Pigs on Pasture 2006


Today is a little tour in the south field. You’ll need to click on the image above to get a larger view in order to see the details. As usual, bonus points to whom ever can count all the dogs!

The leaves are starting to change but the hills aren’t really flaming with color yet. I took this panorama in section three of the south field with my back to the road and looking south-west up hill. Actually, I panned from south-east to north getting a more than 180째 view. You’ll notice that there is a fence line to both the left and the right going away from the viewer in this image. That is the same fence line as if you turned your head to look at it both left and right.

The field is divided up into a number of paddocks. This allows us to do intensive managed grazing. Each paddock typically contains open ground forages such as grasses and legumes like clover and alfalfa as well as some brush which provides other forages and shade and then some trees too. This is a savannah style pasture rather than the lawn like pasture of the story book castles and paintings of farms.

The idea with paddocks is to put the animals into a smaller area for a short period of time. Ideally they would be moved every three to seven days or so but we are using a slightly longer schedule of about two weeks because I am pushing the pigs and sheep to clear out some of the brush.

Then after they have finished a paddock, and they’re just about done with this one, we open the fence to the next one which has been resting for a month or more. The new paddock is filled with lush fresh grass and the livestock eagerly move in. After they’re out of the old paddock we close the fencing so land can rest for a month.

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This controlled rotation between paddocks rests the land, stops soil compaction and erosion, lets parasites die off by going for a cycle without a host, favors the re-growth of clover, grasses and herbs that are good grazing and forces the animals to chew down even the less desirable forage like the brush which makes for less weedy pasture. This is a good easy way to reclaim old pasture, transform woods to pasture and improve the quality of pasture without a lot of machine intensive work. If you look up the hill you can see paddock number four where the herd was a couple of weeks ago. It is already turning bright green with new grass growth.

As needed, especially when reclaiming old brushy pasture, we’ll seed behind the herd. By the time they get to that section again there is new growth in the loosened soil. This is a great way to adjust the mix of grasses. Right now we’re increasing the white clover content of the pastures.

Looking to the far left you can see down the south field to the brush that the pigs have not taken out yet. They enjoy the shade of those saplings on hot days. This used to be dense, almost impenetrable brush and briers but now you can easily walk through with a canopy of well spaced saplings overhead.

I took this photo in late morning and most of the herd is laying down. In the middle left you can see one of our boars as well as a few sows that are still grazing. Bonus points if you can spot another boar. Extra bonus points if you find a third. In each case say what color the boar is and where he is in the photo.

Our pigs are primarily the classic heritage Yorkshire Large White pig that originated in York, England around 1769. They are known for their large meaty frame, durability, mothering ability and doing well on pasture. These are the oldest heritage breed and the mother breed of modern pork. In addition to the dominant Yorkshire genetics we have a mix of some Glouster Old Spot, Berkshire, maybe Tamworth and possibly other breeds as demonstrated by the occasional other colored pigs that pop out once in a while. Directly in front of us, in the middle of the image, is a pair of piglets looking at Kia. One of them is a red haired and skinned piglet. We get this coloring occasionally as well as the occasional spotted piglet like the one named Mark a little to the right of the red piglet and further up the hill.

At the bottom of the panorama and just to the right of the red piglet is Kia, one of our livestock guardian dogs. She is keeping a watchful eye on everyone as the piglets eye her. Kia is the mother of three of our other dogs.

Off to the right are some of our Montedale sheep near the whey feeding tub by the stone wall and hidden by the pigs who are drinking from it.

In the distance, beyond the stone wall and line of maple trees are the winter pig dens carved into the hill. These are basically three sided sheds that provide shelter from the elements and a wind block during the long winters. Most of the year the pigs prefer sleeping out in the pasture.

Also see How much land per pig.

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About Walter Jeffries

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27 Responses to Pigs on Pasture 2006

  1. PV says:

    I always luv yor wide pans Walter. So much to see. Like those old paitings or wheres waldo!!!!

  2. anna says:

    walter how many pigs do you have in that pasture and how many acres is it? i am curious about how many pigs you can have per acre of land.

  3. pablo says:

    But where is the ice sculpture?

  4. Pablo, If you look to the far right of the panarama and then count one and two maple trees back, just before the second maple is a dark spot that is the far winter pig den. On the other side of that is where the ice sculpture dreams in its summer slumbers. :)

  5. Anna,

    Long answer: There are about 100 or so pigs on the pasture but the size varies greatly from the wee little piglets who were just born yesterday and weigh less than ten pounds all the way up to the 700 to 800 lb mature sows and boar. In total that is about 16,000 lbs of pigs – maybe more. Dividing that out to typical finisher pig sizes and we’re talking about 80 or so pigs at an average weight of 200 lbs.

    Each of the paddock sections is about two acres so that comes to about 8,000 lbs of animal per acre or about 40 finisher pigs per acre.

    It is important to also look at it in days. They are on a section for about ten days typically but then they are off that section for a solid month or more. We use four paddocks of that size. Dividing that by 40 days (10 grazing + 30 resting) gives 200 lbs/acre/day. Or you can look at it as 0.005 lbs/sqft/day of pasture is needed for pigs.

    Of course, don’t try and get too precise because what other things you feed the pigs will change the math, how good the pasture is will change the math and bigger pigs utilize pasture better than little piglets because they have longer guts and larger jaws.

    Short answer: If you had one acre of pasture you could subdivide that into four sections and rotate ten pigs through the sections at the rate of about one section a week. You might get away with 20 pigs. They key is rotating them out of a section as soon as it is used up. Subdividing to eight smaller sections would be even better. If you put their house, water and any feeder in the middle it would make it easy. If you have brushy pasture they’ll act as brush hogs and clean it out for you.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for all the great info and. For being so responsive. As far as the “quality of pasture” is concerned, is there an ideal portion of the paddock that should be wooded or shaded by woods? I guess that would limit the forage amount but would provide shade in the summer. If there was little/no woods, would the three-sided structure you have referenced in the pasture be enough to keep them cool in warmer climates?

      • We have areas with young trees that have dense pasture under them so it is very possible to have both brush, trees and ground forages such as grasses, legumes (clover, alfalfa, trefoil), millets, brassicas, chicory and other things all growing in the same space. In fact, the cover of the trees helps to keep the ground moist and from drying out.

        Another thing that the trees do is they break up the wind which makes for a warmer micro-climate and again prevents the land from drying out too much by keeping humidity down near the ground.

        If there were no brush then any shade from a roof, a tarp or cave would be appreciated by the animals. Even a cliff slide can do the trick.

  6. Leslie says:

    THANKS for all the numbers, Walter. I’d been wondering the same thing. I know it varies widely depending on condition of pasture but it’s great to have a ballpark figure, something that will at least allow one to make fairly sane estimates and plans.

  7. Sam asked:
    I am interested in comparing conventional pig breeds verse heritage breeds in terms of their feed conversion rate. I also wanted to get a better idea of how heritage breeds compare in terms of the time it takes them to reach certain slaughtering weights. I know the diet (grain, whey or pasture, etc) has an effect along with other environmental factors (temp., variety). But if you have any personal knowledge or know any good resources on the topic, I would appreciate it. Thanks and hope everything is going well down at the farm, Sam

    Hi Sam,

    By conventional do you mean the mixed F1 and F2 generations used in CAFO’s? By heritage do you mean purebred pigs?

    I have read that some purebreds can be quite slow to reach 225 lbs. Others like the Yorkshire and Duroc get there very quickly. My understanding is that hybrid mixes gain the fastest.

    Our pigs are a mix of Yorkshire, Berkshire, Tamworth, GOS, Hampshire, Large Black and other breeds. I select them towards our breeding goals which among other things is the ability to do well on pasture in our climate. This includes rapid growth rate and large muscles among other traits.

    I don’t have any experience with purebreds – only what I’ve read. Articles suggest that the Yorkshires are desired for their large size, mothering, pasture-ability and growth rates. The Berkshire for marbling. Tams for rooting. Etc. Different sources talk about different specific for the breeds. You might check out this link. It discusses many different breeds and their characteristics.

    This google search produces some interesting links. Go down the list a little ways for some studies.

    Cheers,

    Walter

  8. Anonymous says:

    I am looking to start a small heard… maybe four to begin with. 3 Sows and 1 Bore. Is that a good idea? I have forty acres in new hampshire and just cleard about 4 acres. There is a ton of leftovers on the ground including rocks. I want to know how much I need to feed them in that kind of environment. not much for grass all though we have five acres that we cut regular and can give them. How small an area should I use for cleaning up this large area with only four pigs? Also I've read that you should keep bores seperate except for breeding? Is there a specific site that can teach me the things I should know? I know the basics, lots of water clean area and so on. thanks! Robert

  9. Robert,

    That is a good number of animals to start with. Do keep in mind that not all animals are fertile. If you are starting with unbred, unproven stock some of them might end up being breeders and others to the butcher. Always breed the best of the best and eat the rest.

    We keep our boars in with the herds of sows. This makes breeding far easier. They know how to do their work. Here I might note that one characteristic you want to breed for is temperament. Don't keep mean animals.

    As to how much to feed, watch the condition of the animals. If they are growing slowly then the protein needs increasing or balancing. Likely the lysine is low as that tends to be the limiting protein. Dairy is a good source. If they are too fat, cut the calories. If they are too lean then add calories. Pasture/hay is well supplemented with dairy.

    I would suggest doing intensive rotational grazing. The articles at that search pattern will get you going on that topic. When the pigs are smaller, use smaller paddocks.

    The best beginning book I would recommend on pigs is "Small Scale Pig Raising" by Dirk van Loon.
    It is an older book and isn't focused on pasture so much as pigs. It will give you a good background. You can also find a lot of articles here on my blog about how we raise pigs on pasture. If you have questions, just leave them in the comments and I'll answer there where others can share in the learning.

  10. Judy says:

    We have 2 pasture pigs, a Tamworth and Large Black. Our paddock has a stand of pigweed (Thlapsi arvense). Do you know if pigs will eat this, and if so how long would you have to wait to butcher? Many years ago we butchered a beef animal that had been into stinkweed; the meat had to be discarded.

  11. The foods an animal eats definitely affect the flavor, especially the fat. Thlaspi arvense is not what I know as Pig Weed. Common names vary greatly. Click those links to see what they have to say. I have read that Pig Weed (one of them but which one?) is toxic. Generally toxic things are bitter, taste bad, and take a lot to kill but not always. See if you can use the images in those links to ID your version?

  12. cosmo says:

    Hi Greetings
    5 acre Holding
    I had tried raising pigs (commercial types) on open grazing ,using Electric fencing for control, and commercial feed for nourishment. Economic disaster , lost my shirt mostly due to feed cost .
    It appears (a) wrong type of pig (b) do not use commercial feed (imported fromUSA )

    Any recommendations?

    Best Regards
    Cosmo (the Jamaican)

    • Cosmo, the genetics may well be part of the issue. Not all breeds will do well on pasture and the confinement type are the least desirable for pasture as they run too lean, unable to gain on the low calorie diet. They need more corn, commercial feed, which as you found costs a lot.

      The second problem is that the pigs need to learn to eat pasture. It is a cultural issue. Pigs learn from their parents and our first pigs learned from our sheep. See this post for more details on teaching pigs to eat pasture/hay.

  13. Mike says:

    Do you leave your pigs on long enough to till the land or do you try to leave them on just long enough to mow it down? Also do you graze your sheep alongside your pigs or ahead of them? Do you still get your pork processed in williamsburg packing in SC? If so I’d love to meet you sometime!

    • Our pigs, and I think pigs in general, don’t dig overly much when done on a managed rotational grazing pattern. See Rootless in Vermont. They graze more like sheep than rototillers. To get them to till requires mob grazing, keeping them in an area for a longer period such as described in Of Tiller Pigs and Weeder Chickens.

      We graze all the species together. The only time we separate is during lambing season as the newborn lambs are a bit too tempting. Once they’re up and running all is fine.

      We’ve never had our pork processed in SC. We currently take it to Adams in Athol, MA as we get ready to open our own butcher shop.

  14. Tyler says:

    Hi Walter,

    Thanks for all the great info on raising pigs on pasture. I see in the above post that you are grazing your sheep with your pigs. I currently have a flock of sheep, and would like to incorporate pigs, but I am curious how you get supplemental feed – I’ve seen whey and bread mentioned on this site – to the pigs without the sheep eating up this supplemental feed? We’re committed to grass/forage feeding our sheep, so I’m trying to keep any additional grain, etc. out of their diet.

    Thanks in advance for the help,
    Tyler

    • Depending on the sheep and pig sizes you can setup creeps, doorways, that let the sheep in, pigs in or keep one or the other out. Also handing for lambs and piglets vs finishers and adults. This is called creep feeding. The barriers can be timber or simply raising up a lower line of electric fencing. How this is setup depends on the sizes and shapes of the animals as well as their ability to twist such as through a 90° or 180° turn. Over time this can change, such as when the sheep have full wool they are not as maneuverable as when they’re shorn.

      The other thing is don’t feed the pigs grain. We don’t buy or feed commercial grains, hog feed, etc. We get a little bit of bread every week or month but it is really quite small compared with the number of animals we have (~400 pigs at this date) so it doesn’t go far. Primarily we use the bread as a treat for training the animals to move or load. Since they get so little candy (bread, grain) it is highly appetitive.

      Whey doesn’t seem to hurt our sheep at all so we let them free feed along with the pigs. Mostly I think they drink it for the water and salt in the whey. It’s like ice tea for them. :) Milk seems to be okay for them too as is a little cheese. Do avoid letting the sheep get significant amounts of butter. That can really mess them up.

      If none of the above works for your way, your tao, then simply follow graze the species. Have the sheep go through an area, move them onto a new paddock and send in the pigs. By keeping them separated you can completely control who gets what.

      • Tyler says:

        Walter,

        Thanks for the feedback! Sorry for the slow reply… I had thought I had turned on the email notification, but didn’t. Just now found my original comment.

        I appreciate the help, and I’ll have to experiment a little to see what works. Since the original post, we’ve added a few pigs and are feeding whey. As you noted above, the sheep have shown some interest in the whey which I didn’t expect. For the most part, however, they stick with the pasture.

        Keep up the good work, and best of luck with the construction of the butcher shop!

        Tyler

  15. Brian says:

    Hello Walter,

    Great work, I have been quoting select passages to my father (former old school farmer now learning new tricks!).

    We are planning a grazing (MIG) system for cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens (meat and eggs) and turkeys etc. I wonder if you have a preference for in which order to run the animals. Would you run the cows with the sheep and pigs and chickens? or separate them a bit. I have heard to run the chickens several days after the grazers so they can feast on the grubs/bugs in the poop and till/spread it around.

    Maybe cows first, followed by sheep/pigs and then chickens? Or?

    Thanks,

    Brian

    • We run our sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and geese together. The larger pigs and sheep are controlled by fencing. The smaller piglets and poultry follow the herds and just need to be fenced out where we don’t want them (gardens).

      I’ve not had cattle, yet, so I can’t comment directly there. I have heard from some people that had problems with their pigs learning to milk the dairy cows. I would probably run the cows ahead, followed by sheep and then the pigs with the poultry following or free ranging.

      For us the primary purpose of the chickens is to do organic pest control, following the grazers (pigs and sheep) around eating up insects, breaking manure patties, smoothing the soil. The chickens do eat pasture in addition to the insects, grubs and worms. A side benefit of the chickens is they produce a lot of eggs which are good food for the younger pigs. Cook the eggs to double the available protein and void the biotin problem.

      Sheep and geese are much like the chickens, eat different pests, stir up the ponds and produce fewer eggs.

  16. Justin says:

    This is the second night in a row that I have been up far too late reading your blog entries. I can’t tell you enough how useful this is for us. We have recently decided to try and convert our whole operation to pasture and whey. Biggest problems we face is the fact it is more populated round here, we don’t own much of the land we use and it’s really rather steep, not to mention meters of snow in winter, miles to the cheese factory, no lorry access to 90% of the land and pigs that love to dig REALLY big holes, take 18 months to get to 120kg……so your experiences are pretty spot on useful. THANKYOU ps your own butchers shop is wonderful apart from the fact time spend under neon tubes in air conditioned sterility is not as pleasant after a while as the mountains.

    • On the lighting we’re using LEDs. The new LEDs are not quite as good as real sunlight but they are in a more natural spectrum and far, far better than the florescent bulbs. We’ve been using LEDs in our home for about ten years now and that is all we have in the cottage too.

  17. Linda says:

    Hello Walter
    I am going to be picking up produce and bread seconds twice a week at a grocery store, it may or may not include cheese ect. The gilt is in the piggie way, what would you supplement there daily fed with besides hay so they will be healthy?

    Thank you

    Linda

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