July Profile: Ashley Gelderman
Ashley Gelderman is a nutritionist who spends her days developing diet plans that meet very specific nutritional needs for her clients at every stage of their lives. But, instead of humans, Ashley’s clients are pigs.
As a monogastric nutritionist for Standard Nutrition Company, Ashley works with pig and poultry farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana to develop feed rations that keep animals healthy and growing at every stage of development. She also ensures that the diets are appropriate for the barns animals live in and makes the most of local feed ingredients available to farmers.
“From a 15 pound weaned pig to a 280 pound pig ready for market, the farmers may change the rations 10 to 12 times to make sure pigs are getting the right combination of energy, protein and other ingredients to fit their needs,” she said. “There is no one-size-fits-all; every farmer is unique and we tailor diets to their pigs, situation and environment.”
In addition to designing diets to meet pig’s nutritional needs, Ashley and other nutritionists take into account what feed ingredients are grown in the area or are readily available. For example, corn is the primary energy source in a pig’s diet in midwestern states, while it might be wheat in western or southern U.S. In South Dakota, the main protein source for pigs is soybean meal. Farmers also add a combination of minerals, vitamins and amino acids to complete the ration.
Another important part of Ashley’s job is to work with farmers to ensure that they are on track with industry assessments and third party audits required for the pork industry, such as Pork Quality Assurance and other certifications.
Ashley grew up on a 4000 head sow farm near Salem, South Dakota, where she enjoyed caring for baby pigs and developed a passion for the caring for animals.
“I knew I wanted my career to tie back to pigs in some way, shape or form,” she said.
She earned a B.S. in Animal Science and a Masters degree in Monogastric Nutrition at South Dakota State University and has worked at Standard Nutrition for six years.
Many pig farmers had to adjust their management practices and plans quickly in April after employees at pork processing plants in South Dakota and other states fell ill with the COVID-19 virus and plants were slowed or temporarily closed. Some farmers were left with no options to take pigs that were ready or nearly ready for market. (Click here to learn more about the food system and the impacts of COVID-19 on farmers, processors, retailers, restaurants and more.)
Nutritionists like Ashley worked with many producers to formulate special diets or change other factors in their environment to slow down the pigs’ feeding and growth for a short time until processing plants were back in operation.
“It was a complete 180 degree turn from what we are used to doing,” she said, noting that in normal circumstances nutritionists’ goals are to keep pigs growing at a steady and healthy rate.
A number of farmers adjusted feed rations to continue meeting pigs’ nutrient needs, but dialed back fat and protein intake, said Gelderman. In addition, because pigs typically don’t grow as quickly during the summer months, farmers took steps to mimic more summer-like conditions during the cooler temperatures of March and April, including raising the temperatures in barns by a few degrees.
“This was not something that we or the farmers wanted to do, but it was in the best interest of the animals,” she said. “We stayed in constant communications with farmers and if we saw changes in the animal behavior like they were aggressive or agitated, we would make adjustments to their diets.”
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on South Dakota pork industry highlights the important role that nutritionists, veterinarians, and other industry professionals bring to South Dakota farmers to keep animals healthy and manage their businesses through difficult times.