No. 6 of 500 family-owned hog farms for Niman Ranch
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
With just a four-year break during his pre-teen years, Lawrence Fox has worked with hogs his entire life. He was born in Pennsylvania and lived there on a hog farm until he was 10. His parents moved to a dairy farm in Wisconsin at that time.
“I bought my first two gilts when I was 14,” Fox said.
Fox and his wife, Arlene, married in 1989, and established a conventional hog farm where he custom-raised hogs for other producers. It was when they moved to Central Minnesota in 2006, as part of a Mennonite church outreach, that they built up their present operation.
“We looked for a farm that had a nice house and farm buildings that needed work,” Fox said. “That’s just what we got. The former owners had refurbished the house and it was ready to go.”
Fox fixed up the whole farm specifically to produce for Niman Ranch. Located in California, Niman processes and markets pork and other meats for grocers, restaurants and private buyers. Their products are offered online.
“We tailored the farm for what we wanted to do,” Fox said. “It was a year until we had pigs to sell, after building four hoop barns. We had to prepare the farrowing barn and the gestation barn.”
The farm had been used for a chicken operation, so the slaughter floor had to be modified to accommodate red meat. In 2011, another building was jacked up and refitted to be the shop.
“We would never have been able to do this if a lot of things hadn’t been in place,” said Fox.
The farrowing facility was rebuilt in 2012, with everything removable for cleaning.
“We do not use any animal by-products in the feed. The hogs are never on concrete or slatted pits,” Fox said. “Every animal has access to direct sunlight and sows have open access to the outdoors. We do not use stalls for gestation or farrowing.”
Three-fourths of the pork from Fox Farm goes to Niman Ranch. Niman hogs have never been given antibiotics of any kind; have never been given added hormones or artificial growth promotants; have been fed all-vegetarian diets; have been raised to the highest care standards according to Niman Ranch’s Pig Husbandry Protocols; are born and raised on American family farms and are harvested and processed at United States Department of Agriculture-inspected facilities.
Niman protocols were developed with the help of animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin and are the strictest in the industry, as stated on Niman’s Web site.
“Niman brags that they have the best-tasting pork in the world,” Fox said.
In 2012, Fox Farm Pork was named No. 6 in Niman’s top 10 farms, out of the 500 family-owned hog farms supplying products to Niman.
“Niman does regular meat quality tests,” Fox said. “Every 100 pigs, they pull one and test for flavor, pH and color.”
Fox Farm Pork is a multi-faceted business. In addition to pork production, Fox rents land and sells his non-genetically modified organism (GMO) corn. He also buys and sells machinery.
Fox offers meat processing at his facility, and will smoke meat for producers as well. Products are offered for sale at the farm.
Of the seven Fox children, eldest sons Carl and Larry help with the farm work. “Larry is the ‘hog man,’ with a real interest in the animals,” Fox said. “Carl is the technical man, doing computer work. He did the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan for the state. He works where he’s needed — he can look at a sow and assess it by sight.”
“I do the crop farming and mechanic work in the shop,” said Carl. “There is lots to do; it’s interesting work. The HACCP plan was pretty detailed. We did the writing ourselves, using the example that was provided.”
“We’re doing what we like to do — raising great-tasting pork,” Fox said.
For more information, call (320) 533-1100.