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Knobloch family finds success with Berkshires

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 11/28/2012 8:24 AM

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LESTER, Iowa — The Lance and Kristi Knobloch family had their hands full with a commercial hog finishing operation, beef cattle and crops when they decided to add one more enterprise: niche marketing pork.

"We were concerned about meat quality," said Knobloch. "The pork we were eating was too dry."

With that in mind, they experimented to see which breed suited their tastebuds best. Concentrating on Berkshire, Chester White and Duroc, the evaluations were based on comments from the most honest, unbiased group one could have.

"Our boys," said Kristi Knobloch. "They were really young at the time. We paid attention at meals to which meat they really gobbled up."

The results were enough to steer the Knoblochs towards the Berkshire breed. Their original two sows have grown to 45 sows, which is about right for their farm.

Their taste panel continues to be their four sons, Keegan, 16, Kelwin, 15, Gabe,11 and Dayton, 9. The boys also help with chores.

Kelwin is responsible for seeing that the Berkshire end of their farming gets done. He handles the breeding, farrowing and feeding with Gabe and Dayton's help.

Fly'n K Berkshires is a member of both the American and Iowa Berkshire Association.

This summer all four boys showed at the Iowa State in the open class. Each chose their own pig, and the friendly, family consensus was that Dayton had made the poorest choice.

"His name was Wilbur," said Dayton. "I liked his ears and the marking that he had." Wilbur placed third, the highest for Fly'n K this year.

Knobloch readily admits, there are challenges to raising Berkshires and he has learned to swallow the lumps. The operation started small, because the family wanted to be sure it was going to work, he said. The Berkshire pig is a neat critter, generally docile.

Earlier in their farming career, the Knoblochs farrowed their own commercial sows, but low prices forced them to discontinue farrowing. The old buildings are used once again for the Berkshires.

"They are just harder to raise," said Lance. "I was used to hybrids, that took the best qualities of each breed for maximum production.''

Knobloch farrows in groups of 12 sows. Average litter size is eight.

Some marketing is done directly, but most of the market pigs are sold to SIG International in nearby Boyden. SIG International is the largest Berkshire pork processor in the country.

Fly'n K has been working at improving the sows they have with the goal of eventually selling breeding stock.

For Kristi the biggest benefit of having the Berkshires, besides knowing the meat she serves is going to taste good, is the enjoyment in seeing how involved the entire family has gotten in the business.

Lance relishes the challenges of finding the right genetics to improve the herd.

"Many days I am out there at 5:30 a.m., sometimes after staying up late in the farrowing barn,'' Kelwin said. "For me its rewarding to experience the success that comes of the work that has been done."