Edgerton brothers run small swine operation
It's a time when teens are grown up enough to be out late but young enough to count on Mom and Dad for funding.
For Kurt Weisensel, 17 is the age of responsibility, of writing checks to pay the bills, of pursuing low-interest loans, of filing taxes and wondering why, when you make so little, the government takes so much.
Weisensel has been raising pigs since he was in fifth grade, and now it looks like his brother Kyle might be getting into the business, too.
Kyle, a 15-year-old member of Edgerton FFA, is among 26 students statewide to share in $15,900 of Supervised Agriculture Experience Grants from the Wisconsin FFA Foundation.
Other grant winners are Kristen Broege of Janesville Craig FFA and Grant Tyler Schoenberger of Albany FFA.
The grants are designed to apply concepts learned in the "agricultural classroom and life and career skills developed through FFA membership to individual experiential learning projects," according to a news release from the FFA Foundation.
Kyle used his grant money to buy a bred gilt—a pregnant pig—for $1,400.
"It's good quality, but not the very best," Kyle explained. "The best are really expensive—$5,000 to $7,000 or even more."
Kyle and Kurt drove to Illinois to pick up the pig, which was raised on a large farm with 800 other pigs and was understandably nervous about the transfer.
But she'll soon grow accustomed to the small farm where Kurt—and now Kyle—raise pigs.
Kurt's mother, Beth Weisensel, said Kurt was afraid of pigs when he was a little boy. But seeing a collection of newborn piglets at the Wisconsin State Fair changed his mind.
In fourth grade, his parents bought him four pigs to take to the fair: Wilbur, Gordy, Porky and Babe.
Kurt kept Babe, a reserve grand champion, as breeding stock.
In fifth grade, he farrowed his first litters and began selling pigs for shows.
Soon, he was telling his parents that he wanted to keep all the income from the sales.
"We told him, 'We can't afford to pay all the bills and have you keep all the income,'" Beth said.
So Kurt started paying.
For the past three years, Kurt has had his own checkbook and pays for feed supplements, vet bills and breeding expenses.
He's also been filing income tax—whether he makes a profit or not.
And, perhaps even more importantly, he's in charge of the chores, morning and night.
His parents helped his enterprise, too.
Greg Weisensel, Kurt's father, spent several years taking an old dairy barn down to the foundation and then rebuilding it to house swine. Until recently, they also were paying for the corn that's a staple of the pigs' diet.
Last year, Kurt applied for and received a low-interest loan from the Farm Service Agency.
The agency did what all ag lenders do: visit the farm, check for insurance and gauge equity.
Kurt used the loan money to rent 25 acres and grown his own corn. Like other farmers, he confessed that he was worried about yields.
"I was trying to make sure that I at least broke even," Kurt said.
Kurt estimated that he sells about 100 pigs as "feeders" for other farmers to finish. Another 50 or so he sells after finishing them himself, and about 30 are sold as show pigs.
Both boys needed to be prodded into answering questions about their enterprise, appearing to believe that what they do is pretty ordinary. When asked what people thought of his business, Kurt said quietly, "Yeah, I guess a lot of people are proud of me."
But it's not a big deal, he insists. Pigs, he said, "Are just my interest."
He also milks cows for another farmer and helps out on other farms.
"Ideally, I'd like to be a farmer," Kurt said. "I'd much rather be doing farm work than working in a restaurant or a store."
After high school, Kurt thinks he might like to be a diesel mechanic and perhaps raise show pigs on the side.
Kyle possesses the same kind of reticent modesty.
What kind of explanation did he use on his application for the winning grant?
"I explained why I wanted to get the money," Kyle said. "I told them that my brother has raised pigs, and I wanted to get into raising them, too."
He too, would like to be a farmer.
Around Rock County, the name Broege is synonymous with dairy.
So it's not surprising that Kristen Broege won a competitive grant from the Wisconsin FFA Foundation.
Broege, 15, a sophomore at Craig High School, will use her grant to buy a registered Holstein to show during the summer and to grow her own personal herd.
She hopes the new addition will improve herd genetics.
At the spring auctions, she'll be looking carefully at the backgrounds of the cattle.
Broege wants a Holstein that will "improve the stature" of the herd.
"I want something stylish, and not overweight," she added.
What does that mean, exactly?
Stature could be translated as "bigger boned." Dairy cows should be large and sturdy without losing those elegant lines that are sometimes referred to as "dairy character."
"They should look like a dairy animal and not so much like a beef cow," she said.
Broege has been showing dairy cattle for more than eight years, and showmanship is her favorite part of the fair.
"I'd show all year long if I could," Broege said.