Times were tough when Rod Fee’s parents married in 1919. For a wedding gift, a neighbor offered them what he could: a small spotted pig.
“We’ve been basically in the pig business ever since,” says Rod, 79. The Fees have been recording purebred spotted pigs for more than a century, and are still among the breed leaders with what’s known today as Fee Farms Show Pigs, a small operation Rod runs with his son, Eric, of Indianola. Once a large-scale commercial seedstock business, the Fee family farrowed up to 2,000 head a year and hosted as many as four sales annually on their farm. Pigs were sold across the nation and world.
“Studying the genetics and pedigree and phenotypic characteristics, and trying to put those together into the next best generation is a huge challenge—and certainly not an easy one,” Rod says. “It’s something that gets my competitive juices going.”
At the same time, productivity is key, he added. An example: their Spotted Hog College Boar at the 2019 National Barrow Show in Austin, Minn., started from a sow who, in her seventh parity, farrowed a litter of 18 born alive and 14 weaned. One gilt was retained, while the 12 sold as show pigs resulted in 11 reported banners or trophies won. Another proud accomplishment came in the 1970s during an industry push for meat and meat quality, and the Fees were prominent participants in the certified litter program. In times when 3.5-inch loin eyes were standard, they qualified one litter with a 7.11-inch loin eye.
Rod’s career in agriculture extends beyond the farm. After a stint as “the early morning news and markets boy” for WHO radio, he worked in marketing at the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Then in 1966, he began an award-winning writing career with Successful Farming magazine. Aside from a brief break to manage the family’s farm, Rod was with the magazine for 22 years, traveling the world and interviewing “some of the most forward-thinking, most innovative people in agriculture.”
In the 1970s, Rod served a term as vice president of the National Spotted Record Association. This year, the National Spotted Swine Board of Directors presented Rod with a Hall of Fame Award for his lifetime of work.
Rod and his wife Teresa also have two daughters, Rachelle Kjellberg and the late Danielle Fee.