“Good hogs are always in style no matter what the trend is.”
Those words of advice from swine industry giant Bob Hines have been the linchpin for John and Emily Menefee as they work toward breeding ever-better show pigs on their Paola, Kansas, farm.
John, a K-State grad who worked for Hines while attending college, counts the revered swine judge and breeder as one of his two mentors. The other is his father, Max, a long-time commercial pork producer and an important part of the Menefee show pig team.
The sixth generation of Menefees to farm in Miami County, John showed his first pig at age 7 and owned his first sow when he was 10. In 2002, though, he got serious about producing top-notch show pigs.
That started out as a purebred Hampshire herd — the first being a registered gilt from Hines’ program — and he and Emily have since added Poland China and crossbred sows to expand their show pig offering.
The Menefees have a couple of Hamp herd boars but also use AI. All of the Poland and crossbred sows are exposed artificially — keeping most of the Poland China females on a purebred track and breeding crossbred sows primarily to crossbred boars.
John is also an FFA adviser at Paola High School while Emily, who grew up on a farm at Grantville, is a financial adviser in Osawatomie.
John keeps a focus on Bob Hines’ advice about good pigs always being in style, he’s not oblivious to show ring trends.
“To a certain extent, you have to follow the trends or you’ll be left behind,” he says. “I’ve found that the World Pork Expo is a great place to identify what’s happening and I pore over the magazines.
“You have to keep watch because that pendulum does swing.”
The Menefees focus mainly on producing pigs for Kansas and Missouri county fairs, although they also produce some state fair pigs.
Most are marketed through their annual sale which will be held on Saturday, March 25 at the farm. John points out that, in addition to the pigs, sale day offers “the best pulled pork sandwiches and pie you’ve ever had,” compliments of his mom, Michelle.
John and Emily will sell 50 show pigs that day as well as some private treaty pigs later and they’ll also market some pigs through a sale in Indiana.
They will be the result of discerning sow development and an intensive search to identify the most advantageous individual matings.
The pigs, bred to be “sound and square with eye appeal and growth,” will end up in the hands of 25 to 30 families and while John is all about putting out pigs capable of taking a purple ribbon, he’s also committed to the experience.
“To me, showing livestock teaches kids lessons they won’t learn anywhere else,” he says. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s all about the kids and it’s not just about winning.
“Winning is the goal but it is the experience that has value.”
As you might expect, the ag teacher in him inspires an effort to communicate with his customers and help them however he can. Additionally, he’s used his own operation as an off-campus laboratory to further the knowledge of some of his Paola students.
The pigs, however, have earned their share of acclaim. There have been county champs as well as breed and division winners at state fairs.
And the Menefees themselves clock some show ring time showing breeding stock. In 2015, in fact, they exhibited a winning crossbred boar at the Missouri State Fair. That pig, named Wildcat, sold to a boar stud, Prairie State Semen Supply.
Once again, though, winning isn’t everything.
“I love the competition but it’s the people you meet that make it fun,” John explains. “This is an industry full of good people. Some of my competitors are also some of my best friends — it’s competitive but it’s a friendly competition.”
It’s not enough that the breeders are competitive, though — the pigs have to be competitive.
“I guess we have a lot of goals, including winning, but really it comes down to one thing for us — making each generation of pigs better than the last,” John concludes. £