Bringing Home the Bacon: Pigs are money-making project for N.D. Nice sisters
Because, for Alexis Nice and her younger sister Elizabeth, hog manure smells, like the old adage says, like money.
The girls, who live in Ardoch, N.D., 25 miles north of Grand Forks, have been raising hogs on their own for several years.
About four years ago, their dad, Craig, was in the FSA office and happened to mention that he might be buying a few pigs to raise for some cash flow. The FSA person said that ag loans were available for youth, and their parents didn’t have to sign for them. That gave Craig the idea, and he offered to help his daughters get their start.
It was 2016, and the girls, who were then fifteen and twelve, respectively, started their business, called Little Farm on the Prairie, with 25 pigs. With help from their dad and others, and information from North Dakota State University, they figured out a ration, ground feed, filled the feeder, made sure the nipples on the waterers were working, and kept the pigs in.
The first year, selling them took a bit longer. Their grandpa helped out. “My father-in-law was so proud of his grandkids that he told everybody,” Craig said. “The next thing you know, we had a bunch of pigs sold.” For those who bought the meat, it was easy to sell them a pig for the second year. Once they ate the meat, Alexis said, they’d say, “this is really good.”
The first two years, the girls sold 25 pigs each year. The third and fourth years, the count went up to 50. This year, it was 70, because COVID-19 created “such a high demand for meat,” Alexis said.
The pigs are sold as halves and wholes and are usually taken straight to the butcher by the Nices. From there, the customer picks them up, or the girls will deliver for a small fee. This year, they’ve reserved 55 slots at the butcher. They have 48 pigs sold but don’t anticipate having a problem selling the last pigs.
They’re marketing the fifteen pigs for whom they don’t have a butcher spot to hunters, who might choose to process the pig themselves and add the meat to wild game for sausage or other products.
With their loans, the girls have made purchases for their business. They’ve built a barn, bought a trailer and big round feeders. They’ve replaced the little grinder with a bigger one, and bought fence and fence posts. Two years ago, they bought another barn and now a manure spreader, to spread the manure on their lawn.
Fencing was one of the more frustrating parts of the pigs. In the second year, they used electric fence but the pigs pushed dirt to it, shorting it, and they liked to dig under it. “The pigs kept getting out,” Elizabeth said, “and we had to chase them around the farm so many times.”
The pigs are cute, but only for a short time. “When they’re little,” Alexis said, they’re cute. But when they get to the seventy and eighty pound range, “they’re no longer cute and no longer nice to you.”
They’ve also been responsible for marketing the animals. Elizabeth has done most of the social media work and Alexis does more of the paperwork and accounting end of it. They have a referral program that their mom, Julie, came up with. When a customer refers a new customer they get a Little Farm on the Prairie t-shirt.
The girls each got a $5,000 loan, and they are three years out from paying it off. They’ve been wise with their earnings. Alexis will be a junior at the University of North Dakota and is majoring in kinesiology and pre-physical therapy, with the goal of applying to physical therapy school this coming spring. She bought a car she needed for college with her pig earnings and will continue to save for her post-college education.
Elizabeth will be a junior at Minto High School this fall and is also saving for college.
Each sister says there are lessons learned from their pig project. For Alexis, it’s the money management, “paying bills, and I had to balance a checkbook before I could pay bills, to make sure we had enough money.” For Elizabeth, it was doing chores and being outdoors. “I wasn’t that big of a farm girl before,” she said. “It’s been fun to learn more. I’m still not much of a farm girl, but I have gotten better.”
Craig says his daughters have learned responsibility, money management, customer relationships, and a whole gamut of skills. “Just because they’re tired in the morning doesn’t mean they can sleep in. They have to tend to animals.” Their learned skills “will help them in the future,” he said.
Alexis and Elizabeth are 50/50 partners with the pigs, but if one of the girls chooses to sell out, there are two younger sisters who might purchase their share. Emma is twelve and Josephine is six. “They’ve seen what can be done,” Alexis said. ”They’d have the easy part of it. We have it figured out.”
The girls are marketing their meat through their Facebook page, “Little Farm on the Prairie,” and through North Dakota’s Farm to Table program.
The sisters eat their own product, and haven’t had store-bought pork for a long time. Emma is the bacon cook, frying bacon for breakfast nearly every day. “I love it so much I have it every morning.”
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