Bacon, Trees and Wind Power: The Penning Family

07-07-2014 in Green Farmstead Partner

For the Pennings of Hardin County, farming is truly a family affair. “We do this together,” Roger Penning says with a smile.

Five generations of Pennings have farmed and raised hogs near Hubbard. Today, Leonard and Bernie, along with their son Roger and wife Peggy run the family farm. In 2012, they were looking at ways to grow their farm to create opportunities for Reece and Mason, the next generation, to return to the farm.

In addition to row crops, the family has two hog barns and decided to add a third to provide additional income for the boys.

The new 4,960-head Cargill hog barn sits magestically in the middle of a cornfi eld and is surrounded by several wind turbines. Given that the barn sits out in the middle of the field with nothing to slow down the brutal Iowa winter winds, they knew they would need something to serve as a snow fence.

After the barn was completed, they decided to add trees to not only serve as a windbreak, but also
improve the eye appeal of the site and reduce odor. In November of 2012, Advanced Greenscapes came and planted two rows of hybrid willows and one row of shrubs, including a combination of lilacs and redtwig dogwoods. A total of 450 hybrid willows and 225 shrubs are now serving as a windbreak on the north, west and east sides of the barn.

“During the first winter, we had snow up to the eave on the north side of the hog barn and that caused the snow to then drift over on the south side,” Roger shared. “We were worried about snow load on the roof but we also didn’t want to send one of our guys up there and have them get hurt.”

To protect the barn from the snow load and prevent the trees from being completely buried in snow, the next winter they left a few rows of corn standing north of the barn to serve as an extra line of defense.

Today, 20 months after the hybrid willows were planted, they are nearing 10 feet tall.

“It looks like the trees are going to meet all of our objectives,” Roger said. “After one more year, I don’t think we’ll need any additional snow fence to have an effective windbreak. And by then, the trees will be meeting our goals of improving curb appeal and reducing odor. You can already almost see the trees from the blacktop.”

While Roger admits the trees “weren’t cheap,” he is also quick to share that they weren’t expensive given all they accomplish. “This tree planting was cost-effective and well worth the money spent,” he said. He added that Advanced Greenscapes had all of the equipment necessary to plant the trees quickly and effectively. “It would have taken me a lot longer if I had tried to do it myself.”

When the trees and shrubs were planted, they also installed an irrigation system. The Pennings say since the trees have been planted, they have required very little maintenance. In fact, the only things they’ve had to do is turn the irrigation system on in the spring and prepare it for winter.

“There’s no point in spending the money on this type of windbreak without the irrigation,” Roger said. “I’d recommend a watering system to anyone who’s putting out a grove like this.”

The Pennings have been so impressed with the results they’ve seen so far from the trees that they’re planning to renovate the groves at their other hog sites and plant more trees at their home. “We’ve been very happy with the trees. I’d recommend it to anyone,” Roger said.

For farmers unsure about planting trees on their livestock farm, Roger’s advice is to “jump off the fence and jump in with both feet. It’s well worth the time and money.”

For more information on tree plantings, the Green Farmstead Partner program, or to get started on a design for your livestock or poultry farm, call 800-932-2436 or visit yww.supportfarmers.com/greenfarms.

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