Career Advice

Learning from a 4-H Market Pig Auction

17 Aug 2010  

You can learn a lot about marketing at a 4-H market pig auction.

Last week I went to the Northwest Michigan Fair, a charming, old-time county fair, complete with the corn dogs, snow cones and “The World’s Biggest Alligator.”  My kids and I had a grand time inspecting farm animals and studying the newest Massey Ferguson tractors.  We also sat in on the 4-H market pig auction.

In the 4-H market pig program, kids purchase piglets, care for them for six months or so and then sell them off at the local county fair.  The Northwest Michigan Fair featured 4-H auctions for hogs, steer, lambs, ducks, chickens and rabbits.

The prices in the auction we watched last week were remarkable.  The hogs started at $2.10 per pound, with most selling for $2.80 or $2.90.  A few of the animals sold for well over $3.00 per pound.

Anyone who follows the price of hogs knows that $2.80 per pound is an amazing price; live hogs usually sell for less than $0.60 per pound.

It is all the more remarkable because the 4-H pigs aren’t actually better than other pigs, at least not notably so.  There is no promise of exceptional quality.

So what is going on?

The key point is simple: it isn’t about the hogs.  It also isn’t really about the kids.  The 4-H auction is all about relationships; buying a pig or a steer at the 4-H auction is a way for a local business to support the community and cement personal connections.  So local businesses show up and support friends and customers; last week I watched as Arbor Oil bought a hog, followed by Red Ginger Restaurant, Springfield Roofing and Northline Oilfield Services. 

It makes perfect sense.  When you buy a market pig you build a relationship and create loyalty.  It is tough to push back on the price of a new roof when the roofer just supported your kid at the local pig auction.  You don’t call Geico looking for a better deal when your local insurance agent bought your family’s pig.

Back when I was in 4-H, I sold lambs at the Erie County Fair.  I wasn’t a particularly good marketer at the time; I didn’t tell many people I was selling a lamb.  If I had a kid selling an animal in a 4-H auction today, I would spread the word; I would tell my insurance agent, accountant, electrician, plumber, car dealer, roofer and pediatrician.  They wouldn’t all show up but I’m certain a few of them would.  And if they bid and bought the animal I would be loyal for a very long time.

Here is a good piece of advice: if you ever hear that your customer’s kid is selling a hog at the local fair, go buy it.

4 Responses

  1. jnemery says:

    Well, you are right about the relationships, but you are wrong about the hogs not being better. A 4-H hog is hand-raised, the feed carefully calibrated for premium weight gain, and exercised to build lean muscle rather than fat. If you think there is no difference, you need to build a relationship and buy a 4-H hog.

    • Katherine E Brown says:

      It really depends on the fair and the kid. Our local fair has 80% feeder pigs bought from auction or a local person or two with mutts. We bought registered hereford breeding stock to offer the local kids a better option closer to home, no one will buy the piglets because they cost $25 more then the mutts. The few that would end up driving 3hrs+ away and spending $200 more on the piglets from big name farms. The pig you get doesnt mater much, who your family is matters around here. Same for all livestock at our 4-H sale, those who place high and “win” are always from the big name family no matter the obvious flaws with the animals. There is no carefully calibrated anything, the pigs are fed pig & sow for the first 5 months then a finisher and shell corn for the last month. Most of the pigs run a muck in the ring and fight with each other, 5 adults stand in the ring with pig boards to try to keep the pigs apart. We have been raising pigs for 7yrs and even our least handled pigs behave better so the hand-raising thing is debatable.

  2. RosieCat1225 says:

    Hello everyone and exactly what it says in this article is to spread the word so that is what I’m doing.So come to the Southeastern Youth Fair in Ocala,Florida.I am going to be showing and auctioning out my pig on February 23 for showing and February 24 for auctioning my pig out.More information will be on

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