Farm/Pig/Life Wisdom Needed

Discussion in 'Pigs' started by Farmer_Joe, Mar 19, 2017.

  1. Farmer_Joe

    Farmer_Joe Member

    Messages:
    10
    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2015
    X posted to permies.

    At what point is it best to give up?

    Let me explain: I started down this road winter of 2004 when I began learning about the big picture. I was 19 at the time and newly on my own in life. I learned about peak oil, climate change, and the unsustainablility of the global economic situation. It came as quite a shock since I believed the future was more like Back to the Future, not the Great Depression on steroids. I have done a lot of research into these issues and have yet to find a good reason to believe I was mistaken. So I continue on.

    Shortly before I had this revelation my dad died and I inherited the family property. 35 acres about an hours drive from Seattle. Its a decent amount of property for this area with timber and good soil. I was in college at the time. I changed my educational focus and took basically every hands on agriculture class the school offered. That's where I learned about Permaculture, though the bulk of my education was focused on running an organic veggie enterprise. I graduated summer of 2008 and the next day got to work.

    I attempted starting a veggie operation several times and in several different ways without having any success financially. The best I ever did was a u-pick tomato enterprise from a variety I bred for the job. Demand was high, but the price the market supports is no where close to commensurate to the time/effort it requires. Basically $1/hour. That is not a typo.

    I found success early on by boarding horses and renting out rooms. I still board horses today using a loose Salatin style of grazing management, but renting rooms went by the wayside. Too many tenant issues. From there I expanded the enterprise to include pasture finished beef. I still do beef, though it will never be the mainstay. I figure the most I will ever earn from it would be $10k/year. Thats net if I only raise beef, no horses or others. I want to raise a family someday and I don't know any women who are interested in being farm poor. So that's not good enough.

    I did some sleuthing and realized that pigs were likely to be my best bet financially. I bought a batch of weaners winter of 2012. I found them easy to keep and fun, though they taught me pretty quickly the importance of good fences. As they grew I sold them and made a good profit doing so. I sold all but my best performing gilt and bred her.

    She did great! She gave me a large litter of healthy babies. I sold all but two gilts out of that litter and made good money. That's when I realized my future was in pigs. It may have also been the beginning of the end for me as an aspiring farmer.

    I started buying more pigs at that point. I bought some weaned gilts from a friend. They died from wasting disease. I bought a boar from that same friend. He ended up wasting away also, but not before impregnating my sow. The two gilts were too small at this point. She went into labor a week early with this batch. A couple were stillborn. I intervened and pulled out a few more dead piglets. No vet was available to help. After much tribulation I realized there was nothing more I could do for her. I let nature take its course and in the morning I found her with 11 struggling piglets. All but three died. I sold the remainder and the next fall filled my freezer with cull sow.

    I took the punch and figured it can't always be this bad. Armed with the knowledge that I can make pigs profitable and a can do attitude I attempted to expand the pig enterprise again this fall. I bought five more weaner gilts from different sows to increase the genetic diversity of the herd. I know that good lines are key to success here. All but one of those pigs died mostly from wasting disease. The one that lived I have high hopes for. She is resiliant, friendly and growing well.

    I also rented a boar this fall to breed my previous two gilts. The first one bred quickly and gave birth to 12 all healthy without need for help. Four of these pigs died. Three from bad advice I received for how to castrate. (I had a way that worked fine, but with a desire to improve my technique I failed) and one from shock after being attacked by the second sow. The second one took after the 4th attempt. She went into labor Saturday morning and delivered two piglets that died shortly thereafter. I waited with her to see if more would come. After 90 minutes of no new babies I attempted to intervene, but her vagina was too tight for me to get my hand in to. The vet was, as usual, unavailable. I attempted intervening several times yesterday with no success. Today she seems to be coming out of labor, but still very fat and full of milk. I expect to be culling her within the week.

    Which brings me to the point of this longwinded essay/plea for help. I have experienced so much failure here. I'm becoming disheartened and questioning the viability of the whole farming thing. Obviously it works for some people, but as I stated before, I want to be able to support a family. I have sacrificed everything I can for this. I have a meager social life, I ride a bicycle to save precious resources. I can go on living this way until my knees and hips fail, but with no one to pass the farm on to I may as well develop it before the next guy does. Then I think about the big picture issues I alluded to earlier and think selling would be dumb. I've looked into other jobs in this area and my skill set doesn't apply. They are city jobs. So I'm writing this to any who will read and respond. I need some serious farm/pig/life wisdom desperately. Please help.
     
  2. mikeymouse

    mikeymouse New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2014
    Location:
    NW Oregon
    Farmer Joe,


    There certainly are a lot of issues here. I'll attempt to address at least one of them here.

    Wasting disease. I don't believe a case of wasting disease has ever been diagnosed west of the cascades, and very few, if any, west of the Rockies.

    With you being in Washington, I'm thinking a revisit to the diagnoses of wasting disease would be prudent.

    If it was me, based on how I interpreted your comments, I would investigate the food source for the pigs.


    Make double dog sure your livestock are getting all the minerals that they need.


    I'm thinking that once you get a handle on keeping your pigs alive, you'll feel much more encouraged to continue your journey.

    One other thing, think seriously about getting a milk cow. The girls like them much more than pigs.
     
    dsmythe and Pig in a poke like this.

  3. Pig in a poke

    Pig in a poke Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    832
    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2013
    Location:
    Middle Tennessee
    I don't know if you will find comfort in the experiences of others. So, brace yourself.
    I work a full-time (non-farming) job, have raised horses for my "enjoyment" for 20 years, and started into pigs 4 years ago. Hard work and loss and no spare time are just part of the picture. I won't go into personal details, but I am now emotionally calloused to the ups and downs of livestock. Sometimes I want to quit it all. But I am not in it for the same "feel good" reasons as you've mentioned (socio-political motives). This is just for me, though I am managing slowly to build sales (live pig and pork direct to consumer), which is also rewarding.
    All that is to say that you have to decide whether the rewards outweigh the struggle for you personally. What is your end goal? Are you making progress?
    On the plus side, you're a step ahead, having inherited land.
    You've had some poor luck with your animals. I am not familiar with wasting disease personally. Are you certain that is what's going on? Young pigs (even foals) can develop diarrhea and become seriously compromised and perish if not treated. Have you actually had any necropsied? If you got a handle on this issue, do you feel you could get back on track?
    Bottom line, try not to ponder the big picture and focus on solving this one problem.
    best wishes
     
    dsmythe likes this.
  4. cooper101

    cooper101 Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    959
    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2010
    Location:
    Michigan
    Definitely solve the problem of the pigs dying. That will probably help immensely to make a decision. It just isn't normal to be losing such a high percentage. You obviously are passionate about what you're doing. That's a very good place to be starting from. Something is killing your pigs. Figure that out ASAP.
     
    dsmythe likes this.
  5. Farmer_Joe

    Farmer_Joe Member

    Messages:
    10
    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2015
    Thanks all.

    No I have not performed necroscopy. I am basing that on research and the evidence I have. No diarrhea or other symptoms. Just well fed super skinny pigs. I do feed kelp as a nutrient supplement.

    Pig in a poke, yes I have made progress. I am running a profitable venture and that is improving every year. Also, even with the losses I experienced this year I will still see a profit on my weaners, assuming something else doesn't happen. My experience has been that once pigs born on farm are weaned they are home free. Of course that could change.

    I realized last night after talking to a friend/mentor that I need to be more calloused to use your word. Farming has so many variables which are beyond control: weather, disease, market demand, etc. I plan to keep on keeping on, because I am making progress, my global scale concerns (nothing "feel good" about them) haven't changed, and I like the good sides of this life. I like working in a scenic environment, being my own boss, eating high quality foods and drinking homemade wine. There is so much good here, but I lose sight of that. I need to learn acway to remember when things are hard.
     
    dsmythe likes this.
  6. cooper101

    cooper101 Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    959
    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2010
    Location:
    Michigan
    Do you vaccinate them? Based on a similar experience I had, seems to me like it's that type of issue. Very frustrating to just keep finding dead pigs when there aren't signs. It's worth the investment to pay a vet/lab to figure it out.

    I don't think you should be calloused about your livestock dying; losing them should make you upset. It will always happen, but it's rare, in my opinion, to have it happen so often.
     
  7. Pig in a poke

    Pig in a poke Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    832
    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2013
    Location:
    Middle Tennessee
    RE: being emotionally calloused... I don't mean uncaring or nonchalant. Just better able to handle the challenges. I liken it to a physical callous. The daily work hardens the soft spots, so to speak. Not a conscious decision, just happened over time.
     
    dsmythe likes this.
  8. krackin

    krackin Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    432
    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2014
    Location:
    Ossipee Pine Barrens, 5 miles from ME
    Get some beef back into the picture and those 'maters too. I do asst veg as farmstand and wholesale, mostly sweet corn. That works well with hogs. Maybe you need a few layers to sell bacon and eggs. Work it, agriculture is tough as hell. Got any night crawlers? Maker a few beds and sell bait here and there. Night crawlers will make money out of those carcasses. Use it, don't give it up. Keep those hogs and hens out of them though. Strawberries are an excellent crop for a small operation if you can keep deer out in the spring ice out. Rhubarb. Get some horseradish in, you'll need that to sell with the pork and beef. Well, don't just sit there, there is work needing attention.
     
    dsmythe likes this.
  9. highlands

    highlands Walter Jeffries Staff Member Supporter

    Messages:
    9,539
    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2004
    Location:
    Mountains of Vermont, Zone 3
    It takes time to find what you're good at, what you can produce and what your market wants. It is the overlap of those that makes you money. I tried several things before succeeding with pastured pigs. If something isn't working then figure out why, fix it if you can or explore other options.
     
    dsmythe likes this.
  10. Lookin4GoodLife

    Lookin4GoodLife Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    697
    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2013
    Location:
    Georgia
    If I couldn't find a reliable vet, I'd locate my local extension agent and start picking his/her brain. They may be able to provide additional input as to why your pigs are dying at such a high rate.
     
    dsmythe likes this.
  11. fluttervale

    fluttervale Member

    Messages:
    19
    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2015
    I know nothing about pigs, but I do know your losses seem very heavy and unsubstantiated. It would be valuable to determine why you are losing so many to "wasting." I'd put money on there being a mineral deficiency or feed deficiency. If you have some sort of nutritional issue, it will prevent gilts and sows from becoming pregnant, carrying to term, and having viable offspring. You need to network with others in your area and figure out the nutrition issue.

    Besides nutrition, you could have some sort of toxin issue. There could be something toxic in the environment (look at water lines, treated woods, weeds, ground cover, etc.).

    Now this is coming from the business person in me (have degree, manage retail businesses doing over 500k per week in net sales). You've tried a lot of different stuff in the 9 years you've had your land. You cannot find just "one thing" in hobby farming and do that one thing well. You will never create enough of a customer base to exist solely on u-pick tomatoes or raising your own beef direct to consumer or raising pigs direct to consumer. It won't happen, and by now you don't have the resources to invest to do it at a commercial level. You absolutely MUST do many things at once. If you want to do direct-to-consumer, you have to have it ALL at once.

    Once you're doing it ALL at once (chickens, pigs, beef, veggies, berries, etc.) you'll be able to start building a business nest-egg to focus on what you're good at and create a commercial enterprise. But you won't make it doing just pigs or just u-pick tomatoes, and you certainly won't make it if you won't stick with something long enough to build a customer base.
     
    mikeymouse likes this.
  12. Terri

    Terri Singletree Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    14,257
    Joined:
    May 10, 2002
    Location:
    Kansas
    dFarmer_Joe, I am not a farmer, as I got a major illness on the same week I put a down payment of my 5 acres of land, so I was not able to develop into a commercial enterprise. Please take my advice with a grain of salt.

    The universities teach about livestock illnesses, and since you say can never get a vet when you need one, I think it would be wise to take a couple of courses in pigs and/or vetinary medicine for livestock, if you can. I took the courses myself, so I know that they cover the common illnesses. They ALSO cover things like hormone shots to help a sow in labor. Or at least they did: times change. THE INTERNET IS NOT ENOUGH!

    If there is no university in your area, I would find out where you can send a dead piglet to find out what they died of. I would do this ASAP: There is no point in continuing to treat for an illness if the problem is something else.

    The antique "Feeds ad Feeding" are some of the best textbooks I have ever seen. But, if you take the course you can probably ask the teachers expert advice. Perhaps you could do both???????? Request the old book through the Library System and take a course as well? I have gotten antique books through the interlibrary loan system before.

    You have read Salatin: good. Are you getting Salatin prices? If not, what is preventing you? If I recall correctly, his book "You can Farm" covers his methods of marketing. You should be able to get it from the library: from the interlibrary loan system if you need to.

    I am a nurse. I know that any diagnosis I give might be in error, so mostly when people ask my advice and I think it is something serious I tell them to see a doctor. I do not say this to change the subject or to put people off: I say that because my mental diagnosis is not always going to be right. For example, a persistant cough is generally due to either post nasal drip or to an irritated throat, but once in a while it is due to cancer. I cannot tell the two apart but a doctor can. So, I might say "Try an expectorant, and if that does not work you need to see a doctor". So, you have bee treating your pigs for wasting disease but the results have not been good: it is time to consult with the expert on this.

    SO! You say your pigs have "Wasting Disease", but your efforts have not cured the problem SO GET A PROFFESSIONAL OPINION! Get the necropsy, as others have suggest! And, have it done by somebody who does this sort of thing for a living. As a nurse I have limits, and as a farmer so do you. There are times when you need the opinion of an expert, and I believe you have reached it. Besides, the internet is ALWAYS a few years behind scientific knowledge, and the experts in the field should not be: they have access to sources of information that neither of us do.

    I think that you have received good advice here. It is possible that your original diagnosis was not the correct one: look further.

    Terri

    Edited to add: I know tat you have had classes in agriculture, but, were they the generic agriculture classes, or did your school offer 4 unit classes on pigs? If not, it might help you to find a school that does. Because, off the top of my heat, it could be caused by parasites, by poisonous plants, by contaminated feed (flocks of birds might be pooping on their feed, dampness encourages mold, etc.), or by illness. And the teacher might be able to give you good advice.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2017
  13. slingshot

    slingshot Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    301
    Joined:
    Jun 25, 2014
    Ok here goes....

    I have a perspective from a producer stand point.

    First and foremost you have to get the marketing figured out. If you can't make money there's no point wasting your time. What do I mean by that you ask? Organic veggies are decent money paired with other things unless you have a huge garden(s) and greenhouses. Did you try wholesale restaurant sales? The easiest way to sell pork to restaurants is to sell them good veggies first.

    Next, I read your post put it didn't address the why you picked pigs( they are good business) IF you manage it right. I'm in the meat business so I sell pork but I do not breed pigs. I can't make the numbers work doing it that way, it's far easier to market pork and presell it than buy the number of piglets I need for the season. We have the problem of winter, so we raise as many as we can then process them and sell them as pieces and 1/2's for the "off" season. Death loss is practically non existent.

    Like others have said you need to address the husbandry concerns that are affecting your current situation.

    Farming is a business just like any other, makes no difference if your building houses or washing cars the basics still apply. Budgets, marketing, profit and loss.

    Do you sell pork to your boarders? Will they buy veggies from you? Will the people they know become your customers? I have a simple question.... why don't you sell eggs?? Selling bulk meat is a once a year sale, selling eggs is a once a week sale. Those same restaurants I talked about will also buy eggs from you.... see where all this is headed?

    So horse boarding, beef, pork, eggs and veggies sounds like a decent starting point.

    The biggest hurdle that we face is farmers is the upfront investment and the time it takes to recoup your investment, i.e. Beef. For me it's 6 months which is a long time to wait to get paid while everyday is costing you money. However if you make 10k on beef and 10k on pork and 10k on eggs and 5-6k on veggies and whatever the horses make your on your way to a decent living.

    It's not easy because everything is so expensive especially infer structure. When we started we started small and used the extra profits to get a few more things, then we add another pig or 50 more layers and so on. Because you can control your supply(pork) you can immediately scale up as long as you can keep your piglets alive.

    Hope all this helps.
     
  14. thekibblegoddes

    thekibblegoddes Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    113
    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2014
    Location:
    Sylvania, GA
  15. Lookin4GoodLife

    Lookin4GoodLife Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    697
    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2013
    Location:
    Georgia
    That's a great article and great success story!