ELAND — Jake Roth finds himself in hog heaven nearly every day.
Roth, owner of Jake’s Pig Palace in rural Shawano County, is busy gearing up for the 2019 season of spotlighting his show pigs at events throughout Wisconsin.
His pigs have received numerous accolades over the years, among the highlights being Reserve Champion Market Gilt at the Wisconsin State Fair four years ago.
“I try to do a good job raising pigs the best way I can, and I think they’re pigs that can compete at any level,” said Roth, 34. “One big thing I take pride in is they’re pigs that are easy to work with, because I do spend a lot of time with them. I really like what I do here.”
This marks the 20th year in business for Jake’s Pig Palace. But Roth hasn’t rested on his laurels.
A few weeks after receiving the Shawano County Outstanding Young Farmer Award in spring 2017, Roth added on to his farrowing barn, one of three buildings housing pigs at Jake’s Pig Palace.
Roth also became a certified Sunglo Feeds dealer, and last year he received a license to sell pork that is processed and stored in a freezer on the farm. He’s also trying to sell more product to area restaurants.
Roth fostered an appreciation for farming and animals ever since he was a youngster helping on Roth Family Farms, a dairy operation owned by his parents, Dale and Regina.
Roth Family Farms, right next door to Jake’s Pig Palace, milks about 100 cows, primarily Holsteins with a few Brown Swiss and Milking Shorthorn cross. In addition to raising pigs, Roth oversees the reproductive side of the cow herd and helps work 350 acres of cropland.
“I’m never bored,” he said.
Although the farm didn’t have pigs during Roth’s youth, he nonetheless developed an interest in them. “I just thought it’d be fun,” he said.
In April 1999, while in eighth grade, Roth acquired three feeder pigs and raised them in an old three-sided shed he fixed up. Three months later, on the day those first three were butchered, he bought four more, setting the stage for what would become Jake’s Pig Palace less than a year later.
“One that I got (in July 1999) was a gilt and I got attached to her,” Roth said. “So I talked dad into letting me get her bred that winter. In the spring of 2000, we built the main pig barn, and that’s when the business was officially established.”
A few years into the business, Roth was introduced to the show pig side of the industry and gave it a try.
Early on, he raised pigs purely by “how cool their markings were,” he said. Over time, though, he followed the guidance of some reputable breeders and now sells more than 100 show pigs, of which 85 to 95 percent are sired via artificial insemination.
Pigs raised at Jake’s Pig Palace have won honors in numerous Wisconsin counties and other states. All pigs born from Jan. 1 through mid-March are destined for shows, he said.
There’s no secret for success, said Roth, a member of the Wisconsin Show Pig Association.
“It just takes a good pig to start out with,” he said. “And then you follow through with a family that’s willing to put in the time and effort to bring that pig to its full potential. And a showman who knows how to make that pig — even if it’s not the best pig — appear to be the best pig.”
And what makes a good show pig?
“They have to have a big, wide top, tall shoulders, clean neck, be able to walk good, and when they walk they have to be square,” Roth said. “You need a little bit of condition on them ... because at the end of the day they are a market hog and you want them to hang a good, desirable cut of meat because they are going to be consumed.”
The biggest challenge this time of year is the weather, especially in the wake of the late-January polar vortex that sent the state into a deep freeze.
“When they’re being born, you have to keep the little guys in where it’s warm and keep the sows healthy,” Roth said. “That’s the biggest thing when it’s cold in the winter — making sure they’re all safe. And the constant cost of medications and vaccines is a challenge. Not just when they’re small but as they grow too.”
Over the years, the business has grown to three buildings — a main barn with his sows and a boar, a smaller building used for raising butchers out, and a farrowing barn.
Roth has 25 to 30 sows/gilts for breeding, most of which are crossbreds but there are some purebred Duroc, Spot, Landrace and Poland pigs. He also sells feeder pigs during the offseason and feeds out about 20 butcher hogs a year.
Family members are ready and willing to assist when needed, Roth said.
Among those helping hands are his parents; sisters, Rachel Roth, Tina Heinrich and Mandy Roth; nephew and niece, Leland Heinrich and Vaida Heinrich; uncle, Pete Willcome; and his 10-year-old red heeler, Rinny.
Roth plans to sell about 60 pigs at his first sale of the year on March 23. Another sale is scheduled for April 20. Both events will be held at Jake’s Pig Palace, N8360 Bluebird Road, Eland, in western Shawano County.
For more information about Jake’s Pig Palace, call 715-881-0301.