Leaner Times Ahead For Pigs

Maryland's Top Hog Breeder Striving For Perfect Pork

May 19, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

TANEYTOWN — Julie Feeser's challenge: To get lean pork chops, ham and bacon on your plate.

Her tools: sows that weigh between 350 and 650 pounds and spend most of their days lounging, and boars that weigh at least that much and foam at the mouth to display their masculinity.

The result: cute piglets with tiny snouts and curlicue tails thatplay with each other in their pens and stare shyly but curiously at visitors when interrupted.

The whole process stinks.

But that'sto be expected when 4,000 hogs pass through the Feesers' barns everyyear.

Mrs. Feeser and her husband, Franklin E. Feeser, probably are the largest family-owned producers of breeder hogs in the said Thomas G. Hartsock, an associate professor and extension livestock specialist at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, and Lynne C. Hoot, executive director of the Maryland Pork Producers Association.

About 25 family farmers in Maryland raise hogs for breeding, Hartsock said.

The Feesers' hogs are lean and healthy, he said. In general, hogs today have 50 percent less fat than those raised30 years ago, because of genetic advances, he said.

Mrs. Feeser, 38, is working toward the perfect hog.

"I enjoy trying to put together the ultimate product," she said. "It's a challenge to breed the right sow to the right boar to come up with the right animal."

She's working to breed animals that will be uniform, which means the consumer will have a more dependable supply of good meat, she said.

For her efforts in pork breeding and leadership in the field, Mrs. Feeser was named the 1991 Pork All-American for Maryland. She and her husband will travel to Des Moines, Iowa, later this month for the WorldPork Expo.

About 400 litters, each with an average of 10 pigs, are born at the family farm on Crouse Mill Road every year, Mrs. Feesersaid. The sows are bred so that litters are born every week.

Whenthe sows are about to give birth, after being pregnant for about 114days, they're taken to a barn with special farrowing rooms and nurseries, she said.

The newborns stay with their mothers in pens for three to four weeks, usually nursing every 20 to 30 minutes, she said.They weigh 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds at birth. When they're weaned, the pigs go to the nursery, where they're kept 17 to a pen for several more weeks, she said.

Mrs. Feeser keeps records on each pig that tell which sow it was born to and which boar sired it. The records are important for breeding purposes. The family raises Hampshire, Yorkshire, Duroc and cross-breeds.

"We try to improve our genetics. We want to produce a lean product with muscle in it," she said.

The Feesers sell 35 to 40 percent of their stock to producers in surrounding states who will use the animals for breeding. They also sell to farmers who will feed the hogs until they're large enough to be sold for slaughter. Other hogs are sold for slaughter or to 4-H'ers, she said.

Mr. Feeser, whose family has farmed in the county for several generations, has been raising hogs since he was 9, and got his first sow as a 4-H project. Mrs. Feeser grew up on a farm in Virginia, but "married" into the hog business, she said.

The couple, who met at the Virginia State Fair in the hog barn, have been married 17 years. Theyhave a 15-year-old daughter, Monica, a freshman at Francis Scott KeyHigh School.

Mrs. Feeser competed with about four other applicants this year for the Pork All-American honor, Hoot said. Mr. Feeser won the award in 1975.

At the expo, they will learn about new technology and talk to other producers.

"The Feesers really are leaders in the field of hog management," Hoot said.

Hartsock said, "They have a very nice operation. They do an excellent job of controlling disease transmission by simply not allowing it to get there. They're very progressive."

The family also is involved in 4-H. Their daughter, who raises steers, belongs to the Carroll County 4-H Livestock Club.

They also farm about 265 acres, most of which is owned by Mr. Feeser's mother.

Hartsock said of the family, "They share a lot. They're good, rural, farm-type people. They're unselfish with their time."

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