By Joel Kaelin 


The fifth seminar of the Pork Leadership Program began Thursday, November 14 at the Pillen Family Farms office in Columbus. Our group had the opportunity to meet with experts from Pillen Family Farms and DNA Genetics.   


Our first speaker was Dr. Jim Pillen, owner of Pillen Family Farms and DNA Genetics, who gave these basic principles on the culture at his companies: do what’s right, do the best you can, and treat others the way you want to be treated. He discussed that in the future of the pork industry we will continue to use technology to meet the pigs needs. We must watch carefully how the pigs access food, water, and air. We will continue to have a demand to keep getting better. He emphasized that we need to do a better job of telling our story to let people know we care. 


Next Brett Bonwell, CEO at DNA Genetics, presented the history of the company.  DNA Genetics is the second largest supplier of genetics in the industryHe explained that it is the only producer-owned genetics company and has been in business for 16 years. Brett discussed how the company has adapted to change in the industry and how it has grown. We discussed knowing the difference between “important” and urgent when making decisions at work or in our lives. He also talked about their Quality Wheel of health, genetic progress, product integrity and customer satisfaction.  


Third, we had the opportunity to hear from Dr. John SondermanDNA Genetics business leader for multiplication and technical services. He told how DNA Genetics influences two out of every five strips of bacon. He spoke of the relationships and time spent with customers in creating value by helping them get better. It takes quite an extensive team of sales, technical support, customer service and logistics to help keep everything organized. 


Last, we talked with Dr. Tom Rathjechief technical officer at DNA Genetics. He went through the basic formula for genetic improvement. DNA Genetics is focused on Duroc, York, and Landrace. He reviewed the increase in feed efficiency in our pigs through genetic improvement and how this reduces our carbon footprint. Finally, the use of genomics in genetic selection is fascinating as it provides an increase in accuracy in genetics.   


By mid-afternoon, our day moved from the Pillen Family Farms office to one of their nursery sites for a tour. Dwight Wynn, director of multiple nurseries, led our tour. Every little detail is taken into account when caring for these pigs. It was interesting how cameras are used as a tool to help meet the pigs needs. Farm managers can watch this and adjust temperature and ventilation accordingly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 


We concluded our first day with a tour of a Pillen Family Farms finisher site led by Aaron Holliday. He went through the different responsibilities of caring for finisher animals and the challenges that come up along the way.       


The next day, we began with a tour of Tyson Fresh Meats in Madison, Neb. with Chad Johnson. It was rewarding to follow the pig from the finisher to a package of bacon. We witnessed some new innovative technology, as the plant has done some recent updates. It struck me how they managed the many moving parts of not only people but machines that enable them to be consistent and efficient. 


On Friday, we spoke in Lincoln to a group of students in the animal biology class in at the Career Academy, a program of Southeast Community College and Lincoln Public Schools. We presented our background, education, experience, and company information. This was followed by question-and-answer session with the students. Topics such as African Swine Fever (ASF) and plant-based proteins were discussed, as well as housing, genetics, animal welfare, pork processing and exports. 


It was definitely a rewarding couple of days as we all were made aware of information that will help us become better leaders in our industry, job and community.