By Sheryl Oswalt
What’s going up at the corner of W Avenue and Portage Road? The folks at H & H Feed & Grain have contracted with Zeeland-based Top Line Equipment to construct a new feed processing facility to replace their existing mill.
The original feed mill was built by Frank Woodhams in 1961. Pat Hunter, a man with a marketing degree from Western Michigan University, found himself working as a feed salesman in the mid-seventies. His father-in-law, David Huntley was in road construction. When road construction hit a rough patch, the two decided to purchase the mill from Woodhams and opened as H & H Feed & Grain on October 1, 1978.
Hunter recalls purchasing the mill while interest rates were “manageable” in the 10% range but shortly after climbed as high as 22%. Plans to make a go of the feed mill based strictly on providing feed for the local farmers was put to the test; diversification was a necessity. Hunter and Huntley figured the best way to combat receivable collection problems and pay for a mill was to raise the animals themselves, to produce feed for their own use rather than depend on others. After a period in the poultry business, they converted their farm facilities to raise hogs in 1985.
Today, the operation is owned and operated by Pat’s son, Ryan, and his wife, Reagan. Both Vicksburg graduates, they reconnected years after graduation. Together they are raising her two daughters, Kyla, 10, and Payten, 8. They recently added a son, Houston, to their family. Family is important to Ryan and Reagan. They manage the operation from their office with a view of the new mill and space for the children to play or do homework.
Along with the feed facility on Portage Road, H & H operates 20 hog facilities within a 60-mile radius of the mill where they raise over 150,000 hogs a year. They are farrow-to-finish growers, controlling the product from birth to market. Sows give birth to an average of 14 live piglets that stay with their mothers for 21 days when they are weaned from their mothers and moved to the nursery facilities. From there they grow from 14 pounds to 45 pounds. They then go to finishing barns where they are fed and are shipped to market at 290 pounds.
Hogs eat an average of five pounds of feed a day throughout their life; creating a need for 2,200 tons of feed per week. Ryan is proud to report that 93 percent of his feed ingredients come from a 50-mile radius of the mill and that approximately 50 percent of those ingredients are by-products of the cereal, flour and soybean processing and ethanol plants in Michigan. These become recycled products rather than ending up in a landfill. The new mill will be capable of producing 80 tons of feed an hour compared to the 200 tons a week produced by the old mill in the beginning years. They mix only hog feed, with 70 percent of it for their own hogs. Hogs are now shipped to Indiana for processing, but Ryan indicated once the Clemens Food Group’s Coldwater processing plant is operational (slated for late 2017 or early 2018) they will be shipping to them. It will be the state’s only pork processing plant.
Ryan is proud to say that all their facilities are MAEAP (Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program) verified and they strive to be good neighbors and vigilant caretakers of their land and animals. Ryan gives credit to the 50-60 local residents who have a variety of special skills that range from caring for the hogs, delivering feed to over 50 locations or mixing feed from over 300 bins containing 60 different ingredients. Many of them have known him since he was just a youngster and take pride in being part of a successful local business. Working in agriculture is both rewarding and challenging as the value of products varies so greatly, Ryan said.