Colony Turns From Geese to Hogs

Franz, Peggy. "Colony Turns From Geese to Hogs." Walsh County Record, 15 October 1985.

Birds of goose feathers no longer flock together in the building they called home on the Forest River Colony farm.

Their space has been monopolized by hogs.

“The cost of a goose was so high there was no way we could keep up,” explained Paul Mandel, who manages the geese-turned-hog operation. “We made $3,000 out of 14,000 geese last year, and that doesn’t include electricity. We didn’t make anything.”

Forest River Colony decided to relinquish their geese operation for something more profitable. They chose hogs. “This spring was the first year we started with hogs,” said Mandel. “Already we’ve doubled our profit that we had on geese. At the end of the year we’ll have a total profit for as much as we got for the complete geese operation.”

Paul Mandel works to make the Forest River colony’s hog operation a money making venture.

Forest River Colony farmers, who had contracted the geese with Northern Goose in Canada, produced the geese but were finding that it took too long for the killing plants to butcher the geese, making it necessary for the colony to keep the birds an extra two months. The added length of stay meant more costs in feed.

Mandel explained that because there are only two killing plants in Canada, there is not time to butcher approximately 400,000 Canadian geese in one month. The butchering, which starts in late fall when the weather is cold enough so the birds no longer shed their feathers, usually lasts until the end of December.

Mandel cited that the feed conversion, or converting the feed into meat on the bird, was significantly out of proportion so that they were not seeing the return on their investment. “They eat too much,” said Mandel. “They’re not moneymakers. It took us 84 lbs. of feed to put out one 14 lb. goose. It’s ridiculous. The feed conversion isn’t there.”

Said Mandel, “We used to always have geese, and then we stopped for three years. Then a Canadian contractor wanted us to keep it up, so we’ve had them for the past six years. But it isn’t worth the hassle, and the building was tied up. We were more or less feeding them out.”

Last year was the last geese producing season at Forest River Colony. This year, the farm keeps 1,000 duck for their own purposes and for a few customers. “We can’t always eat geese. Our people think duck are better. They’re not as dry as geese.” Next year, the colony will switch to producing 1,000 geese, and the year following plan to keep both geese and duck on hand for their own purposes and for a few customers.

Forest River Colony believed the killing plants were seeing too much profit on the geese, which was another reason they decided to no longer produce the bird.

“They were making too much profit and they weren’t handing it back to the producer,” said Mandel. “If we would sell feathers, we’d make more money than we did raising geese.”

Mandel said they believed it was unfair that the killing plants were charging so much to butcher geese, between $9 and $12, and then sold the goose feathers for $6 to $7 per pound. Each bird has approximately three fourths of a pound of feathers. Cited Mandel, “The most money you can make is off the feathers.”

He noted that butchering of geese is costly because of time and labor involved in the killing operation. “It takes a lot of hard labor to kill geese. You can’t do it by machine, you have to do it manually, otherwise the feathers rip easily.”

For Forest River Colony farmers, cost of feed and labor involved was not worth the small profit they received for producing the bird. They hope to see a substantially larger profit from the hog operation.

According to Paul Mandel, pigs are particular animals that thrive on clean water and feed and a clean place to sleep.

According to Mandel, they, along with the feed producer and contractor, each have between $60,000 to $70,000 invested in the hog operation.

Colony farmers converted the building that formerly housed geese to a hog barn where 1,500 pigs are kept. The Colony custom feeds the hogs, and receives a given amount of money per pig put on the market. Mandel said $10 per pig is the minimum amount the colony is paid.

“We’ve already started shipping and have been getting good grades,”
cited Mandel. “We’re averaging $14 per pig and we’ve upped our profits to $4 per pig.”

Mandel said the type of pigs, the building and feed are the most important factors in raising pigs. “A pig is a very particular animal, just opposite of what we think. They’re clean, don’t mess where they sleep, and like clean water and feed. If they have that, they will really perform for you.”

The colony keeps the pigs in solid confinement year around in a constant temperature of 65-70 degrees. “Pigs cannot take draft. That’s dynamite for them. They just don’t like it.”

Mandel said because of the constant temperature and confinement, the pigs they are raising have less fat. “They produce meat instead of fat. They gain fast, but they don’t put on fat.”

After researching various hog operations, the colony found that the Canadian feed and pork industry are successful and have used Canadian techniques in their hog operation.
Profit in a hog operation, according to Mandel, is made by grading and gain. “We have to really take care of those pigs. We want to get that gain so we can get that extra money. By doing that people know they’re getting the best for their money.”

The Colony is paid between $10 and $14 per pig, depending upon the grade and the weight. If it is top grade, the producer receives more money. “If we want $14 per hog, we’ve got to do a real good job.”

Reprinted with permission of the Walsh County Record.

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