By Matt Reese
To the casual observer, a mud-spattered county fair pig scramble may not initially seem like a forum to set the stage for a distinguished career, though Todd Price, D.V.M. will say otherwise.
“I grew up on a 90-acre grain and livestock farm Seneca County and worked for my uncle who owned a feed mill in Sycamore and had 300 sows. He raised pigs out in the woods and asked me to catch a piglet for him. He let me have it for my 4-H project to take to the fair when I was 10 or 11. At the fair I signed up for a pig scramble. I caught a gilt and she became my first sow and it all kind of went from there,” Price said. “By the time I was in high school I had 30 or 40 sows. That got it started. From there I went to Ohio State for undergrad in Animal Science and then vet school.”
Price is the founder of North Central Veterinary Services of Sycamore, Lincoln Way Animal Hospital of Upper Sandusky and Whetstone Animal Hospital in Bucyrus. Along with his wife and four children, Price also operates Price Family Farms, where they raise 600 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay and also operate a commercial wean to finish production system currently raising 40,000 commercial market pigs a year. In addition, the family has 80 sows for raising top notch show pigs. For his extensive contributions to Ohio’s hog industry, Price is the recipient of this year’s Ohio Pork Council Service Award.
There were surely many other definitive moments along the way for Price, but he is quick to point out the incredible importance of his initial interest in hog production fostered through work on the farm, 4-H and, yes, the county fair pig scramble. Those connections with agriculture for young people, Price believes, are vital for the future of the hog industry.
“Agricultural people and livestock people make up such a minute amount of people in the country that we need to reach out to youth and have an effect on them. The show pig industry connects the pork industry with youth. That is one thing I have always thought we needed to do. Even if those kids never raise a pig after they are done with 4-H, they know what it takes to raise a pig and that is good information for anyone to have. And, if there is a side effect of getting people involved in the swine industry, that is an added benefit,” Price said. “Long-term we really have to get ahold of our youth and educate them. We need to spend more time reaching out to catch those kids as they are making their career decisions.”
Price’s passion for supporting youth in the swine industry has led him to contribute countless hours of his time to fostering the development of young people. He was very influential in the creation of the OH-Pigs Show Circuit in 2015 through his role as committee chairman and board member of the Ohio Pork Council.
“Our job is to work through the Ohio Pork Council to put something constructive towards the youth with a program allowing kids to go out and show more to get them interacting with other people in the industry and get information in front of them about Ohio’s pork industry,” he said. “To bring value back to Ohio Pork Council, I try to make sure we have an Ohio Pork Council member at every show to talk to the kids about the industry, biosecurity and how to conduct themselves.”
His experience with the OH-Pigs Show Circuit and fairs positioned Price well to serve on Governor DeWine’s County Fair Task Force where he provided science-based advice regarding public health that helped preserve county fairs and livestock shows in 2020. Price was also instrumental behind the scenes for planning and implementing the first Ohio Youth Livestock Expo (OYLE) in August.
“OYLE was one of the most rewarding things I have done in my career. I got a call the day after they canceled the state fair saying they wanted to form this committee and move forward. What a great group of people. Everyone was in it for the right reason,” Price said. “As that thing went on, the target kept moving every time we changed our status in Ohio and we had new COVID-19 cases. The more they were told they couldn’t do something the more they said, ‘Watch this.’ Everyone kept their nose to the grindstone and I have never worked with a better set of individuals than those key people on the OYLE committee.”
These efforts take a large amount of time for Price, but he believes they are worthwhile.
“I think giving back that time is one of the most important things we can do as human beings. Giving time to young people is the most important thing you can give them,” he said. “Kids need someone outside of their parents to just tell them, ‘Nice job.’ It sounds small, but those small things at the right time in their life can make a big difference.”
Beyond these youth programs, Price has mentored many veterinary students, been a guest speaker and served on the Large Animal Advisory Council for OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He has lectured on commercial swine and show pig production at state veterinary meetings in Ohio, Missouri, Oregon and Texas. In service to the hog industry, Price has spoken at eight swine health symposiums, helped plan educational sessions for numerous Ohio Pork Congress symposiums, and played an active role in many junior swine days. He also was instrumental in the launch of the PRRS mapping program, and helping the industry navigate health issues ranging from foreign animal disease to COVID-19.
After finishing vet school, Price started his career working for Tony Forshey (Ohio’s current State Veterinarian) doing primarily large animal work. In 1995, Price returned to his home farm in Seneca County.
“I came home and started the practice out of our house. We put a sign out on a back township road and we started out doing everything — llamas, dogs, cats, sheep, cows, pigs, goats,” he said. “In 2000 we moved to a building in Sycamore. There are three locations now. I took a different approach to it than other veterinarians. I took the same approach my pig clients take. Once they get it figured out, they don’t necessarily expand onsite. They go to other sites at other locations.”
He said one of the biggest challenges for large animal practices is the travel time to farms.
“The killer is the road time with large animals,” Price said. “We spend 4.5 hours on the road for a standard 9-hour day, which kills your productivity.”
To address this challenge, Price opened up a large animal surgery facility at his Upper Sandusky location in 2012 to allow clients to bring the large animals to the veterinarians.
“Watching the industry, there were clearly going to be fewer large animal vets and we kept expanding, but we got to the point where we couldn’t afford to drive any further,” he said. “This facility lets them bring their animals to us, as an option at least.”
And, as more veterinarians have been added to the practice, Price has been able to focus on his favorite specialty: pigs. In his travels to hog farms, Price takes the opportunity to work on his own farm operation.
“I work on the farm operation to make use of my windshield time. I use that time to do my marketing, talk to my nutritionist, or talk about building sites for the farm,” he said. “I have four children all who want to be involved in agriculture. My daughter is a grain marketer, the boys are all involved and did 90% of crop farming in 2020 and my wife helps too. It is a joint effort.”
Price loves working on the farm with his family and really enjoys both the commercial and show pig components of the operation.
“Both ventures I like equally but they are so different. In the commercial barn it is about precision, numbers and health,” he said. “The show pig side is more individual animal medicine. There we are not striving for 30 pigs per sow per year. With show pigs it is about quality not quantity and I really enjoy that individual animal contact. We can afford to do more with each animal because it is the project for the year. I like bringing the commercial information to the show pig people. Sometimes we can even bring stuff we learn from the show pig world to commercial.”
At the end of every day, each side of the hog production equation has Price caring for the animals, working with the people and serving the industry he has loved since his first county fair pig scramble.