Despite many transitions in hogs and industry

“There’ve been lots of changes in hogs in my lifetime, but the hogs we’re producing now are the best I’ve ever seen.”

Since he started showing home-raised pigs when he was eight years old, Mike Bond is speaking from firsthand experience as he’s seen and produced lots of pigs.

Today, with his wife, Debra, and assistance from their grown children, Brian, Kim and Leah, Bond specializes in show pig production at Valleybrook Farms near Overbrook in Osage County.

Not big compared to major commercial swine operations, Valleybrook has 35 sows in a twice-a-year farrowing, making it one of limited fulltime hog businesses remaining in Kansas, which had many 100-plus sow units as recent as three decades ago.

Growing up with hogs, so to speak, his dad, Bus Bond, was a widely known Duroc breeder for many years, and Mike and Debra followed in the business when they married in 1976.

“We specialized in purebred Durocs, too, even though, we did have a few Spots at one time, but not too long,” qualified Bond, who credited his sister-in-law, Jo Davis, for generous assistance in the hog operation now, too.

“When the Duroc seed stock market went to pot, we were out of the hog business for 12 years,” Bond calculated.

However, their children continued to compete heavily in junior swine shows with pigs purchased from other operations.

“In 1999, we kept back some of those top gilts, started artificially breeding them, to again produce show pigs of our own,” Bond explained.

The operation has continued growing to a fulltime business. “We again feature Durocs, along with Yorkshires and crossbreds, and we have a couple of Berkshire and Hampshire sows,” Bond said. “We were up to 50 sows, but we’re at about 35 now, which works better for us.”

Select production is marketed as seed stock, but “We really specialize in the show pig market,” Bond related.

All sows are mated artificially. “We have five boars that I collect for my own use and also sell quite a bit of semen around the country,” Bond said.

Litters are spread throughout much of the year to fit different show dates in the Midwest. Pigs are merchandized in a variety of ways of which the best, according to Bond, is the annual on-farm auction each spring.

“This year’s sale is April 13, and we’ll offer about 75 pigs at that time,” noted Bond.

Valleybrook Farms was a pioneer in merchandizing show pigs over the internet. “That really worked out well when we started four years ago, because we were the first ones doing it,” Bond verified.

Best proof of success is when others mimic what one does, and that’s exactly what happened to Valleybrook’s on-line sales. “Everybody else is doing that now, too, it seems. There might be as many as a dozen internet auctions in one evening,” Bond commented.

However, internet merchandizing is still important. “We had an on-line sale February 14, and also have internet sales set May 9th and 30th, and June 20th, as well as in September, October and November,” said Bond, calculating that a couple dozen pigs are sometimes sold during a session.

When pigs are sold in other parts of the country, Bond tries to assist in logistics of delivery. “Often, we’ll take pigs to customers attending major swine events, or meet the buyers part way. That helps sales, but, of course, it depends on the price, too. We try to accommodate the best we can,” he added.

Pigs are also sold private treaty, and at major consignment sales. “We sell a lot of our summer pigs in Oklahoma and Texas, and other locations around the country on occasion,” explained Bond, adding that breeding stock is also merchandized at the World Pork Expo and breed type conferences.

“We do end up selling a few summer pigs as commercial feeders and finish out several to sell locally for locker meat,” Bond said.

While Valleybrook Farm show prospects do sometimes sell for relatively quite high prices, Bond was quick to point out, “The best pig doesn’t always grow out to be the champion hog. We’ve had $200 pigs beat those that cost several thousand.”

A Sunglow Feed dealer, Bond said, “It’s important to start out with the right pig, but correct rations and handling will determine the outcome. Still, there are so many good pigs now, that it often does require some special additives in order to grow one that has that extra winning edge.

“Holding pigs at a certain weight is more of a challenge than getting one to grow,” Bond contended.

Reflecting on type, Bond said, “We produced a champion 30 years ago and have a picture of it compared to one we had recently. There is no comparison in the way they look. Today’s hogs are larger, heavier, thicker, deeper, with some cushion, but they’re still heavy muscled and comparatively quite lean.”

Nevertheless, Bond admitted, “All of this width in the chest does sometimes create problems with sows getting up and down in farrowing crates, so the industry still doesn’t have a perfect hog.”

While tremendous changes have taken place in all phases of the swine industry in the past half century, Bond is completely optimistic for Valleybrook Farm’s show pig production operation.

“Pig shows locally and throughout the country have continued to grow, because pigs are a project that can be handled by youth with limited facilities and investment. They can have a positive learning experience and enjoy being with others of similar interests. I only see more and more youth becoming involved in showing pigs,” Bond summarized.