EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 10th in a series of articles profiling an Ohio farm family through a “typical” year. This month – the Taylor farm received this year’s first shipment of hogs.
OSTRANDER—In February, Zachary Taylor received 2,200 6-week-old hogs at his family farm in Delaware County. The swine were divided into two barns, where they will remain for about 120 days.
Taylor says that you can learn a lot about people from watching pigs, especially when their environment is changed.
“They go into panic mode, just like people do. You take them out of their surroundings and out of their comfort zone and you get that fight or flight instinct kicking in,” said Taylor. “They’re a lot similar to people in that sense.” About half of the 2,200 are barrows (male pigs) and the other half are gilts (female pigs).
Taylor raises finisher hogs three times per year and this consists of about one-third of his business. A finisher hog is fed to market weight and then sold.
Taylor and his farmhand, Colton Garrison, counted and sorted the hogs in groups of 28. Each group was then placed in 14-by-18 foot pens in the barn. Taylor says the pens are designed so that a finished hog has eight feet of space by the end of their 120 days spent there.
The hogs come from Dawson Farms out of Delaware, Ohio, which raises about 40,000 hogs per year. Doug Dawson, owner of Dawson Farms, says that the ideal weight of the pigs when they are shipped out should be around 275 lbs. However, he says that the packing plants want them at around 300 lbs.
The hogs are given very little antibiotics and guttural health is important, according to Tim Harter, Dawson Farms worker. He added that the pigs are kept lean and that’s what people want.
Taylor said that regulating temperature and ventilation is important in the hog barns. This is all done automatically with a computer system which can regulate and gauge a set temperature.
“You basically set up your parameters and it [computer system] will kick fans on and shut fans off, kick heaters on, shut heaters off,” said Taylor.
There are also curtains on the outside of the barns that will go up and down for ventilation and temperature control. The barns use tunnel ventilation, an exhaust system where fans act like pumps to move air through air outlets.
“We usually come in and check barns twice a day,” Taylor said. He joked that the barns are “almost legal drinking age,” as the barns are both around 20 years old.
The swine have feed and water around the clock and will remain on a balanced diet to stay healthy. During the final six weeks the pigs are in the barns, their food consists of no added ingredients or nutrients. This is to ensure they’re clean when they go to market.
“I have to sign a waiver that I certify there’s no medication in these animals — and there’s not,” Taylor said. “Anybody that says there is, is lying to you. It’s illegal. That’s why we have animal withdraw dates. That’s why we go to pork quality assurance meetings. To get certified to raise hogs.”
Taylor says that a challenge with raising hogs is finding help, and explained that he knows people who can’t get help. “That’s a rough and tumble game, loading hogs. They’re a lot stronger, a lot faster and man they’ll plow you right over if they want to,” said Taylor.
Taylor said that he’s fortunate to get guys like Colton to help. Garrison says that he does this type of work because he finds it fun and enjoys being around operating equipment and working with his hands. He also emphasized the diversity of working on a farm.
“I don’t like being in one area. I like working on equipment, but it’s nice being able to move around instead of just staying in one shop,” said Garrison. “It’s nice to have multiple projects going, that way you feel like you’re being more productive.”
Garrison has done this type of work since he was in seventh grade and has worked on various small and big farms, gaining a wide array of experience. He says he has a passion for older stuff, such as mechanical systems versus the electronic systems.
“A lot of people forget the basics,” he said. Garrison graduated from the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima, with a major in agriculture equipment.
“There’s a lot of farmers that don’t want to work with livestock anymore. You look around and most of your farmers are just straight grain farmers anymore,” said Taylor. “[Raising livestock] wasn’t profitable for a long time, and still isn’t really. It’s a lot of work and something you got to do every day.”
He says the most they get out of it is probably the manure. The pigs will produce about 750,000 gallons of manure per year, normally pumping twice per year at 325,000 to 350,000 gallons each time, which Taylor uses for his crops. “It’s not terrible money, but you’re not going to get rich doing it,” said Taylor. “It’s cash flow.”
The sheer amount of demand has caused the biggest drive in the pork industry the past five years, according to Taylor. “Not only are we feeding this country, but we’re feeding China, too. They’re going from a rice-based diet to more of a protein diet. Japan is a big importer of American pork. We send pork everywhere, basically.”
He added that the demand in the U.S. for bacon and ham is “crazy,” explaining that the problem is you can only get so much bacon and ham out of each animal.
He said that the maintenance of finishing hogs can be a pain sometimes. “The manure’s all under the floor here, and those pit gases—it doesn’t smell that bad because we’ve got our pit ventilation running—but it still tears stuff up. Tears the gates up, tears the walls up, tears the machinery up.” He said it’s constantly chasing your tail with maintenance.
In addition to receiving the swine, Taylor has stayed busy hauling grain, taking advantage of a couple of grain rallies and setting prices for next year. He’s also been preparing for spring, including engine work to the sprayer and maintenance on the planter. This will be about a week’s worth of maintenance before the machinery is back up and ready to plant.
“We’re going to stick with our rotation, about 500 acres of corn and the rest will be beans. We don’t have any wheat out this year. That will give us another 100 acres of beans,” said Taylor. They still have to get seed in and will continue to throughout the planting season.
He says a lot of farmers are determining if they should spend money on equipment this year. “We haven’t made the jump and bought a tractor yet. I’m kind of in the boat that if we don’t find one, it’s not the end of the world,” said Taylor. “We’ll get through this planting season.”
“The big focus is trying to do more with what we got, rather than trying to find more,” said Taylor. He says you don’t want to “string yourself any further than you have to.”
Taylor, and his wife, Stephanie, took their daughter, Shelby, on her first visit to Disney World in February.
Next month: Planting season’s in the air.