Farming With A Focus On Environmental, Animal Welfare
Heidi Vittetoe has thick skin. It has helped her protect what’s at her core—the care and commitment to her family, her animals and her state’s most vital industry.
Vittetoe (‘80 animal science) and her husband Jerome run a fourth-generation farrow-to-finish sow operation near Washington, Iowa,—JW Vittetoe Pork, Ltd. She is the general manager of the pork operation, which markets about 250,000 hogs annually, employs 65 individuals and has 30 local farmers as contract growers. Vittetoe’s two daughters are integral parts of their business. Rachel (Berdo) is the office manager and human resources expert and Amanda (Adam) is the nursery supervisor.
During her 30 years raising hogs, Vittetoe has seen consumer demand shift towards a leaner product that’s still moist and flavorful. And more consumers want to know how their pork is raised.
“It is important to us to listen to consumers and to maintain the best welfare of the animals,” she says. “We have worked to nearly eliminate our use of antibiotics in feed, emphasizing vaccines for prevention. When pigs do get sick, we use more of supportive therapies like aspirin or ibuprofen.”
Pigs have unique needs at different ages. The Vittetoes work hard to address those needs by providing the right feed, the right environment and the right handling at every stage. They make that happen by implementing new technologies in the breeding process to improve uniformity of pigs in barns, thereby shortening the marketing window. And, she says, using computers to keep track of everything from genetic markers to sales data to feed rations has revolutionized the industry.
Vittetoe was honored by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation as the 2011 Woman in Agriculture, in recognition of her outstanding leadership. She and her husband have been named Iowa Master Pork Producers by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and Pork All-Americans. While she’s a known leader and advocate for agriculture, she’s also a leader in her community serving on the school board, in her church and, in years past, with state and local Farm Bureau activities.
When she was appointed to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission in 2003, she offered a farmer’s perspective to the group that provides policy oversight over Iowa’s environmental protection efforts.
Lori Glanzman, former director of utilities for Mount Pleasant, Iowa, served on the commission with Vittetoe.
“When Heidi said something, people listened. Her input always carried weight. Her comments were always thought through,” Glanzmann says. “She’s one of the smartest women I know.”
Vittetoe’s service on the commission prompted some discussion about farmers’ role in shaping environmental policy. “I found it ironic when charges were leveled that in having an impact on rules about hog production, I somehow had a conflict of interest,” she says. “I was there to offer my authentic, real-life experience.”
Those are the times when having thick skin pays off.
She takes a balanced view of critics. “I would have taken it much more personally if someone had said I didn’t have the backbone to stand up for what I thought was right,” Vittetoe says.
What she believes in is staying positive and building trust.
“I make a point of asking our employees to spread the good news of ag. This year we began training them on all aspects of the company so they could clearly articulate what we’re about,” she says.
Vittetoe builds trust with consumers through open communication and transparency.
“When we offer tours of our barn and talk about why we do what we do, I feel that people leave feeling better about not only hog production, but about where all their food comes from,” she says.