Monday, November 1, 2010

Fads Fleecing Farmers (FFF) - lard pigs

Picture courtesy of

One of the things that I've seen several times is a new animal appearing on the scene that is touted as a cure for all of the ailments that farmers have.  A cure-all for every affliction.  If you just buy and raise this animal (at a fair profit, mind you!) this animal WILL solve all your problems!

I'm being vague about the animal, because it changes from time to time.  Everyone knows that the last animal was a horrible mistake, but this new animal (or crop...) is different, the ONE TRUE animal/Crop!

Let me give you an example, from this website that would like to sell you alpacas: 

"We had a visitor to our ranch the other day who had experienced a terrible financial loss in his family when they tried raising Emus & Ostriches in the 1980’s. So he was very curious about what made the alpaca investment different … since he had heard some of the same promises applied to that craze in the 1980s."

The guy loses his shirt in ostriches, and then emus, and now is looking at alpacas.  Clearly alpacas are the animal that will solve his problems!  He should investigate Pigeons!  oh... wait.  He is one! 

I'm mentioning this history because I ran across this article in the detroit free press recently, that speculated that a particular breed of pigs first imported by into the us, could somehow save michigans economy.  The basic pitch appears to be the same for all of the other fad animals.  "Get in soon, there will be a market, yes, breeders are expensive now, but you'll be able to sell the babies for thousands of dollars, and you'll be rich!"

Heath Putnam over at Woolypigs has spent years and years building a market for these very same animals.  He's been pretty tireless at his dogged pursuit of chefs and people interested in mangalitsa pigs, and I have to say that I admire his business sense.  He chose to start a farming venture and to all appearances has done a very good job of getting the american market to accept this pig that is fundamentally different than the american ideal of pork.   But it tooks a LOT of money.  Wheelbarrows of it to import the pigs, and then years of work to simultaneously breed the pigs and market them.   At this point he does sell the pigs to a variety of consumers and businesses.   There is a market for mangalitsa, and Heath has pretty much single-handedly created it.   There is really no realistic way for a small farmer raising one or two of them, or even a dozen, to sell them into the market thats been created.

That's the diabolical part of these animal fads.  You see, you're encouraged to retain all of the babies to grow your herd as fast as possible.  So you won't test the market until you're fully committed, and by then it's too late. 

There is no free lunch.  There is no single animal that will suddenly save you.  The tooth fairy ....  yea. 

lard pigs will save the michigan economy.  You heard it here first.


John Schneider - Gold Forest Grains said...

up here it was Elk, Buffalo, Deer. Everybody lost everything...except a select few who knew how to market something that almost nobody wants.

dinkleberries said...

Bruce, have you seen this?

Anonymous said...

The same applies for plants - ginseng, echinacea have both been boom and bust.

Anonymous said...

I think of alpacas as a pyramid scheme - You buy expensive breeding stock from me, raise babies, and sell them to other suckers as expensive breeding stock. When a friend told me her alpacas were worth thousands of dollars, I couldn't see why, because all they produce is wool and more alpacas - and the wool isn't worth much at all, so how could having even more alpacas help that situation? Eventually you're going to run out of people who want to buy them, and then the whole thing falls apart.

The market is already collapsing for alpacas, just look on CL and you'll see geldings for $50 any day of the week. They still produce that 'valuable' fiber. I know a mill that buys alpaca fiber for $10 per fleece. That's less than it cost to pay the guy to shear your 'packy, because it's a far more complex process to shear and separate out the lower quality wool, so it takes 3 or 4 times as long to do an alpaca than a sheep.

The only good thing that can be said about alpacas is that they are easy on the land, and easy to handle, so they are perfect for 'tax farmers', people who already have a regular job and property, and don't care if they make a profit or not, they just want some pretty livestock grazing it so they can get a tax right-off for being a farm.

StefRobrts said...

And don't forget lavender. 5 years ago someone was trying to talk me into converting my 2 acre pasture into lavender. I'm so glad I didn't! The lavender farms are all going bust, and there's always value in having a good pasture.

I have a friend who has converted some of his pasture into nursery trees. The idea is that he will grow them out for three years, and then sell them to nurserys just as the housing/landscaping market is picking up again. I'm not jumping on that bandwagon either.

Joanne Rigutto said...

My boyfreind and I got into the emu market near the end of the breeder market with the intention of selling into the slaughter market. The biggest thing that tanked the emu and ostrich market was the way the emu associations and some breeders tried to go after beef's market share, and the way USDA fiddled around with the slaughter rules (wound up that ratite producers were going to have to pay the wages of the inspectors like the egg producers do).

I still have emus, breed emus and sell emus, but you're right, it's a very small market and I've spent a couple years building a local market.

I've been watching Heath's work building the market for these lard pigs, and I've seen some of the products (online). If I were to get into raising these animals, it'd be by buying weaners to grow out. But the processing of these particular pigs is so specialized that you really need to mirror what Heath's done in your own area as far as marketing things like Lardo, Jowl, and the other products made from the pigs. Finding someone who can make those products can be challenging I think, unless you can ship to a company that's already producing mangalitsa products.

Not a venture for the faint of heart. As you said, Heath's put his heart and soul into this venture.