PHOTO: Ryan Toenjes of Toenjes Show Pigs holds a young Duroc pig at the Center Junction farm. (Photo by Pete Temple)
PORK MONTH FEATURE
By Pete Temple, Express Sports/Ag Editor
Ryan Toenjes had been out of the show ring at the Iowa State Fair for several years. It took the Duroc breed to get him back in.
“Personally, I hadn’t taken anything for quite a while,” Toenjes said. “And then, a couple years ago, I got on the Iowa Duroc Breeders Association. They had a vice president who wanted to step down. I took over for her.
“So, being the vice president of the Iowa Duroc Breeders Association, I thought I probably should support my breed at the state fair a little bit.”
Or more than a little bit. Toenjes, who operates Toenjes Show Pigs out of Center Junction, has since had quite a bit of success at the state fair. In 2012, a pig named “Porky” by his goddaughter, Trista DeShaw, was named overall reserve champion barrow in the open market swine show at the state fair.
“He won his class, and I think there were eight or nine classes,” Toenjes said.
DeShaw showed the pig at the Great Jones County Fair, where it was named lightweight champion, prior to Toenjes’ success with it at the state fair.
It turned out that “Porky” had some strong breeding. One of its littermates was reserve lightweight champion at the Great Jones County Fair. Another was champion middleweight barrow in a county fair in Illinois.
Three of Porky’s siblings also did well. One was champion heavyweight derby gilt in the 4-H swine show at the state fair. Another was second in its class at the Missouri State Fair. The third, a barrow, was in the top five in his county fair in Idaho.
At the Iowa State Fair, Toenjes also showed a gilt that was second in class in 2012, and a boar that was second in class this past year.
All of these were Durocs. Toenjes has four breeds, and several crossbreds, at his farm. But the Durocs, he said, “are my main breed.”
He describes Durocs as “red hogs with down ears. They’re a growthier type of pig. They’re known for their feed efficiency and their ability to gain weight a little bit faster.”
The breed has helped with the recent success.
“You get a little premium money for winning your classes, and you get a little bit more if you keep winning,” he said. “Not enough to get rich on, but every little bit helps.
“The advertising for it is more key than the money.”
Toenjes is not afraid to take his entries all over the country. Toenjes Show Pigs have competed in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Idaho, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and more.
“Just to get out there and get your pigs spread out,” Toenjes said, explaining all the travel. “In the spring, we’ve sold more pigs in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio than in Iowa. Then in the fall, we go down to Oklahoma a few times and do a couple sales.
“Fall is time to get rid of pigs down south, and the springtime is when we sell pigs in the Midwest.”
Through his travels, Toenjes has made plenty of friends, which he says is one of the main reasons he keeps going.
“Also, you get to meet new people and develop good friendships. That’s another reason you do this – camaraderie, I’ve got some really good friends that are in this with me. We travel together, we do things together.”
Success is another reason. In 2007, Toenjes had both a male and female pig finish eighth overall in the National Swine Registry (NSR) Fall Classic in Duncan, Okla. Toenjes Show Pigs has had at least one make the top 10 in that show every year since.
“Last year we had one get fourth overall,” Toenjes said. “That was our highest placing there.”
Toenjes is a 1996 graduate of Monticello High School, and went through the farm program at Kirkwood Community College until he graduated from there in 1998.
“My parents and I bought this place that fall, and I’ve been out here ever since,” he said.
They have 14 acres, but rent it out. Toenjes focuses on the pigs – he currently has about 50 sows – and works to get them ready, either for shows or for market.
“We breed mostly for show pigs and breeding stock, but we don’t sell everything, so we fatten hogs too, for market,” he said.
He has had a bit of luck, as well. A gilt that Toenjes called “a leftover pig from what we didn’t sell when they were little pigs” was second in its class at the state fair this past summer.
He is a member of the Jones County Pork Producers, an organization whose primary role these days is as a grill team. He represents them on the Great Jones County Fair Board. He runs the open swine show at the county fair as well.
When he’s not dealing with the pigs, Toenjes works at Fareway, where he has been employed for nearly 20 years, including 15 as full-time. He also bowls twice a week in leagues, one in Cascade and one in Monticello.
None of which keeps him from his number one interest, breeding and feeding show pigs.
“It’s passion,” Toenjes said. “You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing to keep on doing it.