“The harder you work, the more you get done, and it’ll pay off down the line.”
Brad Vannocker at Hillsboro has that outlook on life, which has been applied and proven true in his family’s Vannocker Show Pigs operation.
“Of course, there are exceptions, but it’s always been our philosophy to keep working, and it’ll turn your way,” Vannocker added.
“We’ve seen every facet of the hog industry, and there’s been every extreme in profitability and hog type,” he said. “Over time, we’ve become strictly show-pig producers, which seems to fit us best.
“However, it’s even more about relationships than show pigs,” Vannocker added. “We’ve made so many friends and acquaintances throughout the Midwest from participating in shows and related events.”
Raised in southeast Kansas, Vannocker was part of a small family hog operation.
“I grew up showing pigs, and it has stayed with me,” he said.
After Vannocker married Becky (Edmunds) of Marion, the couple worked side by side building a commercial hog operation that grew to 140 sows with all pigs finished to market weight, plus custom feeding 2,000 hogs annually.
“We both had, and still do have, jobs away from the farm, so with four daughters growing up, it got pretty hectic,” Vannocker said.
Then, there was a change of operations.
“We started producing show pigs for other producers in 1997, and then began raising show pigs on our own two years later,” he said.
“Our two oldest daughters showed pigs off the feeding floor, but when we switched gears, our younger girls had pigs bred for shows. The older girls think it’s unfair their little sisters might have had an unfair advantage over them.
“That’s the way it is. Things have changed a lot,” Vannocker said.
Foundation for today’s operation was the select-gilts purchased by Vannocker’s grandchildren during a prospect-purchasing tour in the northeast.
“We have Spot, Berkshire, Chester White, Yorkshire and crossbred sows, and they’re all mated artificially to top boars from throughout the country for winter pigs,” he said.
Unlike certain show-pig producers who only raise one litter per sow annually, Vannocker produces summer litters, too.
“However, for summer farrowing, we mate the sows back with a live boar and sell most of the pigs to commercial feeders,” he said. “We finish out a few hogs ourselves to sell for locker meat.”
Winter pigs are merchandized through two spring sales with other consignors. The second auctions first auction was March 30, and the second one will be April 7 at Emporia.
“There’ll be 65 pigs at each of those sales, but we only sell our top pigs,” Vannocker said.
Noting that purebred litters often are smaller than crossbreds, Vannocker said, “We’ve been doing real well so far. Well, we were. We had a 91⁄2 pig average until today, and this sow only had two. But, we’re still doing all right.”
The Vannockers have nine grandchildren, but only two are presently exhibiting hogs.
“One grandson and one granddaughter show pigs, and several other livestock species. Our 6-year-old granddaughter is anxious to get started showing as soon as she’s old enough,” grandpa said.
Some people assume the Vannocker grandchildren get first choice of the pig crop.
“All of our top pigs go in the sale. There is no sifting out for family, or anybody else, ahead of time,” Vannocker said.
“If our grandchildren have a pig selected, they have to pay the price at the auction, so everybody has a fair opportunity,” he added.
Pigs from the Vannocker sales have collected numerous championships throughout the Midwest.
“There were three county fair champions from last year’s sale, plus many class winners,” he said.
Stories are common of youth paying thousands of dollars to buy pigs in hopes of winning championships.
“Just because somebody pays a big price for a pig sure doesn’t guarantee it will win,” Vannocker said. “Our top-end pigs will generally sell higher, but we also sell pigs for a couple hundred dollars.
“A lot can happen from the time a pig goes through the sale until it’s ready for market. It always pleases me when a youth, who can’t afford to buy the highest-priced pigs, does well with a less expensive pig. Those kids are often the ones who work the hardest, too.
“Feed costs are high, but it’s still possible to grow a pig and make a profit without all of these special supplements and fitting-additives that are sometimes used,” Vannocker said.
Noting “there have always been show-pig producers,” Vannocker added, “There have been fads, too. We’ve gone from long, tall, thin hogs to heavier muscled, heavier conditioned hogs.
“Now, I think the trend has backed off now with a middle-of-the-road type that is more realistic for the industry.
“There’s nothing better for a young person to learn from than buying, growing and showing pigs,” Vannocker said.