A Farm of the Future: Butler Farms

Most hog farms involve a few common key aspects. There is typically a dirt path that leads to hog houses aligned in a row. There are lagoons (waste pits), fields, pumping reels, employees, and of course, pigs! However, I recently visited a hog farm that was a little bit different. It had all the “normals” I would expect in a hog farm– the farmer, pigs, and poop– but there were a few additions too. It wasn’t typical, and yet again it was. The best adjective I could find is futuristic.

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My day started with a drive through my alma mater, Campbell University (always a good day to go through camel country) and then on  deeper into Harnett County. I came upon my destination–Butler Farms. Following a long dirt path, rows of hog houses came into view on top of a hill overlooking a field. I pulled in and was greeted by Mr. Tom Butler, the owner of the ten-barn finishing farm.

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Originally tobacco farmers, the Butlers decided to build a hog farm. Recognizing the potential for incorporating new technologies on the farm, the Butlers began to research the color green — a greener way of pork production, that is.

In 2008, the first lagoon cover was installed; a second one was added later. One of the biggest tasks for hog farmers is managing lagoons, especially during wet weather. Lagoon levels naturally increase with the occurrence of precipitation, but lagoon covers help reduce the amount of precipitation that ends up in the lagoons, allowing for more manageable levels. The water that falls on top of the covers can simply be pumped onto crops. Not only do the covers reduce the stress of high lagoon levels, they also reduce 85% of the farm odor. If that isn’t awesome enough, it can also double as a type of trampoline…well sort of. You can walk on top of the cover, which is pretty cool, and yes, I walked on it!

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A covered lagoon
A covered lagoon

Working in conjunction with the lagoon covers is a digester. The digester stirs waste from the lagoons and builds up bio-gas methane that is then converted into electricity! Pipes take the methane from the digester into a building that houses an engine that runs a 180 KW gen-set. This engine utilizes the methane as its fuel to power the gen-set which produces electricity  that is used to power the farm.

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In addition to the methane run gen-set, Mr. Butler has also installed solar panels to add to the electricity production. The farm produces enough electricity to not only run the farm, but to also provide excess electricity which can then be sold to South River Electric Membership Cooperation.

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A final section of the farm is the composter. On a farm, it is inevitable that death occurs. On the Butler farm, any mortality is sent to the composter to be turned into fertilizer. The compost is mixed with wood chips to make the fertilizer that is spread on the fields.


edit9To keep the fertilizer as nutrient rich as possible, it must be kept at a specific temperature. Anything higher than 160 degrees, and the fertilizer will begin to lose nutrients, so keeping a steady temperature is imperative. This is accomplished with air that is circulated through pipes at the bottom of the pile of fertilizer. Not much goes to waste on the Butler farm.

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Part of the machinery that runs the air flow in the composter
The control panel that manages the air flow in the composter

Of course, I couldn’t walk away from the farm without seeing some of the 7,800 pigs on the property. After all, they are my favorite farm animal, not to mention the money-makers. For the Butlers, they are not only the  bacon, but they are the “poopers” that make bio-energy.

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So, there you have  a virtual tour of Butler Farms. What you haven’t seen yet is the passion behind the technology.
I spoke with Mr. Butler about his farm and why he wanted to incorporate so much technology. He shared with me that his motto is “A green farm for a green future.” It doesn’t take long to identify Mr. Butler’s dedication to following his motto. To couple with his desire to be green is his passion for science and technology. I had to frequently stop a discussion to ask questions about some complicated concept , but Mr. Butler knew the ins and outs of it all.

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Mr. Butler was able to implement much of his technology through grants. He is a huge advocate of installing lagoon covers and other technological advances in other farms across the state. He hopes to see a day when his farm is not the future but the norm, and he never skips an opportunity to share his knowledge and ideas with others. Mr. Butler is very open to visitors and tours of his farm. University groups have spent a great deal of time at his farm running experiments, and he has spoken with and given farm tours to politicians, international persons, and various organizations.
The Butlers hope to one day see more farms across North Carolina and the nation implement similar technologies; however, it will take time. These new ideas are not perfect and are costly, but they hold much promise. Mr. Butler is dedicated to constantly improving. He researches a great deal and is already making plans for further improvements.
Butler Farms, in many ways, is a typical hog farm. The name of the game is pigs and poop, and doing that responsibly and well. However, Butler Farms is more than typical. They are innovative and, dare I say, futuristic.

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I truly enjoyed my time at Butler Farms learning about the technology, walking on a lagoon, and talking pigs in the farm office. A huge thank you to Mr. Butler, his son Will, and the rest of the crew at the farm for sharing their time with me.

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Tom Butler is left and Will Butler is right

As I drove back down the dirt path to leave the farm, it started to rain. I couldn’t help but think of the technology that would provide a barrier between the rain and those lagoons.

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NC Purebred Swine Family Reunion

On August 22, the North Carolina Purebred Swine Family Reunion took place where I was able to catch a glimpse of decades of work that not only made North Carolina’s hog industry better, but forged lifetime friendships, created lasting memories, and instilled a great sense of pride and accomplishment in those involved.

DSC_0074The Family Reunion is a time for those involved in the purebred industry to come together and reminisce. Many of those in attendance were a part of the North Carolina Swine Evaluation Station that operated from 1973-1994, and was headed up by Dr. Bob Jones. It was here that performance testing was conducted that has had a lasting impact on today’s hog industry.

Dr. Bob Jones
Dr. Bob Jones

Many stories were told about the “good old days” at the evaluation station–stories of record breaking boars, stories of camaraderie, and stories filled with good humor. The pride of those who had played a part in the station was evident as they spoke. Over 7,000 boars were evaluated during the 21 years with a percentage of those boars selling for a revenue of over $1.8 million. 120 breeders participated in the program during its lifespan.

The afternoon also consisted of a moment of silence for those who had passed away since the last reunion and a catered meal. North Carolina Pork Council CEO, Deborah Johnson, and NCSU Animal Science Department Head, Dr. Todd See, spoke on the industry and recent trips to China that gave insight into international pork production. Dr. Bob Jones, former NCSU Extension animal husbandry specialist also spoke about the research station and all of his fond memories. Ron Hughes, former NC Swine Evaluation Station manager wrapped up the reunion.

Ron Hughes
Ron Hughes

It was a wonderful afternoon filled with heritage, friendships, and of course, pigs!













Not Your Typical Fraternity– The Men of Alpha Gamma Rho

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of getting to know the great group of guys that belong to the Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity at North Carolina State University. I was introduced to them through my boyfriend, Garrett (for a post on what dating a fraternity guy is like, her is the link) who is a member of the fraternity.


What I love about this group, is they aren’t your typical fraternity. Sure, they like their tailgates and bow ties like any other good fraternity man would, but they also all have a common interest and passion in agriculture. So, while they are bonded in brotherhood, and all of have the commonality of being in college together, they are also bonded through agriculture. They don’t all have the same interests. Their majors include agriculture education, biological engineering, animal science, poultry science and everything in between. Some come from backgrounds of sweet potatoes and others come from pigs and cows. One thing is certain, they all love ag, and are all dedicated to both their fraternity and to the agricultural industry.

This weekend, AGR had their annual Founder’s Day banquet. This is an event to bring together AGR alumni from years past,  current brothers, and families of the brothers. It is a special day for all of the guys as they review both their struggles and achievements of the past year and share that with the alumni and their families. It only takes a few minutes in that room to know that the AGR men are passionate about their organization, each other, and an agricultural future.





At the luncheon, there were two guest speakers–Jason Brown and Bryan Blinson. Jason Brown is a former NFL player, who has recently retired and turned to farming. Jason has gone from the football field to the farming field and is loving the change. He has a passion for growing food and then donating it to those who are hungry. Jason was very honest with the group that he was not an experienced farmer. He was still learning and was doing all he could to learn. The AGR guys announced that they planned on going to his farm and volunteering an entire day’s worth of work to help Jason. After the event was over, I heard many vocalize how excited they were in helping out.

Jason Brown
Jason Brown

The second speaker is also a local farmer. Bryan is heavily involved in the cattle industry and an AGR alumnus. He reminisced about his AGR experiences and all that it meant to him. Something that stuck out to me was when Bryan highlighted the uniqueness of AGR. He explained that in other settings, he was the only ag guy, and would get picked on, but when he joined AGR, he was surrounded by like-minded people who all had the same interest. AGR was not your typical fraternity.

Brian Blinson
Bryan Blinson

In addition to being able to get to know the AGR men and attend Founder’s Day, I was also able to have a part in making the event happen. I was excited to be organizing centerpieces and decorations. After many hours on Pinterest (because that is the only logical way to prepare), Garrett and I decided on an antique theme. His grandma has countless antiques, so we borrowed two boxes filled with kitchen utensils, churns, jars, and so much more. I ordered wheat (this is an AGR symbol) and there was also pink roses purchased (another AGR symbol). I went out with my brothers and cut sticks from the woods as decorations too. I was so nervous that it wouldn’t come together, but it all turned out great! The antique pieces turned into many a conversation piece. I’m very thankful that the guys let me have some creative fun at their event.


The guys of Alpha Gamma Rho are a stellar group of men who are already doing some pretty awesome stuff in the agriculture world. With the 3rd highest fraternity GPA at the university and an award for excellent financial management, they take their responsibilities seriously. They truly fulfill their mantra of “Making Better Men.” Thanks guys for introducing me to “not your typical fraternity”