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!


Cheers to 2022!

January 3, 2022

I was one of the crazy people who played a New Year’s Day PDGA tournament in near zero windchill in Wisconsin.

I managed to putt well enough to win my division.  TD Aaron DeVries handed out a fancy gold medallion to division winners.  It said “1st” on one one side and “Champion of 2022” on the other.

Made me feel so special, I carefully hung it over my 2 sweatshirts, 2 flannel shirts, and 2 t-shirts, around my neck.

I went down the street to grab a take out lunch for me and my wife, who graciously stayed at home with our two year old son while I played disc golf.

The guy behind the counter said, “what’s this?”, pointing at my medallion.

Grow the sport, right?  I whipped out my phone and showed him a photo and told him about disc golf.  

“Frisbee”, he said, and made a throwing motion with his arm.  This guy gets it.

“You know what?”, he said.  “This is for you.”  He pulled out a punch card and started punching holes throughout the entire card.  “Next time, free lunch for you.”

Wow, I thought.  This guy knows how special I am.

It was only after I walked in the door at home, and my wife started laughing at me and my fancy medallion, I realized the guy at Teriyaki Express may have thought I was a different type of special.

It’s all good.  Sometimes we “Grow the Sport”,  sometimes we get a free lunch.

In all seriousness, though, disc golf does make one feel special.  No matter how your round is going, disc golf always gives us a moment or two to keep us coming back.

My cardmates all had their moments.  Jim Hendricks crushed several drives and putted great all day.  John Hunter nailed a 100 foot putt.  And Mike DeVries parked hole 1 with a delicate turnover shot.  

After the round, my cardmates went back out and helped me find a lost disc in the snow. The disc golf community is the best.

Cheers to 2022!

Matthew Walter #69516 

#PDGA


The Stockings…

December 19, 2021

It’s that time of year. The turkeys are gone. The days are short. Why am I always surprised by how short the days get?

We are back to our winter email marketing and its going as smooth as ever, but we’re missing some of you. In the interest of saving time, I used an email service, and I suspect it ended up in many of your spam!

If you would like to check, December 11th is when you should have received an email from us. Below is some of the email you should have received if you’re on our list.

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Hello from Isabel, Romeo, and Matthew, Curiousfarmer!

Our winter season has started!  We are taking your orders for delivery to 3 locations in Madison, twice per month.

Weather permitting, our planned dates are Jan 8, 22, Feb 5, 19, Mar 5, 19, Apr 2.  If you don’t hear from us and would like something, email. 

If you need help remembering what we have, check out our “food for you” page at Curiousfarmer dot com.  I’ll try to update what’s “out” regularly to help with ordering.

Email, oakgrovelane@yahoo.com with questions, or if you know what you want.

—–

Enough business, time for some Gratitude!

Thank you to all who supported Curiousfarmer during the pandemic!  You help us continue to farm the way we do.

Some of you have been with us since the beginning of the pandemic as we figured this out together.  Thanks for keeping us going during the lean days.

Many of you are new in 2021.  It’s been great getting to know you!  Some of you even made it out to the farm for turkey day.  Thank you!

Thank you also, to all who took home quarters of beef and half hogs.  We don’t get to see you as often, but we’re glad you are enjoying Curiousfarmer meat.

A special thanks to those who picked up their quarters and halves at market or at Avon Locker.  That saved us a trip to Madison, valuable time we could spend on the farm.  Thank you!

Your Farmers,

Matthew, Isabel, and Romeo


Adios End Zone

November 4, 2021

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

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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!


Ground Bee Update

October 1, 2021

I swear I didn’t dig up the nest. As curious as I am, I’m also comfortable with mystery. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.

But something did dig up the ground bee nest I’ve been watching. I’m guessing skunk. We’ve only had one bear sighting on our farm.

Below is a photo of some of the comb which was tore out of the nest. Have you heard of the theory that observing changes the observed?


Bees and Bats

September 19, 2021

Apologies for the quality of the photo, but I had to zoom to get this photo of my furry little friend. Can you see his face in the middle of the photo? He’s peaking out of the largest hole in the log.

I’m guessing he’s a Little Brown Bat, which is the most common species of bat in Wisconsin. Also, its a very small hole. I included my boot in the photo below for scale. The bat hole is in the largest log, center left of the photo, largest hole.

The only reason I was spending time observing this area is because I found a colony of bees entering and exiting the ground. The entrance to their home was not very visible, tucked under some of the woody debris. But about every 1 to 2 seconds a bee would be coming or going.

I’m guessing they may be a colony of Litigated Furrow Bees. They weren’t aggressive towards me as they continued their late summer work.


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.  


Honeybee Update

July 14, 2021

Welcome! New and Returning, Dane County Farmer’s Market Customers!

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We haven’t had any luck trapping a honeybee swarm and I think I know the obvious reason why: there haven’t been any swarms in the area. In fact, I haven’t seen any honeybees at the farm.

There used to be two beekeepers that kept hives within a mile of our farm, but I think they’ve quit and no one has taken their place. So no honeybees.

It doesn’t bother me too much, as I was worried about the effect that hives of European Honeybees can potentially have on the native pollinators. So I’ll probably take my swarm trap down at the end of this month and try again next year, possibly at a friend’s farm.

The good news is we have tons of native pollinators. I often see several young bumblebees on the same plant along with sweat bees and other wasps, beetles, flies, etc.

Below is a photo I took of a sweat bee, I think. And above is a nice wild patch of Monarda, or Bee Balm, thriving in our pasture next to a creek.

dd


Back at Market! June 19th

June 4, 2021

We are back at the DCFM around the capitol square starting Saturday, June 19th. We are planning one more drop for those of you who like this protocol for Saturday, June 12th.

Thank you to all of you who helped us through this past year. We’ve been so blessed to be able to figure out new ways to continue to provide nutritious meat for your families.

We hosted a customer appreciation hog roast this past Memorial Day weekend. Everyone was really happy to get back out and socialize again. The weather was gorgeous. Thank you to all who attended and helped make the weekend possible.


Trying Some New Things

April 28, 2021

I purchased a silage tarp to prepare a seedbed for our sweet corn field. I’m hoping weeds will germinate under it, and then after I remove the tarp, I can plant into a cleaner soil.

We manage our sweet corn without heribicides or pesticides and weeds can be a problem.

Later, I plan to use the tarp to cover round bales of hay.

I was also inspired by a book, “Keeping Bees With a Smile,” which promotes natural beekeeping. The author claims an apiary can be started and maintained with wild swarms.

So I’ve installed a swarm trap and am looking forward to see if it attracts a swarm of honeybees.

Swarm trap

If the swarm trap works, I know I’m going to feel bad for the native pollinators as some people fear that the European Honeybee with their huge numbers, may limit the nectar resources for the native pollinators.

So I drilled some holes in a log I’m leaving in a conspicuous place to see if I can get some native bees to nest.

UPDATE: Taking orders for delivery every other Saturday to Madison. Next date May 8th.  Email Matthew with order and/or questions: oakgrovelane@yahoo.com. Thank you!