Our new Berkshire pig died a few days ago. We just had him delivered with four others from a farm a few hours away from us. I really thought I did everything correctly when choosing a breeder: I called references; they answered all my questions I had with ease, made sure they were purebred, and they were healthy. I liked that they were local"ish" (three hours away, plus purebred Berks are rare to find in our area) and that they would deliver to our farm. I found out later that they raise their hogs to primarily "show." Our farm raises our hogs for meat, not to show. I know now there is a difference with that when selecting your breeder also. The pigs were supposed to be 50 pounds each when we had them delivered. They did not look like 50 pounds, they were small; but, we figured they would be okay. Plus, this was our first time with this breed of pig as we are going to try and breed them with our American Guinea Hogs. We got our AGHs when they were four months old already, so they were much bigger. “Are they even weaned?” I asked. “Oh; yeah.” The owner of the farm said. “They are healthy. No diseases on our farm.” (I deduced later that they don’t wean their pigs, they sell so many—over 2,000 a month). The farm was reputable and has been in business for a long time, so we paid him asking price and they were on their way. I noticed one pig in particular was very “skinny”. He was shaking from the cold and wouldn’t eat. He was tired all the time and we did everything we could think of for him. We made sure he was warm, brought food and water to him, he didn’t eat. I called the breeder back. “I am concerned. He’s not eating, and he sleeps all the time as though he is depressed.” I said. “What should I do? You have been doing this a long time, what do you think it is?” “Hmm, I am not going to sit here and try and guess. Pigs die.” That was not the response I wanted to hear. “Not my pigs,” I said. “Are any of your other pigs sick? Do I need to worry about the other Berkshires spreading the disease to my birds or AHGs?” “All of our pigs are healthy. We don’t have any problems. It probably just got too cold.” That night, it died. I was so angry—mostly at myself. We are not a big farm and that is a substantial loss of income for us. I should have gone to their location instead of having them deliver; I should have listened to my gut and not accepted them because they were too small. Another lesson learned. It could have been a lot worse. Those pigs could have been diseased, and even though we quarantine newcomers for a month, it could have been devastating. It really made me realize that we need to be more careful when selecting farms to work with. The other four pigs from them are getting bigger. They were not sick. We did, however; find a smaller, more local breeder for our Berkshires who are more in line with our needs and beliefs. They only have 15 sows. They wean their livestock for a lot longer. The smallest hog we received from them was bigger than the biggest hog from the other farm. This is what I actually enjoy the most about farming, we are always learning!
Photo by Fotolia/Martin Pateman