Brendan Knoll started raising pigs when he joined Erie County 4-H at age nine. Since then the 18-year-old has helped to raise some 500 swine, his preferred name for the four-legged farm animal. Knoll and his family operate their swine business – BGDK Showpigs – out of the Town of Hamburg. He has won many prize ribbons over the years including two last year from the state fair in Syracuse.
Knoll comes from a family of farmers in Eden, including two younger brothers who share his interest in swine. As you will see Knoll is a vocal ambassador for the farming profession. At 6 feet tall and weighing 220 pounds, he was a competitive wrestler at Hamburg Senior High School, where he placed in regional competition.
In four days Knoll will leave for the University of Findlay in Ohio to study pre-veterinary medicine.
People Talk: As a veterinarian, will you remain in Western New York?
Brendan Knoll: There aren’t enough pigs, and I want to specialize in swine so I want to move to Ohio or Indiana. Those are the hotbeds for swine. When I get older I also want to have a small show pig business while I’m a vet.
PT: Didn’t you want to be a firefighter or a football player?
BK: No, I wanted to be a vet since second grade. My dad runs a trucking business but my family always has been involved in farming. My grandma’s side always had vegetable farms. My great-grandma owned restaurants.
PT: What is the difference between a swine and a pig?
BK: It’s the same thing. Swine is the more correct term, but the real name is porcine.
PT: How old were you when you first cared for a pig?
BK: Five or 6. My cousin and I used to go to my grandma’s and farrow out pigs, help them give birth. It taught me how to care for an animal, how to be responsible, respectful and everything I needed. I mean you can’t be lazy. You have to get up early every day. I think farmers are the backbone of America.
PT: They deserve more respect.
BK: Yeah. People kind of look at farmers in a bad way. Well, you’re eating their food. Every year in school I write my position paper on farmers and how Americans look at them in a bad way and disrespect them and bad mouth them. Without farmers we wouldn’t be living today because they produce all the food we need.
PT: You sound defensive.
BK: I kind of am because people pick on me in school all the time. We always get picked on – me and my brothers. We go to Hamburg, more of a suburban school so the kids don’t know. They always call us names and stuff, but it’s all right. I’m the one getting the check in the end. I already have a job offer when I’m in college managing a show pig business. I’m happy with it.
PT: What about your girlfriend?
BK: She’s going to Medaille. I’ll be coming home a lot because I still have pigs here. My brothers aren’t into it as much as I am. We have a show the second week in October (and) I want to check on the pigs.
PT: How do you get a pig back on track?
BK: They’re all on track right now but if they get sick you need to medicate them. With this weather change they get a little cough or the runs. They’re like humans.
PT: Are pigs smart?
BK: Yes. A full-grown pig is about as smart as a 5-year-old child. Body type determines whether they’re full grown. If a pig is real short to the ground, it will max out at 400 pounds. On the other side we have boars. Our biggest pig, a boar, was 900 pounds. His name was Arnold.
PT: What about sows?
BK: We usually say that out of a sow you want 12 to 15 litters. Then they retire and live the rest of their lives until they die. You can’t really eat the old sows. All they’re good for is sausage.
PT: Do you eat bacon?
BK: Yeah, and sausage. We just got a pig put in our freezer last week. I like some pork, but I don’t like pork chops. I don’t really like ham that much. Bacon has gotten really expensive – like $7 a pound and it’s only going up. Last year when we had the grain shortage in the country, everyone tried dumping their pork because they couldn’t feed them. So this year we have a shortage of pork.
PT: I’m amazed at all the edible pig parts I see at some markets.
BK: You can eat a lot of pig parts – tongues, livers, snouts. I’ve heard of pig hoof soup though I’ve never had it.
PT: How much does a pig go for?
BK: It depends. The record sold for $225,000. The average price we pay is $400 to $500, but I think the most you’ll spend is $1,500 and the least is $150 – but there are no more $150 pigs because the price is going up.
PT: What kind of music do you like?
BK: Country. I like newer stuff like Jason Aldean. The only way I listen to rap is to get warmed up for wrestling. You can’t go on the mat cold.
PT: What do you do for fun?
BK: I like to wrestle. I’ve done really well in the last few years in Section 6. I golf, but the biggest thing are my pigs. I’m up here five to eight hours a day. They are really super clean. It’s like a job pretty much. I buy my own pigs sometimes and sell them at national shows for breeding or market.
PT: What makes a good pig?
BK: It’s hard to explain, but the width is important, how long it is, depth – a bunch of things. There are no perfect pigs.
PT: Do you get attached to your pigs?
BK: I really don’t but my grandmother does. They all have names. My girlfriend and my brother’s girlfriend name them. We have Baby Spice at the house now. She’s been with us for two years. She’ll stay until she dies. She’s a really good mother and a good pig.
PT: What have you learned from 4-H?
BK: Hard work pays off in the end. A lot of kids these days, their parents give them everything. I work for everything I get. Pigs don’t feed themselves. They’re getting fed five times a day because it’s fair time and you want to put as much weight on them as you can. I do everything for them: clean them, walk them, bathe them.
PT: Are they temperamental?
BK: Yes they are. Actually we had two yesterday, they’ve been together for a month in the pen and they were fighting yesterday out of nowhere. One got a little chunk out of her butt. They have temperaments just like us.