Raising pigs is not an easy business, but Brad and Becky Vannocker, rural Hillsboro, know a lot about it. They share their expertise with others, and raise pigs because they enjoy the people in the business almost as much as the animals.
“That is the whole reason we do it,” Brad Vannocker said. “We meet so many good people at the shows. We’ve gone with our pigs to the Pork Expo in Iowa, to national shows as far away as Louisville, Kentucky. We have a great time with the kids and grandkids when they are showing. It’s what we like to do.”
With over 40 years of pig-raising experience, Vannocker, a Marion County resident since age 10, said there is no easy time of year in the show pig business.
“We start making breeding plans and checking heat cycles in August,” he said. “From there you hope to make the correct matches, get them settled, go through farrowing in the coldest months of the year, then keep them alive until the show pig sales.”
This past year has been more difficult than others for the couple because Brad broke his hand last August while working calves. A later surgery revealed unexpected heart problems. It took many months to recover. During that time, Becky Vannocker took over the breeding and feeding chores through the late summer and fall, along with children, grandchildren, and friends who came to help.
“I learned how to artificially inseminate,” Becky said. “Most of these young pigs wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all the help we had last year. Our family came from all over to help out when we needed them.”
Family is an important aspect of the Vannocker show pig herd as grandchildren provide show ring expertise at competitions around the state and country.
“We have Corin, age 12, and Cody, age 14, showing,” Becky said. “Then we also have three 5-year-old granddaughters that get in the show ring too.”
“They all come out to the farm and get in the pens to work pigs,” Brad said. “They learn all about it from the ground up. We just really enjoy watching them grow up and into it.”
Just days ago, Becky Vannocker noticed a sow having trouble giving birth.
“I couldn’t get those baby pigs out of her,” she said. “I knew I needed someone with a smaller arm so I went to school and got Corin out. She came and delivered baby pigs and we worked for several hours together. She is getting very good at it and has delivered baby pigs for us several times.”
Two years ago, 20 sows gave birth at the rural Hillsboro farm. Last year several pigs died and only five had live births. This year the family has 12 sows moving in and out of the farrowing barn, with 65 babies born so far. Some are new, saved from last year’s show string to bring in different genetics.
“The kids and grandkids bought some show gilts in Iowa and kept them,” Brad Vannocker said. “We are increasing our quality this way. It’s a gamble, just like anything else.”
The Vannockers sell some butcher weight hogs but most of their farm income comes from sales of 4-H and youth show pigs. They work with crossbreds as well as Yorks, Durocs, Hampshires, Spotted Polled Chinas, and Chester Whites.
“Every year we have a spring show pig sale, but this year we will have two,” Brad said.
The first show pig sale will take place March 31 at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Hillsboro. The second is April 1 in Emporia. Several other consignors will join the Vannockers, providing a large selection of pigs for those in the show scene to choose from.
“There is a competitive aspect to it all,” Becky Vannocker said. “But when the shows and sales are over, we enjoy getting out the grill and eating and visiting with friends and family. It’s because of the people that we do it.”