Neither a prophet nor a masseur of egos

Customers continue to expect that they can demand specific numbers of piglets, of specific sexes, on specific dates to suit their busy lifestyles.

Let me be simply and robustly clear:

  • I cannot time a litter to be ready for collection on an exact date specified by a customer.
  • I cannot predict the exact farrowing and weaning dates, even if I have seen the boar serving the sow and counted forward 114-115 days from that date.
  • I cannot predict how many piglets will be farrowed.
  • I cannot predict how many piglets will be boars and how many will be gilts.
  • I cannot predict how many piglets, of each sex or in total, will survive to weaning.
  • I cannot predict how many customers on the waiting list will change their minds.
  • I am not a prophet and I cannot force nature to defer to the wants of the modern consumer.

Traditional breed pigs reared on a small scale are not production line items churned out in their thousands and available off the shelf whenever a customer decides they have a want that must be fulfilled—NOW.

Nor are pigs craftsman-made items with a predictable production time that can be fitted to a customer’s hectic and demanding schedule.

Pigs produced on a small scale like ours are subject to a huge number of variables that we can allow for but never control in the same way that a production line is controlled.

Yes, it would be very useful to have a magic sow that will farrow 33 gilts and two boars, have them all survive to 10 weeks old, and have that 10th week expire precisely on Easter Sunday when all 16 waiting customers want them.

Unfortunately, I don’t have that magic sow. Nor a pig boutique with a magic piglet factory churning away behind it. Nor do I have flying pigs for that matter.

I just have a small herd of sweet-natured pedigree Berkshires, that produce litters of varying sizes, on varying dates, with varying rates of survival, and that happen to produce some of the best damned pork there is.

If, as many customers tell me, that is not acceptable then they should go for a product that does meet those consumer wants: commercially produced meat that’s always on the shelf when wanted and has a carefully crafted image to flatter the customer’s ego into believing the product truly is a life-changing experience hygienically sealed in plastic wrap.

8 Responses to “Neither a prophet nor a masseur of egos”

  1. How do you feel about handing over your treasured livestock into the hands of people who obviously have no comprehension of the whys and wherefores of farming, which means they probably have little idea of how to properly care for them?

    • Don’t assume it’s only people who know nothing about livestock who have this attitude. One bloke had just finished telling me he’s been working with livestock for 30 years when he told me he wanted a certain number of gilts ready for collection on Easter Sunday. Never mind that I didn’t have a litter farrowed at the right time with the right number of gilts. As he as he was concerned, he was the customer and he was entitled to get what he wanted.

      Almost half the 20 or so people who’ve contacted me in the past fortnight have some prior experience with livestock, ranging from long-term poultry keepers to people who’ve kept a couple of pigs from time to time, to crofters with sheep and cattle, to moderately large-scale livestock farmers. Most of them have the consumer mindset firmly welded in place.

  2. mummys little angel Reply 26 February, 2010 at 07:25

    Have you lost your crystal ball again Stoney? Have you not done your voodoo ritual to predict the future or not gone into ‘dreamtime’ and seen the light?

    Oh dear you must be just a mere humane then and your pigs just pigs that don’t fly.

    I wonder if these people would also like the pigs shrink wrapped?

  3. LittleFfarm Dairy Reply 26 February, 2010 at 08:18

    Quite frankly if they can’t accommodate pick-ups on the optimum date for the pig rather than one which fits in with their busy schedule, then they don’t have the time & devotion to care for them properly anyway. So perhaps it’s just as well they stick to their supermarket shrink-wrapped tasteless tat, after all.

  4. Long experience in the hotel and restaurant business has exposed me to a wide variety of customer egos to massage.

    We, the suppliers, have a clear choice as to how deep we go. It is our choice. If our businesses can survive, i.e. if our market is big enough with customers who will do it our way – great. If there are not enough such customers, then a degree of ego massage is necessary, increasing until we reach the right market size.

    • mummys little angel Reply 26 February, 2010 at 10:56

      Yes in your business you are perfectly correct you do need to adapt to what is suiting your customers. However in breeding pig mother nature has the upper hand and unfortunately Stonehead can not do the ‘himself’ nor can he order the pigs to produce a certain number of piglets nor have the sex of them produced to order nor can he order them to deliver on a certain date nor tell them that x amount must survive to weaning. What he can do and does do is accommodate customer requests that are doable within his powers and pig welfare. But ultimately it all depends on whether or not the pigs are ‘in the mood!’

      I buy pork from Stoney regularly but even I know that if he says it will be ready for a certain month that it could well be a few months/weeks after due to circumstance. That’s the price for decent meat and one I am willing pay.

      • Pork is more predictable and I’ve not been a month out yet. If I have a pair of 10-week-old Berkshire weaners, then I can be 90% confident of having 80-100kg of butchered pork in 18 weeks time.

        The 10% error rate is to things like weather, problems at the butcher, a pig dying, or a pig not performing as it should.

        If we’re snowed in, then the slaughter date might go back a week or two.

        If the butcher has an unexpected emergency on the weekend I’ve booked him, then slaughter and butchering will be pushed back a week.

        We haven’t had a porker die (yet) but one of our pig customers had one die of an aneurism the night before it was due at the abattoir.

        Until this year we hadn’t had a pig that failed to grow as expected, thanks to using good sow and boar lines with known performance histories. However, there’s always the anomalous one and we currently have a gilt that’s growing at around half the normal rate. There’s nothing wrong with her except that she’s not a good “doer”. (She is well filled out for her short length.)

        The only way of getting around these sorts of issues, and those that affect the live weaners too, is to move to a really large operation with at least half a dozen sows farrowing each and every week, using modern hybrids, and making as many animal welfare compromises as regulations and marketing standards permit. I could also take on sales and marketing staff to peddle the sort of flannel that “sells” the product.

        But I wouldn’t be doing small-scale, local production of rare breed pigs that enjoy a high level of welfare. And that, supposedly, is what our potential customers want.

  5. Sadly too many customers have the supermarket mentality whilst wanting the kudos of obtaining the bespoke product. Convenience first, animal welfare a secondary issue.

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