The future of feed: The 'Chief' of feed

by Emily Wilson
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Someone who is called "chief" is considered to be a leader, the head of a tribe, a person of high rank, a boss or a manager. In Rose Hill, North Carolina, U.S., Holmes Murphy was often referred to as "The Chief" by those who knew him and worked with him every day.

In 1963, Mr. Murphy loaned his son, Wendell, the money to build a feed mill, which eventually grew into a large swine and swine feed operation. He remained closely associated with the business until his death in 1991. Wendell Murphy has led Murphy Farms Inc. from its infancy, to being the world's largest hog producer, to its sale to Smithfield Foods earlier this year.

But in 1992, when Wendell Murphy decided to build a new feed mill in Rose Hill, it was only natural that it be called "The Chief" in honor of his father. True to its name, The Chief feed mill has become a leader in its own right.

The Chief is billed as one of the largest feed mills in the world, in both physical size and production output. With a typical output of 18,000 tons (16,326 metric tonnes) per 5-day, 2-shift week, and a record production of 20,000 tons (18,140 tonnes) in a 7-day week (operating at 24 hours a day), the mill has not only met but exceeded expectations, according to Kirk Marcuson, mill manager.

Construction on the mill started in June 1992 and production began in January 1994. Wagester and Lease, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., was the engineer and construction manager for the U.S.$11-million facility.

The Chief mill produces about 15 different feed formulations, which are fed to the hogs of the company-owned and contract swine producers located mostly along the east coast of North Carolina.

Murphy Farms owns about 20% of the swine production facilities and contracts about 80%. In contract production, Murphy Farms owns the hogs and the feed, and the contract producers provide the housing, labor and other equipment and facilities.

The company has always produced its own feed. One of the first swine producers in the United States to integrate into feed production, Murphy Farms is now one of the country's largest swine/feed producers. In addition to The Chief, the company operates a second mill at Rose Hill as well as a 4,000-ton (per week) feed mill in Nevada, Missouri, and a 10,000-ton feed mill in Algona, Iowa. The mills in Nevada and Algona also produce swine breeder and finishing feeds.

On any given day, Murphy Farms feeds a total of about 250,000 breeding sows, plus all of the pigs that are produced. Each breeding sow produces about 22 pigs per year.

One of the major challenges of The Chief project, according to Tim Lease of Wagester and Lease, was the size of the facility, including such things as providing the necessary capacity for rail cars and trucks to handle the incoming ingredients and outgoing finished feeds.

Ingredients and raw materials are received by rail car and truck. The facility can unload a 65-car unit train in 24 hours and can unload 50 trucks per day.

"Utilities were also a major concern," Mr. Lease said, one example being the three 500-horsepower pellet mills in the pelleting system.

The three pellet mills, manufactured by California Pellet Mill Co., are each rated at 60 tons (54.4 tonnes) per hour. Mr. Marcuson, the mill manager, said, "If we were making only three types of feed, the pelleting system would be capable of producing 30,240 tons (equivalent to 27,430 tonnes) per week. However, this would be an ideal situation since at least 15 types of feed are pelleted on a regular basis."

To minimize time lost to changeovers, Mr. Marcuson said the mill tries to schedule for a minimum of 500 tons (454 tonnes) per run.

Up to four different feeds can be produced simultaneously with the three separate pelleting lines and a mash feed line. The batching system is rated at 240 tons per hour and utilizes a 12-ton capacity ribbon mixer. The design parameters for batch cycle time is three minutes, and mixing time is two minutes.

Grinding is accomplished with four 48-by-44 hammermills, also made by California Pellet Mill Co., each rated at 50 tons per hour.

The batching system consists of five scales — two major ingredient scales used for corn and soybean meal, one minor ingredient scale and two micro-scales. The micro-ingredients and premixes are proportioned with two micro-ingredient systems. Each system contains 12 bins.

Ingredients are received at a capacity of 500 tons per hour. Yellow corn — the major ingredient received by rail car — is shipped to Rose Hill from the upper Midwest, usually Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Indiana. Other ingredients received by rail include wheat middlings, animal fat, limestone and decalcium phosphate.

According to Mr. Marcuson, rail shipments accounted for 10,000 cars last year. Up to 84 rail cars can be held in the yard at any one time.

Soybean meal (48% protein) is trucked in by soybean processors within a 100-mile radius of the feed mill.

Grain storage consists of 20 silos, which hold approximately 1.4 million bushels (35,500 tonnes) of corn. There are 36 other ingredient storage bins, with a total capacity of 4,300 tons (3,900 tonnes).

The mill is entirely automated. The computerized system by Wisconsin Electrical Manufacturing Co. starts and stops equipment, and tracks the flow of all ingredients and products. The automated system controls all the equipment, from receiving to loadout, including the pelleting and grinding systems.

"The basic mill is operated by two people in the control room, one person operating the controls from computer screens and the other making certain the bag dump systems are keeping the premix systems full," Mr. Marcuson said.

A large variety of ingredients is required to produce the feeds, including starter, finishing and breeding feeds. "The finishing feeds are composed of high-energy ingredients such as corn and soymeal," Mr. Marcuson said. "Starter feeds may contain milk products and breeder feeds may contain lower energy ingredients such as wheat middlings and bakery byproducts."

The mill employs 23 people, including the mill manager, an administrative assistant, two supervisors and 19 operators. They operate on two 12-hour shifts, with a work schedule of four days on and three days off.

After vacation times are factored in, the mill is operated with nine people during the day and eight people at night, including one supervisor per shift. "Normally, there are two people in the control room, one person at loadout and three people in the receiving area," Mr. Marcuson said.

Maintenance is performed by four persons assigned to the plant, and are not counted in production efficiency.

Wagester and Lease used the "construction management" approach in building The Chief feed mill. In this method, the owner does assume some of the risk while realizing all the cost savings. In the typical design/build approach, the contractor assumes all the risk and realizes all the cost savings.

As construction manager, Wagester and Lease worked with Murphy Farms to establish design parameters in order to develop a conceptual design and estimated costs. Wagester and Lease then executed the project by performing engineering, purchasing and project management. Murphy Farms functioned as the general contractor while the construction manager, Wagester and Lease, executed the project details.

One of the reasons the construction management method worked so well with Murphy Farms was because of the good relationships and communication between people at both companies, Mr. Lease said.

As a result of The Chief project, Wagester and Lease also worked with Murphy Farms on its feed mills in Iowa and Missouri.

Carl Stevens is a former professor in the Department of Grain Science at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, U.S. He is now a freelance writer in Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.