Wee-wee-weaning All the Way Home


Sorting Sows South

The other day we weaned north home field piglets to the gardens. Then after a few days when the sows had dried up we moved the ladies to the south field. They were quite excited. They knew the boars were up there. As soon as they got near the driveway up to the field the ladies were a prancing and with tails a wagging in anticipation. Their hormones were already kicking in as they prepared to come into heat for their next breeding.
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It takes about three days for the sows to dry up after weaning and then about four days after that they’re back in heat. It is important to wean them before they get too nursed down or they lose body condition and health. Imagine having a dozen hungry mouths at you all the time. Natural weaning is a nice idea, if you only have one or two to feed, but with that many it doesn’t work out. Because our livestock guardian dogs eat up the predators foolish enough to come in and scare off those wise enough to stay out the piglets have a much higher survival rate than they would in the wild. This means we must monitor the mothers and wean them before they get into using up their own body reserves.


Weaners on Hay

The piglets mean while have transitioned beautifully to their new status as weaners. They are down in a big summer garden with a big bale of fresh hay where they’ll be for about a month before moving on to the next space as shoats. They had already started to eat grass, hay and whey before their transition. They’re also in a familiar group, a cohort, a sound of pigs they’ve known since birth. This makes the move easier.

Outdoors: 58°F/35°F Mostly Cloudy
Tiny Cottage: 68°F/67°F

Daily Spark: I’m just here to smell the coffee. -Me standing in the isle at the grocery

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Wee-wee-weaning All the Way Home

  1. Nance says:

    are these little piglets all intoxicated on the smell of new hay? they look so content!

  2. Gil Romero says:

    Thanks Walter,
    The nice people who are helping us get started with our pigs are folks who believe in and experienced with keeping their pigs (up to 6 or more) in cubicles measuring about 7 x 9 feet. They have 24/7 access to commercial feed and water but that is about it. They leave the cubical once they reach between 90 and 100 kilos and are off to market.

    They are being very patient with this silly newcomer and greenhorn pig farmer but one can see that no way, no how are they in agreement with nor really getting their heads around grazing vs farming their pigs in what I call a closet.

    I was proudly showing them our four new divisions ( almost 1/2 acre each) behind the pig barn yesterday and one of the fellows say to me in a fatherly fashion “Ya know, when they reach a certain age and realize that another pig they are pastured with does not smell like his brothers and sisters …or mother…the fighting will begin to the point that someone or more of your pigs may die or be killed. Biy did this pull a very dark cloud over my plans as we are already planning an additional 25 acres of rock-walled pasture divisions of close to 6.4 acres each so nopw what do we do?

    Not to be defeated easilly I began my interrogation: “Are you talking about pigs raised in these tiny enclosures or are you talking about open-air, spacious, room-for-everyone-grazing?” He hesitated then said “the cubicles” . “Hmmm” I said, “Might not you too be cranky and agressive living in a 7 x 9 foot cubicle with non-family member strangers?” Having made my point I felt the kind of satisfaction a newbie probably feels when he answers a question that his teacher and fellow stuudents were just sure he would never answer. As a parting, perhaps face-saving shot, our friend says “Yeah, but they will probably fight in the open as well!” He´s a good guy basically so I said no more resolving to myself to get on here to the Sugar Mountain blog ASAP before I stepped in my own way in a big way!

    Sorry for the long intro Walter but learning in another country, culture, and language is an ongoing adventure that is nevertheless as challenging as it is most often rewarding so I have gotten in the habit of giving folks I deal with (Thank God!) on the “outside” a little context before we continue.

    The question then is this: When you are grazing your pigs, do pigs of different “litters” find cause to fight, do injury, or even kill each other even though they have plenty of room to take care of their own needs while staying more or less out of the way of their field mates? I remember you said you conuld graze up to 25 head per acre so this may answer itself but we would appreciate a little elaboration if that´s OK? Also, do you segregate by sex (IE keep your boars separate at all times save for mating?). Finally, therefore to what extent do you separate, or keep separate, your same species animals (pigs in this case) ? How do you decide where each group will graze? Thank you!

    • His suggestions are based on two factors:

      1) pigs being in confinement where they can’t get away from aggressors; and

      2) pigs being introduced who do not have social rank established.

      This has nothing to do with genetic relationship. If you were to take two pigs and separate them at birth and then bring them together later they would likely tussle a bit to establish who is who in the pecking order, just like with chickens, ducks, dogs and people. Likewise if you bring together two unrelated pigs they’ll do exactly the same thing.

      There is a technique for introducing groups. Start with them across a good fence line. Then after a week or two let them both into a common area with plenty of food. There will be some tussling but they’re not going to kill each other or likely not even have any injuries. They will quickly establish social order and then there will be peace.

      The problem comes from having too many pigs in too small a space. Out on pasture life is a lot gentler. There is space to get away from aggressors. Speaking of which, if you see a pig that is particularly aggressive, it’s a genetic temperament, then eat it. Do not breed that pig.

      For land usage I figure on about ten pigs per acre doing managed rotational grazing. See the article about How Much Land per Pig.

      Our boars are kept with the breeding herd. This way they can do their jobs. Saves me having to do heat detection.

      Our herds are divided primarily to the north and south herds which have a blank central area between them. There are also fields where groups of farrowing mothers are nesting with piglets. At some points there are groups such as weaners and growers separate before the join the main herds.

  3. Johan van der Merwe says:

    Hi Walter, I trust that you and the family are well.
    What is your views on synchronising sows with hormones to “spread out” the births of piglets throughout the year?
    I think I read somewhere in one of your posts that with the pigs on pasture the sows tend to come in heat after the leading sows starts. Does this happen then roughly two times per year? (The number is 2.3 per sow per year)
    Or do you have new born piglets spread out through the year?
    Regards Johan

    • Synchronizing wouldn’t spread out the births through the year but would rather put all the farrowings in one period. Some farmers do this so that they get their piglets in batches. It is quite easy without even using hormones – just control the groupings and when they go into the boars. Cohorts of sows will tend to naturally synchronize themselves, following the boss sow. Out of our sixty sows they tend to form cohorts of up to about ten sows.

      Our farrowings tend to naturally spread out over the year, because of the cohorts, because of the limits of the boars, because cohorts follow a lead sow over a period of roughly a week and because not every sow will take at every mating or a gestation may be lost. The result is if you do nothing to control litters they will tend to be spread out.

      The disadvantage of synchronizing large numbers of sows to the same farrowing period is you need more boars per sows since boars can only service so many sows per day and if you’re providing farrowing shelters you’ll need more shelters and they’ll be empty much of the time.

      For these reasons and others we tend to prefer farrowing year round, just using the natural spread of the sows. Occasionally we’ve segregated the boars from heating sows so we would have a break from farrowing four months in the future in order to be able to work on some intense project like putting on the roof of the butcher shop. Otherwise I like the year round spread out farrowing so that piglets are being produce year round since we take pigs to market year round.

  4. Johan van der Merwe says:

    Thanks Walter, it makes sense.

    So, lets say you need to produce 25 piglets per week throughout the year, how many sows and boars will you use, will they be in one or more camps divided?

    Regards Johan

    • I would figure about 90 to 100 sows and I would divide them into multiple herds. We have sixty sows right now and they’re typically broken out into three or four groups. However, there are a lot of variables such as litter counts, weaning rates, survival rates and more. See tomorrow’s post for details on how many sows do you need. Note: that link won’t work for you until you get far enough into the future so get out your Tardis.

  5. Aidan Hamilton says:

    Do you manage the diets of your gestating sows or do they get enough of what they need running with the herd?

    Do any of your sows farrow in the same field with the herd or are they seperated into special fields?

    Do you vaccinate your piglets?

    • They run with the herds. From what I have read we might do a little better managing their diets individually but they seem to do fine so I don’t worry about it.

      Sometimes the sows farrow out in the boar herd pastures, sometimes in separate farrowing pastures – it depends on the season mostly, and if I miss moving someone.

      We do vaccinate. I’m a firm believer in the preventative benefits of vaccinations. We vaccinate ourselves, our kids, our dogs and our pigs. See Piglet Interventions.

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