Did you know that the average American eats forty-six pounds of pork a year? (Hall, 2016) This is why those in the pork industry work seven days a week, 365 days a year (holidays included)! You might be thinking to yourself, who would want to do that every single day, and the answer is pork producers. Sure, somedays it would be nice to spend time at the lake or on vacation, but this is their livelihood. I know all of this because I grew up on a hog farm, working alongside my family to care for 600 show pigs and sows and 12,000 commercial hogs, doing daily management practices, farrowing, weaning and marketing. My family and I are passionate about hog farming and it is what gets us out of bed every morning and energizes us for the day ahead.
As a pork producer, no two days are the same, which keeps things exciting. Somedays it’s all about chatting with customers and making new connections, and the next day it is fixing waterlines and bucketing feed due to a broken feed line. It is messy, but it is all worth it at the end of the day.
On our family farm in Moorhead, Iowa, we raise show pigs and commercial hogs. We breed, farrow, wean and sell our show pig stock. For our commercial hogs, we have a nursery and finishing unit.
Our summers are spent exhibiting swine at the county and state fair as well as the World Pork Expo throughout July and August. The fair is our favorite time of the year; it’s our “vacation.” After spending the spring and early summer training and working with the pigs, feeding and walking them daily, we present them at these events where they are judged on soundness, structure and muscle. It is very rewarding to see our hard work pay off at the fair!
In preparation of a winter farrow, we begin artificially inseminating (AI) the sows/gilts in late July to allow for their gestation length of three months, three weeks, and three days. We heat check twice a day by introducing the sows and gilts to an intact male (boar) to determine which sows/gilts are in estrus and ready to be bred. When the females are in standing heat (estrus), they will vocalize (barking), perk their ears, and mount one another.
We farrow out roughly three-hundred-and-fifty sows and gilts per farrowing season, and most need assistance so we spend most of our time in the farrowing barns from October to March. During farrowing season, a “typical” day starts with feeding and checking the sows/gilts to see if any are in labor. Then we put extra milk out for the piglets to provide extra nutrients and ensure they are growing and in good health. Depending on the age of the piglets, we then process or wean them. Processing consists of vaccinating, cutting tails, castrating and ear notching. Weaning consists of pulling the piglets off the sow, vaccinating and sorting in the nursery.
Ear notches serve as the pig’s identification. Above on the left is an example of how we read these numbers.
Once piglets are weaned and the sows are moved back into the sow units, we begin power washing and disinfecting the farrowing barns to get them ready for the next set of sows to farrow. Typically, one or two people work on washing the barns and the rest do chores, vaccinate weaned pigs, and talk with customers to move these pigs onto their next home.
Chores are a little easier for pigs in the finishing unit. The main thing to keep an eye on is feed rations and making sure they always have plenty of feed and water. We scan the barns for sick pigs and treat anything that needs treatment. The pigs spend the rest of their days until market in the finisher gaining fat and muscle. Ultimately, this is the pork that will end up on consumer’s plates as bacon or pork chops.
As I said, no two days are the same. Some are more difficult than others, but we couldn’t imagine ourselves working in any other industry. Passion is what drives us, and we hope to pass that passion along to future generations.
Hall, A. (2016, April 2). What the Average American Eats in a Year. Nature’s Sunshine. https://blog.naturessunshine.com/en/what-are-we-eating/