Friday, March 2, 2012

Problems with being the only pig farm...

I'm not the only pig farm, but I'm certainly one of the biggest in my county.   Now that's not saying much; in Iowa I'd be a hobby, but my little 300 pig herd is big in western Washington. 

But that's a problem.  When I need pig equipment, I have to have it shipped in from the Midwest; there's virtually no used equipment -- I scour the local craigslist every day in hopes of finding a 14 door feeder.  When I order 4 tons of feed from a local mill it makes their day...

...or melts their brains.  I really don't like being the guy who buys all of the hog feed that they've produced for that week.  It finally got so bad that I switched mills, as they had constant, reoccurring problem with not being able to have feed on hand. 

So in order to do what I'm doing is just a little bit harder than it would be if I were in a place where more pigs were raised commercially.   I do get asked why I'm not in eastern Washington, usually couched in "they like agriculture over there!" and from the regulatory stuff that I go through, I'd have to say that it's an attractive thought.

A month or so ago I had a problem with loose stools in a set of piglets, and did what I could to take care of it; clean water, dry bedding... nothing.  So I did something that I almost never do:  I found a vet who would see my pigs, and I called them and scheduled a farm visit. 

I spent $900, all said, on tests and treatments, in the hopes of finding out what the problem was.  I rationalized it by saying that I had a lot of pigs, and that if I could find the cause I could then take some sort of action to remedy the situation.  

All the tests came back negative.  No bacteria.  No virus.  Nothing. 

So I called the vet last week with a couple more things to check; and got a call back today.  Well, I guess 5 days for a return call is probably acceptable. 

Tomorrow morning I'm going to call my local agricultural extension office and ask them about having tests done directly. 

There's a certain minimum amount of business that needs to be done to support the basic infrastructure for a farm.   It's a little like endangered species breeding population.  Having dropped below that number, it's going to be very hard for people to do that sort of farming in that area unless they're pretty darn dedicated. 


Funder said...

You're such a numbers guy, I'm sure you've checked - but aren't you such an attractive choice for your buyers because you're local to them? I suspect if you did sell out and move to eastern WA, you've have much more infrastructure and support, but many fewer direct-sales customers. (or at least more competition for them.)

Bruce King said...

the barrier to entry for new pig farmers is pretty huge, and that's an advantage in terms of business, sure. Pig farms aren't a popular neighbor, no matter how they're run, so there's just not much land around where you COULD put a pig farm; I just happened on a bit of ground that's 20 minutes away from the biggest city in the state.

The lack of veterinary care has been a problem, though. I will treat animals to save their lives; but as far as treatment goes it'd be helpful to have a professional opinion if needed. So far I've had to basically come up with a list of suspects and then direct the vet to test for each one.

Bruce King said...

I think that the single biggest blow to local agriculture in snohomish county was when a developer purchased the land that the local livestock auction sat on, and then closed the business and demolished the buildings.

The marysville livestock auction was a good place to sell your unwanted animals, and had better prices than most auctions.

The land that the auction barn sat on is now vacant lot with a for sale sign on it; it's been on the market for 4 years now.

Would have been so much better just to let the old business continue until you had a buyer, anonoymous developer who purchased the land.

Now it's a 3 hour drive to the nearest auction, each way. But I guess that's helped my direct price to consumers -- eliminated a competitor.

But I'd rather have it here than gone.