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600 PIGLETS GIVE BIRTH TO BREEDING CO-OP

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By month's end, Glenna Alston will have 1,800 hungry mouths to feed. And they all eat like pigs.

Alston, operations manager of Circle Four Farms, a massive Western hog cooperative under construction southwest of Milford, cares for hundreds of young pigs that constitute breeding stock for the enterprise.Six hundred pigs arrived in Milford on May 23. Upon the truck's arrival at 3 a.m., members of Milford's volunteer fire department helped unload the specially designed nursery truck that carried the pigs from North Carolina to Utah.

"It's been a real community effort," said Larry Sower, construction manager for Circle Four Farms and former economic development director of Beaver County.

The cooperative is a partnership among Carroll's Foods Inc., Murphy Farms, Prestage Farms Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc. The project is expected to employ 1,500 people within five years.

Plans for the facility indicate it will house nearly 119,000 sows within the next five years. The sows are expected to produce up to 2 million pigs a year with sales of more than $335 million annually.

Construction began in November. Since then, the nursery and three "finishing" buildings have been completed. Cement work on a 1,200-sow facility is under way, and construction of six other buildings has begun.

About 40 people are employed in the construction phase, three work in the nursery area, and 15 employees have been hired by Circle Four Farms. Those employees will undergo three months of training in North Carolina.

"Much of what we do is pretty technically oriented," Sower said.

Circle Four Farms belies the common perception of a hog operation. The pigs are housed in enclosed barns that are climate controlled, have automated feeding systems and flush into a lagoon system.

To minimize disease, anyone who enters the the barns must shower before entering and shower again upon leaving the barns. The pigs delivered late last month were just 3 weeks old when transferred to Utah and quite susceptible to disease.

Once the breeding stock is established, local farmers can contract to raise the pigs. Circle Four will provide the stock and feed, and the farmers must provide suitable shelter for the pigs.

"This is really an ideal place for this kind of agricultural operation," Sower said. "We have a good inventory of private land."

Plans for the hog operation also include a feed mill, which should be built in 1995 near Milford. A packing plant is expected to be built by 1998. In the meantime, the hogs produced by Circle Four Farms will be marketed to processors in the West.