Young Pig Producers Gain Marketing Savvy

Marion County 4-H members bring home the bacon with first pig sale

Story and Photos by Mary Stewart, Communications & Marketing Coordinator, West Central Extension Region

Salem, Ore. – On the day before the Final Drive Show Pig Sale, the Martin’s barn vibrated with the sound of grunts and squeals, as 27 piglets got acquainted in specially-crafted pens bedded with a clean cushion of shavings. A dozen 4-H members and adult volunteers from the Hazelgreen and Abiqua Livestock 4-H Clubs buzzed around the two-month-old babies, ensuring each piglet was clean, fed, comfortable and ready to show their best at the sale the next morning. 

YOUTH MANAGED THE SALE

While pig sales are not uncommon in the Willamette Valley, this sale was unique. According to Melanie Mintken, OSU Extension faculty based in Salem, the Final Drive Show Pig Sale was planned and operated by 4-H Club members rather than adults. “The sale was designed as a youth learning experience in animal production and marketing,” she says.

Steve McCarthy, an OSU Extension 4-H volunteer, coached the youth along with John Kuenzi and other adult volunteers: “We are so proud of these kids for coming together and working hard to make a successful event,” says Steve.  

LEARNED PIG PRODUCTION AND MARKETING

The educational process began in August, when the 4-H Club members selected the sows and boars to parent their piglet litters, oversaw the breeding, monitored the health of the sow, played midwife at the births and tended to the pig’s daily care.

To produce a successful sale outcome, the youth did some strategic planning, built the pens, planned hospitality for the buyers at the sale, conducted the sale and kept financial records of each pig and the sale itself.

The hard work and long hours have paid off. “The kids have learned long range planning, budgeting of both time and money, teamwork, public speaking, goal setting and so much more,” Steve explains.

“The swine population has decreased in the valley in the past few years,” says Gene Pirelli, OSU Extension Swine Specialist. “By producing high-quality pigs and making them available to others as show animals or for home food use, these kids are performing a valuable service,” he adds.

WHY YOUTH LIKED THE EXPERIENCE

“Getting ready for the pig sale has been fun,” says Tyler McCarthy, 15, Hazelgreen 4-H Livestock Club and a student at Silverton High School. “It’s the chance to sell your pigs, make some money and get your name out there,” he explains about the benefits of planning and conducting the sale.

IMPROVING GENETICS

Nathan Kuenzi, 12, with Abiqua 4-H Livestock Club and a student at Silvercrest School, saw the sale as incentive to produce top quality pigs. “I have improved my swine group, including the sows and the piglets,” he explains.

“The breeding program and sale is a good way to improve competition in the county,” says Austin Kuenzi, 16, with Abiqua 4-H Livestock club and a student at Silverton High School. According to Austin, when people come to this sale, they will buy high quality pigs. “We have raised the quality of the genetics in our operations and by selling some of our pigs to others, the level of competition will be raised at county fair time.”

“We know the pigs are good because we A.I.’d them with a good boar from Iowa, says Austin. “A.I.” is the abbreviation for “artificial insemination” where semen is collected from a boar in one location, and then shipped to another location where the sow is artificially impregnated with the boar’s semen.

According to Austin, the piglets turned out to have the desired shape, muscle and structure for success.  “They are exactly what a prospective winning pig should look like,” he points out.

KEEPING PIGS HEALTHY

According to Gracie McCarthy, 13, Hazelgreen Livestock 4-H Club and a student at Mt. Angel Middle School, the sale group of 27 piglets was made up of four litters; almost half male and half female. The piglets are crossbred because that produces an animal with the most desirable bone and muscle structure. All four litters at the pig sale had birthdays fairly close together-- late December through January.  “My sow farrowed on Christmas Day,” says Gracie with a smile.

The 4-H members described the careful watch they kept over the sow and the newborns, explaining the process of letting each piglet nurse until full and then moving them to a spot under a heat lamp. The sow is often weak for the first three days after giving birth, and might lie down on a piglet and not realize it. To prevent that from happening, the 4-H members keep a vigil and protected the piglets from harm.

“It has been fun to see the plans for the pig sale coming together,” says Gracie. “We have learned how to complete a budget and manage our money. We have taken care of the babies to make sure they are healthy. People don’t realize how much time and effort goes into raising a show pig,” she adds.

TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL SALE

The 4-H members put a lot of thought in to how to construct a sales environment that would bring the most dollars to the sales table. “We want to make the buyers as comfortable as possible,” says Tyler. “We are going to have coffee and snacks and ask the buyers questions to see if they want to learn anything about the pigs, such as the bloodlines of the moms and the dads,” he explains.

Buyers also had the opportunity to learn how to feed their new piglet when they attended the sale. “ShowRite Feed is offering a seminar so buyers can learn how to fatten up the pigs a little bit, says Nathan. Each pig is sent to their new home with a free bag of ShowRite feed to get them started off on the right trotter (a pig’s foot).

FINAL DRIVE: YOUTH BROUGHT HOME THE BACON

The Final Drive Show Pig Sale turned out to be a very good day for the 4-H pig producers. Nearly 100 people from five counties attended the sale, which grossed $10,000 and brought a high price of $825 for the sale of one pig. “We feel the event was very successful and the 4-H members are very anxious to do it again next year,” says Steve

With cash in hand from the sale, the 4-H youth will now analyze their income and expenses. “We will know it was successful if we made more money than we spent, if we had a good quality pig and if our customers are happy,” says Tyler.

ABOUT EXTENSION 4-H VOLUNTEERS IN MARION COUNTY

In 2013, some 341 OSU Extension 4-H volunteers reported 27,345 hours of service in Marion County.  The gross value of the time 4-H volunteers give to the residents of Marion County is more than $500,000 based on the standard dollar value of a volunteer hour.

MORE INFORMATION

For more information about the OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development program or any of the programs that benefit farms, food and families in Marion County, contact the Extension Office in Salem 503-588-5301, MarionCoExt@gmail.com or visit www.extension.oregonstate.edu/marion.

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