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Fox depends on diverse marketing

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 10/22/2012 2:58 PM

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BROWERVILLE, Minn. — Marketing diversity is a key element in Lawrence Fox's Browerville hog operation.

Fox markets 450 hogs with Niman Ranch annually and processes another 150 at his on-farm, state equal-to processing plant.

Fox Farm Pork offers 20 pork products, including his customers' favorite, breakfast links, which are sold locally through the on-farm store, farmers markets, food cooperative and direct to customers.

Fox plans to have a USDA-inspected to provide him with even more marketing opportunities.

The foundation of his operation is Niman Ranch's production protocols. The hogs must be raised on pasture or in deep-bedded barns. They can't receive antibiotics and can't be fed animal by-products, he said.

He has four deep-bedded hoop barns for the market hogs and pasture for the herd.

Fox has developed his own barn design for farrowing. Instead of a Swedish deep-bedded system, the hogs are in bedded pens that give the sow and piglets ample room to move. A roll bar separates a sow's feed and water from the piglets.

A hot water line runs under the creep area to keep pigs warm. They are weaned at five weeks and go right on feed "without a catch," Fox said.

After farrowing, the sides of the pens are removed for easy clean out.

He has 45 sows in his farrow-to-finish operation. The sows, a three-way cross of a white line, Duroc and Landrace, are bred to purebred Durocs one year and purebred Chester Whites the next.

While genetics plays an important role in meat quality, Fox also credits his ration. The ration includes peas, and Fox said the peas add to the meat's flavor.

Non-GMO corn and soy round out the ration.

His pork goes through a rigorous quality check by Niman, which audits every 100 animals. His attention to detail, pork production and products was noted by Niman Ranch at its yearly farm meeting. Out of the company's 500 family-owned hog farms, Fox Farm Pork was named No. 6 in Niman's top 10 farms, Fox said.

It's quite an accomplishment for the hog operation Fox started just six years ago.

Fox and his family moved to the area from Wisconsin where he custom raised hogs for other producers, he said. But Fox, his wife, Arlene and their children wanted a family-based business. They looked for farms and found the Browerville farm a niche spot. Fox, a Mennonite, moved with other church families to the area in 2006.

Farming in the region is similar to Wisconsin, except for its sandier soils, but the family has made a good transition, eh said. They now farm around 350 ares of rented and owned land.

Fox's hog numbers were once higher, but high corn prices caused him to reduce production.

"We decided that if corn goes to $7, we will sell it," he said.

They purchased additional land and have plans to increase hog numbers.

He smiles as he talks about his family operation. The couple has seven children ranging in age from 2 to 21, he said. Two sons, ages 15 and 17, have taken an active interest in the farm.

"They are involved in it 100 percent," he said. "They can do about anything you put them to do."

A daughter is also interested in hog production. What started as a dream for a family farm business is now reality. The key is diversification.

"If you do just one thing, you are a sitting duck," he said. "With multiple parts of an operation, if one part is down, another is better."

For more information, contact Fox at (320) 533-1100.