by Sally Colby
Many adults who are involved in the livestock industry can trace their career path back to time spent in agricultural activities such as 4-H and FFA. This is the case for Jennifer Schwab, of North Java, NY, where she and her family have a start-up purebred breeding stock operation specializing in Spotted hogs, or ‘Spots’.
“We’ve had pigs for 4-H since I was 10 years old,” said Schwab. “My brother Kevin and I raised two pigs each year for eight years. “They’re enjoyable to work with. They’re docile, more gentle than the others we’ve had, and they’re very protective moms.” Schwab says that that the first Spot they had was named grand champion at the New York State Fair, and that fueled her interest in the breed.
To promote their growing operation and to learn more about purebred seedstock pigs, Schwab and her family exhibit at numerous shows throughout the year.
“We’re trying to get our name out,” said Schwab. “This year, we went to one county fair in New York, the Indiana State Fair, the New York State Fair and Keystone International Livestock Expo (KILE).”
Schwab explains that after her boar was named supreme champion at the New York State Fair and supreme at KILE, she realized that promoting him further would be advantageous. That’s when the family decided to travel to the Indiana State Fair. While there, the Schwabs’ pens were near the boar that would become the grand champion spotted boar, which gave the family an opportunity to talk with that boar’s breeder. Schwab says that showing in Indiana was an excellent experience — a whole new world — and she was pleased with their placements considering the stiff Midwest competition.
When the family first started their breeding operation, Schwab was a freshman animal science major at SUNY Cobleskill. “I spent a lot of time learning what I needed to do to raise pigs for breeding gilts,” she said. “We’ve based what we do on what I’ve learned in school, trial-and-error, and suggestions from people we’ve met along the way.”
Although theirs is a small operation, the family plans to add to the herd slowly as they concentrate on maintaining superior genetics. Schwab would like to expand to include other breeds, and eventually have 20 sows. The family recently constructed a new barn for their hogs, and could add four more pens and keep a nursery pen at one end. Schwab’s father Daniel constructed the pens with the help of Kevin, who’s a welder. Mom Deanna also helps with the operation. The new barn is designed so visitors who come to select project pigs can view the animals without having to enter pens.
Schwab says 4-Hers who purchase project animals will come to select them in April and May, so she has to plan litters accordingly. “We’ll have litters from January through the end of February,” she said. “We typically breed for the winter litter, then breed again for a litter in July/August.”
Breeding is through A.I, and all family members are trained in A.I. so that sows can be bred at the appropriate time. As far as selecting boars for litters, Schwab looks at flaws in the sow or in her piglets and chooses a boar that has qualities to correct those flaws. Although the information for some boars at stud includes facts such as loin eye area and backfat, Schwab says it’s more a matter of correcting the female’s faults.
Paying attention to genetics and observing the industry has paid off. The boar that was Schwab’s grand champion last year is now at stud at Real McCoy Genetics in Bloomingburg, Ohio. “We have two from our farm at stud,” said Schwab. “The first one we bred but didn’t raise — he was champion Spot two years ago at KILE.”
Although all of their animals are vaccinated, Schwab realizes the importance of making sure animals remain healthy while on the road. She watches closely for any signs of illness, and takes precautionary measures to treat animals before they develop full-blown illness. “We go to quite a few shows over the summer,” she said, “so we don’t wait to see what happens. I’d rather treat them early so they don’t get really sick.”
As a breeder and exhibitor, Schwab believes that one of her obligations is to help educate the non-farm public about how pigs are raised. “I enjoy going to fairs and answering questions about why we do certain things, like why farrowing crates are necessary,” she said. “It’s safer for us, and safer for the sows and their babies. We’ve also found that a lot of people don’t realize that pigs are as young as they are. At the state fair, our boar was five months old, but people thought he was several years old.” Schwab has also had to explain why whips are used to tap pigs gently to guide them as they’re being moved.
In addition to raising and showing pigs, Schwab also enjoys showing beef cattle. After she’s finished at SUNY Cobleskill, Schwab hopes to transfer to a western school to pursue a master’s degree in breeding and genetics.