Getting pigs to fly
How Ohio became a hub for international farm animal travel
Somewhere in-between Amazon.com’s vision of same-day delivery and the airline industry’s perks to attract frequent fliers, an Ohio businessman is putting his mind to an age-old question. How do you move a herd of cattle across an ocean?
It’s a bit of a twist on a longstanding enterprise. Livestock that were originally brought to the country by European settlers have been improved by centuries of selective breeding. Now, as countries around the world look to bolster their domestic food supplies, they are looking to benefit from the work done on American farms.
“The world comes to the United States for two main things in animal agriculture – that’s genetics and health,” said John Surber of Feed the World, LLC in Clinton County.
He started the business, which can ship horses, pigs, cattle and other livestock to global customers, after realizing the opportunity that the nearby Wilmington Air Park provided.
The less time animals spend in transit, he figured, the less they would be exposed to stress. Livestock put on a boat may take days to reach a destination halfway around the world. Surber wants to get them there in hours. He notes that the nearly 7,000 pigs he has shipped have each arrived safe and sound.
“Everybody gets excited about making the sale and getting the job done,” he said. “Taking care of the product between the two points is critical.”
Just a few miles from the airport, Surber has constructed facilities where animals can be dropped off and quarantined to prevent the spread of diseases. His company will even build custom wooden enclosures to house the animals on their journey.
It’s hard to imagine how Surber’s ancestors would have reacted to the notion of flying livestock when they settled on the family’s Ohio farm more than 200 years ago. But they almost certainly would have recognized his pioneer spirit.
“The biggest challenge is breaking into a new business,” Surber said. “You’re nobody from nowhere until you actually do it.”
“It brings Ohio to the forefront. It shows that the state of Ohio can reach out to the world in a high-quality, high-tech way.”
Getting flies to pigs
Why an entrepreneur turned to insects for his vision to help the planet
Glen Courtright says there’s a simple reason why many people are keenly interested in the black soldier flies he’s raising at his Enviroflight facility in Greene County.
“We make stuff disappear,” he laughed.
But he notes that in a world that is becoming more strained for resources, making use of waste products is serious business. And that’s precisely what the flies are for.
He long had a vision for a company based on renewable resources—fats and oils in particular. But plans for a biodiesel plant didn’t pan out, and he couldn’t make the numbers work on algae production.
“We got this crazy idea,” he said. “Insect larva are 40 to 50 percent fat.”
The black soldier flies—a nonpathogenic, native species—became his focus.
“We started Enviroflight as a fuels program,” he said. “As we got into this we realized it was a feed project.”
The idea is that flies can thrive on food waste or other byproducts. From there they can be processed to supply feed for fish farmers or blended into pet food or livestock rations. It’s proved an attractive option for those looking for replacements to limited fish meal supplies or rendered animal products, two common feed ingredients.
Baby pigs, omnivores by nature, do particularly well on feed blended with his product, he said.
Courtright makes it clear that he’s never been interested in feeding insects to people. Rather, he sees them as a tool to make better use of limited resources. He is currently involved in projects in Africa where, due to a lack of infrastructure, food waste is a serious problem.
Ultimately, he views his business as a technology company and hopes to license his process to large scale agriculture and food manufacturing businesses.
“We’re beyond the sensationalism, and now we’re into the pragmatism,” he said.
“We’re at the forefront of a new technology…We’re meeting a demand, we’re making the world a better place and we’re making money at this.”
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