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Piggies head to market

About 400 total pigs live at the UW-River Falls Mann Valley Lab Farm 2, many of which go to a new home after sale day. Sows reach a weight of 500-600 pounds; their newborn piglets are irresistibly cute. Debbie Griffin photo1 / 2
Stephen Hubly manages the swine that live at UW-River Falls Mann Valley Lab Farm 2 in the town of Troy. He said, including all types and ages, the farm houses about 400 pigs. Debbie Griffin photo2 / 2

UW-River Falls holds its fourth annual show pig sale 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 4, at the Mann Valley Lab Farm 2, 129 S. Glover Road.

Student and Swine Manager Stephen Hubly said, "I've worked every pig sale so far."

His brother helped start the first one when he attended UW-RF. Hubly said the older students put him to work back then. Now, he's the senior in charge of organizing the swine and sale.

He said the university has about 150 head to sell, most in the weight range of 120-240 pounds. Hubly said the March pigs, now about three weeks old, won't be brought to the auction block but will be available by private treaty.

Most pigs are crossbreeds, but some litters are purebred Duroc, Chester or Hampshire.

Inside a series of buildings, the farm houses about 400 pigs. Hubly said that number includes about 65 sows, 200 finisher pigs and 150 or so feeder pigs. He said all swine on the farm are bred, born and raised there.

About 90% of the people who come to the sale are Future Farmers of America (FFA) or 4-H members and families. Some people buy them to show at fairs or as a meat animal.

Farmers often shop the sale for herd stock or replacement gilts (pigs that haven't had a litter).

Hubly said the base, or minimum, price for the pigs is $70, with a maximum price of $245. People whose pigs won a championship in 2008 get a $25 credit on their 2009 purchase. Buyers must pay with cash or check.

"Last year, we averaged $114," said the manager, adding that the proceeds go back into the farm.

On sale day, people can begin viewing the pigs at 10 a.m. Hubly said they have them all referenced by ear notch, sire boar, tag number, weight, breed and birth date.

If people want to bid, they register and get a bidder number. A loudspeaker announces the start of the auction at noon and buyers head to the barn.

Hubly said they set up pens for the viewing, with five-six pigs in each. As the auction gets underway, students herd the pigs in a few at a time so people can bid.

He anticipates moving around a lot of swine on sale day. It takes plenty of planning and work to prepare the area, keep the groups separate and make sure the sale flows as it should.

The swine manager said it is extra work but not unlike the usual routine that requires moving around swine according to age and other characteristics. Hubly knows what to expect.

"I've been to a lot of pig sales," he said.

Hubly's been around farms most of his life. He lives at the farm with one other student, says three other managers come daily and the five managers get help from two freshmen who come out to work twice a week.

Mostly, the five managers work together at caring for the farm and its animals.

Managing the swine herd involves many chores: Daily feeding, watering and cleaning; maintaining biosecurity; shifting pigs from barn to barn and making room as they're ready to be moved; giving gilts hormones and trailer rides to coax them into heat; ordering semen from Shaffer's Goldrush farm in Indiana; making sure the animals have all their shots; keeping records and, once a year, hosting the pig sale.

Hubly will graduate this spring with a degree in agricultural studies. He's interviewing for jobs now and said he might end up working for a cooperative of some kind.

There is no charge to attend the sale. Food will be available to bidders. Anyone with questions should contact Hubly at the swine barn: 715-821-7094.