Seeing Spots


Spot and Walter – South Field

This is Spot.
See Spot Run.
Run, Spot! Run!

Actually, Spot rarely runs. He ambles and grazes. He swims in the pig pond. He relaxes in the sun. He’s a big pig. A very long pig. Running he can do but he rarely bothers.

Spot is a product of our breeding program for length – one of the characteristics we select for. More length means more bacon and pork chops. Spot throws, that is to say, has offspring who are very long piglets.


Spot Showing Off His Length

We have seen him jump a four foot fence as if it weren’t even there. Normally he doesn’t bother, seeming quite content to stay with his ladies in the south field. The fence in the photo is just a three foot fence but he stays to his side despite the tempting food on the other side.


Spot and Holly in the New Terrace

Spot has become the dominant boar. While he’s gentle with us, with the sows and with the piglets he makes no bones about his dominance with the other boars and they give him a wide path. Fortunately Spot also has a great temperament. He loves a good scratch behind the ears or along his massive back. I just have to be careful he doesn’t use me as a rubbing post and knock me down. This raises an important point, never get between a pig and a wall, post or other solid object. If they rub up against you they may crush you without even meaning to. They also have sharp pointy toes so watch where they’re dancing!

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No, that hole in the south field is not a product of Spot’s rooting. In the photo above Holly is standing by a 10′ cut in in the south field. The purpose of that cut is we’re making a terrace for a greenhouse we’ll be building next year, what was supposed to be this year’s project. I was amazed that our soil was that deep. So often we’ve hit ledge over where we built our tiny cottage and when doing fencing.


Walter Measuring Spot

Here I’m trying to measure Spot as we’re standing on the new greenhouse terrace in the south field. Sometime I need to get a tape measure out and estimate Spot’s weight. My arms are about 6′ long. Spot is about 8″ longer from the base of his tail to his crown. That gives a Length (L) of about 84″. I can’t even come close to reaching my arm’s around him, he’s just too big and barrel chested so his Girth (G) is probably close to that 84″ too. Using the String Method of estimating his weight I come up with:

L x G x G ÷ 400 = 1,481 lbs

That seems a bit high but then he is very much like a cow with very short legs so it may be close. I certainly don’t want him sitting in my lap or stepping on my toes! A much smaller, younger boar that we slaughtered this winter weighed around 800 lbs so it is possible that Spot is well up over half a ton now that he is three years old. (Update 2010: At death Spot weighed a bit over 1,700 lbs.)

As an interesting aside, years ago I was told that pigs never stop growing. I doubt that as neither Spot, Archimedes nor Big’Un have gotten noticeably bigger in the past year. Archimedes, the oldest of the boars, is more than a year older than the other two and seems to have stopped growing quite a while ago. At this point Spot is the biggest. Perhaps he’ll grow a little more but I suspect that his gains have pretty much leveled off.


Spot Mugging for the Camera

Aren’t you glad you don’t have to shave that face in the morning…

Outdoors: 70°F/50°F Mostly Sunny
Farm House: 67°F/57°F
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/61°F Cemented floor gaps filled

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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30 Responses to Seeing Spots

  1. Mick says:

    I think you just talked me out of my notion to keep a boar one day. I may still keep a sow, if I can talk my wife into it. Right now we just have two “feeder” pigs, not on pasture, but in last year’s sheep bedding.

    http://womerlippi.blogspot.com/2008/08/deeply-bedded.html

    Mick W.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Spot closely resembles a boar we had growing up named Alfred who used to talk to us and walk around the farm with us. He was loose most of the time in the barnyard because he was so social. My grandfather always said never to trust unneutered males, whether they have 2 legs or four, short legs or long, but Alfred came as close to trustworthy as any male critter I’ve ever raised. The neat part was that Alfred was at least as big as Spot and even as young adults we rode him wherever he cared to ramble. He was our load-up specialist- get the pig panels set up to funnel everyone into the trailer and tell Alfred to “load ’em up”, and he’d lead and herd everyone into the trailer, allow us to close the big swing door, then open the slide door and out he’d come, everyone loaded with no fuss and a carrot on the floor in the barn waiting for him as his reward. He was a great pig!
    Still not revealing the big secret?
    Please?
    Sal

  3. Mick, boars don’t have to get that big. You can have a boar breed your sows and then eat him after a few services. By the time they are finisher weight (200 to 250 lbs) they’re well able to breed. Start small and find your comfort level.

    Sal, I don’t think Spot’s ever been ridden although our kids have ridden our rams and some of the bigger sows. They hold a long stick with a cup full of treats for steering. Sort of like the classic carrot on a stick. Your story of Alfred is great!

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  4. Amy says:

    Wow…… spot certainly looks a lot bigger than hogzilla and that pig shot by the boy last year. Hes huge! Hesa beautiful pig too!

  5. KT says:

    I happened upon your blog a few months ago and have really enjoyed it. My wife and I have been raising a few pigs each year for us and our family. We also pasture ours and have thought about “getting bigger” and adding more pigs. I was curious, with pasturing, how much more feed do you provide your pigs? Feed them individually or free choice? Thanks Walter.

  6. KT, Pasture in the warm months and hay in the winter make up the primary part of our pig’s diet. They also free feed on whey from making cheese. Sometimes they get cheese trim, boiled barley from a local pub/brewer, expired bread from a local bakery and the occasional score of something like a ton of peanut butter. Cheers, -Walter

  7. Peter says:

    Does a longer pig mean more pork chops or bigger pork chops?

  8. Todd W says:

    Thanks for a very interesting and informative blog!
    What crossing yeilded Spot? Is it the Yorkshire that makes him so long?
    We’ve got 3 Berkshires that have a date with the freezer this fall, but I may reconsider now that I’ve read your blog. I didn’t realize pigs were that hardy.
    In a previous post, did I see a pile of baleage? How do the pigs like it? Do you need to feed dry hay as well? What quality hay will they eat?
    I also read that you have some black step-in posts that don’t have the steel spike running up inside the plastic. Would you mind sharing your source for them?
    Thanks Todd W

  9. Todd,

    Our pigs are primarily Yorkshire crossed with Berkshire x Large Black x Tamworth x Glouster Old Spot x etc. We have been selecting for, among other things, longer bodied pigs with the goal of getting more loin per pig since that is a prime cut.

    The pigs will eat a wide variety of hay, from the dry square bales and rowen to dry round bales and the somewhat fermented haylage. We did get some bales this past winter that were soaking wet and the pigs did not like them. I suspect they were baled immediately after cutting rather than having dried some.

    The black step in posts came from TractorSupply or Agway if I remember correctly. We have a lot of different step-in posts. The black ones are good. Kencove.com is a good online source if you’re buying in volume.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  10. Peter,

    A longer pig means more chops and a bigger pig means deeper chops (depth of the loin muscle) generally. In addition to breeding for the longer pig we also are looking for deeper loins to get bigger chops.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  11. LJB says:

    Hi Walter,

    Gosh, that’s one big pig. Do you ever feel scared around him?

  12. Scared, not. Careful, wary, watchful – definitely yes. He’s big and I would rather not be stepped on, knocked down, etc. Likewise with the big sows and the tractor. Fortunately I’ve raised him, and others, since he was only 3 lbs so I’ve had time to get to know him. They kind of grow on you… :)

  13. David says:

    Im very impressed. I had not realized pigs got that big. I guess I’ve always seen them at the fair at the to market to market size. I bet you could ride him like a pony.

  14. ChristyACB says:

    That is a handsome pig! He’s huge but seems to have such a nice face. I admit that I’m always very wary and a bit fearful of pigs when they get that big. My pet one was huge to me at around 600 lbs but so sweet she was like a smoozy kitten. The only really big ones I saw were at a farm and they were mean and angry. The mothers were almost psychotic in behavior. I don’t think they were treated well and I know they were slaughtered where other pigs could hear and smell it. Perhaps that made them so angry.

    How are yours slaughtered, if I may ask?

  15. Christy,

    Normally for slaughter our pigs go to a small USDA abattoir that is about an hour from us (if the weather is good). On occasion I have had to slaughter a pig out in the field where other pigs could see it. They had no objection at all. I don’t think they understood what was happening. The pig was alive one moment and dead the next. It is all very fast.

    On the psychotic pigs you met, you may be right about abuse. It also could be genetics. Dr. Temple Grandin writes a lot about animal behavior. She has said that in both swine and dogs many breeders have failed to include temperament in their breeding criteria. The result being they end up with mean animals.

    We specifically breed against meanness – that is to say, mean animals get eaten. Only the best of the best get to stay and breed. We have the safety of our children, ourselves and others to consider. I can’t tolerate mean and it is definitely genetic as well as environmental.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  16. Anonymous says:

    Hi Walter,
    Awesome site packed with info! Thank you. Do you know of the approx. nutritional make-up of spent brewer’s grain? I’m trying to work out how much protein ration (soy, as I cannot source any dairy) to give. Any insight would be great.–Jon V. in Maine

  17. The nutritional content will depend on the type of grain and “Spent brewers grain” can mean wheat, corn, barley, etc so there is quite the variety. Here is a search pattern to get you started. Find out what the materials available to you are based on. Cooking the grain is to get the starches for making the beer, etc. This leaves high protein, minerals, fiber, etc. Don’t feed the spent grain straight as generally it is too high in protein.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  18. Gwyneth, in ME now... says:

    Walter, I wrote you a grazing plan about a million years ago–nice to see where you've gotten to! About the psychotic behavior… definitely genetics are a big factor. We just ended up with a factory pig (long story. Moral: no matter how much whey and how little time and money you have, ask where the piggy came from. Especially when everyone you knew to ask didn't have any piglets right now). He's improving, but still is a very fussy eater, not much rooting, hard to train to fence, jumpy, antisocial. We won't make that mistake again. Hay? HA! HE won't eat fresh cabbage!

  19. Hi Gwyneth,

    Good to hear from you. I enjoyed that pasture walk you and Sylvia did with me so many years ago. Our pastures are now lush. The biggest thing was simply grazing and time as you had recommended. We do managed intensive rotational grazing in most areas and it is easy to see how that makes a difference.

    This year we're clearing more pasture so we'll have it available in the future when we need it as our farm grows.

    On the pig of yours, another part of it is the pig may have missed out on the learning experience. Our pigs originally learned to eat hay from seeing our sheep do it. They've taught their offspring for 11 generations and over time we've selected those who do best on pasture to breed. This makes for both a genetic factor and a social / learning factor.

    Thanks again,

    -Walter

  20. Lars says:

    Curious to know what a boar tastes like? I’ve been told that the meat isn’t very good on boars.

  21. Jeb says:

    Hey man that is one huge pig. I did not thing they got that big. Is he somekind of world record holder?

  22. Stacy Keenan says:

    Great blog, very informative… glad I found it! Love your farm… it’s great to see animals living a happy and humane life, which is how I wish all animals would be raised!

    I have a hopefully quick question. We are raising our second pig, this time because we like pigs. We know Boris (former pig scramble contestant we took in a week ago) will get gianormous and after seeing Spot, much larger than the 600 lbs. I ballparked. We also know because of this, we may reach a point we’ll need to put him down. For now, we are enjoying him—he has a super personality—and he is a cut male.

    As we’re not purposefully raising him for meat, is there a “normal” common-sense feeding plan we can employ long-term? We are feeding him commercial feed 2X a day, about 1.5-2 quarts daily (he is roughly 50-60 lbs.), I also give him lettuce and other veggies with a good dollop of plain yogurt and he’ll eat some grass when he’s hanging in the back yard. We’re trying to estimate his feed according to size, and we’re monitoring not only his physical appearance but how he’s acting—he eats when fed but doesn’t dive into it like he’s famished. And he doesn’t cause a ruckus when he hears food. Lots of content grunts.

    We have horses, but unfortunately don’t have enough grass in our pasture or I’d put him out there. We’re not trying to “keep him small”, and certainly don’t want him to starve!

    Is it realistic that a commercial pig can be maintained well with anything less than free choice? I can’t find ANY guidelines online at all (like, X amount of grain per pound of pig), except as it applies to potbellied pigs. The feed bag is not helpful, as it only says “free choice”.

    Thank you in advance! We want to do right by Boris, so I appreciate any insight you can give us.

    Sincerely,
    Stacy Keenan
    Hillsboro, NH

    • If Boris is cut then he is a barrow rather than a boar. On a commercial corn/soy based diet he’ll likely get quite fat. See these posts about pet pigs.[1, 2, 3]

      I would put Boris on pasture and do managed rotational grazing with him. He can get virtually all of his food off of good pasture. It wont take very much land. I figure about ten finisher sized pigs per acre of pasture. The key is doing rotational grazing.

      Adding dairy boosts the lysine, an amino-acid low on pasture. Yogurt is great.

      If you want to use a commercial feed for added calories then I would suggest feeding it in the evening and in reduced volume.

      Get your soil tested to make sure you have sufficient minerals and consider adding a mineral mix like kelp. Iron and selenium are two minerals of particular concern.

      He also needs plenty of water and a wallow plus shade.

      I would suggest purposefully raising him. He will be excellent meat. Even if you don’t want to eat him when he gets too big to keep as a pet he would be a great donation to the local food shelf. Make him into sausage and feed people who need the food. Don’t waste. Make his life and his death meaningful.

  23. Dawn Carroll says:

    I have run my pigs with the horses for a lot of years now. Because of the horse population I do vaccinate my pigs with tetanus vaccines. I’ve never had a problem with the horses chasing the piglets or sows and boars. I have seen many a litter eating the alfalfa hay with the horses. The piglets and the rest of the herd are great at breaking up the manure piles the horses leave and finding the grubs and eating them. In fact they virtually clean up the horse manure, then they deposit their manure in a few select locations. This makes my job much easier just having to go to a few spots to clean up the piggie piles.
    I don’t know what several horses would do with ONE pig though so you might want to have it make friends with the dominate horse first. If the dominate horse says the pig is ok then the rest of the herd won’t bother the ONE pig. Animal psychology is fun to watch and observe. One can learn a lot of one’s own behaviors by watching barnyard critters.
    I do keep up on the worming of everyone as there are some problems that can occur from pig worms to the horses. One certain kind of worm that won’t bother the pigs but will bother the horses small intestine. I learned this thru the necropsy that the vet & I did on one particular horse. And I worm my horses regularly and rotate wormers. What happened with the two horses (mother & daughter Appaloosa breeding, (which explains a lot…!!!…:O)) has not occurred again with my other lines of horses. The thickening of the small intestine due to this certain type of worm (that pigs have) is deemed as a rare occurrence between the two animals. But this problem has evidently occurred more than once for the universities to have had the problem tracked down to its sources.

  24. Farmerbob1 says:

    Walter, I had a thought while looking at Spot’s mugshot. It appears as if Spot has forward-facing eyes, giving him binocular vision like predators and tree-dwellers, as opposed to side-facing eyes, which give a larger field of view for predator detection.

    Am I just seeing that wrong because of the obscuring hair?

    • Interesting thought. I think that pig eyes are more to the side of the head than humans, wolves, cats and other predators but more front than herbivores like deer, horses, goats, sheep and cattle. Here is a search pattern with many pig faces to give you an idea.

      • Farmerbob1 says:

        Definitely, their eyes are more to the side than ours. The thickness of their nose bridge makes that certain. You can look at then straight on though, and see both eyes, and the side of the head on either side.

        My guess would be that they are recently evolved from true predators, as I doubt seriously that they are recently evolved from arboreal ancestors.

        I can’t even imagine a predator that breeds like swine. That would be fairly frightening.

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