It's about tradition

Darin's Pig Pen-- Thoughts from nearly 50 years of life in the swine industry from barnyard to board room. 

Welcome to the Pig Pen! Here we will discuss swine industry issues ranging from commercial production to the show ring. I've been very fortunate in my nearly 50 years on this planet to be presented with so much opportunity and wonderful experiences in an industry for which I have a strong passion. My journey in this industry has taken me to many corners of the world and given me experiences I could never have dreamed of growing up as a scrawny, ornery, red-headed farm kid in southern Wisconsin. I've worked alongside such incredibly gifted people from whom I've learned so much in so many different facets of the industry. I could never adequately repay those who have helped me to reach this point in my life thus far, but it is my intention to share as much as I can with those who share my passion for the swine industry, with hope that I can help others as others have helped me. This is the place I've chosen to share my experiences.

Welcome. I hope you find something enjoyable and useful here. -Darin


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This past week I attended the National Barrow Show in Austin, Minnesota. While it doesn’t necessarily get the same hype and attendance as some of the other shows such as World Pork Expo and Summer Type Conference, NBS is one of my favorite shows to attend.


This year marked the 71st year for the National Barrow Show at the Mower County Fairgrounds. The show was actually started in 1927 by prominent hog breeders and buyers to establish a standard for meat-type hogs. The first one was held in conjunction with the National Swine Show in Peoria, IL, then moved to various state fairs year-to-year until it found its current home in 1946. Can you imagine that? Think about the history and tradition associated with this show! Think about the amount of change that has occurred in the swine industry since this show began 90 years ago. Think about the sheer number of hogs that have gone through the ring in that many years, as well as the variety in type and kind!  


For many of the years of its existence, NBS has represented a gathering place for purebred breeders to compare and assess genetics. The show incorporated performance data, kill data, and live judging, and served as a measuring stick for breeders to see how their breeding program stacked up to their peers, as well as giving them an opportunity to purchase new genetics to incorporate into their program. Commercial producers would also attend and make boar purchases for use in their herds. Long before there was artificial insemination, boar studs and “show pigs”, events like NBS really were the core of the genetics used in commercial pork production.


While the days of the purebred breeder making a significant contribution to the commercial genetics world have long since passed, NBS still has a place as a great gathering spot for purebred breeders to compare their breeding programs and acquire new genetics, even if those genetics are now used more for the production of show pigs than for commercial production. I am also always encouraged by the number of smaller commercial producers and local breeders who come and support the show, buying boars and gilts for their breeding programs. Those types of producers still do exist! The youth part of the show continues to grow, and the judging contest is another highlight that attracts judging teams from all over the country.


I thought the purebred gilt show was particularly deep this year. If you’re looking for a place to find a few females to add to your herd, don’t overlook this show! While they sold pretty well, I think there was a lot of value relative to some of the other sales earlier in the summer. The boar show had some good entries as well. It was no surprise to see two of the greatest Yorkshire breeders going first and second in the sale. Jim Grimm with the hog college boar and Chuck Olsen with the champion York each brought excellent boars that are sure to breed on. RAR Genetics purchased the champion boar, with Triple B purchasing the hog college boar. Another interesting York was the Hofschulte boar purchased by Steve Schmeichel at Power Point Boar Stud. The champion crossbred boar had plenty of friends as well (also selling to Power Point) and I thought the champion Spot boar is one that would do well in a number of boar studs. He went to a breeder who will be offering semen for sale.


Between the quality of hogs, the number of activities, the relaxed atmosphere, the great late-summer weather and the great breeders and people in attendance, National Barrow Show is a destination any swine-show enthusiast should put on their list to attend. I try to go every year. I highly recommend it!   


Today’s questions:


Melissa from Bridger, MT


A few years ago there was someone who commented in a pig page forum about using oxytocin in older semen and it helped it. Is this true? What do you think?


Hi Melissa,


Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, oxytocin won’t help old semen. All it will do is temporarily induce uterine contractions which should aid in semen transport after insemination. This isn’t really necessary though, because these contractions happen naturally when the sow is in heat with boar exposure or other stimuli. Adding oxytocin was a popular fad 25 years ago. In the end, it seemed to have some benefit in farms with really poor fertility and no benefit in farms with normal fertility. Why is that? In most cases, farms with really poor fertility are lacking in heat detection and therefore insemination timing and boar exposure. Adding a “silver bullet” solution will not overcome those deficiencies, but may give a few percentage bump to a poor-performing farm. If you heat-check properly and use good-quality semen you will get normal fertility. Nothing is going to save you from poor fertility using old, poor-quality semen. The sum of research using oxytocin in semen would indicate it isn’t a worthwhile practice.


Robert from Indiana,


Hi Darin. I know you recently visited a bunch of boar studs. I have cross sows to breed. What should I be using?


Hi Robert,

We did tour a lot of boar studs this summer and took a lot of notes on boars. We were also in attendance at World Pork, STC, IN State Fair and NBS so we’ve seen many of the newer cross boars as well, at least the ones that went through the show ring. There are certainly a LOT of options out there and it can be difficult to sort through them all. We visited many of the “major” boar studs in your part of the world, but that barely scratches the surface when you consider all the individual breeders, smaller boar studs and the studs in the western part of the country which we didn’t tour. It’s mind-boggling really. I will say that each of the studs we visited had boars that interested me. In the end, I always find there are more boars I’d like to try than I have sows to breed! It forces me to focus down to just a couple of genetic lines to “hang my hat on” and hope that they hit. Having said that, I really don’t know your sows, your budget, your goals and priorities well enough to make any recommendation but I’ll tell you about a couple of boars that impressed me. If you have questions about specific boars just let me know and I will try to help. If you have the budget for it, the Undisputed boar at PBG looks to be the real deal. I was very impressed with him in person and thought they should really try to re-picture him as he was better in person than in pictures. Ben Moyer is really on top of his game right now too. If you haven’t seen Wild Will and his sons I would encourage you to take a look as they are very impressive and right with the trend. I was at Wintex in July also and it would be pretty hard to argue against using Best Man himself even at his age. I didn’t see the Travis Perry boar they recently acquired but he looks promising from his picture and pedigree. Top Cut, Upperhand, Purple Power, Lean Value, Hi Point, Showtime and Crossroads all had some great choices as well, depending upon what your sows need. We’ll try to get through the Iowa studs yet this fall as well. I hope this helps.


-        Darin.

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