ARDOCH, N.D. – Alexis and Elizabeth Nice have gone whole hog with their summer job.
During the past few years, the sisters have nearly tripled the number of Blue Butt swine they raise and sell in the fall to customers who want to buy farm-fresh pork. Alexis, 19, and Elizabeth, 16, this summer are feeding 70 gilts and sows on the farm a few miles east of Ardoch, where they live with their parents and two younger sisters.
The two eldest Nice sisters began feeding hogs in 2016 for their venture called “Little Farm on the Prairie." Initially, raising a few hogs to sell for meat was going to be the project of their father, Craig, who had done it as a child. But when he learned that his daughters could apply for U.S. Agriculture Department Farm Service Agency youth loans to help them get started raising hogs, he asked them if they wanted to raise them instead.
Alexis and Elizabeth were on board, so they each applied for a $5,000 youth loan, which they used to pay for operating costs and equipment. They purchased building materials, feeders, fencing equipment and a trailer to haul the pigs.
In 2016, they bought 25 hogs, which they sold in the fall to customers who wanted to buy either a whole or half hog. That first year, the sisters made enough money to pay off their operating loans. They have about three years of payments left on their equipment loan.
As word about the tastiness of the Nice sisters’ pork spread, demand rose, so they increased the number of hogs they raised. This year, Alexis and Elizabeth purchased 70 45-pound piglets from NDSU; when they reach 275 pounds in October, the hogs will be hauled to a processing facility to be butchered.
This spring, people asked them almost daily if they had pork to sell.
“Just because of this whole COVID-19 thing, we increased our numbers this year,” Alexis said.
In October, the Nice sisters will haul the hogs to a USDA-certified butcher shop in Casselton, N.D. Most of the hogs already have been spoken for, and customers will pick up the pork at the Casselton shop.
Between now and October, Alexis and Elizabeth will spend time each day taking care of the herd.
“We have to fill up their water, make sure their electric fence is still working, put in straw for bedding,” Alexis said. On Thursday, June 18, Alexis was digging mud away from the bottom of the hogs’ fence while Elizabeth filled their water tank.
The hogs, which have an open shed for shelter, enjoy rooting in the mud. In previous years, they sometimes bellied under the fence, so the sisters remedied that by placing a strand of electric fence wire at the bottom. Now, they have to keep the mud away from the bottom of the fence so it doesn't short out the electric wire.
Moving the mud away from the fence isn't pleasant work, but the alternative is worse.
“We’ve had our share of chasing pigs,” Elizabeth said, recalling a day when she had to chase back to the pen a wayward group that had escaped and were on the nearby highway.
“I had to herd them back by myself,” she said.
“They’re cute when they’re little, feisty after that,” Alexis said.
Learning that it’s important to maintain good fences is one of several lessons the project has taught them. They’ve also learned about formulating hog rations, keeping record books and money management.
“We have to make sure we have some money after we pay the bills,” Alexis said.
The hog project so far has been profitable, and Alexis is using the money to pay for college; Elizabeth is saving her share to do the same after she graduates from high school. This fall, Alexis will attend UND and Elizabeth will be a junior at Minto (N.D.) Public School.
The sisters plan to continue their hog project for the foreseeable future. When they decide it’s time to get out of the venture, their younger sisters, Emma and Josephine, likely will take over.
At age 6, the littlest Nice sister already has expressed interest in Little Farm on the Prairie, Alexis said.
“Josephine calls them her little piggies. She would like to take ownership of them,” she said.