The Ripple Effect

Courtney Rathman.jpg

“Please stop raining.” That was the first thought in my head, standing arm-in-arm with my daughter under the largest tent I’d ever seen other than at a circus. The big day was finally here. The ceremony was supposed to be outside on the grass, but the weather had other plans for us that Saturday. Fortunately we were prepared for this lack of cooperation from Mother Nature. The shed had been cleaned out and extra lighting installed in the weeks prior. The chairs were set up. The guests were waiting. Now the wedding party just had to make it across the driveway from the reception tent to the shed without getting soaked. “Maybe there’s a bright side to this rain”, I began thinking. Planning to try my hardest to keep it all together, I was not optimistic that I would be able to prevent the tears from flowing as I walked my beautiful daughter down the aisle. Perhaps a little rain on my face would hide the truth? Alas, the rain proved to be no help at all in covering the emotional response as I hugged my daughter and offered her hand to my soon-to-be son-in-law. Such a strange combination to be so happy and smiling yet with tears flowing at the same time.


As the ceremony began, the rain started falling with increasing intensity, beating like a drum on the tin roof of the shed, reaching its crescendo as the couple shared their vows, then decreasing to a light patter as the ceremony concluded. Mother Nature was providing a soundtrack. As the happy couple, the wedding party and all the guests began making their way back across the driveway to the reception tent, the clouds parted and the sun began shining right on cue. It was perfect!


The first of what will likely be four trips down the aisle for me as a father (God willing), I have to admit I was completely unprepared for the flood of raw emotion. Isn’t it incredible? As fathers, we are protectors, providers, teachers, and leaders. We are strong and brave. We are the tough guys of the family. We hope to set an example for our sons and provide a model for our daughters to follow when considering a prospective husband. Yet our children can make us blubber like babies! I wasn’t alone. My father was pretty emotional in his own right, and spent most of the day beaming with pride because his granddaughter had chosen his farm as the location to share her special day with her family and friends. As I sat at the reception table, marveling at the beautiful bride, her siblings, my son-in-law, and all the new family and friends we’d just acquired, I began thinking about how all of this transpired. How did we get to this point? It never ceases to amaze me how the twists and turns of life can combine to create something very special. Just as a tiny pebble tossed into a pond can create ripples in the water that extend far beyond the point of impact, such are the events of our lives and the decisions we make in how they impact our future and that of our children. As I reflected upon my daughter’s childhood and all the memories of her growing up, I thought of some of the difficulties we went through as a family, how we responded, and how those decisions led to this exact moment in time, the happiest day of her life.


Dealing with divorce is an enormous challenge for many families, and mine was no different. Going through one of the most emotionally challenging times of my life while trying to provide a stable, caring environment for my three little girls was an enormous task. At times the temptation to succumb to the anger, depression and loneliness was almost overwhelming. One thing allowed me to stay focused and push forward through the struggles; the innocent faces of those three little girls. They were what mattered. I decided to turn my back on the negativity, the turmoil and the lack of a social life and focus all my positive energy on my children. I decided that the rest of my life would straighten itself out over time, but right at that moment my children were the most vulnerable and needed me to be strong for them to help them adjust to this new life. I threw myself into their 4H projects. We worked our tails off every night after school and all summer long taking care of pigs. We started their own pig breeding project, which exists to this day, now known as Kuhlow Girls Showpigs.


There was one thing more I did that I never imagined would have the ripple effect that it’s had. I picked up my guitar. A little-known band named Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers was a long-time favorite of mine. Strumming that guitar and singing their songs helped me get through some lonely nights in an empty house, but it also inspired my children. Before long we were playing and singing together at home, at family parties, and even at pig shows. Music became a big part of life for all three of those girls. They became musicians and singers, playing guitar, piano, flute and about any other instrument they could get their hands on. They began to perform together in 4H show choir, at talent shows, open mic nights, karaoke contests and many events where they were invited to perform. My oldest daughter studied music in college and went on to become a music teacher. My second daughter was waitressing at a coffee shop while attending college, when a handsome young man with a guitar stole her heart during open mic night.


While my mind continued its journey through the past, I watched with delight as that same handsome young man played a few tunes with his friends at his very own wedding reception, including a special song for his new bride, my daughter Courtney. The special musical performances didn’t end there. I was called to the dancefloor for the father-daughter dance. Standing alone on the dancefloor as all three of my oldest daughters approached, the one in the wedding gown took my hand as another picked up a guitar and the third grabbed a microphone. There was no rain to hide the stream of joyful tears as the girls played and sang one of our favorite Roger Clyne songs while I danced with the smiling bride. As the dance concluded and I walked back to join my beautiful wife and youngest children (who served as ring bearer and flower girl) at our table, I couldn’t help thinking about the ripple effect of picking up that guitar in my darkest hour fifteen years prior.  


Today’s questions:


Tammy from US,


I have a gilt that in the last 2 observed heats was dramatic. Big swelling, discharge and total jerk for 5 days until day of standing heat. Then a hard stand and acted like a sweetheart. Easy peasy. On her breeding signs and only a slight stand. Darn. Don’t know if I got her. My question. Is the fertility rate influenced by strength of the heat or stand? The other interesting thing, she has had a 26-day cycle on the dot for the 2 cycles I have owned her for and the owner explained her 1st heat as fitting the same parameters.


Hi Tammy,


Thank you for the question. The signs of estrus and the response to stimulation really have no direct effect on the fertility rate. The gilt is going to cycle and ovulate on schedule whether or not she shows a strong response to being in heat. Indirectly however, those things can impact fertility as the response may alter the timing of insemination. If she doesn’t give a strong standing response you may be unsure of the proper time to breed her. In that way, her fertility can be impacted if you guess wrong. For difficult females such as this with odd estrus cycles (26 days is not normal) your best bet is to breed at the first sign of beginning to stand and breed every 24 hours after until you are sure she’s definitely not standing any longer. That may mean the first insemination is a little early and you may need three doses. Do not breed a second or third time however if she clearly is no longer standing. That can do more harm than good. Hopefully you got her. Let me know how it turns out!


Jean from IA,


How do you guys afford to raise showpigs? I like the idea, but paying thousands for a female and $300 or more for semen doesn’t look like it will pay. What am I missing?


Hi Jean,


Thank you for the question. At first glance, I can see your dilemma. For many of us, this is a losing proposition from a financial perspective. If treated as a business endeavor, it’s no different than any other enterprise. There are many levels to the business. Most of us do not have deep pockets. Many raise showpigs just for the love of it, knowing they will come out in the red as they would with any favorite hobby. However, if you are determined to make it work financially, it can be done. First of all, you need to be a really good marketer. Any business will fail without strong sales. Don’t assume that you can raise the world’s greatest pigs and customers will just magically find you. You need to learn as much or more about sales and marketing as you do about raising pigs. This is where most of us fall down. That doesn’t mean you can ignore genetics and the quality of pig you produce. To address your cost concerns, good females can be expensive and semen does appear costly. However, it is possible to find bargains on both without sacrificing much in terms of quality. You may need to look to lesser-known breeders with good stock that don’t command as high of a price as those who have already established themselves with a history of banner-winners. There is also a lot of competition for those semen dollars. You don’t have to spend $300 on every dose. There are a number of young breeders with a real talent for acquiring great genetics who offer semen at much lower prices. Sharrett Family Farms, Nate Joseph, Eric Castle, Riley Fenton, Justin McGuire and John Heins all immediately come to mind. These guys have some excellent boars with relatively low prices. If you are unsure about using a lesser-known stud, there are opportunities to get deals from the well-established boar studs as well. While you may not be able to get the top-end boars during the peak breeding season, you can still use excellent genetics buying on overrun or taking advantage of their specials. Lean Value Sires, Genetic Edge, Upperhand, Top Cut, Premium Blend, Hi Point and many others all have ways to get good genetics to you that can fit your budget.


One other suggestion is to build your sow herd with “off-season” pigs. If you want to be in this business for the long-term, there is nothing wrong with farrowing some May and June litters for replacement gilts. October-born gilts are perfect in today’s showpig world to breed to farrow their first litter in December or January, farrowing at 14-15 months of age. Plan to breed a couple of your best females during these off-seasons, knowing you have no market for the barrows and planning to keep the best gilts as your replacements. You will have a much better chance of getting semen from the elite boars at a lower price, as well as likely getting better fertility.   - Darin


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