Show pig projects offer lifetime learning experiences for youth, breeder claims
By Frank J. Buchman
“A lot of people again want to have more solid work ethics, hands-on experience, and to understand where their food comes from.
“There is no better way for a young person to learn this than having a pig project and being responsible to care for that animal two or three times a day. There are no excuses or exceptions.”
Mark Flory of Flory Swine Genetics at Overbrook, Kan., is most emphatic about the importance of youth swine projects.
“There has been increasing interest among young people and their families in growing, fitting and showing pigs. I think we’ve just seen the beginning of what’s to come for the show pig industry, and all it offers our society,” Flory predicted.
A contagious optimism is most apparent as Flory talked about his lifelong enthusiasm for raising pigs and his part in that inspiring future.
“I got my first hogs to show before I was in 4-H. Then, everyone got more interested, and we started farrowing our own sows when I was nine. We have continued to grow our operation,” related Flory, who’s in partnership with his dad, Roger, and brother, Brian.
Farrowing facilities have been upgraded at the home place where Roger and Teresa live. Mark, who will be married to Jessica Coen in April, lives on an adjoining farm, and Brian and his wife, Julie, and their children, Cole and Piper, live within four miles.
“We’re all close enough we can do our share of work. But, we can rotate duties if necessary, or have a sizeable crew when a major job needs done,” recognized Flory, who credited his mother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew for their important assistance.
“We have about 20 sows now, but we hope to have 30 sows in the next five years,” Flory tabulated.
Realizing that the number of hog operations has sharply decline in the state over the past four decades, Flory pointed out, “There used to be a lot of 100 to 500 sow operations, but there are fewer hog producers now, with 2,000 or more sows. We have a niche market to sell show pigs.”
However, Flory contended, “Our first objective is to produce a safe, flavorful product for consumers, which is the reason we have done well with our retail meat business. Still, we produce good conformation pigs that compete successfully in the show ring.”
Several breeds are represented. “It’s funny each of us have our own ‘favorite’ hogs. I’ve always really liked Hampshires, but have enjoyed Durocs since I’ve added them,” Flory noted. “Brian has a tremendous Yorkshire herd, and Dad prefers the crossbreds.”
There are also Poland China and Chester White sows in the herd. “We have registered pedigreed hogs,” Flory said. “We’re huge supporters of purebreds for consistency and increased maternal traits, which enhance crossbreeding programs, too.”
While it’s a “100 percent artificial breeding program,” Flory Swine Genetics owns several boars. “We collect boars for our own use and also sell quite a bit of semen.
“With artificial insemination, boars can breed more sows, and it’s safer for both the boars and sows,” related Flory, pointing out importance of quality control in semen collection, storage, use and shipping.
“We have very high conception,” he added.
Boars are selected from breed type conferences with two Yorkshire, three crossbreds and a Duroc now in use at Flory Swine Genetics.
Pigs have been sold at consignment sales until last year when Flory Swine Genetics hosted their first personal sale at the farm. “We were nervous, but it was tremendous, with unbelievable support from around the state,” Flory said.
This year’s sale was March 30 at the farm.
Many champions have been sold from the farm. “Last year, we had 30 class winners and breed champions, including at least six grand and reserve champions.
“We will sell all of our top end pigs. There are no pigs held back from our winter farrowing,” Flory said. “We keep our replacements from the summer litters.”
Flory Swine Genetics has exhibited and sold several purebred boars and gilts at breed conferences.
“I try to go to most of the breed events to see firsthand what others producers have, and where the industry is headed,” said Flory, a former Miami County agriculture agent and former Douglas County 4-H agent. He is now safety coordinator for Darling International, a livestock product recycling firm.
A graduate of judging teams at Fort Scott Community College and Kansas State University, Flory is in demand to judge more than 30 hog shows around the state annually.
“There are differences in personal preferences of hog show judges, but the important thing is to follow your individual philosophy consistently throughout the show,” Flory recognized. “The hogs can be a different type than that of another judge, but they must be of acceptable muscling, leanness and structurally sound.”
With Brian Flory being a feed dealer, Mark Flory noted the importance of quality feedstuffs. “Additives can improve growth rates and quality, but sometimes can also create imbalanced rations that might stunt growth and cause structure problems, if used incorrectly.”
Relating to cost of pigs, Flory said, “Whether a family wants to spend a lot or a little, the important thing is the learning experience for the youth in the project.
“The young people have to ask questions and do the work themselves to get the best results,” Flory summarized.