The white pens in the Raasch family's new hog enclosure played host to climbing children several days ago, but starting today, they'll hold about 125 hogs each.
Matt and Janene Raasch, of Odebolt, held an open house Wednesday for the barn, which received its final touches that day and will be home to about 2,400 hogs for the next six months.
The piglets will start arriving today and will live in the enclosure until they reach market weight, said Matt Raasch, 40, who grew up in Odebolt and comes from a long line of farmers. Then, the cycle will repeat.
The open house drew more than 50 people, who ate pork, walked around the enclosure and congratulated Raasch.
Each of the U-shaped pens has a food and water trough in its center, mats for the piglets to lie on and heat lamps.
"We'll try to simulate the baby pigs' mothers as much as possible," Raasch said.
Raasch and the others who work in the barn will follow careful biosecurity guidelines, showering and changing clothes at the barn's entrance to minimize the risk of tracking in diseases. One area of the enclosure will be designated specifically for hogs that do get sick, to try to keep illnesses from spreading.
During the barn's construction, which took about two months, the Raasch family worked with the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers, an organization that provides free, confidential services and advice to livestock and poultry farmers in Iowa. The coalition helped the Raasches ensure they were following guidelines governing the enclosure's construction and its distance from surrounding buildings, in addition to providing guidance about how to inform their neighbors about the barn.
"This year was another record year for us," said Brian Waddingham, CSIF's executive director. "We did over 850 phone calls with farmers who had questions, and 230 farm visits, where we sat at kitchen tables and visited with families about what they wanted to do and helped them get there."
During the open house, Raasch emphasized the streamlined, environmentally friendly way in which the enclosure was built and will run. Its food, water and ventilation are all automated, and an alarm in the enclosure's office notifies Raasch when something stops working. When the temperature rises, seven large fans on the enclosure's end turn on, one at a time, to freshen the air.
Slats on the floor lead to a 10-foot-deep enclosure underneath the barn, which will collect the hogs' manure so that it can be spread over the farm's crop fields. Raasch said he hopes the larger concrete enclosure - 8 feet deep is the norm - will mean it will need to be emptied less often.
Iowa is the top-ranked pork-producing state in the country, according to information from CSIF. There are about 30 million hogs in the state at any given time - about 10 times Iowa's population. Each year, Iowa hog farms contribute $5 billion to the state's economy.
Construction of a hog barn adds to the state's economy in a number of ways - not just through the pork industry, but through the construction, feed and veterinary industries as well, according to information from CSIF.
This will be the first livestock on the Raasch farm for a time. The family grows corn and soybeans and has raised sheep in the past.
Many of those who arrived at the barn to explore the inside and enjoy the pork meal were friends of the Raasch family, including Kevin Carstensen, 59, a former Iowa Cattlemen's Association president who farms nearby. He's known the Raasch family "forever" - since before Matt Raasch was born, he said.
"Anytime a young person can make this kind of investment, we know they're going to be in this community, and they're going to be contributing to the community," Carstensen said. "Matt will just do a tremendous job."