Torn with newborn piglets
Torn is an interesting pig. She is very friendly and an excellent mother. She is also torn. She was viciously beat up by another pig when she was little, a mere 200 lbs or so. She may have lost that battle but she won in the long run – the other pig went to market and Torn stayed here. She bred early and has produced wonderful litters well holding her place on the farm.
I have a firm rule – I eat the mean people. It is an important rule because we can’t risk our lives, our children’s health, that of the other livestock, dogs and visitors poor temperament. Over the generations this produces gentlemen boars and sows with good temperaments.
Mouse is another sow who won this way – by losing out to meaner sows. Be nice and work hard. It’s a simple formula for success. The fact that she’s got a nice body helps, of course. What can I say.
Torn was not done having the piglets when I took the photos above. Tomorrow I’ll get a final count on her litter. There were seven when I left her. She is in one of our new portable pig huts. We made this one because every once in a while we have a sow who chooses a bad location to farrow. If it’s bad instinct then I will want to cull her from the herd but sometimes it is simply bad circumstances. Lady Diamond did that this year. With these huts we can just drop it over her chosen nesting place and presto, instant housing.
The plywood in the photo above is on the windward, the north north west side. If the hut had a proper solid roof that wouldn’t be necessary although even then it would be nice as it creates a wind break around the entrance. The whole thing is down in a bit of a hollow so the wind lifts up and over it.
I said we breed for good temperaments above, but there are limits for even the friendliest animal, especially when a sow is farrowing. One animal welfare certification group that tried to recruit me to join their organization told me that if a sow is farrowing out in the field out in the weather that I must move her indoors. They don’t have the slightest clue about pigs. Those people need to get out of their padded cells and into the field. Once a sow has chosen a nesting space she doesn’t want to leave it. You can take the piglets and she will stay right there defending the location. It is extremely difficult, and very dangerous, to try to move her or the piglets. The key is don’t try to move her. Our drop over huts, slightly larger than a sow’s nest, are a solution that will work in the really bad weather. During the drier warm months of the year this isn’t an issue.
Another thing that group insisted on is that you must not give hay to sows. They said the piglets would tangle and strangle in the hay. They’re wrong. We’ve been providing hay for years to our sows. I have never lost a piglet to that entanglement and we get very, very little crushing as well. Hay is an excellent bedding material and it has nutritional value. Instead they wanted me to use straw. Straw isn’t locally available. That would mean shipping it in great distances at high costs at a waste of fuel. That’s unsustainable and simply stupid. Additionally, straw is inedible where as hay is good food for the pigs. The sows eat the hay. The piglets see their mothers eating hay and nibble the hay when they’re young, gaining a taste for it so that by the time their weaned they’re familiar with eating it. Straw would be an expensive waste and lack this important food and training value. Once again the stuffed shirts are trying to carry coal to Newcastle. I tried to explain this to them but they insisted their ‘experts’ had written the rules and there was no flexibility for local issues or real life, in the field observations.
One of the benefits of the deep hay and wood chip bedding packs is that there is composting action going on which creates a warm micro-climate where the pigs sleep. The deep bedding heats up to a temperature of around 100°F or more, composting temperatures, in its interior which generates a lot of heat for the sow and piglets during cool weather. Snuggling down in the top layer traps this warmth so that it is very comfortable. One might reasonably wonder how we know how comfortable the pig beds are… It’s because we’ve spent many a winter night sleeping out with our sows even in deeply sub-zero degree Fahrenheit weather.
Portable Pig Hut
With the farrowing pig hut the idea is to have something rugged enough that the pigs won’t destroy it yet light enough that two people can easily move it. It also must be large enough that we can drop it over a nesting sow. The largest sow nest I’ve measured is 7′ in diameter. It isn’t a circle but rather oblong to fit the sow’s body. The base of the hut is made of 6′ long 2×8’s. This creates an 8′ diagonal that is large enough for even big sows.
The base of the hut is joined with 16 penny nails and then with steel hurricane rafter ties screwed to it on the inside corners. This makes it rugged – or pig tough as we like to say. Without the steel straps the sows might break out the entrance base board. I like the high front base board as little piglets will be more likely to stay in until they’re mobile enough to handle wandering further.
The roof of this one is 661010 Welded Wire Mesh (WWM). That’s 5′ x 10′ sheets on a 6″ x 6″ grid of number 10 guage steel. This is used in concrete work for floors and sidewalks. There is a heavier 6666WWM. Even better would be 4 gauge hog or cattle panels with but I didn’t have them available. Going in town for just that was too much of a trip so we used what we had on hand. If I make a lot of these I’ll probably get the cattle panels. Even with our new farrowing greenhouse this will be a useful tool for when sows insist on another location.
Clamping hut roof wire to base
We used 2×4’s inside the base frame to lock the WWM on. The bar clams tightened the 2×4 to the 2×8 far tighter than we could hold them by hand. Then we were able to screw the two pieces of wood together.
10′ long WWM arched over a 6′ x 6′ base gives a ridge height inside of about 44″ due to the extra heigh from the 2×8’s (Remember: c=2πr). That is ample for a sow and even big enough for us to go inside if we need to do so. I’ve made spaces before that were too low – we ended up scrunched over even though they were high enough for the pigs.
Here I have Holly caged up. Containment is an essential part of a good relationship. See how happy she is! A Confinement Wife Fencing Operation (CWFO). Nah… I like her free-ranged!
Once we got the WWM bent into place we tied it together in a bunch of places. This created a truss work greatly increasing the rigidity and strength of the mesh. The next step to make something really strong, would be to lay lath over it and parge it like the roof of our cottage. I’ve done that. We have another hut that is buried into the hill and is so strong I’ve driven the tractor on it. In fact, our two 1,025 gallon whey tanks sit on top of that. Combined they’re around 16,000 lbs. Arches are great.
The back of the hut uses another sheet of WWM that comes up and then folds across the top, tying to the three pieces already arched over. A few snips of the resulting corners and some origami and the structure locks together. The clipped ends can be spun around the r
oof wires to tie it together using a high tensile fence twisting tool, or if you lost yours like I did then a spade drill bit with a hole in it works.
The covering, which you can see in the second photo, is bale wrap. Another use for that material that we end up with so much of. Cut off the bale carefully and tied to the frame it works very well as a roofing material. I do not expect it to last for years and years but it was free. In a “perfect” world, e.g., one where money was no objection, I would use Kalwall or similar to create greenhouses. But that is very expensive. Still, I might end up with some huts that way as time to time I’ve scavenged some of the fiberglass roofing material.
We didn’t have to actually do a “drop on” of the hut with Torn, she farrowed right where I wanted her to. She thought it was grand and moved right in. She was already bagging and may have been starting to think about where, o, where am I going to nest… Even without the drop on test she still got the benefit of the new housing and I got a chance to see it in operation.
After designing this I found that there are commercial quanta-set style pig huts and calf huts but they cost $400 or so new plus one must get them here. Since I had the materials this was essentially free. Building with bought materials it would be about $50 to $100 depending on how fancy you want to get. Not bad and no shipping.
By the way, on a separate topic, I almost lost the tractor today. I went to get hay in the south field and drove out on what looked like firm ground. It was very deep snow. The snow drifts during the winter to fill in the hollows. I drove over one such hollow and all of a sudden the tractor was acting like a paddle boat but going nowhere slow. The tires had broken through the crush such that the snow was holding the body of the tractor up by its underbelly and the wheels were free spinning. We ended up hand digging the tractor out. It was a team effort with Holly, Ben, Will and I all working at it. Then using the bucket I was able to advance it enough turning downhill to get the tractor out following the path we had dug. A lot of work. I had feared we would have it stuck there until May when the fields melted out and dried. Nasty thought. I’ll stick to the plowed path in the future.
Outdoors: 35°F/10°F Sunny, Few clouds
Farm House: 30°F/30°F
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/59°F Fire