Chad Webber was caught between a rock and hard place when the COVID-19 virus infected western civilization beginning in mid-March.
This Castor based pig farmer specializes in wild boar crossed with domestic pigs, creating a hybrid breed with unique characteristics that make pork flavours pop.
Pre-virus, Webber was working with a broker to get his animal meat to market, most of which was sold to high-end restaurants in eastern Canada and the United States like Quebec, Ontario and New York along with a few private customers.
With the reduced need for pork products and the market shutting down, the only people or companies who would take the product was a pet food company, purchasing the meat for under half of its actual worth which is normally marked higher than regular pig prices.
“It was scary,” said Webber.
“I honestly thought the next time I would be current with my market hogs would be when I went out with a gun and euthanized a bunch.
“I really believed that was my only option [at the time].
“I spent days on the phone trying to find anything and then all of the sudden the phones started ringing. It was just… I still can’t believe the response.”
Since the ECA Review wrote an article in the April 23 edition of the newspaper as well as online, Webber has seen his numbers skyrocket as people from out of the blue have reached out to him in hopes of helping and purchasing.
“You may have saved my farm,” he said in a call to the newspaper last week to re-book his ad.
“The first week was completely overwhelming. It was over a 100 phone calls a day for the first eight days then it got a little more realistic where I could return the calls and I don’t know if I’ve still straightened up from the original influx.
I’m trying and I’m sorry to those people that I got mixed up with but I’m not a secretary and I wasn’t prepared for that.”
Webber reported he had calls from all over western Canada as far north as Fort Nelson, B.C. to the southeastern corner of Manitoba near the national border.
In one weekend they moved 84 market hogs when normally they move about 70 hogs every two weeks.
“I’ve sold close to 500 pigs since this story broke. That includes weaners, feeders, bred sows and market hogs,” said Webber.
“And imagine, a guy like me who’s complete focus has been production for how many years with just the odd private customer, to get bombarded with this and I’m not complaining but wow like it was just… like at one point my cell phone got up to 106 text messages behind.”
Webber even went as far as hiring his own mother to clear their landline’s voicemail two-three times a day as he worked and couldn’t stay on top of all the messages at first.
“With the position I’m in, it’s nice that I don’t feel obligated to sell my pigs at a loss now. The calls are coming in.”
Now the question remains of how sustainable this situation is.
“I’m not getting out of business but what level am I staying at if this is going to be the new norm?”
The largest problem has been processing as many abattoirs are booked solid since many of the large facilities are down.
Many who have purchased though have decided to process the animals themselves which helped take the pigs off his hands.
“It was one of those things where I knew people need to eat but how do you make a connection on that big of a volume that quick?
“And I never once imagined that a little paper like that did what it took,” said Webber.