Finding His Niche: New Market Revitalizes Hog Operations
September 2009

If you attended the Munson Lakes customer appreciation event a couple of weeks ago, you know all about one part of Doug and Debbie Manthei’s farming operation—pork chops. When that silver trailer with the pink pig rolls up, it’s a sure bet that good food won’t be long in coming.

“That part of the business got started when I was cooking with the Pork Producers,” Doug relates. “Some people started asking if I could cook pork chops at their place. Then they wondered about weddings and company picnics and we started hitting the fairs. It just grew to the point that Debbie was able to make the catering business her full-time job.”

Hogs have been a mainstay of the Manthei family since Doug, his father, Elwyn, uncle Donald, and brother Randy started selling breeding stock 31 years ago. Eventually, Doug became the sole operator, building a farrow-to-finish operation that peaked at 500 sows. Over three decades, he’s faced challenges ranging from changing market economies to urban sprawl. Located just north of Elk River, his is the last livestock operation in the township.

After exiting the pork business for a time in 1998, Doug figured he would be done with farrowing for good. But in 2004, sows found a way back into his barn. “I was looking for a way to stay in the business, and I discovered the medical research market,” he explains. “I supply pigs to universities, clinics, hospitals, and labs in the area. I fixed up my farrowing building, and now I’m up to 150 sows.”

Service matters
Because his customers may require pigs that meet very specific requirements with little lead time, good service is crucial to the success of Doug’s business. “They have to be healthy SPF pigs, usually on 48-hour notice,” he comments. “They’re looking for pigs of a certain sex, color, and weight range. So I have to have pigs being born all the time to ensure a continuous flow.”

Service is equally important to Doug, which is the reason Munson Lakes Nutrition has been his feed supplier—with very few interruptions—for all his 31 years in the business. “I’ve worked with Ray Munson the entire time,” Doug says. “He gives me the opportunity to customize my ration. If I need equipment, he’ll help me out and head me in the right direction. And I’ve gotten good advice in contracting the feed ahead of time.”

One product that has been a hit with Doug—and others—has been Ultra Care starter. “I use it here, and I also started sending it with the younger pigs to the labs,” he states. “The labs like the product so much that they’ve started using it. It’s good nutrition for the very young pigs, and that’s really important for my business.”

Succeeding in the hog business is a challenge, and having a relationship with a partner you can count on for 30 years is important to Doug. “The feed quality is excellent. In all that time, I’ve never had to send a load back,” he summarizes. “They take care of their customers. Anything that can benefit Debbie and Doug Manthei with granddaughter Danielle. my operation, they will do.”

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