AG – Doesn’t that Stand for Agriculture?
As readers peruse through the blog posts from this semester’s AGRI 340 students, they will often see the word AG. 99% of the time, it stands for agriculture. However, my usage of AG is as an acronym. It stands for Armstrong Genetics, a brand of excellence in the swine industry. This blog will tell a story of this operation’s history, the struggles that they have faced, and they reasons that they are so successful today.
(Photo Credit – Firefly Studio)
A Brief Family Background
Robert (Bob) Armstrong grew up south of Jacksonville, IL, on a purebred hog farm with three brothers and one sister. He attended college at Illinois State University, where he met Rhonda Ummel. She was originally from Cooksville, IL where she grew up on a large dairy farm. The two began dating and eventually married. Upon looking for a place to settle down, they looked at several options. Bob located roughly 1,000 acres of crop and pasture ground for sale just south of Huntsville, IL in rural southwest Schuyler County. “The price was so low it was unheard of,” he said. Bob then mentioned, “What they didn’t tell me was that the yields were about 1/3 of what they were an hour to the south!” Although the crops tended to struggle initially, Bob moved the purebred Chester White and Spotted sow herds to the new farm after building a farrowing house, nursery, grower, Cargill feeding floors, and sow lots. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Armstrong’s continued to establish a deep sow herd through genetic progress and strong selection placement on desirable phenotype. During this time, Bob and Rhonda had two children. Daughter Kristi grew up to marry Kendall Bollin. The couple now has two children (two boys – Clayton and Logan) and they operate a large grain farm in Bowen, IL. Son JR grew up with an avid interest in the farm’s activities. He was an instrumental member in starting the Illinois Club Pig Association. He attended Lake Land College and Western Illinois University, where he was a member of the livestock judging teams at both schools. He married his wife Alison and together they have three children (1 daughter – Taylor and 2 sons – Mitch and Levi). JR remains full time on the farm.
(Photo Credit – Armstrong Genetics)
Let’s Talk About the Operation
Today, Armstrong Genetics is a diversified grain and livestock operation that still runs out of the same location that Bob and Rhonda purchased in the early 1970’s. Along with Bob, Rhonda and JR, two full time employees work on the farm plus part time help with the show pig enterprise (the part time help could also be referred to as the author of this blog). They row crop 1500 acres of corn and soybeans on a rotational basis, utilizing the no-till method of conservation farming. They run 150 commercial cows as well, utilizing a 2-breed Charolais and Red Angus rotational cross. JR is a strong believer in this crossbreeding system. He states, “One year we can inject growth, muscle and cutability into our calves with Charolais bulls, and the next year we can add calving ease and marbling with the Red Angus influence.” The top 20% of heifer calves are kept as replacements, and all feeder calves are retained and fed out in the family feedlot. They are direct marketed through Tyson Foods in Joslin, IL.
My large interest and passion for this organization stems from the purebred swine production aspect, and that is what this family is known for across the nation. Bob and Rhonda started with the Chester White and Spotted herd in the 1970’s, and those two breeds continue as a staple today. Hampshires and Yorkshires were briefly added in the 1990’s. Berkshires were added in 2010 and continue to grow today. Currently, the family runs 150 purebred sows consisting of 70 Chester Whites, 45 Spots, and 35 Berkshires. The farm owns ten herd boars that service 90% of the sow base. Farrowing groups are split up in the following intervals: December through February (125 litters), April (40 litters), and July through September (125 litters). Generally, it can be figured that the top 50% of hogs in each farrowing group will have the quality it takes to be marketable. Of this top half, about 75% of the hogs are sold as youth, 4-H and FFA show gilts and barrows all across the nation. The majority of these projects are marketed through biweekly online sales during each season. In 2016, Armstrong Genetics hosted over 10 online sales with at least 40 pigs per sale. They also maintain a large order and delivery market for show pigs, particularly in the Southwest. The other 25% of boars and gilts are retained as replacements for the herd. The remaining 50% of hogs are fed out either on the Cargill finishing floors or in the finishing barn. They are direct marketed through Cargill in Beardstown, IL.
In the Midwest, show pigs raised by Armstrong Genetics have grabbed banners at the World Pork Expo, Team Purebred Junior National, National Barrow Show and over twelve State Fairs. In the Southwest, pigs have won championships at the Fort Worth Stock Show, San Antonio Livestock Exposition, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Oklahoma Youth Expo, Tulsa State Fair, and the State Fair of Texas. The firm has also produced multiple high sellers at the Fall Classic, Southwest Type Conference and the Summer Type Conference. Armstrong Chester Boars Safari, Power Fluid and Uno along with Armstrong Spotted Boars Black Ice, Double Reserve and High Hope have left great influence in each of their respective breeds. This past summer, their sale of the Chester White Boar “Salary Cap” to Purple Power Boar Stud for $39,000 broke all previous records in the breed. A recent online sale this fall featured a breeder from Oklahoma named Nick Hofschulte. He was selling Chester Whites out a sow that was purchased as a weanling pig from Armstrong Genetics. He said it best – “the mother of these pigs come from the Chester Capital of the World – Armstrong’s!”
Why Do I Write This?
Many of you are probably thinking that was a long write-up about just one family, right? That may be so, but I truly believe they are as good of a representation of American Agriculture as any. God, Family and Friends come before all. Hard work comes before play. And once you have had the opportunity to meet this family and do business with them, you have not only purchased a high quality show pig with a good chance of winning but you have created a life long friendship that the Armstrong family will cherish forever. I cannot begin to thank this family for all that they have done for me over the years, whether it was selling me my first AG Chester White Gilt at 10 years old or the opportunity to be a part of their successful operation while attending Western Illinois University. I truly don’t believe I could ever repay them for all that they have taught me about the game of hogs or the game of life, but I suppose this blog is a start.
About the Author
My name is Hayden Wilder and I am from Remington, IN. I grew up on a small grain farm and was actively involved in showing pigs at the county, state and national levels. 4-H and FFA filled up my daily routine in high school. I attended Black Hawk East prior to WIU where I was a member of a successful livestock judging team. Here at WIU, I am majoring in Ag Business and minoring in Animal Science. I have greatly enjoyed my time and successes in the judging van with Dr. Mark Hoge. I am also the president of the Hoof ‘n Horn Club. Throughout college, I have completed two sales internships with Essential Feeds and have enjoyed the opportunity of judging several hog shows. After graduation this spring, I hope to either obtain a sales job with a feed company or continue my education in swine nutrition. Thanks for reading my blog!