watersheds.org the world in your watershed search
homewhat's newabout ussite mapcontact us
 

 

Farm and Forest Local Hog Farmer

Local Hog Farmer Steve Young

Steve Young's story begins where "Pig" Paul's and Roland Turner's story leaves off. He began producing feeder pigs in 1978. Ten years later, when that business declined, he turned to finishing feeder pigs. Finally, in 1998 the market for feeder pigs crashed. He decided to try marketing high-quality pork directly to individuals.

  Photo Story: Steve Young's Pig Farm

Where is the hog market headed?

Hog raising is becoming like chicken raising. Chicken growers must raise the chickens exactly as stated in the contract with the chicken packer. The packing company requires the farmer to purchase chicks with precise genetic characteristics. The chicken farmer provides:
--- Buildings and equipment
--- Feed and medicines as prescribed in the contract;
--- Management & labor
--- And, in a precise number of days, chickens weighing a precise amount.
In return the farmer gets a fixed price per finished chicken. The farmer might as well be an employee of the packer. But the farmer bears the financial risk for outlays of capital:
--- Mortgages for the farm
--- Loans for the buildings and equipment
--- And, probably, loans for the feed as well.
Only very large operations can meet the packer's requirements. That's why, throughout the Ozarks you can see chicken houses rusting away. Their owners could not make them pay.

You can see these abandoned chicken houses from Hwy 160 east of Gainesville.
This small packer in southern Ozark County has gone out of business.

Steve started in 1973 with 200 hogs. For Ozark County, this was a large or middle-sized farm. Today you either have a large farm or you have a "hobby farm." A "hobby farm" is on top of your regular non-farm job. With a large operation, you can probably make money. To do that you need to invest and borrow a lot of money. You also need to farm closer to a packer and feed supplies than Ozark County.

When Steve began there was a 4-year cycle in hog prices. Prices would move up and down from $30-$60 per hundred weight over those four years. Some years he would lose money, some he would make money. Overall the operation was profitable. That changed in 1998, when prices dropped to $8 per hundred weight. Costs remained high, so there was no way to make money.

This happened because packers consolidated. They closed down less profitable operations, and expanded them at the few remaining locations. It cost more to transport hogs to a far-away packer. Steve used to get bids from three or four packers. Now there would be just one for a region. So costs went up and without competition, prices went down.

Open Range Hogs
Until about the middle of the century (1950), Ozark County had what was known as open range. Anyone could let their stock run free, and those growing crops had to fence against them. In the fall, if there was an acorn crop, it was common practice by many people to let their hogs out into the woods to fatten on the acorns.
Source: "The Good Old Days," Bill Hartgraves, in Old Mill Run, January, 1994, Vol.8, No. 4

Steve saw that he would have to use financial tools to figure his way out. He saw that farmers today have to be business people first, and food producers second. He studied the question carefully. His decision:

1. Sell directly to consumers. Eliminate the middleman, the big packer. Get retail prices for the hogs.
2. Cut the size of the herd by half. That would cut his workload by half and give him time to plan and train for a second job. He had always been interested in business. He decided to become a financial planner for people around here.
3. Market them as healthier. With an uncrowded smaller herd he didn't have sick pigs. That meant he didn't need antibiotics to keep them well.
4. Sell them as tastier. He would grow traditional breeds that taste better.

He has three main selling points: Buying a whole pig saves money, there are no growth hormones or antibiotics in his pigs, and they taste better. His pigs are not "organic" because he can't buy organic feed at affordable prices.

1. Buying a whole pig is buying in bulk. That saves money. Steve will take the pig to either Larry Hicks in Skyline or Forest Meat Processing in Norwood for butchering. You pick the meat up from them.
2. The pigs are grown without hormones or antibiotics. You can eat them without eating chemicals left in the meat. That helps prevent developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria or hormone imbalances. It prevents antibiotic and hormone pollution, since animals excrete these chemicals in their wastes.
3. The meat tastes better, the most important point. Steve raises traditional breeds, rather than the patented breeds packers requires large-scale farmers use. Steve, and his customers, find the patented pork in supermarkets to be tasteless, compared to pork from his pigs.

Breeding

Steve keeps his herd at 200 adult hogs, which he feels keeps it a balanced system. He uses traditional breeds, and he breeds them for heterosis -- the vigor that cross-breeding creates -- by rotating the boars every cycle.

84 Sows:
--- 50% Hampshires
--- 50% Yorks
One Landrace boar
One Duroc boa

To keep a regular flow of pigs moving to market he farrows (breeds) 12 sows every 4th week. 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days later each of them bears a litter of on average 8.5 sucklings. (The sows average 2.3 litters each per year.) Over the course of year the farm produces about 2000 hogs.

Feeding and "Efficiency"

Steve feeds different mixtures of rations at different stages of growth. For example, young pigs need more protein than older ones. He buys tractor trailer loads of corn from northern Missouri and milo from eastern Kansas. These are the pigs' main energy source. He feeds soybeans for protein. Custom mixed vitamins and minerals and also calcium get added to the feed.

The pork in supermarkets comes from raising an extra-"efficient" patented breed of piglet, "Efficiency" refers to how much feed it takes to put on a pound of meat. The more efficient, the leaner the meat. Supermarket meat is very lean, but meat needs fat to taste good. Traditional breeds also just plain have more flavor. Steve works for an efficiency of 3.5 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. Supermarket pork is raised at an efficiency as high as 2.4 pounds of grain to 1 pound of meat.

Closed Herd

Steve reasons that a healthy herd in a proper environment won't get sick. That's why he cut his herd in half. Crowding makes animals sick. He also keeps a "closed herd." He keeps it away from anything that can infect pigs. This includes casual visitors. Humans and pigs can trade viruses and bacteria, and he doesn't want his pigs getting your flu! He will pull a sick pig and treat it with antibiotics. But he sells it to a regular packer, not an individual customer.

Wastes

Paying close attention to the feed affects the manure, which will be less rich if the pigs are fed just what they need. Fed too much, and they will excrete high concentrations of phosphorous. The manure goes first to a lagoon. Then it's sprayed onto hayfields, which absorb the manure. He gets two cuttings a year, which he sells.

Labor

Steve is now an independent financial planner serving local people and local needs. Cutting back his herd by half made it possible for him to cut down on the workload. That gave him time to plan a new career and get trained for it. He works an average of 4 hours a day 5 days a week. A responsible helper works full-time; he's off on Sundays and Steve takes his place.

Text and photos by Peter Callaway.

Top