Happy Birthday, Dad!
Hello there. This is Dr. Casey Bradley and you’re listening to The Real P3 podcast, a podcast dedicated to the real pork producers around the world. I hope you enjoy.
Happy Birthday, Dad! I’m so excited to get to celebrate my father’s 70th birthday with everyone. As you all know, he is why I’m a swine nutritionist today. So, we’re gonna go back to Cass County; not only visit with my father, but some of his friends, and some of the multi-generational swine producers in Cass County, MI. In part 1, we’re gonna be visiting with who else? My father, Craig Bradley. My dad is a great pig person. He’s also a great people person. He was a great manager on the farm. I always look back and notice how he was able to unite his team together; work together, have fun, get the job done. Not only get the job done, but get it done right, and he’s going to give us some great advice. But there’s also something else you need to know about my dad. You’ve heard me talk about I just wanna make ripples. Ripples that turn into tidal waves. Well, guess what. You’re on my father’s tidal wave. The Real P3, my career, my success, I owe a lot of that to my father for what he taught me growing up. Even though at times, I didn’t realize I was being taught lessons.
So, stay tuned.
Casey: Hello, Dad! How are you doin today?
Dad: I’m doin’ ok. I’m gettin’ around.
C: For our audience, would you tell us your name and kind of how you got your start in the swine industry?
D: My name’s Craig Bradley. I started in the swine industry back in high school, workin’ for a local farmer.
C: So how long have you been involved in the swine industry?
D: Oh, I was involved in the swine industry for probably close to 30 years or more.
C: And you’ve also been a 4-H leader and worked with a lot of kids with swine?
D: Yes, I was 4-H leader in our 4-H club and then a swine leader at the county fair.
C: And so, my dad is celebrating his 70th birthday when this episode comes out. So, he’s had a lot of experience and he’s the reason I am a swine nutritionist. So, Dad, earlier we were kinda being nostalgic and we were talking about how the pork industry really started in Cass County, Michigan – it’s a unique county – from an outdoor-based system into confinement. Kinda talk us through back when you started, you know, in high school how producers were able to build their herds and establish themselves.
D: Back in the 60s and probably late 50s, there was a soil conservation program where they could set aside “junk ground” we called it, marginal farm ground that would be hard to farm, but you could pasture on it, so guys would run sows out there, farrow on it, get paid for set aside, and also then they would make money off from the swine that they produced on it.
C: And what drove them, I guess in the 90s cause I remember, to go to confinement versus pasture based? Was that the change in that soil conservation program or just the need for economics?
D: Well, I believe was really drove it was land prices went up. It wasn’t [04:00] economical to be runnin’ hogs on ground that you could get crops off from. It went from, you know, $100-$200 an acre to $2-3,000 an acre. So, to I’d say make it more economical, we went to confinement, where we’d take less help, less ground and produce more pigs. ‘Cause the average per litter in confinement is anywhere from 9-10 pigs/litter. Out in the fields we were getting 8 pigs/litter, once in awhile 9. It took less help, but I’ll tell ya one thing, these confinement barns are not really healthy for the people like they think they are. The gases in the pits and what you breathe in is not good for people. But when we were outside, I really think we were healthier, and the animals were healthy.
C: Let’s talk about the mindset of raising pigs outdoors, because we’ve had this concern. It seems like a broken record that we have labor shortage. I mean, from a welfare and a person welfare perspective, you’re a manager that I’ve always recognized as somebody who’s taken care of not only your animals but your people that work with you or for you and stuff like that. So, walk us through what’s important for you when you look at that management perspective and what you’ve learned in your career.
D: Well, when we were outside there, it would take, oh, to do 1,000 pigs/day, to wean and castrate ‘em, it did take up to about 8 people. We’d have to bait ‘em and get ‘em in corrals, and it was more work. But the people, I’d say, enjoy it. But in confinement, you know you’d have, you could have 1 person in a farrowing room. They can castrate ‘em, you can wean ‘em. But you also gotta take care of your people. In confinement, you can give ‘em more time off to a certain point. In confinement, you have to check those buildings every day, make sure the feed lines are workin’, the water lines are runnin’. When we were outside raising these hogs on these big feed lots and that, you could fill the feeders up. If a water tank or a waterer broke over the weekend, you just fixed it on Monday. You didn’t have to be there Saturday and Sunday. But in confinement, it demands more attention. So, there’s good in for every way we go, but with the price that’s driving this land up today, you have to go to confinement to compete.
We wanna take this break to thank our sponsors, The Sunswine Group, NutraSign, Swine Nutrition Management and Pig Progress. But we also wanted to remind you of our new Facebook group, the Global Swine Professionals. We’re gonna be doing something fun; some live interviews, some Q&A and we just wanna hear from our audience, so that’s a great place for you to take the time, leave us a comment, tell us what you wanna hear, or volunteer to be on our show, because we’re always looking for those awesome pork producers around the world. Well, that’s all I had, so let’s get back to that appisode now.
C: We haven’t ever had this conversation, so I’m really curious to get your opinion, Dad. Managing people. I was a terrible manager for awhile, and I learned the hard way. I remember my younger father and I remember my older father. What does it take to be a good manager of people to get them all behind on the same mission?
D: Well, you gotta treat ‘em like you wanna be treated. I mean, you don’t wanna ask them to do something that you wouldn’t do. Yeah, there’s times maybe you can’t do it because of your health, but you gotta respect your people, too. You gotta give ‘em some time off, so they can enjoy their own families. I probably was guilty for that when I was early in farmin’. I mean, there was times there was things goin’ on and I just stayed and worked on the farm. But you gotta realize that people have their own lives, and they need to be able to do something. Since I’ve gotten older and that, I’m kinda semi-retired at the moment because I’m getting operations on my knee, but I would never have been able to do this farmin’, you know.
C: Let’s talk about the robotic father I know now. Your whole right side is… about every joint is replaced, and you’re getting your left knee done soon. What do you think of like worker health and longevity of employees? Are we not doing enough in agriculture to help them as well?
D: When you’re young, you think you’re invincible. When we used to unload semi-loads of pellets, we’d… yeah, you start out with one bag, but by the time you’re done you probably were carryin’ 3 [10:00] bags of pellets. You know, it’s… you make your job a competition and fun at the same time, and you abuse your body. It’s not the manager’s havin’ you do it, it’s just… you know, if a pig don’t wanna go up into a loadin’ shoot, you get underneath it, flip it over and push it onto the truck. I guess I never thought I was hurtin’ my body, but uh… I tell ya, your joints still wear out.
C: I’m just curious then how many artificial joints I’m gonna have at your age, because, yeah, it’s the competitive mind and a lot of times the challenge I see in the industry – and from the consumer’s perspective – is everybody is interested in animal welfare and rarely do we think of human welfare. I’ve kinda had to change my mindset in my career, because I started out with the same mentality. You kinda raised me to… you never told me I couldn’t do anything, right?
C: But, there was one thing in my life you told me I couldn’t do, and that was wrestle because I was a girl, but… I understand why now. I get it. But…
D: Yeah, the girls aren’t quite as strong as boys. And let me tell ya, If you would’ve you would ‘a got hurt.
C: But anything else in my career, you’ve never stopped me.
D: No, because women can do, in the swine industry, what any guy can do. This animal welfare movement, you know, where you have to use a paddle and stuff. I guess you just, instead of takin 10 pigs, you take a couple and use your sortin’ boards and paddles to move ‘em. It’s good for the animals, it’s good for the people, [12:00] I guess, but it just makes things a little tough sometimes.
C: So, you know, in our careers and workin’ with you, you said you weren’t there a lot. I remember getting to work beside you. That’s what I really liked about the swine industry back then, to where today’s swine industry, I can’t take Arthur with me. I can’t give him the same experiences, right. I can’t raise that next generation of farmer the same way you were able to raise me. So, how do we – and you’ve worked in 4-H – how do we get kids interested in agriculture? How do we bring that back?
D: Well, that’s just like your nephew. When he went to college, his roommates, somehow we need to teach it in school. Where animals come from, what they produce. Kids today they just do not know where a pork chop, or a t-bone, or milk and that come from. Because we’ve lost their 80-acre farms. Nobody lives in the country anymore to speak of. And I mean, with the health reasons in these confinement buildings, you can’t take people with ya. I mean, you could, but you gotta shower in, shower out. We have more health problems today because we keep our sows longer. When I started out, you sold your sow after one litter. You had a one litter operation basically. You kept gilts every year back and breed ‘em. We weren’t farrowing year around. Today, you know, we’ll use these sows for eight- ten farrodies and that’s where you get all these diseases comin’ in, because you’re [14:00] not eliminatin’ the host and that. So, it makes it tougher. I remember the man I grew up with, Don McKenzie, when pseudo-rabies hit and that, he says, “You know, I lost all my cats one time. We had this a long time ago, but it wasn’t a problem because they sold the sows off and that.” One litter. When we started keepin’ a few sows around, breed ‘em back to farrow early in April, then we started pickin’ up more diseases and things. So, you scientists have to make these vaccines and stuff for what’s goin’ on. And it makes it a lot tougher out there.
C: It’s interesting you say that, because when I think of indoor vs. outdoor in some of my research and Dr. Maxwell’s research that we’ve done, you know, we look at… So Dr. Maxwell’s early work found that bringing outdoor raised pigs indoors, they perform better. They were more eugenologically robust. And we look at some of the issues we’re having, he’s continued some of that work and he finally did some of his dirt work trials, he put sandboxes into farrowing crates and found the same thing, right? They were 7 kilos, you know 15 lbs heavier at slaughter, I think at the one trial. So, I mean, I think there’s something to be said about that, but I also thought, dirt holds disease, too, and we’re on concrete enough now, and so I kinda understand that evolution a little bit, but I mean, what are some – in your mind – some of the mistakes we’ve made in the industry, from your career?
D: I think we’re keeping our sows way too long. But everybody wants to sell as many pigs as they can a year, and sometimes the sell market [16:00] isn’t good, so if you sell you make less money. But do you make less money in the long run if you can cut some of the diseases out. It’s something some of these breeders need to look at in that. Another thing with your industry today, you have basically a white-line hog. You have your landrace, you have your large white yorks, and you’re breedin’ back. When I grew up, we had a three-colored animal. You had Yorks, Hantes and Durocs. That was the three typical breeds, and I think heterosis was better, back then. I’m not in the industry now, so I can’t really say if your heterosis is as good as what we had early in the industry or not.
C: Some good points. What is your thoughts about my career and what I’ve done?
D: Well, I’m very proud of ya. You went from a little farm girl out here in the country to bein’ a doctor of science and I can’t be more proud. But you still have a lot of work to do to keep this industry goin’ where the profits can be made and people can keep goin’ ahead. But, with costs of everything goin’ up, it’s gonna be tough for you guys.
C: Well, thank you, Dad. I really appreciate it, and I’ve learned so much from you. And I think my audience would appreciate to hear kinda your perspective and understand a little bit probably more about my opinions in things that we used to do. If you didn’t know, one of my first paid jobs was on that sow-roundup-wean-day, castrating and giving shots. I don’t think I could squeeze my arm after I gave that many injections at a time or cut tails. So, some good memories, fond memories and I appreciate your time.
D: I thank you much.
C: And Happy Birthday!
D: Thank you.
Before we go, we wanna thank our sponsors again. Swine Nutrition Management, NutraSign, Pig Progress and The Sunswine Group. Don’t forget to join our Facebook the Global Swine Professionals. And as always, if you get a chance, hug a pig for me today.