(Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series)
Every day is a new adventure for Joanne Powell. As the Research Farm Supervisor for the large animal unit at Rutgers University, Joanne gets to do the things she loves, including being outside with animals! In addition to that, Joanne is a 4-H leader in Somerset County, a role she has had for nearly 30 years. In this second part of our Ask an Expert Series, we ask Joanne questions about trends in the swine industry, how resources are available to 4-H members from Rutgers, and what she feels is the most important part of raising pigs.
1) How has the swine industry in New Jersey changed in the last ten years?
There are farms that are raising pigs for niche markets – selling to restaurants, or retailing the meat themselves. I notice a slight increase in farms that are actually breeding their own pigs because it is difficult to find a reliable source of healthy feeder pigs. These farms are either farrow to finish, or breeding to sell feeder pigs to others.
2) Where do you see the swine industry in New Jersey in the next ten years?
I think that as NJ consumers become more interested in knowing where their food comes from there will be increased demand for locally grown meats. I believe that there is a real future for young people to get out there and meet that demand.
3) What resources are available on campus to 4-H members/clubs interested in swine projects?
There is a breeding herd on campus of about 30-40 sows, and the staff there is very knowledgeable. There are farm tours available, and arrangements can be made for groups to visit to learn about the animals. Each year the NJ Department of Agriculture, together with Rutgers, hosts the NJ Jr. Breeders Symposium for youth interested in livestock, small animals, poultry, and horses. Most years there are swine sessions offered. Feeder pigs are sometimes available for sale from the college as well.
4) What resources around New Jersey are available to 4-H members/clubs interested in swine projects?
If you are interested in purchasing pigs for a 4-H project, it is hard to beat the NJ Jr. Breeders fund. There are low interest loans available for youth looking to get into livestock production. It is an amazing program that is, for some reason, often overlooked by 4-Hers. One of the best things a club, or individual member can do is to locate farms already raising pigs and ask if they would mind hosting a field trip, or a farm visit. Many times farmers are happy to take some time out of their day to talk to young people hoping to get into the industry. Your County 4-H Agent, or Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent can help you find producers. Attend fairs that have swine projects already in place, and watch their shows, and visit with their members.
5) What is your favorite breed of swine? Why?
That’s a tough one, because I actually prefer crossbreds due to their improved performance. I hope our members reading this have heard of hybrid vigor or heterosis. That means a crossbred out performs its purebred parents. I love a Hampshire/Yorkshire cross, because you get the growth from the Hampshire, with the maternal traits of the Yorkshire. There seems to be an increase in the popularity of Berkshires – I really like them as well, and I am interested to learn more about them.
6) Anything else you would like to share?
The most important part of raising pigs, or any livestock, is to have fun. Have a sense of humor and be open to suggestions from others. You never know when someone will offer you some good advice. I am contributing to an “Ask the Expert” blog – but I am still learning every day.
By Matthew Newman, County 4-H Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension