Consistent attention to detail bred success in the Yorkshire business

Society today is often focused on being the most attention grabbing and extreme, and the hog breeding business is no different. But, according to noteworthy Yorkshire breeder and the Ohio Pork Industry Service Award recipient Bill Funderburg, being flashy is not always the best path to long-term success. He was recognized at the Ohio Pork Congress today.

“Being spectacular is not as important as being honest and consistent,” he said. “That is how you get pigs that will do well for the customer.”

Funderburg achieved almost unprecedented success in the Yorkshire breed with consistency and attention to detail while maintaining focus on the big picture. Sometimes his pigs were spectacular, but, more importantly, Funderburg built a reputation over 50 years for consistent quality hogs on his Darke County farm.

“We started in 1951 with my father west of Greenville. We were on the halves there and we farmed about 400 acres. We had 120 registered Angus, 200 ewes and 60 Yorkshire large white sows,” he said.

Young Funderburg attended a meeting for the American Yorkshire Club in Iowa.

“I caught the bug,” he said.

He went to college on a basketball scholarship and did some coaching as well. He returned to the area with his wife, Carol, in 1962 to teach biology and do some more  coaching.

“We bought the 8.75 acre-farm where we live now for $10,000, and it was a dump,” he said. “We bought some sows from dad’s farm about 10 miles south and we grew to 300 sows and two other farms. We started showing pigs on our own and in 1970 we had the first grand champion.”

As the hogs grew more successful, they got out of crop production and focused on producing top quality Yorkshire breeding stock.

“We used to sell 1,200 boars and 3,500 gilts a year. We were known for selling gilts and we have had almost 90 national champion or reserve champion boars and gilts. We were very fortunate to have good healthy breeding stock. I also did a lot of professional judging at national shows and state fairs too,” Funderburg said. “I always tried to do the little things well, because all of the little things gathered together made a big thing. That has to do with whatever success we’ve had.”

Funderburg always placed emphasis on keeping the farm looking very nice so potential customers would get a good first impression as soon as they pulled in the driveway. He would also always try to go the extra mile for customers.

“When someone bought pigs from us, I would give them about six weeks and call them up to see how they were performing. If they had any problems I would try to help them out,” he said. “If I took six boars to a commercial guy I would ask to see his sow herd so I could help them do better the next time to make them more money. And I would always try to remember the names of the kids of our customers.”

Clean barns were also a necessity.

“We didn’t have slats. We scraped manure out of every pen every morning and every night so our pens looked clean when customers came. And, if there was a problem with a pig we would find it. That is a little thing that can be a big thing,” he said. “We were basically a closed herd. We would buy semen or boars and isolate them. Sometimes we had 10 or 20 different herd boars. I would study the extended pedigrees and I would try to find the outstanding boars.”

Funderburg’s reputation for success and quality breeding stock positioned him well for exciting export opportunities in the hog business.

“Around 25 years ago we started selling a lot of export hogs to Taiwan and Japan, then in the Dominican and Costa Rica. Then China opened up around 10 or 12 years ago. We were fortunate to work with the exporters and fit in there,” he said. “We sold lots of pigs over to China.”

The Chinese are extremely stringent with testing and selection of hogs.

“They are very particular and good selectors. They send their vets and top people over here when they select their pigs. When they get in a pen of 20 or 30 gilts they get all of the best ones,” Funderburg said. “They wanted very uniform pigs. They want cookie cutter meat in the packinghouse. I made many friends and developed great relationships with the Chinese. Trust is very important in exports. When they would come over here we would treat them well and I loved talking with and working with the people.”

The export marketing was very challenging and risky, but it also offered significant profit potential.

“The export thing was good but there were risks,” he said. “The risk factor can be greater than the rewards. Sometimes the only good day with that was when you got your paycheck.”

Bill Funderburg accepts an award for the champion boar at the Iowa Pork Expo in the early 90s.
Bill Funderburg accepts an award for the champion boar at the Iowa Pork Expo in the early 90s.

Funderburg had been doing so well with the export market he began changing his breeding program to produce hogs better suited for the Chinese.

“Then the H1N1 popped up and our pigs were not as competitive in the show ring here,” he said. “H1N1 lasted three years and that is a long dry spell. A friend had China cancel an order when H1N1 and they had to eat a more than $70,000 vet bill. And, getting visas to get buyers over here can be a real challenge. If they can’t get over here, they won’t buy. There are a lot of stumbling blocks with exports.”

The few setbacks with exports, though, were not enough to overshadow the incredible success of the hogs from the farm. Funderburg further built on that success with a tireless effort of giving back to others at the local, state and national levels throughout his career.

He helped start the first swine sale and judging contest at the Darke County Fair, assisted in establishing the Darke County Pork Producers, and organized swine selection, showmanship and feeding clinics for 4-H clubs. He employed and mentored numerous future leaders in the hog industry at his farm.

“We’ve hired some really good people who helped us succeed,” Funderburg said. “We have been quite fortunate. If you don’t surround yourself with good people you won’t be successful.”

He continues to serve on Ohio’s PRRS Task Force and the Ohio Swine Health Advisory Committee. He has also been very involved in pseudorabies eradication across the U.S.

In addition, he is involved in organizing the Ohio Swine Health Symposium, has been inducted into the Ohio Agriculture Hall of Fame, and served as a board member, officer and president of the Ohio Yorkshire Board.

Family is important for BIll and his wife.
Family is important for BIll and his wife.

At the national level, Funderburg has served on the National Swine Export Board, was president of the National American Yorkshire Board, judged over 50 national swine shows, and served as president of the National Swine Improvement Federation. Also important to Funderburg is the fact that their five children all went to college on hog money from the small farm they bought in 1962. The Funderburgs now have 20 grandchildren and he has just celebrated three healthy years after a battle with cancer. He is truly humbled by this year’s honor from the Ohio Pork Council he will receive at the upcoming Ohio Pork Congress. He is proud to be part of a group with so many people who give so much.

“There are so many selfless people we have in the hog business,” he said. “I have just tried to serve and to give back.”

 

 

 

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