A labor of love begin family tradition
By Heather Meade
VERSAILLES — Alan and Jeff Wuebker are performing a labor of love, Alan stated, and one that they learned to love as boys growing up on their family farm. Now they’re trying to instill that same love in their own children, Alan commented. According to Alan Wuebker, it is working with his 6-year-old son, Andrew, who visits the farm before going to kindergarten each day.
“It’s a labor of love; and the fact that my son can come out here, I call it ‘Daddy Daycare’ or ‘Wuebker Farm Daycare’,” Wuebker joked. “He gets to learn day to day, and I hope it inspires him. There are new challenges every day, and that keeps it interesting.”
The Wuebkers operate two farms in Darke County, Wuebker said, and it’s a 365-day-a-year job, including holidays and weekends. They move through over 100,000 baby pigs each year, he said, with around 45,000 coming through on one farm, and around 60,000 on the other. The Wuebkers breed and farrow hogs, keeping them only 21 days after birth, when they are weaned and go on to a finishing barn, Wuebker said.
“A farrow-to-wean operation is kind of like an OB ward,” Wuebker commented. “We keep the babies warm under heat lamps at about 90 degrees, and we have to keep the mama pigs happy, ‘cause if mama’s not happy, no one’s happy — kind of like with humans. She just went through giving birth, and there are all these changes that she has to acclimate to, we just try to make that transition easier.”
The mothers are kept in farrowing crates so that they cannot crush the baby pigs when they lay down to nurse them, Wuebker said. They also have to keep the baby pigs dry, for which they use Quick Dry, which looks like flour, but the baby pigs roll around in it and it helps wick the moisture, keeping them warmer.
When the Wuebkers were children, their father had 48 sows, or mother pigs, now Wuebker Farms keeps about 4,600 sows, which produce around 1,000 piglets each week, Wuebker said.
“When we were kids, it was much more labor intensive,” Wuebker stated. “I always thought it was neat, though, to see the baby pigs grow.”
According to Wuebker, their goal is to educate people as much as it is to breed and farrow, which is why they brought in bloggers from around the country to tour their facilities, he said.
“It’s not always a glamorous job, but in the whole world we produce the safest, cheapest, and most wholesome foods right here in America,” Wuebker stated. “A farmer’s trying to produce the best quality for consumers; so it’s not a glamorous job, but it’s one we love to do.”
All together the Wuebkers birth enough pigs each year to produce 210,000 Christmas hams, or 1.5 million servings of boneless pork loin, he said. And the biggest challenge is keeping the baby pigs healthy, he said.
Last year an airborne disease moved through the Midwest, and it was a devastating blow for the pigs, Wuebker commented. It was also an economic hit for the Wuebkers, as was the drought that occurred over the summer, he said.
“The drought’s main affect was economic, as the cost of feed rose dramatically,” Wuebker said. “It’s going to affect consumers, too, as fewer farmers are breeding, which means there are fewer pigs for slaughter.”
In a four month period the cost of pigs rose about $50, Wuebker stated, because demand grew. The week of the Great Darke County Fair, Wuebker said the cost of weaner, or baby pigs was $8.08, while the cost of corn was $8.48 per bushel; and for every pig born on the Wuebker’s farm, it takes about 10 bushes of corn to feed them and make a Christmas ham. Currently, the cost of weaner pigs is around $57, while the cost of corn is around $7.50 per bushel, Wuebker stated.
Heather Meade is a staff writer at The Daily Advocate in Greenville.