This is part one of a two-part story.
It’s possible Pat Bane is a bit of a workaholic. After all, when you have 7,000 pigs depending on you at any given time, you don’t have much of a choice. Bane lives a life marked by good, honest hard work, no shortcuts and a “whatever it takes” attitude. It’s a life he is proud to share in his new role as America’s Pig Farmer of the Year sponsored by the National Pork Board.
“I want to do more to show what it’s like to raise pigs to populations largely unfamiliar with agriculture,” Bane explains. “I'm prepared to make the case for why we do what we do today, and I want to provide that perspective to those who may not have it. I’ve been to other parts of the world, have seen pig farming evolve in the U.S., and I think it positions me to answer people’s questions and talk through disagreements.”
Health is a priority at Bane Family Pork Farm.
Attention to detail
Growing up in the heart of corn country in McLean County, Ill., Bane and his eight siblings spent a lot of time working on the family farm consisting of row crops, cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens. “As our dad always said, there was never very much money, but always plenty of work to do,” says Bane’s twin brother, Phil. “Everyone was expected to do their share, and it gave us an appreciation for farming.”
After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1981 with a degree in animal science, Bane returned home to work with his brothers on the family farm that had been around since the 1800s. For many years, Bane was a grain farmer, but 20 years ago he became solely focused on running the pig operation after the family built the current primary pig farm.
Nearly a decade later, Bane managed a herd depopulation and expansion after the farm was struck by circovirus and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). Although rebuilding the family’s herd with highhealth genetics was not an easy task, he says it was necessary to sustain the farm.
“That experience gave me a stronger appreciation for biosecurity and food safety,” Bane says. “We focus on making genetic improvements on the sows themselves, and though it adds to the complexity of our farm, it has given
us control of our gilts and allows us to better manage their health and quality.”
It might take more effort, but that doesn’t deter them.
“We’ve reaped a lot of dividends from rebuilding our herd,” Bane says. “If you have someone else bring you females, you are only as healthy as they are. When you close your farm down, we can control our destiny better.”
Today, Bane Family Pork Farms is a 3,000-sow, closed, breed-to-wean farm raising around 74,000 pigs each year. His brother Sam manages the row crops. Meanwhile, Phil, a large animal veterinarian with Fairbury Animal Hospital, serves as a consulting vet and plays a major role in maintenance and repairs on the farm.
“The farm is 25 years old, and the facilities and equipment require constant attention,” Phil says. “Contractors prefer not to work in buildings occupied by animals, and from a biosecurity standpoint, we prefer not to have outside workers on the farm. As a result, Pat and I see what options are available in the industry and make the needed improvements ourselves with the help of our employees.”
One of the farm’s biggest advantages has been Bane’s ability to maintain the farm in excellent condition over the past 25 years, Phil says.
“Animal well-being is critical on our farm. We make sure the animals are not only comfortable in their housing, but that they are cared for in the proper way. And that takes clean, healthy, high-tech facilities,” Bane says.
Faustino Rios and Pat Bane discuss AI techniques.
A relentless work ethic
No one ever said pork production was easy. It’s a high-risk, labor intensive way of life. Even with the best management, disease outbreaks, weather events, mechanical failures, market fluctuations, and human injury can happen.
“It’s a 24-7 commitment and disaster can strike at any time,” Phil says. “For 25 years, my brother has lived with these risks and has done an excellent job. Because of his efforts, we have been able to avoid many problems and more importantly, deal with the problems that have occurred.”
For young people interested in a future in pork production, Bane says an understanding and appreciation for all aspects of the farm is paramount. “You just can’t come in and manage a pig farm without understanding what it takes to do all the jobs,” he says. “Don’t take shortcuts. Breeding methods, baby pig care, barn maintenance—they haven’t changed much over the years. It takes time to do all those things right.”
This pursuit of getting the job done right, whatever it takes, might be Bane’s greatest strength, Phil says.
“There are a lot of moving parts on a hog farm,” he adds. “Pat’s knowledge of all aspects of the farm keeps him a step ahead of potential problems. For example, he personally does all the ultrasound pregnancy checking on the farm. If there is any change in reproductive performance, he knows immediately. He’s not looking at trends on a computer screen to figure that out, although we have that as well.”
In addition to overseeing the day-today operations on the farm, Bane takes great pride in working with and managing the farm’s employees. They’ve had very little turnover, which he believes is one of their keys to success.
Bane Family Pork Farm’s longest standing employee, Faustino Rios, has been with the farm for 14 years. He has been a part of helping the operation reach a milestone of raising one million pigs.
“I never thought we would reach this incredible goal,” Rios says. “But Mr. Bane’s patience and willingness to help with whatever is needed makes him successful in running this operation.”
Marco Ramirez, an employee of four years, agrees. “He keeps the farm and equipment in great shape so we can provide the best care for the pigs and provide for the best safety for all employees. He’s also unselfish, always making time to help us out when we need it. He really cares about his employees and their families.”
The well-being of the team is important to Bane. Having a good relationship with each employee is critical to the farm’s ability to run smoothly.
“I love what I do every day because I work with great people,” he says. “There’s no GPS for what we do. It requires good people to be successful.”