After graduating from Iowa State University in 2003, Mark Dolan and his wife, Beth, were still living around Ames when Mark’s dad called about returning home to an expanding finishing operation.
“Mark was excited,” recalls Beth, who grew up on a cattle farm near Walker in Linn County. “I never would have said no. I just always knew that was what we’d end up doing.”
Mark is a third-generation farmer who finishes about 12,000 pigs per year. He was recognized as a Master Pork Producer in 2017.
Growing up, Mark helped his family with their 100-sow farrow-to-finish and row crop operation. In 1997, they built a 600-head sow farm as partners with their neighbors. The Dolans eventually bought the remaining shares of the sow farm, which is run by Mark’s brother Sean. They sold weaner pigs until 2005, when they transitioned their focus to finishing.
That’s about the time Mark and Beth moved back. They built their own finisher and began raising pigs in September 2005, then started renting crop ground a couple of years later. Mark’s barns are wean-to-finish, and he buys pigs from his brother’s 600-head sow unit. His hogs are marketed mostly to Tyson in Waterloo, with some going to JBS in Marshalltown or Farmland in Monmouth, Ill.
In addition, Mark grows about 220 acres of corn and 80 acres of soybeans. In fall 2011, he began incorporating cover crops on his fields, and now utilizes them as much as possible. He practices strip-till and no-till systems. For about the past eight years, he has his own tank to haul manure and applies it to almost every acre of corn, most of which is fed to their pigs.
While Mark feels lucky to have had a farm operation to come into, he says the industry offers opportunities for “anyone who isn’t afraid to work hard.”
Mark is a member of the Buchanan County Pork Producers and served as a board member from 2006–2015. He has also served on the District Four Nominating committee for the Iowa Pork Producers Association. When their two daughters first joined Little League teams, the Dolans helped coach. The family attends St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Winthrop.