Swine Genetics: Reminisce

January 26, 2022

UPDATE: Taking orders for delivery every other Saturday to Madison. Next date: March 5th.  Email Matthew with order and/or questions: oakgrovelane@yahoo.com. Thank you!

Blue, red, white, pink.  1st through 4th ribbons at the Lafayette County Fair.   We didn’t have participation ribbons.  Whatever you were showing, the judge told you where you stood.

We showed everything from cattle to crops, but my favorite to show was hogs.  Other than some success in showmanship, that’s where you’re being evaluated rather than the hog, I was stuck getting white and red ribbons with my hogs.

I always had an interest in livestock genetics and subscribed to the breed journals which I read cover to cover every month.  My favorite was “The Hampshire Herdsman” which covered my favorite breed, Hampshire.

Most of the journal consisted of breeder advertisements.  Even at a young age, I understood that much of a breeder’s success was based on perception.

It was interesting to see the different types within a breed and how type changed over time.  I understood that some change was based on the hopes of improvement of the breed.  And I cynically understood some change was based on the need for leaders to change type to stimulate demand for their stock.

One breeder who never wavered in the type of Hampshire he was striving for was C. Elliot Driscoll, of Waldridge Farms.  

I noticed his two page ad in every July issue, (the biggest and best, herdsire issue), of The Hampshire Herdsman.  He always had something to say and didn’t care about offending other breeders.

While it did seem he had a chip on his shoulder, Mr. Driscoll also displayed a sense of humor in his advertisements.  He listed his children and their various occupations, with the boys starting out as “sanitation engineers” and gradually moving up through the ranks to “apprentice breeders”.

I showed Waldridge Farms ad to Dad and asked if we could buy a boar from them in the hopes of improving our hogs.  Dad said sure.

Dad made the 3 hour drive in our Ford ton truck with the stock rack on the back.  Must have been a school day as I didn’t go with on this first trip.  I’m guessing it was around 1985 or 1986.

Dad brought home two boars.  I named them “Wolfman” and “Spock”.  Wolfman was a big, wide-belted boar.  Spock was an off-belt, almost black.  

We had a good base of maternal gilts sired by some good Yorkshire boars we purchased from local Yorkshire breeder, Larry Teasdale.  Wolfman and Spock went to work breeding those gilts.

We saw improvement in our hogs right away.  We went from white and red ribbons to blue, at the county fair.  But the biggest benefit to our farm was economically.  

Perhaps in response to the detrimental effects of the stress gene, I’m not sure, I was too young to know exactly why, breeders selected away from the lean and narrow hogs of the 1970s, and towards short, wide, and ultimately fat hogs in the 1980s.

I remember one Lafayette County Fair carcass show in which the judge kind of chewed out the hog producers as there were hardly any good carcasses and the worst carcass had about two inches of backfat and the loin, (pork chop) was smaller than the largest lamb chop.

Consumers were avoiding fat and starting to demand lean meat.  It was clear that type needed to change once again.

In an effort to promote and pay for lean muscle, pork processors started measuring individual hog carcasses for fat and muscle and paying the producer accordingly.

We were paid a premium for our Waldridge sired hogs.  And, in an effort to help other producers in the area, buying station managers started to promote our hogs to other producers.

Producers started to ask to purchase our Hamp-York gilts for replacement females.  So we obliged, charging $50 over market price.  Demand was good, and this became a nice sideline business.

We alternated Teasdale Yorkshire boars one year, and Waldridge Hampshire boars the next, into the early 1990s.    By this time, breeders had responded to the call for lean hogs and as usual, were taking it too far.

Waldridge hogs were no longer the leanest, meatiest boars available.  I remember discussing this with Mr. Driscoll.  He wasn’t worried, as he knew the type of hog he wanted to raise and wasn’t influenced by prevailing winds of change.

He said something to the effect that a hog with .8 inch backfat and a 6.5 square inch loin was always going to be a good hog.  That really stuck in my mind.  Whenever I’ve been confused about the direction of my hogs, I remind myself of that truth.

By 1994 when I came home from college, it was clear the swine industry was continuing to change.  Teasdale Yorkshires sold out before the market collapsed that year.  Many producers exited the business.  1998 and 1999 were two more brutal market years for the swine industry and many more exited after that.

In college I saw the benefits of artificial insemination and decided to close our herd to new stock, only bringing in new genetics via AI.  August of 1994 was the last time we brought new animals onto the farm.

While many producers had exited the swine industry, there were still enough producers left who needed boars that I started and developed my own business selling boars.  This was a good business for me from 1995 to around 2010.

By then, so many producers had left the industry, I could see the writing on the wall.  I only sell boars to two producers now.

I pivoted once again into selling meat direct to consumers in Madison.  This has been really enjoyable.  As a farmer, we know we are producing food, but I’m one of the lucky ones who actually get to know the consumers enjoying our food.

I guess I’ll end by thanking Waldridge Hampshires, Teasdale Yorkshires, and Swine Genetics International for providing the good swine genetics that help us produce good pork.  Thank you!


Adios End Zone

November 4, 2021

Update: Last outdoor market November 13th. Turkey day November 22nd. Resuming winter meat drops in Madison, December 4th.

————–

Good bye to the biggest boar I’ve ever raised. A gentle giant, End Zone weighed 965 lbs at the sale barn in Iowa. He was also an excellent breeder until the end, when he just got too big.

His genetics aren’t lost. I’ve kept a couple boars and a couple gilts as breeders.

If I kept better records, I could trace this boar’s ancestors back about 40 generations on our farm. I wonder what my ancestors were like, 40 generations ago.

My sister enjoys researching our family’s history. That pursuit is all about seeing how far back you can go. Very interesting.

But really, if you want clues to your own genetics, look at your closest family. Their virtues and faults, which you probably know all too well, are susceptible in you.

And when examining faults, I’ve always found its more productive to look in the mirror!


Vaccinations

August 23, 2021

I asked my Dad to recollect about vaccinations.  He remembered the days when Cholera and Erysipelas were devastating to swine, nearly 70 years ago.

When the vaccines were developed, Dad’s family built catch pens out in the pasture and herded the pigs into the pens and then proceeded to catch and vaccinate every pig.

It was a lot of work, but worth it, as it eliminated death loss from these dreaded diseases.  


2021 Herd Boar: End Zone

January 22, 2021

End Zone, 2021.

Unwanted weight gain. A problem my breeding boar and I share.

I would like to keep End Zone around for a long time to service his contemporary sows. And the best way for me to keep him active and doing his job is to keep him from getting too heavy.

Its important for people as well. I read that losing 10 lbs is like taking 40 lbs off your joints. I’m sure that’s an over simplification, but the principle is probably right.

As I age, I find it easier to gain weight and more difficult to lose. I’m back on the meat and egg diet for a few weeks, but am not losing the weight as fast as I did 12 years ago when I started this blog.

Below are a couple of photos of End Zone from last year about this time. I was interested to see how much he has grown so I used myself as a reference point.

I would estimate he’s grown 2 to 4 inches and 150 to 200 lbs.

I’m curious to see what he looks like next year at this time.

End Zone, 2020.


Peas and Oats

June 14, 2020

DSCF3944

Planted April 6.  I replant our annual Pig Pastures in the spring and they are ready to graze in 6 weeks.

These photos are from a paddock that is 9 weeks after planting.  The peas are flowering and the oats are heading out.

This year I also planted an understory of Red Clover and Bluegrass which will come on later if the pig don’t root too much.

UPDATE: Taking orders for delivery every other Saturday to Madison. Next date July 11th.  Email Matthew with order and/or questions: oakgrovelane@yahoo.com. Thank you!

DSCF3948


Where’s the Beef? (and Pork)

May 17, 2020

IMG_0183

UPDATE: Taking orders for delivery every other Saturday to Madison. Next date June 6th.  Email Matthew with order and/or questions: oakgrovelane@yahoo.com. Thank you!

On the hoof at our farm.  Other, much larger farms, don’t have the flexibility of space, and farmers have euthanized their pigs and chickens as a last resort due to complications from Covid-19.

How did we get here?  According to Temple Grandin, the huge, meat processing plants that dominate our industry now, are more fragile than the smaller, more numerous meat packers our industry used to have.

“Big is not bad, it is fragile.”  Temple Grandin

When one of the huge meat packers shut down, the few others available to take more animals, struggle to absorb the overflow.  Animals which are designed to be harvested on a certain date, overwhelm a highly efficient, yet fragile, system.

I’m so thankful to have a close, working relationship with Avon Locker in Darlington.  They’ve picked up a lot of new business and had to turn some away.  Their business is booming, as everyone nowadays is thinking about their food and how to have it hyperlocal, like in their freezer right now!

And with a little patience we will put meat in your freezer.  I’m sharing photos of our cattle on pasture and a new litter, reassuring customers we are working as always.

DSCF3906

As people think more about their food, many are appreciating resilient, local food.  I’ll conclude this post with a quote from one of our best, long-time customers, Heather.

 

“If there is a hopeful note to attach to the mess our world is in just now, I have to say I am so glad for small farmers and small local processors to be getting new business.  I really hope that more people realize the benefits of doing local business on small scale, as they get superior food while helping the local economy.  I started buying meat at farmers market trying to find a more humane source, but the quality is so much better too.  And it is good to know personally and trust the people producing my food.”   Long-time customer, Heather.
DSCF3911

2020 Spring Tillage: Compact Model

April 1, 2020

 

DSCF3848

Saturday morning Dane County Farmer’s Market closed due to Covid-19.  Making biweekly trips to Madison for meat drops.  Next delivery April 11th.  Contact Matthew for more information: oakgrovelane@yahoo.com.  Thank you!

For those of you with a small backyard, we also have compact models of our popular biological tillage machines.  For an economical price, you can have your backyard tilled without using fossil fuel.  And a bonus: most likely your neighbors’ yards will be tilled as well.  Everyone in the neighborhood will know who you are!

DSCF3841

Piglets are very mouthy, chewing on everything.  While they are learning, observing mom, it also helps prevent baby pig anemia.  Sows’ milk is deficient in iron, so the swine industry recommends injecting iron into piglets when they are 1 to 2 days old.  When piglets are on dirt however, there is no need, as you can see these noninjected piglets don’t appear to lack for anything.

Piglets are also born with eight baby teeth, two upper and two lower on each side of their mouth.  These teeth are called needle teeth, I think because they are so sharp.  I’ve had piglets break the tough skin on my finger with their needle teeth.

I’m not sure what the function of needle teeth is, but the piglets do use them when they fight with each other. Sometimes they fight over space at the udder.  Sometimes it appears they fight just for practice.  I’m pretty sure that is what caused the abrasions on these two bold piglets in the photo below.

 

DSCF3845

 

 


2020 Spring Tillage

March 24, 2020

DSCF3815

Think spring!  We are anticipating summer sweet corn and a big garden this year.

These lactating Chester White sows are doing some of the spring tillage work for me.  I turned them into this new area today.

Their neck muscles are incredibly strong!  One of the first things a swine herder learns is to keep their sorting panel low, if a swine gets their nose under your panel, you and your panel will be airborne with a flip of the head.

DSCF3820


2020 March Litters and Market Cancelled!

March 13, 2020

DSCF3803

 

Last weekend was a gorgeous weekend and all of our sows farrowed from Saturday to Tuesday, with 8 to 11 piglets each, and they are all doing fantastic.  Tuesday afternoon was only 46 F, but the sunshine felt so good, some of the piglets were sunning themselves in the entrance of a hut.

Humanity’s health is not doing so well.  The Dane County Farmer’s market is cancelled for this Saturday and I think its a wise move.  When I heard that some people can carry and spread Covid-19 without showing symptoms, I knew we were in trouble.  I’m reminded of some of the hog diseases that seem to sweep across the nation despite all our best efforts to prevent them.

So its all about flattening the curve now so that our health care professionals can treat everyone who needs attention.  So no more large gatherings for the foreseeable future.

I am however, making deliveries to Madison this Saturday.  If you would like something, email, and we will work out details.  Thank you and stay safe!


2020 Herd Boar: Part 2

February 12, 2020

20200211_113021

 

Check out those tusks!  Another post on End Zone, showing off doing his two jobs.  We were moving some other hogs and he patrolled the perimeter, making sure everyone knew he was in charge!

Boars are very aggressive with each other.  That’s one of the reasons I sold his Father because I was worried about them ever getting together.  The ensuing fight would, at the least, sideline one or both of them with injuries and possible death.

And since End Zone is doing the important job so well, photo below, I have a son of Zone for sale, if any of you hog farmers need a good young boar.

IMG_0047