Farm Talk

November 14, 2012

Pretty pigs keep Scranton family busy

by Frank J. Buchman
CNHI

Parsons, Kansas — There’s lots of color, all with a tint-of-blush to it, at the Pretty Pigs Farm.

“I’ve always really liked pigs. I like them to be colorful, too. All of us are red-haired, so we’ve added Duroc to our breeding program, and most of our hogs have some matching-color to us.”

With obvious enthusiasm, Stephanie Watson talked about the hog operation she and her four children have near Scranton.

“Pigs are easy to manage, so smart, and respect a hot-wire for convenient penning,” continued Watson, whose “day job” is director of Osage County Economic Development.

“We raised every kind of livestock on our Clark family farm in Jewell County, when I was growing up. I had to help milk 10 cows before and after school, but I enjoyed pigs most,” added Watson, a University of Kansas business graduate, with certification in economic development through the Certified Economic Developer Program.

Hogs were part of most farm operations half-a-century or more ago, even considered “mortgage burners,” because of some profitability, when other farm enterprises were not. However, today hog farmers are scarce, other than show-pig-producers, and corporate-hog-factories.

 Watson is an exception. “We have a pasture hog operation that kind of functions as a hobby farm to raise my children in the country like I was,” she clarified. “My disposition requires me to live in the country and have pigs.”

Eight years ago, Watson purchased a 12-acre Osage County tract with homestead and mostly wooded, shaded, rocky terrain. “The hogs are my own personal excavation team,” she inserted. “We’ve even sold some of the beautiful rocks that the hogs routed up.”

After researching pasture hog management, Watson delved into production. “We started with York-Hamp crosses, but then added Durocs for the red. I like their floppy ears, too,” she related. “I’m sure not the typical farmer. I want to have multi-colored hogs.

“Some of the pigs went to 4-H participants this year and did quite well,” Watson proudly claimed.

Sixteen sows are mated for twice-annual farrowing: December and June. “ We have York-Duroc and Hampshire boars used in rotational pen mating,” Watson described.

Considering constructing one farrowing facility, Watson opted for “hog huts,” which she built personally after seeking “farm management” advice.

Every hog on the farm has a personal name. “I tend to name some of my pigs after people I know. We have Honey, Norman, Phil, even Aunt B, who likes to adopt orphans.

 “Our pigs are like dogs, just calm and gentle. That makes it nice at farrowing time,” Watson said. “Sows in farrowing crates can become mean, but we never have that problem.”

Admitting it’s “necessary to keep an eye on the sows at farrowing time,” Watson said, “We only lost three pigs out of 79 born in our summer farrowing.” Three sows did not get bred, due to heat stress.

Feeding a ration of two-thirds corn, and one-third grain sorghum, with added molasses, Watson said, “I support local farmers and depend on them for our grain.

 “We produce bumper crops of turnips, and raise pumpkins and squash for supplement feedstuff,” she added.

Even more unique to the operation is that hogs are fed goats milk. “That makes the meat more-tender,” Watson declared.

 “We haven’t had any trouble selling our pigs,” she emphasized. “We’ve never taken any to the sale barn.

“They’re sold by word of mouth, and because of our natural-production, we can get more for them,” Watson added.

Sometimes, pigs are merchandized as weanlings, but Watson has found strong demand for pork-in-the-freezer.

“I deliver a hog to the locker plant, where the buyer wants it butchered, depending on the processing,” Watson said. “Sometimes, they only want half a hog, and I’ll keep the other half for our family, or find another buyer for it.”

A hog farm is the perfect place to raise her family, according to Watson. “Children can blow off washing dishes, or dusting the house, but if there is a pig that needs feed or water, the children know it’s their responsibility to take care of them,” she insisted.

 “All of my children like livestock, but they do have different interests,” Watson said.

Sarah, 18, Allen County Community College student, likes horses, being described as “a true equestrian; she showed horses in 4-H.”

Watson related: “We have five horses, and all like to ride.”

Mandy, 16, Santa Fe Trail sophomore, is the “gardener and goat milker.”

Spencer, 12, is home-schooled, especially likes hogs, and often gets called for those chores, as does Cayden, eight, Santa Fe Trail elementary student, who “raises rabbits for sale, 4-H projects and the dinner table.”

 “I checked the futures market, and hogs are up. I’m excited for this year’s spring crop,” Watson analyzed.

Never a dull moment in work, play or color at Pretty Pigs Farm.£