Unforgettable Underdog Genetics
Garner family Mason, Maegan & Aubree
One-half of the Underdog Genetics equation is Mason Garner. Mason and his wife Maegan live in Merkel with their 10 year-old daughter Aubree and will be adding another little girl to the family this December. Mason got his show pig genes from his grandparents, Ronnie and Maggie Middleton. The family got into the show pig business when Mason’s mom, Ronda, showed in the gilt show at the 1984 Taylor County Fair. When the gilts ran through the auction, Ronnie decided to buy them back, and so the Middleton family was in the hog raising business. The operation grew for the next 14 years and consisted of 20 Duroc, Yorkshire and Hampshire sows. While growing up in Tuscola, Mason was a member of the Taylor County 4-H and showed hogs that he helped his grandpa raise. Mason’s dad, Don, was in the United States Air Force for 24 years, and when Mason was 13 years old the family was transferred to Washington State, where they settled down in Reardan, Washington. Mason didn’t let the move halt his passion for show pigs. “I couldn’t stop showing pigs,” explained Garner. “So I joined Reardan FFA and showed hogs until I graduated.” After graduating high school, Mason made his way back to Texas to attend Angelo State University (ASU). While at ASU Mason played football, worked at the school farm and his grandparent’s ranch and most importantly met his future wife. “Maegan, Aubree and our upcoming arrival are truly my greatest blessings,” said Garner. In 1998 Ronnie Middleton hit the pause button on raising show pigs, but started the operation back up in 2006 when Mason’s brother, Kaleb, started showing hogs. It was at this time that Mason got involved in the production side of the swine industry. “I did a lot of
listening, learning and failing,” explained Garner. “But I was hooked and determined to be competitive.” When Mason’s grandpa passed away, in 2010, Mason continued to raise hogs on his own with the help of Maegan, his mom and stepfather, Tim. “It was a struggle, but with the support at home we pressed on, kept learning and getting better,” Garner described. Mason may have inherited his love for the show pig industry from his grandfather, but knows that he wouldn’t be sitting here, talking about hogs if it weren’t for his wife. “I can’t take all the credit, Maegan’s dedication in the pig barn has gotten us here too,” explained Garner. It’s this same dedication and work ethic that Mason and Maegan hope to instill in their children. “My wife also grew up in the show ring but over in the sheep barn,” said Garner. “We want this industry to teach our kids the same things that it has taught us.”
Left: Ronnie Middleton didn’t let cancer keep him from farrowing his favorite sow. Above: Mason giving Aubree a pep talk at the ‘16 San Angelo Stock Show.
Lynn, Misti, Jaiton & Kinzi The other half of the Underdog Genetics duo is Lynn Hays. Lynn and his wife of 21 years, Misti, live in Merkel with their 20 year-old son, Jaiton and 14 yearold daughter, Kinzi. Like the Garner family, Lynn has been around show pigs his entire life. Lynn’s parents, Kenneth and Vickie, were raised in Merkel and in 1972 built the family’s home on the land that would soon be known as Salt Branch Farms. Lynn and his older brother, Tommy, became involved in the Merkel FFA program and started showing hogs in 1979. “Before we knew it, one thing lead to another until we had a complete farm built from the ground up with approximately 50 sows,” explained Hays. The sow herd of Salt Branch Farms was primarily made up of Durocs, with a few Hampshire and Crossbred hogs mixed in the herd. The farm also had a few boars. Lynn recognizes that his family played a
Above: Lynn, Jaiton and Kinzi enjoying a stock show. Right: Lynn’s parents, Kenneth and Vickie Hays.
major role in the start-up of his show pig career, but are still the people that he most admires and trusts. “My parents were huge role models in this business,” admitted Hays. “They made it a point to make sure we understood the value of work ethic and the amount of dedication it took to be successful year after year. To this day my family is the people that I look up to.” Lynn believes that one of the biggest rewards of raising hogs is the satisfaction of seeing the end result that you had pictured in your head becoming a reality for a child. “Helping a kid get their hog looking its best on show day is the one of my favorite parts,” explained Hays. “When that kid is smiling while they are walking across the ring, hearing their name called and the roar in the stands from their friends and family members; it’s like no other place on earth.” Lynn’s day job is with the Taylor Electric Cooperative where he works as the System Control Operations Manager. In addition to his obligations with Underdog Genetics, Lynn serves on the Board of Trustees for Merkel ISD. When a little free time opens up in Lynn’s calendar he enjoys golfing, hunting and spending time with his family and friends.
“Do what others do not want to do.”
n the little town of Merkel, Texas there are two families that have combined their passion for show pigs into a partnership that is making a name for itself in the Texas show pig industry.
How do two people make the decision to join ideas, hogs and resources into one operation? Well in this case, their similar competitive natures were the driving factor. Mason and Lynn met at their county stock show where Lynn’s children and Mason’s brother were showing. The two were talking about hogs and realized they had used the same boar. Their friendship grew and a year later, following their county show, Mason and Lynn made the decision to load up their gilts and take them to the farm together. “When we got to talking about a partnership, some said we would have an underdog chance in hell of being successful. So then we became Underdog Genetics,” said Hays. In the pre Underdog Genetics days, both Lynn and Mason were raising hogs on their own, but with both of them having full time jobs and wanting to grow their operations, the decision to become partners was a no-brainer. “It just made sense for us to use resources that were already available to us and do this together,” explained Garner. A single operation comes with challenges, so it’s no doubt that a partnership comes with adjustments too. The families of Lynn and Mason are credited with being the biggest assets in this partnership. “Without a doubt we admire our families the most,” said Hays. Left: Maegan being a great “stock show mom” by getting ready for a show. Below: Ariel shot of the Underdog Genetics farm.
Left: Kinzi (left) and Aubree (right) competing.
When Mason and Lynn say “family” they aren’t just talking about their immediate family, they include their brotherhood of show pig families in that group as well. Both the Hays and Garner families have deep roots in this industry and are proud that the swine industry has been, is and will continue to be a part of their lives. “Once it’s in your blood it just never leaves,” explained Hays. “Both of our families have ties to well-respected people in this industry. It’s people like Stanley Young, the Great Buddy Winters and WinTex Family, Denny Belew, Sam Sparger, the Osborn Family, Tony Thomas, the Johnny Peugh Family and the Curry Allen Family that make this industry great and worth being apart of.” Mason and Lynn value the friendships they have gained through raising hogs and love to learn from these people. “We have been given some great advice over the years,” said Garner. If the partners of Underdog Genetics could give a few words of wisdom of their own to a new show pig producer it would be to do as they did and find the few people that you trust and respect, listen to them and learn from them. “There are a lot of people in this industry that love to give advice,” commented Garner. “You’ve got to weed through it all and listen to the people that truly care about you.” Their second piece of advice would be to take what you learn, make a plan that works for you and do what makes you excited and comfortable. When Mason and Lynn started Underdog Genetics they took their own advice and have used it to build a successful operation. “We have a good system,” joked Hays. “I’m not going to lie, Mason is the brains behind the operation when it comes to the philosophy and I just keep him in check.” The philosophy of Underdog Genetics is concentrated on feet and legs. This unaltered focus has made their hogs what they are today. “We pick hogs that have the most to offer based on the basics,” explained Garner. “After structure, which is our number one focus, we prioritize look. Hogs have to be good looking, be level or run up hill with enough extension up front. Next is heaviness of structure. We believe that when you pick them in this order the rest will come with feed. “We are focused on one look,” said Garner. “We have an image in mind and although not every female or boar is identical, when we go through the selection process, we try to make that image a reality by complementing different types and kinds; fortunately we’ve hit the nail on the head.” As for the future of the show pig industry, Mason and Lynn know that there will continue to be difficulties. “We think for our business and anyone’s, maintaining herd health and general operating cost are the two biggest challenges,” explained Hays. “With
“Breed hogs that you like so it’s enjoyable to do chores.”
the high cost of semen you can’t afford to make the wrong breeding decisions and have litters that don’t turn out.” Mason and Lynn recognize the pressure to make great ones, but know that this pressure is what keeps them going. “Making great hogs for these kids is what we are all after and if you’re not, well you won’t be successful,” explained Garner. Mason and Lynn are in this business of selling pigs. They have the goal for every hog to turn out, but know that they can’t always predict that. In regards to expansion, this uncertainty offers its own set of challenges. “We are in the process of trying to grow our business without sacrificing quality of stock,” elaborated Hays. “It’s easy to go from 15 sows to however many if you’re strictly chasing quantity not quality, but we are committed to increasing our herd while increasing the quality of our hogs.” Even with these obstacles, Underdog Genetics will continue to grow, improve and reach their goals. The ultimate goal for this duo is to stand the test of time. They know a lot of people come and go in this business, so as Mason and Lynn strive to produce competitive stock year in and year out, they want to be a household name for years to come. To accomplish their ultimate goals, Mason and Lynn have set several short-term objectives to guide them. “We have 35 sows now that mainly farrow in the fall and a few in the spring,” explained Hays. “Within the next couple of years, we want our herd to get to 40 to 50 sows and farrow three times a year. We have always kept a few boars here on the farm, but are in the process of putting together a heck of a set of boars and want to stand eight to 12 boars by March.”
Above: Grand Champion Barrow, ‘15 Montgomery County Fair. Right: Champion Hampshire and Reserve Grand Barrow, ‘16 San Angelo Stock Show.
Of course a major goal for everyone is to win the Texas Majors, and Underdog Genetics is no different. Like their other goals, they are well on their way to accomplishing this one. The past three years Underdog Genetics has raised numerous county and jackpot champions, including Grand Champion Barrow at the ‘15 Montgomery County Show. The win at Montgomery County is a special one for Mason and Lynn because this was their first big win with a hog that was a result of total homegrown genetics. Other highlights for this operation include: Champion Black OPB, ‘15 FWSS; Reserve Light Weight Division Hampshire, ’15 SALE; CTBR Top 10 Breeder, ’15 TPIC; Champion Hampshire and Reserve Overall Barrow, ’16 San Angelo Stock Show; and CTBR Top 10 Breeder,’16 TPIC. No matter what, Mason, Lynn and their families know what is most important in life and their business. “Being faithful to who you are and to those who you consider friends are the key things that have brought this family we know as Underdog Genetics to its best,” explained Hays. “We’re a tight knit group of individuals that strive to help everyone reach their goals.” Mason and Lynn feel honored to have the opportunities to be a part of the impact that the youth swine program has on young people’s lives. “We know that the man upstairs has blessed us and brought our two families together to be a part of this industry,” acknowledged Garner. “Without God’s blessings there is no way we could raise our kids in this atmosphere and help other kids be successful in and out of the show ring,” echoed Hays. “These kids are why we do this. Touching that one person that needs the show industry in their life and helping them succeed is worth more than anything in this world and we are thankful to get to do this everyday.”