BURGHILL, Ohio – Chewing fingernails as a child shows a market hog project at the county fair is an experience many parents share.
There are more than a thousand hogs shown each summer at the 94 county and independent fairs in Ohio alone.
What if the intensity of that experience was repeated all summer long, hundreds of times at dozens of fairs in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, and at points west and south.
The Smith family of Ramy Swine Farm in northern Trumbull County has a personal stake in hundreds of hogs that enter show rings each summer.
The Smiths have made a business out of breeding and selling club show hogs, and when pigs leave their farm they are almost always headed into a show ring someplace.
Involvement continues. But the Smiths don’t just send these hogs off to their fate. They keep track of every hog off their farm that competes during the summer, and they attend many of the fairs just to see how they do.
They follow the swine projects as the kids raise their hogs, offering help and advice.
They have even organized a jackpot show in June, sponsored by a group of hog breeders, to give kids raising hog projects a preliminary chance to show their hog, get a judge’s evaluation, and take a showmanship class.
Then they keep track of who wins what, collecting pictures of all their hog barn offspring that have earned grand and reserve champion honors.
Making a business out of raising club pigs is a more complicated than just breeding hogs. And the Smith family – June and Charles Smith and their two grown children, Randy and Amy – have adopted hogs as a way of life.
A hefty start. The type of hog the Ramy Swine operation produces today is not the hog that the Smith family selected when they first went looking for a project hog.
Back when Randy and Amy Smith were in 4-H in the 1970s and ’80s, they started with rabbits, won championships, then decided to switch to raising market hogs.
They bought 170-pound pigs that reached weights of over 300 pounds by fair time.
June Smith said they decided that if the kids were going to raise pigs, they had better find out exactly what the judges thought looked good. They went from fair to fair to see what was winning championships.
The second year the Smith kids had moved into the winning circle, and they stayed there through the ’80s, winning a grand or reserve championship every year.
And by the third year, June Smith said, they had started breeding the pigs themselves, starting out with one good gilt and a boar.
End of the line. When Randy left for Ohio State, June and Charles considered themselves out of the hog-raising end of the business.
But Randy Smith had another plan in his mind.
After he graduated from Ohio State, he worked for Isler Genetics in Prospect, Ohio, a pork production company that sells Duroc, Hampshire, York, Landrace, and crossbreed gilts and boars for commercial production and also produces show pigs. He ran the sow program at the farm operation.
In a year or two, Smith said, he began to get a reputation for producing pigs that were winning prizes.
In 1993, Smith decided he would like to return home and join forces with his father to establish a club pig operation of his own.
There weren’t many sources of pigs available for 4-H youth then, he said.
Supply dried up. With the number of hog farms in the area getting fewer all the time, the supply had dried up, Smith said, but the show pig industry was really just getting started.
In 1993 he said the top-selling boar brought a price of $10,000. Right now, he said, the record is $200,000, and it has been broken four times in the last six months. And club pig production has grown by leaps and bounds. At the National Swine Registry Fall Classic in Oklahoma last November, there were 1,700 hogs auctioned in the national club pig sale.
The Smith’s Blue Suede, who reserve champion in Houston two out of the previous three years, sold at Duncan for $6,000.
Smith said he and his father started in 1993 with five sows and the belief that with good breeding they had as good an opportunity as anyone else of making a great one.
Piglets by the score. Now with 55 sows, they are producing 350 to 400 York, Duroc Hampshire, and crossbreeds a year. Smith said they are not nearly as large as the club pig operations that have sprung up in western Ohio, but they are big for the northeastern Ohio area.
The greatest number of their litters come in December through March to be ready for junior fair pig projects to show at the summer fairs in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Indiana.
June Smith said that she sees pig projects growing in number and becoming the largest livestock category at most of the fairs they attend.
“Raising a hog,” she said, “is the perfect 4-H project. It’s a 100-day project, not as time consuming as a steer. The kids don’t have to be afraid of a hog, and hogs are more personable than sheep. They come as close to being domesticated as you can get with a market animal.”
Wide sweep. Ramy Swine Farm has had its pigs shown in the junior fair division of 30 county fairs in a four-state area, and has had more than 100 pigs win grand or reserve championships.
Pigs born on the farm in late March go to the final fairs of the season held in the middle of September. This year the last four pigs to move out of the Smith barns in May were those reserved for Tuscarawas County projects.
Then there is another farrowing in June and July to take into the southwest part of the country.
When a pig from Ramy Swine Farm won reserve champion in Houston three years ago, a flood of orders from that area of the country started pouring in. Now they sell 12 to 18 in Houston by sight unseen orders. Charles Smith has also been taking a trailer load to Austin to sell to customers buying on the basis of the Ramy reputation. The pigs that the Smith’s feel are not show quality are taken to the auction to sell as feeder pigs, but there were only a few that did not make the grade. And it has happened that pigs taken to the auction have been purchased by someone wanting to raise them as a project, and they have gone on to win prizes in competition anyway.
The Smiths also do some selling of breeding sows directly off their farm.
“As long as the worst pig we sell grades as good,” Randy Smith said, “the number of pigs we could sell for breeding is probably unlimited.”
(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)