plant briefly shut down, they could feel the effects. The Walhof farm is recovering, though, and the couple look forward to many more years of raising hogs.
When it comes time to retire, Hiene and Karen plan to pass the management of the farm to their son, Daniel.