Still in the family

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 25, 2003

All over the surrounding rural area farm home sites are being sold and the land divided and sold in sections. The family farm is becoming a concept of the past.

It used to be a given that the family farm would continue to be operated by someone within the family. Family sizes were larger and there always seemed to be someone willing to step in and take care of the land.

Farming has always been considered a lifestyle more than a business.

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Mel Yunker, a hog farmer near Rose Creek has two of his sons, Jeff and Mark, farming with him on their farm. Yunker is originally from Illinois where he grew up milking cows. When he came to Minnesota to farm he became a hog farm operator.

"I always liked the lifestyle of farming. It is a good way of life but it is more stressful then it used to be. The industry has changed very fast the last nine years. Because of this we have become better managers," Mel said.

His son, Mark, agreed with him saying, "The work is more pencil pushing then actual physical labor as in the past. I am at the desk late each night especially in the winter months."

The Yunkers purchase weaned-off-the sow pigs from a hog operation in Aberdeen, S.D. Jeff Yunker is the truck driver and he travels to Aberdeen to pick the pigs up when they are 18 days old and weigh about 12 to 13 pounds. The pigs are kept warm by their body heat and are already castrated when purchased. The Yunkers raise the pigs until the are five and half months old and weigh 260 pounds.

The Yunker's farm is approximately 850 acres. They raise some of the corn that they feed their hogs. The feed for the pigs is specially-mixed with other feeds at the Hayfield Grain Mill. They are contracted with Archer Daniel Midland to buy their feeds. They put in bids each year on what mill will grind and mix their feed. Through Archer Daniel Midland, they were lined up with the hog operation in Aberdeen where they purchase their pigs. From the feed, to the hogs, to the mill, all are connected.

Computers run their day-to-day operation, keeping the temperature of the buildings at 86 to 88 degrees when the pigs are young and at 62 degrees when the pigs are ready to take to market. To run a large hog operation, the Yunkers have outside help. They contract growers with buildings to raise their hogs to market size. For the Yunkers to be competitive in this business, they are constantly turning over pigs.

"It has worked very well for me having my sons in the business. There are many advantages, as we know each other well. My sons could not farm if I had not been farming," Mel said.

His son Mark agrees that it is too expensive for anyone to go into farming with out help. Mark worked elsewhere as a carpenter before he returned to Rose Creek to farm with his dad. Mark's main job is scheduling when the hogs will go to market and his brother Jeff is the trucker who hauls the hogs. Eighty-five percent of their hogs are processed at Hormel Foods Corporation. The rest are hauled to IPB in Waterloo, Iowa.

"We are hauling five days a week from all the different contractors we have," Mark said.

Their days are hectic and filled. The most stressful time of year is harvest in the fall. The workload doubles during the four to six weeks of harvest. All the Yunkers work to keep the machinery in top running form during this time.

The Yunkers continue to expand their operations and they rent out land. Mark farms the rented land and new hog facilities have been built to raise more hogs.

"Dad's not thinking of retiring soon. Our other brother, Mike, works at the Mayo Clinic. We all share our duties. My daughters help out with loading hogs and they pick rocks each spring. My oldest daughter is learning to drive tractor," Mark said.

Mark likes the lifestyle of living on a farm. He thinks that compared to any other lifestyle, "that farming's the way to go. There is still flexibility in the work and I can spend a day at the lake with my family if I like."

Mel said, "I am sentimental about farming. It is not like it was 30 and 40 years ago. It was better for the family and the community then. People don't help each other out like they used to. The first year that I moved here I had an appendicitis attack and all the neighbors helped with planting. There are not many people on the farms anymore as everyone works in town."

There is more competition in farming said the Yunkers as far as other farmers competing to rent land. More land is needed as more volume of corn and beans is needed to make ends meet.

"Everyone needs more and more. But we love it out here. Everyday we are glad to get up and glad to be doing what we are doing," Mel said.

Jeff and Mark both married women that were raised in town and it has been an adjustment for their wives living out in the country. Their mother, Sharon and dad Mel gave three reasons why they liked living on a farm:

n Their favorite time is when the corn comes out of the ground and you can see the dots all over the field.

n Finishing up the last field for the year with the sun setting.

n It is a great place to raise children because they learn responsibility.

Sheila Donnelly can be reached at 434-2233 or by e-mail at