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Farm and Forest Hogs and Feeder Pigs

Hogs and Feeder Pigs in the Ozarks 

Before World War II, there was no feeder pig market in south central Missouri. There was no such market as the 20th century ended. But for about 50 years in between, it flourished. It made a sizeable contribution to the finances of many an Ozarks family during its time. So how did this phenomenon start, and what made it end?
An interview with Roland "Pig" Paul and Bill Turner 

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piglet“After the war, a small industry started up when some enterprising fellows started buying up country hogs — really what you’d call range hogs or timber hogs, from the farmers down here and shipping them off to fatten,” explained Roland “Pig” Paul, long-time Ozarks resident, one-time executive director of the National Pork Producers Council, and former Howell County Presiding Commissioner.

“The buyers would drive out to one farm and another, buying up all their young pigs in the 40-60 pound range. They’d group them by color to make it look like they were coming from one big herd, and ship them up to Iowa where the corn was. They’d go to market at about 180 to 210 pounds. The business changed radically when the buyers decided they wanted to be able to buy at least 300 hogs from one producer. But Bill Turner can tell you more about that. He was in the business from the very beginning.”

Turner, who lives in Hartville and operates a feed specialty business today, tells how the market grew and declined in south central Missouri. 

“As more farmers got into the business, the bigger the need for a local stockyard to handle the volume of pigs being raised,” Turner said. “The early 1960s was a crunch time for the family farmer. You couldn’t make it doing just one thing. I was a grade A dairy farmer, and it came time when I had to decide to diversify and make my operation larger, or work off the farm to make us a living. 

"About that time I read in a farming magazine an article saying there were opportunities in hog raising in north Missouri, and they were working to develop better marketing facilities. I wrote and told them they were looking at the wrong part of the state, because we were already producing lots of pigs. So they started a pilot program, having me buy the pigs and haul them up to Eldon, which was the closest market. A year later I had to explain to them that I was getting so many pigs I couldn’t haul them. They decided that was enough volume to build an auction barn, so they put one in at Mansfield. It lasted a little more than 30 years, and then it was over.” 

Competition from new corporate operations only succeeded at first in making the market unstable for everyone, he explained. 
“When the corporate farms started up, they created a climate where everyone was thinking about being able to get lots of pigs from a single operation. Word came down that buyers were only interested in buying large lots of pigs. All the small operators were hurt real bad by that. And then the corporate farms, a lot of them, went bust. They built these big farming complexes, but had no expertise in actually raising pigs. Poor management led to early weaning, and a lot of them just went bust. But the agriculture colleges jumped in, and trained them, taught management, nutrition, and they came out of it. And then, when you figured the cost of moving pigs from southern Missouri to Nebraska and Illinois to get them to the corn— it was no longer cost effective. The Mansfield barn closed just a few years ago, and most of the pig producers have moved on to other things.”

Paul said transportation is the key to both the rise and fall of the industry in the Ozarks. “After the war, transportation was cheap enough to ship the pigs up to the corn. And when gas prices rose, it got too expensive to ship them. That’s the sum of it.”

Written by Marideth Sisco. Photo: USDA.