You're never too old to learn!

Welcome to Darin's Pig Pen!

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

Terraces in Machu Picchu 2007. Did you know ancient cultures had pretty advanced agricultural methods? Growing 1,000 varieties of potatoes on the sides of mountains was no easy task! Neither is explaining modern pig production methods to a group of eager college students in a foreign language! A humbling experience to say the least, but I survived and learned a great deal from this trip.

Terraces in Machu Picchu 2007. Did you know ancient cultures had pretty advanced agricultural methods? Growing 1,000 varieties of potatoes on the sides of mountains was no easy task! Neither is explaining modern pig production methods to a group of eager college students in a foreign language! A humbling experience to say the least, but I survived and learned a great deal from this trip.

Welcome to the Pig Pen. Labor Day has passed and in Wisconsin that means Tuesday was the first day of school all over the state. Elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and even universities in our state all start on the day after Labor Day. For our family, that meant one child heading off to begin second grade, one heading off to begin her college career, one soon-to-be-son-in-law starting his college classes for the year, and one daughter beginning her new school year teaching music. I should include one little brother too young to start school but who wants desperately to keep pace with his big sisters! Only one of the whole crew who is finished with school and won’t be going either as teacher or student.


I have to admit, I mostly hated school as a kid. I recall that I enjoyed elementary school though. Growing up on a farm, going to a really small country school (which no longer exists), classes were small and competitive. I can still remember the timed math tests they gave us back then. Tests were face down until the teacher said “GO”! We would whip that paper over and scribble the answers down at a furious pace, trying to be the first one done. After finishing the last equation we would yell out “DONE” nice and loud so that everyone knew we were first. The teacher started to feel bad for the kids who were disrupted by everyone yelling “done” and starting to feel the pressure to keep pace. She instructed us that we were no longer allowed to yell “DONE”! This didn’t go over very well with most of us. After all, how were we going to know who finished first?


It didn’t take long for us to find a new signal to let everyone in the class know we were done. It started with slamming the pencil down after finishing the last equation. When that was deemed too disruptive as well, we resorted to clearing the throat, coughing, bumping the desk with our knee, anything to make some noise and let everyone know who finished first. Looking back, I guess we were a bunch of inconsiderate jerks, not giving much thought to the kids in the class who were a little slower at math. Like I said, it was very competitive, but most of us thrived in that environment. We were allowed to jump far ahead in our workbooks, even up a couple of grade levels if we completed all the assignments with no errors.


Then came 5th grade. Our little country school was only kindergarten through 4th, so we all had to move to the “big school” in town. That’s pretty much the point where I lost interest. By then I cared more about what was going on at the farm than what was going on in the classroom. Besides, I’d already learned all of the 5th-grade material a year or two earlier and wasn’t being challenged in this new school. Once I moved into high school I found some level of interest in ag class, FFA, shop, electronics and some science and math, but by then I was already immersed in farming.


Despite my nearly complete disinterest in school, I didn’t stop learning. I studied every subject in which I had an interest. I still do. By most accounts, I am getting to be an old man now (just ask my kids) but I learn something new every day. I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of world-class scientists for partners these last few years from whom I learn something in every conversation! I have great respect for teachers, including my very own daughter who is in her third year as a music teacher. Patience has always been something I struggle with, and I admire those teachers who have enough patience to spend all day, every day teaching someone else’s kids! I’ve done a few lectures and presentations over the years, but to groups of college-aged kids and adults, not little kids. Try giving a lecture in a foreign country in a foreign language sometime if you enjoy a challenge! That is a humbling experience!


Not all lessons are learned in the classroom. Experience remains the best teacher. You can learn a lot just by doing. You can also learn a lot just by observing. Some of my best teachers probably didn’t know they were teaching me. Whether you are young or old, put aside the stubborn competitiveness for a while every day and take a look at what those around you are doing successfully. In the hog business, study the breeding program of a successful breeder. Study the production methods of successful commercial farms. Watch how successful people conduct themselves in public and how they treat customers, peers and especially their competitors. As a hog breeder, I’ve learned a lot from people like Jim Grimm, Chuck Olsen, David Martin, Doug Stewart and many others simply through observation.


Finally, whether you’re a parent, employer or in another position of leadership, give those for whom you are responsible the opportunity to learn. Give them responsibility and allow them to fail or succeed. Some of their very best lessons will be learned from failure. It may be painful in the short-term, but will pay dividends in the long run. I can recall when my daughters decided to do their first online auction. They did their best to take pictures of their pigs and posted them online for the world to see. If you’ve ever tried picturing 40-50lb. pigs you already know the challenge! Well, the hogs were pretty good, but the pictures were not. The sale didn’t go well. One person even went out of his way to send us a message saying that the pictures sucked and he wouldn’t touch the pigs with a 10ft. pole!


My kids’ first reaction to that somewhat rude message was anger. I have to admit, I laughed to myself. I wrote this person back and thanked him for his honest opinion, that my daughters were learning how to do this and all feedback was appreciated so they could learn to do it better. The point is, they learned from that negative experience, and while some might say their pictures STILL suck (some of them probably do) they have gotten significantly better and are continuing to work to improve. Often times the best thing you can hear is the honest truth, even if it offends you or makes you angry. Just keep in mind, you are NEVER too old to learn.


Today’s question:


Eric from Wisconsin:


Hi Darin,  

We’re having some issues with swelling in the hocks of our baby pigs. We mostly notice it at weaning time when we pick them up to move them. Ideas?


Hi Eric. First of all, I’d advise you to have your veterinarian to take a look at them to get an accurate diagnosis. Having said that, my suspicion is that you’re getting some strep infection in those piglets. Typically strep enters through the navel when the pigs are first born. It can often show up in the joints by weaning age. Once it’s there it can be really difficult to see much improvement. The best idea is to try to prevent infection. Good washing, disinfecting and DRYING of the farrowing room is critical. Also disinfecting of the navel at birth can help. DRYGIENE has been a huge benefit in preventing strep infections in my customers’ farms. I would encourage you to read more about it on my website. Finally, many vets will prescribe a series of antibiotic shots such as Polyflex (ampicillin) beginning on day 1 and ending at weaning to help control strep. Many also use antibiotics in a water-line medicator for a few days after weaning. If you need help finding a hog vet in your area, please let me know.


-        Darin     

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