Eighteen-year-old Mason Ramey demands quality and quantity from his sows
As society becomes more complex, new patterns for successful farms emerge.
A an example is the 260-acre R&M Show Pigs farm in Winslow, Ark.
Eighteen-year-old Mason Ramey manages the farm and works for the West Fork School District, as do his mother Reba and sister Lacey. The creative part comes in with his father, a retired Fayetteville Schools maintenance manager.
Ralph feeds livestock, leaving very busy Mason time for working while attending Southern New Hampshire University online and managing the diverse livestock production farm.
“Mason has a good mind and a lot of knowledge. He really understands how to manage the farm and I follow his lead. He understands breeding and finances, and all of the other many issues of livestock production,” Ralph said.
“I have always loved animals of all kinds and remember feeding scratch to chickens when I was 3,” Mason added. “My four-year business degree will help with the management side, but my ultimate goal is to work on the farm full time.”
The central operation is show pigs. It all began when Mason was 12 and a pig arrived at the diverse farm. The pig was a novelty to the youngster, and the plan to raise just one pig quickly faded.
The farm now typically supports 15 sows and one teaser boar to signal when sows are ready to breed. Only AI is used for breeding females and performed by Mason.
Mason follows one practice that helps both his customers and his genetics. If a customer purchases one of his piglets, shows and doesn’t want to sell it to just anyone but wants another piglet for the next year, Mason will take back the show pig and give the customer pick of the litter next season. Mason then culls his sows, replacing them with some of those he brought home, while finishing out others.
Mason demands both quality and quantity production from every sow and culls any that don’t meet his standards. A typical litter is eight or nine, with a few sows producing 13. Their largest litter size was from an older sow that produced 17 excellent piglets.
“We have one cross bred sow we bought three years ago who is like a dairy cow,” Mason said. “She consistently has 8 to 10 piglets who weigh 4 pounds (each) at birth, wean at 20 pounds (the typical weight of other sows’ litters) but weigh 65 pounds when sold. It seems like her babies could eat dirt and grow.”
Mason learned how to AI from Dr. Brian Kutz from the University of Arkansas when he was 15. From Mason’s point of view, the hardest part about AI in swine is getting live semen since it can’t be frozen and needs to stay close to 63 degrees in transit.
The semen for each sow is selected individually by price and from winning genetics. One goal is to match boar to sow so that the resulting piglet has the moderate qualities that place well in the show ring. Another is to have two litters per sow, per year in order to take advantage of the Arkansas fall show season and the Oklahoma spring show season.
“My marketing goal is to make money while keeping prices reasonable so more kids and families will choose show pigs,” Mason said.
Most culled pigs are finished out and sold in Leach, Okla., the location of a substantial pig, sheep and goat sale every other week. However, a few are retained for personal use with the freezer never short on pork.
The Rameys take pig health seriously and have visitors and buyers use sanitizers and booties to prevent the spread of disease. Sows received two shots to prevent stillborns, one 30 days before breeding and again two weeks later. Sows are wormed by injection every 60 days. Piglets, on the other hand, receive six vaccines, including one for respiratory issues, and are dewormed monthly. Piglets also receive iron injections on days two and four because Mason never allows them to touch dirt as long as they are at the farm.
Mason’s business sense shows in his ongoing construction of two new facilities, one for farrowing and another for sales. Mason tore down a structure in exchange for keeping the materials, which he is using to construct his facility. He saves construction money while meeting his future goal of developing a genetics company with the intention of selling show pigs, bred gilts and semen.
Mason’s great-great-grandfather, Enis Benjamin Ramey, homesteaded in the area in 1880. Five family households live in the immediate vicinity, sharing some land and haying for all of their needs.
A communal cattle herd has 28 cows and a Gelbevieh bull selected to produce more muscle and stoutness. The Rameys’ cattle operation runs five Charolais/Limousin cross cows because Mason wants higher weaning weights and calves that weigh 700 pounds 60 days after weaning. However, Mason keeps an eye on the market and will keep calves longer if it is weak. Cows receive pour on for worms every 60 days and vaccinations for black leg and respiratory issues. Calves receive as much grain as they want, while the cows receive an occasional bucket to keep rounding them up for working easy.
According to Ralph, the family has had the land so long that little weed or pest control is needed though it is fertilized every spring with a commercial fertilizer. Grazing land is brush hogged after grazing to knock down taller plants so fresh grass can regrow. Haying is done communally and produces 5-foot-by-6-foot bales, with a goal of having five bales per cow with one field this year already producing three cuttings.
Just to keep things interesting, Mason has 15 Nubian/Boer cross does bred by either a Boer or a Nubian/Boer cross buck. Rather than taking kids to a sale barn, Mason sells on Craigslist to keep this sideline simple. Livestock production also includes 35 laying hens of various breeds whose eggs are used for personal consumption, family and friends.