Recently my daughters were out in the front yard when a black, potbellied pig walked up to them apparently searching for a meal. It took me back to my youth when we would keep a few hogs around to eat scraps and for 4-H projects. It really got me to thinking that my kids have never had the interesting and rewarding experience of raising a hog. We recently completed a beginning farmer series of classes that have taught me that not only hog production skills can be quickly lost but basic agriculture skills in general can be lost in only one generation if we don’t make a concerted effort to teach them to others.
We covered many topics in our beginning farmer series, but we could not cover every topic of interest to the class. Therefore, I plan to add a few special interest classes over the next few months. On July 18, we will host a "Beginning Farmer – Small Scale Hog Production" seminar featuring Auburn University’s Swine Specialist Dr. Frank Owsley. This event will be held in Cullman County and registration details can be found at this web link: http://goo.gl/4B7Ug or by calling 256-737-9386.
This meeting will be an attempt to meet the growing demand for information concerning small-scale hog production. Small, diversified farm owners, weekend farmers and youth are showing interest in alternatives to the large confinement facilities dominating "modern" production. Also, consumers are interested in buying meat that did not come from the large-scale confinement operations.
Raising hogs may seem like a messy, difficult proposition so you may be asking, "Why would anyone want to raise hogs?" A program called "4-H Pig Squeal Project" allows youth to produce feeder pigs to gain a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. Others may simply enjoy observing this intelligent creature and like to keep a hog or two around just to have a more diversified farm or to make better use of waste products. A growing number of farmers want to produce a highly nutritious, tasty pork product for their own use or for a specialty market.
With a minimum of investment in facilities, you can market labor, management, land value, homegrown grains and forages, and other assets in the form of market hogs (or feeder pigs). The downfall of many small swine operations has been in trying to substitute borrowed capital for some of these assets. Another is the dependence on a traditional market rather than specialty or niche markets. You want to tap into the "Buy Local" mentality or to those who have "animal welfare" concerns. You will need to get a premium price due to the economy of scale disadvantage of small-scale production.
Just as with any farming enterprise, the small hog operation must be based on sound economic principles. Budgets, cash flows and markets must guide the establishment or expansion of any hog operation. Medium-sized producers trying to compete with large confinement operations have not been successful, but very small producers who find a market niche may find this enterprise can help spread their risk and be a profitable part of a diversified farm plan.
To be successful, small pork producers must work and think harder than the established, larger operator. Their competitive edge lies in lower fixed costs, the creativity to find a more economical way of raising hogs and the ability to tap into specialty markets.
To learn more make plans to attend the "Beginning Farmer – Small Scale Hog Production" seminar. To learn about other upcoming classes, visit www.aces.edu/cullman and click on the "Meetings and Events" link. We also have a goat production meeting and a farm recordkeeping program planned for later in the month.
Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.