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Houseful of youngsters and barnful of pigs create a winning combination at V12 Farms

DOZENS OF BARN CATS ARE AMONG the welcom­ing committee for visitors to V12 Family Farms near Elkland, Mo. A black billy goat will also likely be milling about, munching on hay or whatever else he can find. Turkeys will be gobbling around the property, haughtily strutting past mere chickens. Indeed, animals of all kinds find refuge at this farm.

It’s also home to nine enthusiastic, energetic, multi-talented kids, who can usually be found tending to those animals or dutifully performing other chores—each with his or her own area of responsibility.

To anyone else, it may seem like a petting zoo. To the Vinyard family, it’s just any other day on the farm, where they raise purebred Yorkshire, Duroc, Landrace, spotted and crossbred hogs for show rings across the country.

In all, Jim and Tammy Vinyard have a total of 12 children. After Tammy gave birth to their third child, the Vinyards decided they were done with pregnancy, but they were most certainly not done having children. They adopted nine more sons and daughters in the years that followed.

“Everybody’s got a little bitty niche or a calling in the world,” Jim said. “We feel that these children are our niche. Now, it’s not like we’ve gone out and done some great, spectacular thing, but we give back to the world in our own little way.”

It is a tremendous commitment to raise multiple chil­dren—let alone 12—but Tammy said she’s always tried to help anchor the kids in a home of solidarity.

“The kids never got off a bus without Mom being there,” she said, adding that Jim’s patience, work ethic and other virtues also help ground the children in consis­tent expectations.

“Giving my children responsibilities around the farm really plays a huge part in bringing the family together,” Jim said. “I try to teach every one of these kids that noth­ing is free. If you want to show pigs next June, you need to breed that sow in September. She’s got to have pigs in December and January. And you’ve got to take care of them, or you won’t have anything to show.”

The show pig circuit is fiercely competitive, from small-scale events, like local fairs, to large-scale national competitions. Judging is equally as arduous and nuanced, with consideration given to the exhibitor’s eye contact and animal control along with physical characteristics of the pig and many other areas. Showing pigs is a primary focus for each of the Vinyard kids. And they take it very seriously.

“You can’t imagine how many hours upon hours they spend with these animals before they ever go to the show,” Jim said. “They have to teach them to walk. They have to teach them how to handle, to load and unload. I’ve seen some other kids at fairs fight for 30 minutes to get their pigs in their trailers. My kids just hold the door open, and the pigs walk in, curl up in the trailer, turn around and look at you like, ‘We’re ready to go.’”

The Vinyard children have collectively won dozens of awards, from Junior Show Supreme Champion Pure­bred Boar and Top Junior Exhibitor Herdsman at the Laclede County Fair in Lebanon, Mo., to the prestigious and highly coveted Ozark Empire Fair Champion Boar award, which comes with a custom belt buckle.

“We’re proud of every one of our kids,” Tammy said. “We’re proud of their accomplishments and to see how far they’ve come. Every one of them has their own strengths, and I’m glad God sent them to us.”

While some of the secrets to their success have to do with performance in the arena, hog genetics, the exhib­itor’s presence of mind and other subtleties, there are still other things that can’t be purchased for or taught to a pig.

“One of the most important things is that bond of trust you build with your pig,” said 15-year-old Jazmen, one of the Vinyard siblings. “You scratch them and love on them. I like to feed them marshmallows and Oreos. You get what you put in, and they love me.”

That personal attention is how they get the pigs into the trail­ers or pens so easily, Jim said, and it’s also one of the reasons why the family wins so often. But there are also myriad other tips and tricks that go into preparation and training, such as walking the show pigs through tall grass to get them to pick up their heads.

“In the end, though, you’ve got to have three things right to win: genetics, care and feed,” Jim said. “You take any one of the three away, and you’ve got nothing. You can send me a T-bone steak, and I can make hamburger out of it. But if you send me a hamburger, I cannot make a T-bone steak. And that’s the way it is with pigs; you have to have all three to make it work.”

With respect to genetics, one of the older Vinyard sons, Mark, works closely with his younger brothers and sisters to source specific genetics to help breed the highest potential into V12 Family Farms’ show pigs.

“He does a lot to help find the right purebred semen for our gilts,” Tammy said. “He looks all over Missouri, all over the country. He was bound and determined to find a boar that could improve the depth on our gilts.”

But, as Jim said, you can have the best genetics in the world and still not do well in the arena. You still need care and nutri­tion to get the pigs in the best possible shape for show.

“The kids do 90% of the work caring for the pigs and doing their best at show. Mark does 9% by sourcing the right genetics. And I just kind of show up with buckets,” Jim said.

As for the nutritional side of their program, the family relies on MFA’s Ring Leader line of show feeds.

“If you get a baby pig from us right now, you would need to go get a (Ring Leader) pellet starter kit for them,” said Junior Vinyard, 15. “You would want to get the pig up to 50 to 100 pounds before moving to the next step of show feed. You can also get all kinds of additives that help bring out certain quali­ties in the pigs, to bloom them out.”

The Vinyards haven’t always used MFA Ring Leader, Jim said, but they knew better nutrition could help them do better at shows. Based on advice from Greg Davis, MFA livestock spe­cialist and show hog expert, the family switched to the specialty show feeds.

“I met Jim back when he was buying a bag of MFA swine pre­mix at the local MFA Agri Services,” Greg said. “He was follow­ing the label directions on the feed tag, mixing feed and doing a really good job. But he also knew that their feeding program was pretty basic. So, we took a bigger step onto the Ring Leader line of feed, while also staying economical. We’re trying to reach that full potential of the genetics with the nutrition from Ring Leader.”

MFA Ring Leader Show Swine feed comes in several different formulations, which target specific traits, maturation stages and special needs of each breed. It also comes with MFA Shield Technology, all-natural proprietary additives that help get the gut healthy and keep it healthy.

Greg said he has seen firsthand how the change in diet re­shaped the Vinyard show hog development and performance.

“We never want to see the pig have a bad day,” Greg said. “MFA Ring Leader has proteins that are highly digestible. Unlike bovines, pigs are monogastric, meaning they don’t ruminate. So you have only one shot to get show hogs to their peak performance. Lysine and other protein-building blocks are blended in the feed to help the hogs build their own proteins. The nutrition Ring Leader feeds provide is what show hogs need to realize their full genetic potential.”

The process of raising show pigs is complex, he added, but a lot of it comes down to that old adage: “chance favors the prepared.”

“It’s all about keeping the pigs at their best,” Greg said. “You can’t start with a bad hog and wind up with a good one. You can start with a good one and wind up with a bad one. You need to get a good pig and keep it good. The Ring Leader feeds help do just that by transitioning a baby pig from an animal protein—milk—to a vegetable protein—soy—which is what show pigs really do well on. So, if we give them a good start with the right feed, then we’ve got a lot better chance at that 290-pound winner.”

Greg doesn’t just sell feed. He invests a lot of his time in getting the Vinyards and other customers ready for competition, from tailoring feeds to leading showmanship clinics to pre-show coaching at fairs.

“It is very satisfying when you know somebody has worked at it and done everything they could be successful,” Greg said. “There’s a lot of pride. At show, the kids are in the bleachers or along the fence cheering this one or that one on, and you can’t beat that. They’re not out on the swing set across the road. They’re not out throwing a football. They’re in there supporting each other, and that is very rewarding to me to see.”

It all starts on the farm. For the Vinyards, showing pigs is their passion, and they’re very aware that they need each other to succeed. Each sibling has his or her own skillset to contrib­ute. For example, Junior excels at showing pigs, while Jazmen has an intuitive sense for animal illnesses and their general well­being. Jameson, 14, takes the lead with the spotted pigs, which are notoriously difficult in the arena.

“It takes more than just one person,” Jazmen said. “Without the farrowing, you wouldn’t have the pigs. But without the feed­ing, you wouldn’t get them to the show.”

“And, if you didn’t have the breeding, you wouldn’t have the farrowing,” Jim added. “It’s a giant circle.”

What makes the family successful is each other, Tammy said, with a pride only a mother of 12 can know. As the Vinyard chil­dren showcased their most prestigious awards and trophies on the rustic farmhouse kitchen table, they all looked at them with a pride only a showman can know.

“When I see these awards, I see a lot of memories—good and bad,” Jazmen recalled. “You see what you put all your hard work into, and you see that it actually went somewhere.”

For Junior, his perspective on the awards—especially the Ozark Empire Fair belt buckle—orbits around his own personal performance in the arena.

“Showmanship is my favorite part,” said Junior, who, ac­cording to his mother, has always been quick to take on more responsibility. “You’re hunched over the whole time, hoping your pig stays focused, and keeping eye contact with the judge. It takes a lot of work, but it’s fun.”

The young man also has developed a more philosophical mindset about showing pigs.

“It’s knowing that whenever you step into the arena, you’re already a champion,” Junior said. “It doesn’t matter if you win, because you’ve already won by getting there. So, it just matters that you do it.”

Success in the show ring ultimately comes down to a com­mitment that, Greg said, can only be learned through being a responsible herdsman.

“If you have a parent that does it all for the kid, that’s wrong,” he said. “Then the kid doesn’t get the full potential out of what the show hog project’s about and doesn’t learn the responsibility. A lot of people don’t get to see the reality of life and death—things you’ve got to learn. That what the barn is: a place to learn about life.”

Jim and Tammy Vinyard built a farm and grew children. But, like show hogs, parents can’t just feed their kids and put them to bed. It’s about total commitment.

“There’s a huge spiritual backbone in this house,” Jim said. “I believe that’s our purpose in life—that God sent us these kids because they needed us.”

He sat back and folded his napkin thoughtfully at the family dinner table.

“It all goes back to something my father said: ‘A family that eats together, prays together and cries together will stay togeth­er.’ That pretty much sums up what we’re trying to do here.”

For more information about MFA’s Ring Leader Feed or get­ting started with show pigs, visit mfa-inc.com/Swine.

 

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