Today we are getting a new batch of baby pigs in the barns. They should arrive this afternoon, weather permitting. The boys are already upset that they will not be able to help unload the piglets because they will be at school. If only I knew whether they are upset because they want to help, or if they are upset because they can’t earn the money involved in helping!
For those of you who do not know, we are what’s called a contract grower — we feed pigs for someone else who actually owns the pigs. We get paid a set amount of money per pig per month, from arrival to ship-out day. We have two barns that hold 1250 grown pigs each. We normally are a wean-to-finish facility. This means that we get piglets that are about 14 days old, just weaned from the sow. They come to us and stay at our barn until finish (slaughter), which is in about 6 months. We do not breed pigs on our farm at all.
Some other facilities are grow-to-finish, which means that they get slightly older and bigger pigs from a weaner facility and then feed them to slaughter weight. Normally, we actually get nearly twice as many baby pigs as we can actually hold as adult pigs, and then when they reach the grower stage, half are shipped to another grow-to-finish facility. The rest stay on our farm.
The pigs are sorted into groups shortly after they arrive. We try to put the biggest pigs together and the smallest pigs together, and the middle-sized ones get divvied up into groups. The groups are much larger for the tiny pigs than they are when they are grown. As they grow, we divide up the groups so we have the appropriate number per pen. Then the same pigs stay together until load-out.
When they are small, we have to keep the buildings at a toasty 80 degrees, and we add heat lamps over black rubber mats in each pen to create a resting area that’s 85 degrees. The little pigs sleep in piles under the heat lamps, happy together for comfort and warmth. Over time, as they grow, the temperature needed goes down, but it never gets below 65 degrees in the hog buildings. At this time of year, it takes an awful lot of propane to heat the buildings to that temperature for little pigs. Full-grown pigs generate a lot of body heat, so the furnaces rarely have to turn on (I mentioned this last time when talking about shipping out the hogs). Baby pigs just don’t generate much body heat, so we have to supply it. This gets VERY expensive when you get new pigs in January or February!
Personally, I think that baby pigs are one of the cutest things on the planet, but they still have that deafening, ear-piercing, incredibly loud squeal if you mess with them. I seriously think it’s some sort of defense mechanism! Ear plugs are a must in the hog buildings any time you have to work with the pigs.
Even though we do not own the pigs, we need to care for them as if we did. We work very hard to keep all the pigs healthy and happy, and monitor daily for disease problems. If we have problems, there are field managers who come to the buildings to look at the pigs and provide the company’s input on what should be done. After so many years in the business, Robb rarely has to call for help, but there are situations that arise which might need some assistance.
As you go about your business this week in whatever weather Iowa decides to throw at us, think about the little piglets, toasty warm under their sun lamps at 85 degrees and ask yourself who has the better deal?