CORVALLIS – Brandy King was only a few hours old when she formed her lifelong bond with animals.
On the way home from the hospital after she was born, her father decided to stop at the family farm and show his baby daughter his prized hogs.
“So the very first place I ever went was my dad’s hog barn,” King said. “I saw hogs before I saw my house. It’s been in my blood ever since.”
King has been around hogs and other animals her whole life. Along with her husband John and her children, she raises pigs, sheep, cows, chickens and turkeys at King Farms just north of Corvallis on the Eastside Highway. She also keeps horses and a pair of rescued donkeys, not to mention several dogs and cats and a large vegetable garden. With that many animals, there’s always work to do, and this spring has been especially busy.
Last Thursday night, her prized 400-pound Hampshire sow, named “Twilight,” gave birth to a litter of eight piglets, adding to another four litters that were born from other sows earlier this year in a span of 30 hours.
“That was a crazy couple days,” King laughs. “There’s never a dull moment around here.”
Although raising animals is a business for King, it’s clear that they mean much more to her than just a revenue source.
“They’re cute aren’t they?” King says as she holds up one of the squirming piglets. “We call them ‘blue butts’ because they have blue spots on their behinds.”
Just a little smaller than footballs, the piglets spend their time either sleeping or scrambling over each other to feed at their mother’s belly. By August, they will be 260 pounds and ready to be sold or butchered.
“They’re little butterballs,” King said, examining how big the piglets are despite being less than 12 hours old. “I thought the litter was going to be at least 10 because she was so big. I’m glad she didn’t lose any this time because she lost her last litter. I don’t have to watch her as much because it’s not her first litter. Some new mothers will get scared or try to kill the babies because they don’t know what to do.”
A baby lamb was also born on Thursday night, King said.
“I didn’t find it until two in the morning,” she said. “I thought we were done lambing, but I guess not.”
In the winter, King said she and her family take turns checking the animals every few hours in the night to make sure a new lamb hasn’t appeared.
“You have to get to them fast when it’s cold out because they’re wet when they come out and they’ll freeze fast,” she said.
Because King grew up around her father’s hog farm in the Midwest, she knows every aspect of animal husbandry. She performs most of the veterinary chores around the farm, like putting casts on broken sheep’s legs, or trimming the piglet’s teeth so they don’t cause discomfort to their mother when they suckle.
Along with the Hampshire sow, King also raises purebred Chester Whites, a breed of swine that has the familiar pink coloration without as much of the bristly hair. When the sows are in heat, King either breeds them with a Yorkshire White boar, called “live boar coverage,” or she uses the artificial insemination method, which she also performs herself. She buys boar semen online, and uses a rod to insert into the sow.
Her sows usually have two litters a year.
“Hogs are a lot more work than sheep or cattle, because you have to feed them about six pounds of grain per day, which is much more expensive than hay, and keep them watered with clean water,” she said. “You can just let cattle roam free and eat grass and drink out of ditches, but hogs are more labor intensive year-round. That’s why you don’t see a lot of people do it.”
Many of King’s hogs will be used for 4-H projects for her kids or other local kids. In fact, she first got into the hog business herself when she bought the grand champion pig at the Ravalli County Fair in 2007.
“We went to the pig barn, and my husband put in a bid, and all of a sudden we found out we had the winning bid,” King said with a smile. “I said, ‘Well, let’s figure out how to get her home.’ That’s how it all started. I hope to get up to 40 or 60 sows eventually. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun. I love it.”