I got a call from a local guy, who I'll call Tyler, who had an issue with a pig with an infected ear; an eartag had caused an infection, and he wanted to know how I might deal with it.
The pig in question was a large boar, so having someone hold it by hand was pretty much out of the question, and while I thought about it, he mentioned that it was an Old spot pig - which is a breed that I don't have on my farm; it turns out that none of the three pigs he was raising he'd purchased from me.
I've talked about farming competitors before on this blog, but I think it's worth talking about again. Tyler had a problem with an animal, and I had a few minutes to spare, and so I walked him through two or three ways to get this done, and some possibilities for treatment after the tag was removed.
Veterinarians in this area generally don't like to see pigs, and generally as a pig farmer you're on your own, so if there's any treatment it's going to be something you do for the most part; the vet bill will often exceed the retail price of the animal, and that's just a shame.
But as I talked to him I realized that I was doing technical support for someone elses pig sale; and not only that, probably saving Tylers boar (which he was hoping to breed with his two sows) and on a basic level, that production of piglets was competition with piglets from my farm.
I would have been within rights to say "hey, Tyler, you didn't buy that pig from me, and while I'd like to help you, I'm going to refer you to the farmer you purchased the pig from" - fairs fair, right? You get the profit, you get the call.
I don't do that for several reasons; regardless of where Tyler bought the pig, I'd like to support him in his getting closer to his food, and in his husbandry. Tyler, like me, didn't have the benefit of a farming family - this pig thing is brand new to him, as it was new to me 10 years ago, and on a human level I liked being able to help him.
The second is that while I may not have made a sale to him this year, well, I may very well next year. You catch more flies with honey that vinegar, and having done him a favor and leaving him with a favorable impression of me (I hope anyway!) it builds my reputation for being fair and for treating people well even if I don't directly profit from it.
The third is that the community of pig farmers in this area is pretty small; and the ones breeding pigs even smaller. It's pretty common for me to refer people to other farmers when they ask me for things that I don't have - "hey, call Tom, I think he has a BBQ pig your size", and I occasionally get referrals that way.
And finally I've had pig farmers who absolutely hate me and say bad stuff about me, and you know, it gets around; eventually someone they tell it to tells me. I know that I'll never do that farmer a favor and I'll never, ever refer a customer to you.
I do get asked about other peoples operation all the time. And over the years I've got an answer that works pretty well for me:
"Hey, I really can't speak for xxxx, but I can speak about my own operation and my own practices. " and that serves two purposes: I'm not gossiping and I'm basically focusing the discussion back to where it needs to be. I'd rather focus on the positive than the negative; if they're doing something they shouldn't it'll catch up to them eventually; for people in this area running farms it's hard enough without gossiping.
Tyler later reported that he was able to sneak up on the boar when it was sleeping and use an ear tag remover tool to get the tag out.
4 weeks ago