There's just a couple more weeks to celebrate National Pork Month. This week, we're joined by Rhonda Hergenrider. An MFBF member, Rhonda and her family own and operate Silvertip Pork where they run a farm to plate hog farm by raising the pigs and marketing the meat. Rhonda was kind enough to write us a post about her family and how they manage their hog farm.
My name is Rhonda Hergenrider. My family farms in the Clark’s Fork Valley in South Central, MT. In addition to raising sugar beets, grains, cattle and feedstuffs, we also raise pigs. Pigs are a small, but integrated part of our operation.
They were a lot larger part of our farm when I was a young child. My father ran a 60-sow farrow to finish hog facility. Well managed sows can farrow up to three times per year, producing an average of eight pigs per litter. You do the math; that’s a fair amount of pigs.
What I remember most about being a part of all that was moving the sows into the barn and the weaner pigs out of the barn. More on this process later.
It wasn’t just my father who raised a fair amount of pigs in our region, but several of our neighbors had substantially sized hog operations as well. That all changed in the 1980s when economic factors forced a dramatic decline in the number of hog farms in several western states including Montana. With the close of Pearce Packing in Billings, we lost access to what’s referred to as the ‘lean market’, which essentially is a premium payment for quality, and a necessity for profitable market hog production. During this time, hog production became more concentrated in the Midwest. With access to corn and soybeans, 300 sow farrowing barns became the norm in that region and the hub of American pork production.
Fast forward 20 years; ‘local food’ and ‘value added’ are all the buzz! Having never lost interest in raising pigs and having adequate labor, we decided to get a few pigs again. However, this time we took on a whole new beast; we decided to market the meat ourselves and founded Silvertip Pork, the brand name we market our pork under today. Since the focus of this blog is about raising the pigs themselves, I’ll shy away from that side of the business, suffice it to say value added also means input added! It requires substantially additional time, money and knowledge.
Anyway, back to production. When we first started raising pigs again in 2004, we were farrow to finish. We purchased 12 gilts. (A gilt is a female pig who has not farrowed yet.) We purchased top of the line carcass animals from a reputation hog farm in North Central, IA just a couple hours from where my mother was raised. The gilts were a Yorkshire/Hampshire cross.
Our goal was to have a consistent meat supply for our restaurant customers. Our heated farrowing building allowed us to farrow year around. We farrowed a group of sows every two months. Sometimes the sows who farrowed in the summer would farrow outside.
As is true with every animal, pigs need adequate access to food, water and shelter. Feeding and checking water sources are daily chores. So are monitoring straw piles in outside pens and heat temperature in the farrowing barn.
Also like other animal species, pregnant, lactating and open sows all have different nutrient requirements. The same can be said for the piglets, weaner pigs and feeder pigs. It is necessary to pay attention to the class of hogs being fed and that the ration is appropriate for that class. All our pigs’ feed is grown on our farm except for soybean meal which is vital for efficient growth. They all receive their respective rations or barley, or corn mixed with soybean meal and in some cases high quality alfalfa hay.
Other aspects of hog management occur less frequently. Sows are moved into their farrowing crate or pen when they get close to farrowing. Baby pigs receive a series of shots, one at two days, another at a week and another at one month. The baby pigs are weaned at approximately one month of age, where they are put on a diet high in concentrate. At approximately two months of age they are moved into their feeding pens where they stay until they reach market weight of 250-280 lbs. Some things that are done to ensure they make market weight as efficiently as possible include keeping different sized pigs in different pens and making sure they stay clean of parasites. When done right, a pig should reach market weight at six months of age.
I have only scraped the surface as to what’s required to run a successful farrow to finish operation. Farrowing can be a very fun part of hog production, but it is extremely labor intensive. So, except for one breeding project, because I just couldn’t help myself, we converted to a feeding operation in 2010. We purchase weaner pigs from my friend Melissa Jennings of G&J Show Pigs. Her father is one of the neighbors mentioned earlier.
Like most folks what I appreciate most about the pig is pork. It is such a diverse meat. From bacon, sausage and ham for breakfast to chops, roasts and ribs for dinner, the pig has got you covered. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes passed down to me from my mother.
BBQ Pork Ribs
2 lbs. Country Style Ribs, 1 cup water, salt and pepper, 1 cup ketchup, ½ cup brown sugar, (more or less to taste) 2 tbsp. mustard, 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, 2 tsp chili powder. Place pork and water in the crock pot, salt and pepper to taste. Put on a low setting. Mix the remaining ingredients and poor over meat, cook until done
Pork Chops and Gravy
4 ½ to ¾ inch pork chops, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1 cup sour cream, 1/3 cup milk. Brown pork chops in a skillet, mix remaining ingredients, poor over chops, let simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with steamed potatoes and your favorite veggie.