Farming is a 365-days-a-year, 24-hours-a-day-job, but Nick and Beth Tharp of Coatsville wouldn’t have it any other way. On a farm with nearly 3,000 sows, a litter of piglets is born nearly every hour. Alongside Beth's family and with the help of six employees, the Tharps wean nearly 77,000 pigs each year and farm more than 900 acres of corn, soybeans, and hay.
Beth’s parents, Mark and Phyllis Legan are first-generation farmers. They began raising pigs and crops in January of 1989. “In 2010, we were blessed with the opportunity to join them in farming,” Nick explains. “In order to stay competitive in the pork industry, the farm has grown steadily over the past 23 years. This family farm now raises several thousand weaned pigs and market hogs a year as well as corn to feed the sows and soybeans to sell.” Nick and Beth are also the proud parents of 1-year-old Kate who, “loves visiting the barns and might be a hog farmer in the making.”
When asked what they do to ensure their animals are comfortable, Nick said, “We have a moral obligation to provide the best care possible for our animals. Our commitment to caring for our animals and ensuring their needs are met every day is always top priority. Our animals are housed in barns that maintain a temperature that is most comfortable for them, based on their age. Baby piglets enjoy micro-environments that are 90 to 95 degrees at birth, while the mother sows enjoy a cooler 67 to 73-degree environment. With technologies we have adapted, we are able to meet both needs at the same time. Fresh water and feed that is specifically formulated for each pig’s needs are also important for the animals’ well-being.”
The Tharps work diligently to conserve natural resources. “The soil and water we use needs to be returned to the earth in as good or better shape as when we started using it. We have been using a no-till system of raising corn and soybeans for many years on our farm. In this system, the soil is disturbed as little as possible during the year to allow the natural tilth and structure to return to the soil. Earthworms are a vital part of no-till, as they create tunnels for water percolation and roots to travel through.
“Corn or soybeans are planted into last year’s remaining crop residue. The residue (the stems, leaves and husks left from last year’s crop) acts as a water-retaining mulch to help the seeds germinate and as organic matter to rebuild the soil. We also believe in the importance of keeping the fields covered in the cold months by planting cover crops in the fall. Oil seed radish, annual rye grass, canola, wheat, barley, and crimson clover are a few of the cover crops we have tried in the past few years.
Cover crops use extra nitrogen (fertilizer) left in the soil, so it is not washed away by the rain. They also build the soil by adding organic matter as they die.”
Farming is a long-term commitment and they have chosen to utilize responsible and sustainable agricultural practices on their farm. The Tharps are very passionate about their role of producing food for the world. “We believe God has called us to be a part of a noble profession. We realize that without His guidance and alliances formed with others, we would not be able to carry out our work.
It has been through relationships with others that we are able to do what we do today. We are grateful for the opportunities we have been given.”