The Bridges Farm is not your grandfather’s hog farm. Instead of huge hogs wallowing around in mud, the Bridges operation is completely enclosed, climate-controlled hog houses.
Bridges got into the local operation with his brother Darryl Bridges in 1995. He got into the pig business on a full time basis in 1978, managing a private farm operation. Two years later, he went to work for Goldkist, managing a gilt multiplier in Kingston. 13 years later he went to work managing a farm in Washington for Callaway Farms. After two years there he joined his brother in the operation between Coosa and Cave Spring. He bought his brother Darryl out in 2011.
The Bridges farm started off as an 89 acre operation, but has since grown to approximately 300 acres. In addition to hogs, Bridges also runs a herd of cattle and produces hay.
“We have about 2,500 sows and there are usually around 3.000 to 4,000 pigs on the farm,” Bridges said. “We ship 1,000 to 1,200 pigs per week when things are going well,” Bridges said. “We employ around 10 people to run the farm along with family.” His son, Ben Bridges, actually manages the farm on a day-to-day basis. “I don’t know what I’d do without him,” his father said of Ben.
The pigs are of what is known as the PIC variety. PIC is an acronym for Pig Improvement Company, originally a European firm. “It’s a genetic line where they take a lot of the different breeds and get the best lines from them,” Bridges said. “It used to be Hampshire’s or Duress or whatever, but now they breed genetic lines.”
On the sow side, the genetics take into consideration milking ability and litter size. Genetic lines from the boar are done for carcass size, to enhance the quality of meat for commercial purposes.
Sows average between two and three litters a year and Bridges said the typical sow is good for about ten litters. “So about four or five years is the usual lifespan for a sow,” Bridges said. “For them, it’s just like the cattle business, culled cows go for hamburger, well, culled sows go for sausage usually.”
Once his piglets are weaned from the sows, at about three weeks of age, they are shipped to a producer in Illinois who finishes the feed and growth process. Most of the major pork packers are located in the Midwest as well.
At the time they are shipped to finishing producers, the piglets weigh anywhere from 13-15 pounds. The finished hog will generally weigh in the 225-250 pound range, according to Bridges.
The direct-to-finisher marketing program used by Bridges replaced the livestock auction sales many years ago. Both the buyer and seller know the price and delivery conditions in advance. The direct-to-finisher transaction also eliminates commissions that would be associated with a livestock auction.
Bridges said the industry is so tightly regulated today that his piglets never touch the ground outside of the hog houses they are raised in. “That’s done to protect the pigs,” Bridges said.
Oglethorpe County is actually the leading pork feeder producer in Georgia, followed by Tattnall, Hart and Colquit counties. Floyd, specifically Bridges, ranks fifth in the state.
Oglethorpe County Extension Agent Jeff Aaron said the main reason Oglethorpe is big into hogs is that it is such a rural community. “We’ve got a large land mass area and not a very dense population, only about 15,000 people or so, and if you asked somebody off the street they probably wouldn’t know those operations are here, they are so isolated,” Aaron said.
“Hogs are kind of phasing out in the Southeast,” Bridges said. “It’s expensive to ship the grain here to grow the pigs.”
The finished hog produces bacon, generally from the sides of the hog, ham generally comes from the hind quarters, and the ever-popular Boston butt cut actually comes from the shoulder. Sausage essentially comes from everything that is left over.
Bridges Farm also runs about 60 cows in his herd, what he calls semi-Angus cattle. Wastewater from the hog house run-off is used to help fertilize his hay fields and provide feed for the cattle. “That really helps balance the nutrients on the farm,” Bridges said. The farm also puts up between 400-500 round bales of hay each year.
When Bridges isn’t tending to the farm, he pastors a local church, The Rock of Rome Church on Legion Drive in Lindale, and also serves on the local Farm Bureau Board of Directors.