There is no mold for America’s pig farmers; no two are identical. There are producers who raise thousands of pigs, and then there are those in the hundreds or below. There are farrow-to-wean operations; there are farrow-to-finish and there are contract finishers. There are pig farmers who have been in the barns practically since the day they were born, carrying on the legacy laid down by their fathers and grandfathers.
Then there’s Chris Hoffman, owner of Lazy Hog Farm.
Hoffman of McAlisterville, Pa., currently owns a 1,400-sow farrow-to-wean with an offsite nursery, but he does not have the luxury of a hog farm heritage. He actually kind of stumbled upon a life in hog production while waiting for a career in law enforcement to develop.
To buy some time to get into his law enforcement education, he took a job with a feed company and within a year he found himself managing an 850-sow farrow-to-finish operation. “At that point you’re starting to make money, and I remember this as clear as day, I’m like, ‘I don’t have to go in (to law enforcement education) at 20 and a half or 21. I can wait until I’m 23.’ I told myself that I could just wait because things were going really well.”
He liked what he was doing and saw the potential, potential that he ultimately realized, that he could become a hog farm owner “to create a future.”
Hoffman got his opportunity when a farm came up for sale, a farm that had a barn on it that he would call his “Sow Palace,” and he built gestation, farrowing and nursery barns. That was back in 1994, when he was 23, and he was well on his way to a career in hog production.
“My grandfather had one of those ‘gentleman farms’ where he had four pigs,” Hoffman says. “He had four or five steers, and I would help put up hay, but other than that, there was no connection to agriculture in my life.”
Though he was named this year’s America’s Pig Farmer of the Year, this wasn’t the first time he was nominated, including being nominated by his wife, Selina. He says it just felt right this year to follow-up on his nomination, with his schedule freed up a tad from his commitments but still serves as the vice president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and a trustee with Penn State University.
Hoffman is humbled and honored to serve the industry he has grown to love.
Though he may not have the bloodlines of a multigenerational farmer, he does have enough experience as a hog producer to be able to share the story of the U.S. hog industry. Twenty-five years offers a pretty solid past for him to speak from, and he is familiar with a platform from which to speak.
“Pigs are my passion,” he says, and he can’t wait to share the story that he has written on his Lazy Hog Farm near McAlisterville, Pa. He also can’t wait to share the story of his fellow pork producers.
“I am like a spokesperson for all of the 60,000-plus pig farmers across the United States. And I take that very seriously. Also, I hope that I can engage people, engage other pig farmers to tell their story.”
Why is this so important? “It’s a national platform to really educate and, and to talk about what pig farmers do and how we care about what we do. And, that product that you eat, that pork you eat, is the same pork our family eats and, and so we want a nutritious, safe product for you to eat. So, my goal is to really engage in all aspects, all sectors of wherever I can get an ear for someone to hear.”
Acknowledging that he is “old school,” Hoffman relishes the idea of using social media as a way to reach people to share the U.S. pig farmer story. “I realize that this is really important, and how we communicate the message of what we’re doing,” he says, and even though he has the current platform that goes with this honor, wants to emphasize the importance of all producers having a voice. “My fellow pig farmers need to be engaged, to tell your story, talk about what you do. I’m not going to be able to do this alone. We have got to be in this together because there’s not enough of us to really move the needle unless we do it as a group.”
In addition to Hoffman asking all pig farmers to join in telling the story of U.S. pork production, he is the first to point out that his Lazy Hog Farm is more than just himself. “Our employees were just really excited about the opportunity,” he says of his receiving the America’s Pig Farmer of the Year honor. “I always said our pigs and our employees are all part of the family. That’s who we are. My employees would do anything they could to help me and they know that in the same aspect, we’ll do anything to help them. That’s how we like to run our farm. … it’s a team approach.”