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Pig Farmer

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Pig Farmer
Photo by Juan Carlos Garavito

Pig farmers are responsible for the daily care and management of pigs raised for the pork production industry.

Duties

The duties of a pig farmer may include distributing food, giving medication, observing animals for signs of illness or injury, maintaining the facility, checking for proper ventilation and temperature conditions, assisting with problem births, performing artificial insemination or other breeding duties, keeping records, and coordinating the disposal of waste. They also may be responsible for marketing animals, transporting stock to other farms or processing plants, and performing routine maintenance on farm equipment.

Pig farmers work closely with large animal veterinarians to ensure the proper health of their animals through vaccination and medication protocols. They may also consult animal nutritionists and livestock feed sales representatives while formulating diet plans for their animals.

Pig farmers may also benefit from having experience managing employees, as most commercial operations require staff. Farm managers are responsible for scheduling shifts for staff members and overseeing daily operations on the farm. Large commercial operations may have several thousand animals on site.

As with most farming and livestock careers, a pig farmer often has to work long hours which may include nights, weekends, or holidays. The work many involve being exposed to the elements and extreme temperatures from time to time, although commercial pig farming is generally conducted indoors in climate controlled buildings.

Career Options

Pig farmers may produce hogs in farrow-to-finish operations (which raise piglets from birth to slaughter weight), feeder pig operations (which raise piglets from birth to somewhere in the range of 10-60 pounds, when they are sold to finishers), and finisher operations (which buy feeder pigs and raise them to slaughter weight).

Education & Training

Nearly all pig farmers have (at minimum) a high school diploma, with many holding college degrees in areas such as animal science, agriculture, or a closely related field. Coursework for these degrees usually includes courses in animal science, pig production, meat science, anatomy and physiology, genetics, reproduction, nutrition, ration formulation, technology, business administration, and agricultural marketing.

Many aspiring pig farmers are introduced to the industry through participation in youth programs such as Future Farmers of America (FFA) or 4-H clubs. These groups give young people the chance to handle an assortment of farm animals and compete with them in livestock shows. Valuable experience may also be gained through work on family farm operations, if the child’s family lives in a rural environment.

Pig farmers may find additional educational and networking opportunities through professional organizations such as breed associations and pork producer associations.

Salary

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary survey does not separate pig farmers out from the more general category of farm and ranch managers, the survey showed that farm and ranch managers earned a median wage of $60,750 annually ($29.21 per hour) in May of 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,280 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,980. Revenues from a pig farm can vary widely based on production costs, weather conditions, and the market price of pork. The individual pig farmer’s salary can also vary due to the type of operation he works for (commercial or family farm), his level of experience, and the number of hogs he is responsible for.

Unless that are employed by a corporate entity that pays them a fixed salary, pig farmers must also consider other expenses of running a farm when determining their final profits each year. These operating expenses may include various operational costs such as supplies, feed, fuel for vehicles, labor, veterinary care, insurance, waste removal, and equipment purchase or maintenance.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey indicates that the number of available jobs for farm and ranch managers is expected to show a slight decline, by about 8 percent, over the decade from 2010 to 2020. This is change in total number of positions is primarily attributed to the consolidation of smaller farms into larger entities, a trend seen throughout the agricultural industry in recent years.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service has also found that the total number of hog farms has decreased in recent years due to the consolidation of smaller operations into much larger commercial entities that specialize in one phase of production.

A 2012 survey by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA/ERS) shows that pork production is expected to show gains over the next decade due to decreasing feed costs (despite a brief increase during 2012-2013), an increase in breeding productivity, and gains in slaughter weights. Per capita pork consumption is also expected to increase, though hog prices are expected to remain relatively unchanged.

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