Sunday, May 27, 2012

The pig business

This year seems to be the year of the pig business.  I've been selling a lot of weaner pigs to various people, and I've talked to them a bit about what their plans are, and the common element is that I don't think that they get what the hard part is about this business. 

It's actually pretty easy to produce a batch of pigs;  they're pretty simple animals to care for.  Food, water, shelter and a good fence will usually mean a trouble-free existence. 

As far input costs go (input is the "farmer" term for stuff you have to buy off your farm) the biggest single item is feed, and feed prices are high this year.  So here's how the conversation goes: 

"Hi Bruce.  Would you have (25, 50, 100) weaners that I could buy?"  

Yes; we usually have a couple of hundred weaners around at any given time; you're welcome to pick your pigs out of the sale pen.  We're here 10-4pm, 7 days a week.  

"that sounds good!  I've got this idea on a pig venture; would you mind talking to me about it?"  

Sure, time allowing.  I've got a few minutes now, what would you like to know?  


At this point they usually ask about some particular thing; like how many pigs per acre, or what sort of pen, or what kind of shelter would I recommend - basically husbandry questions.  At some point I'll ask them what they plan on doing with the pigs that they're raising.  Breeding stock takes a year go grow to breeding size, and the folks who ask me usually don't know about vaccines to cover the most-common stuff in this area that effects pigs and fertility and piglet survival. 

Most of the people that I talk to want to do some sort of feeding operation; basically feed the pigs to market weight, and then sell them. 

So that's when I ask the question that seems to be last thing on the list:  Who do you plan on selling them to? 

You see, when you raise a batch of pigs to market weight, you've got a finite period of time to sell them.  In this area, the USDA slaughter folks won't accept a pig over about 300lbs, and while pigs are popular, it's pretty hard for a new producer to come up with (25, 50, 100) customers in a month or two.  That's a lot of pigs all at once. 

And it's complicated by the fact that there are virtually no outlets to sell the pigs wholesale for a price that makes you any money at all.   Just counting the feed and piglet costs, it will cost them roughly $250 to raise their pigs and that pig will auction for $190, and that doesn't give them any money for labor, fencing, land, water, mortality or any of the other costs.  When you auction pigs, at least around here, that's usually when you've thrown in the towel and given up. 

It takes a while to come up with regular customers; in my 7th year of operation I'm guessing that about 2/3rds of my sales are previous buyers, but it took years of providing a quality product consistently to get there. 

The hard part isn't producing the pigs (chickens, turkeys, eggs, lambs, beef).  The hard part is selling it.  Work on your marketing plan before you work on your pen. 


becky3086 said...

I believe you are absolutely right. I have never had any luck selling anything unless I had a buyer already before I started. It's a lot easier that way anyway.

Anonymous said...

Yep. Two friends who really want you to grow our some (meat animal) doesn't mean that there are another 18 who just don't know you have done it... We are 'growing to order' on a very small scale. The last thing we want are an extra 45 turkeys we can't sell....