CADIZ, Ohio — In the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Harrison County is ranked 76th out of Ohio’s 88 counties for its market value of hogs and pigs. In other words, Harrison County is not known as a pork powerhouse.
Don’t tell that to Garrit Sproull.
The Harrison Central graduate won the 2012 National FFA Swine Production Entrepreneurship award for his swine farrowing and club pig enterprise.
Sproull, who is currently studying animal science and pre-med at Ohio State University, won the state award last May, and was one of four finalists for the national award presented in late October.
The award is a testament to Sproull’s drive to improve his sow breeding and management, and increase his own knowledge.
It doesn’t hurt that the high school valedictorian is also “pretty competitive,” by his own admission. And placing 12th out of 13 animals in his first 4-H pig class at the fair as a 9-year-old, was motivation enough to get better at it. That, and watching FFA’ers win awards at the Ohio FFA Convention when he attended as a freshman.
“I saw kids winning those awards on stage,” Sproull said, “and it was something I wanted to do.”
Many 4-H’ers and FFA’ers take market hog projects, but few get into the breeding projects — raising piglets from sows and making breeding decisions.
Sproull, the son of Carolyn and Greggory Sproull, had to be talked into raising “Duke,” that very first 4-H market hog project by his mom. When he thought about adding a breeding project, his grandpa, Thomas Ghezzi, sweetened the pot, too, telling Garrit he would pay for the feed, if Garrit covered the breeding and other herd costs. With that, G and S Swine was born.
The family built a small hog barn by hand, with wood floors and handmade pens, and that was the housing foundation for young Garrit’s sow herd. “I have no idea how some of those piglets lived,” he says of that rudimentary housing, and his early management (or lack of management).
But not only did the little pigs live, they slowly flourished under Sproull’s attention to feeding and nutrition.
“I started to pay more attention to those people who had pigs that were winners,” Sproull said.
He also started picking the brain of Randy Shipley, of Shipley Swine Genetics in Newark, Ohio. Shipley gave him tips on feeding and genetics to add muscling, and Sproull also started reading advice from Dr. Kevin Burgoon, a nutritionist with Purina Mill’s HONOR Show Chow, and contacting him for information.
After using a boar the first three years of his 4-H projects, Sproull went to an artificial insemination school when he was 13, and has been using AI on his herd ever since.
“I started to realize to get the best genetics, I’d have to AI,” he said.
He started keeping better records through his high school FFA project, and raised 41 piglets his freshman year; 65 pigs, his sophomore year; and 82, his junior year.
In 2011, in the final market hog drive for the grand and reserve champion at the Harrison County Fair, six of the 10 hogs came from Sproull’s herd, including the ultimate grand champion, shown by Emi Jones, and Sproull’s own reserve champion.
“I can’t get enough pigs to sell,” he said.
And all this was done while playing three varsity sports in high school, participating in FFA, and showing 4-H lambs, goats and steers, too. That means his day started at 4:30 a.m. to feed pigs and check the barns before school, a full day of school and then sports practices, back home to the barn, and throw in a few months of intensive parliamentary procedure practices for good measure.
Last year, he won the swine breeding exhibitor’s scholarship at the Ohio State Fair, where he’s shown for several years.
Today, he has 10 sows, including five purebred Yorkshires, and raises primarily crossbred pigs for the show pig market, and hopes to have 150 piglets on the ground this year.
Helping him reach that goal will be a new 45-by-60 barn that’s still under construction. It features a 15-foot lean-to with cemented stalls outside for up to 25 sows. That part is done, and Sproull moved his sows there over the Thanksgiving college break.
Sproull’s most rewarding achievement, says FFA adviser Don Jones, is that the national award was earned on a shoestring with a real-world student.
“We’re a national winner with 12 sows,” Jones said, who is understandably proud that Sproull developed his herd on his own. “It’s not about new buildings.”
FFA judges at the state and national level dig deep in their questioning to determine of the student knows the project and the numbers, or if they were just good at completing an intricate application. They also like to see, Jones added, how a student has developed an enterprise.
“Garrit’s project is Garrit’s,” Jones said. “He knew the project.”
“He works hard. He did the things that no one wanted to do.”
Sproull said a swine veterinarian judge at the national level drilled him on swine herd health and his vaccines, “but I knew all that. They were going to call you on it if you didn’t.”
Sproull isn’t done with his FFA career, even though he’s in college. A state degree holder, he’d like to apply for the state star farmer award this year, and possibly the American Star award.
And in June, Sproull and Jones will head to Costa Rica for nine days through the National FFA’s Costa Rica Proficiency and Stars Travel Seminar. Each finalist in his proficiency area was eligible to apply for the honor, and Sproull won the trip during the National FFA Convention, and asked Jones to go with him.
Long-term, Sproull isn’t sure how his career will unfold, but said his dream would be to run a sow operation and boar stud, “but that takes some money.” Maybe that’s where his pre-med career aspiration will help.
Either way, don’t be surprised to hear more about hogs from Sproull. He may put Harrison County on the map for it.
By Susan Crowell