It's 4-H club pig season. You can find about as many sales to attend over the next two weeks as you can stand. There are also several 4-H club lamb sales on the docket at various locations.
That's not news. This is the time of year when seedstock producers attempt to market pigs through 4-H'ers, although there does seem to be more sales than usual this spring. These sales have replaced what once were a bevy of hog production sales during the spring. Instead, breeding stock for commercial herds is now generally handled in other ways besides public auctions.
Not 4-H sales- folks look to see who has found the best mix of genetics. Producing top-notch show pigs today is not cheap- doses of semen for artificial insemination run from $35 to $300 or more, with many show pig producers buying semen in the $75 to $150 per dose range. It takes two doses to breed a gilt or sow, and there's no refund or 'make good' if the animal doesn't breed. Add in high feed costs and it takes good prices to net a return in the business.
Maybe that's why Dick Nash, speaking from the auctioneer's stand at a sale featuring some of his production last week, said, "You don't have to worry about them having bed Paylean (growth hormone). Regular feed prices are high enough without spending more on Paylean." Nash, an Indiana Prairie Farmer Master Farmer, produces 4-H and commercial stock on his farm near Tipton, Ind.
Higher feed prices may be affecting more than just the producers. From sale reports and sales attended so far, it appears that a few trends are shaping up this year that are somewhat different from other years.
- Buyers seem 'pickier.' Very good animals from respected producers may still fetch a high price, but animals that are respectable, but not winners, hover in the $100 to $150 range. While still high for feeder pigs, that's low dollar in the minds of most 4-H pig breeders. Feeder pigs usually aren't the result of $150 – plus matings.
- Buyers taking fewer hogs? This trend isn't definite, but it would make sense- it's going to cost 25 to 35% more to feed out a pig this year than last, whether you're using expensive brand-name show feed or making your own rations. One hog producer who sells feed on the side says it's the high cost of whey, a by-product of the diary industry, that's jumped prices on some of the show feeds.
- Big dollar numbers still out there- if you believe what you hear, there are still animals, barrows even, selling in sales for nearly $2,000 or more. Obviously, that's driven by a desire to win and not economics.
- Strange sales- Two littermates came through the ring at a sale recently. One appeared classier than the other, but both were good and similar in type. One brought $2,000, the other less than $200. Was the first a real sale or just an attempt to boost sales by having friends bid up an animal? You'll have to figure this one out for yourself!
- Goat sales! While it may seem impossible to a died-in-the-wool farm kid of the '60's, there are meat goat sales advertised this spring. Urban folks are showing their willingness to raise animals, and with smaller space, sometimes the smaller the animal, the better.
- On-line sales- Big-name producers seemed to kick up the interest in on-line show pig sales this spring. Obviously, the idea is to broaden the range in distance of potential bidders. Some on-line sales have occurred before, but more big-name players seem to be involved this spring.