Pig on Pasture


Finisher Pig on Pasture

Occasionally someone tells me that one can not raise pigs on pasture without feeding them a balanced commercial hog ration, that pigs can’t eat grass, that they won’t grow.

When I went out and explained this to this pig he:

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A) Laughed so hard that he rolled down the mountain;

B) Rolled his eyes at such foolishness; or

C) Ignored me and continued eating the pasture.

Reactions from the pigs vary so we really need an option D – all of the above.


Finisher Pig on Pasture after he got done laughing…

The pig in the picture above has lived his entire life on our farm. He was born here. He was conceived here. His mother and father were born and conceived here. In fact, many generations of his family were born on our land. It’s a tradition in their family. They’re real Vermonters. It’s been a decade without any of them having ever tasted commercial hog feed. They’ve never had soy based feeds. They all grew up on pasture and that is the vast majority of what they eat.

In the warm seasons they eat the pasture directly. In the winter they get it as hay. I buy tens of thousands of dollars of hay, over a hundred tons of winter hay a year to feed them through our snow bound cold season. I wouldn’t be spending that money for chuckles. I buy hay because the pigs eat it all winter long. It’s their version of canning just like our family putting up vegetables to eat over the winter months.

I’ve had people tell me that pigs won’t grow on pasture unless they gets a balanced commercial grain based supplemental feed. We feed whey which boosts lysine (an amino acids) – lysine is low in pasture. I’ve raised several groups of pigs purely on pasture without even whey. They grew several months slower and leaner but they still thrived. With the dairy their growth rate picks up to almost the same as the commercial hog feed fed pigs but they taste far better.

We also have apples, pumpkins, sunflowers and such, many in the winter paddocks that the pigs then self harvest late in the year as the pastures wane. For more about how we raise and feed our pigs, see the Pigs Page.

The finisher boar pig in the photo above was just over eight months old when he went to butcher this past week, the day after I took those photos. He hung at 215 lbs with a live weight of about 300 lbs. That is a most excellent weight, especially for a pig who came in through our winter season.

In addition to the meat from pastured pigs tasting so good he got the opportunity to live his live outdoors in the sunshine and mountain air, socializing with other pigs. A sweet life it was.

Outdoors: 54°F/34°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 64°F/61°F

Daily Spark: What is seen as good luck is often carefully planned.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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65 Responses to Pig on Pasture

  1. Patrick says:

    One of the constant challenges reading your excellent blog is the lasting impression that our family is not doing enough; and that those things we do, could be done better. In grand philosophical sense, it is a great thing to strive upward. In practical terms…ugh.

    Wish we had more pasture. As it stands, we are heavy woods. Clear, open and airy under the canopy (very mature hardwood forest), but sun is something that moves on the floor as the day grows long. This is great in our typical summer – nearly 100 degrees before factoring a humidity level of 80%. Those woods save lives – it is easily ten degrees cooler down near the natural springs. Livestock around here will die without cool cover. But the expense of that cover is a lack of pasture. You just don’t cut beech trunks 4 foot across. I pick and choose trees that I need (already damaged), but the rest are staying where God anchored them 100+ years ago.

    The commercial feed is working, but I’d like to move closer to the earth. Still looking for shade-loving plants the pigs will like to eat. Maybe I can augment with hay, but then I worry about pesticides. Advice welcome. One thing we did with the kids over the weekend was start filling up small buckets of acorns and beech nuts that are just starting to drop. The pigs love them. Too bad the pigs were able to eat four hours of our work in ten minutes…

    Keep raising expectations. Like I said, we all need something to aspire toward.

    Thanks.

    • Wow, 100°F weather. Ouch. That makes shade very important. Would it work in your climate to cut forest for paddocks that would be shaded during the mid-day and get sun in the morning or late afternoon? That might bring in the six hours of light which plants need to grow well while also providing enough shade for animals along the margin. Sort of east west running long paddock lines. This is like the orchard terraces we are carving here on the mountain. Our issue is not heat but rather swiftly sloping land. Another idea might be to space the trees out more so they create moving islands of shade and light. In our south field we have this in the aspen groves we created by thinning the trees. Between the trees the grasses and clovers are getting plenty of light but it is dappled by the moving leaves and branches.

      • Patrick says:

        Good ideas. I have been looking to thin out a southern slop for the past 8 years that is not so mature. I hit it in drips and drabs. The issue is not a technical limitation, but more of a government-inspired one: The slope is steeper than “they” like and terminates into a narrow (1-2 foot) water boundary created by natural springs. The water quality is not so much an issue (farms all around), but more the slope. I can probably thin, but not clear. So I have slowly been reducing coverage and opening the area up. If anything, I hoped to cut back on the bug count (water + heat + humidity + woods = biting bugs).

        Your suggestion is probably where we are heading: open enough to create some open areas and move animals around as required. I did clear a small area down there a few years back for a 65 yard firing range, and the plants started to grow in. I guess with a little work and some plant selection, we could get the porkers in there. Not the range…don’t want them eating that stuff.

        We’re in the Mid-Atlantic (Maryland). We’re south of DC down near the bay. Tobacco country and practically Virginia (I wish). It usually gets hot and humid down here, though this year has been cool and pleasant. We had two weeks of near-100 in July and then…nothing. It dropped to late-Spring temps of 80-85. Been the mildest summer I can recall in 15 years. If this is global warming, I’ll take more, please.

    • Josh says:

      Use electric fence and imitate rotational grazing to move them through the woods so you can let them harvest the nuts and acorns, while fertilizing the trees as they poop, a section at a time on their own. No sense in doing all that uneccessary work of collecting for them and depriving the land of their manure. Let them do the work for you and benefit your trees in the process!

  2. James Bell says:

    Walter, What variety of hay do you winter in Vermont?

  3. Julia says:

    Excellent! This must be why your pork tastes so good.

  4. Cary says:

    All the talk of commercial feed reminded me of all the articles I read on raising turkeys or even chickens. Every single article said it was essential to start them off on commercial feed. I found this bizarre that people that were otherwise organic insisted on using commercial feed for chicks. The claim is they needed extra protein and calcium for chicks. The obvious issue is how on earth did chicks ever survive without commercial feed? In the wild chicks eat primarily insects which have the extra protein and calcium. I’ve done a lot of research on feeder insects and have raised them at times, I used to be heavy into reptiles. My latest obsession in this area is black soldier flies. They are a near perfect food for chickens and turkeys and once you get a colony started they can live off a wide variety of waste products from kitchen waste to dead animals and manure. They also shed their skin and stomach lining when they pupate so they are extremely clean. Best of all they self harvest by instinctively climbing any incline. One of my favorite rearing systems involved a plastic barrel on it’s side with half the top cut out and a piece of rain gutter stuck in it. They also compose faster than worms, in as little as a month. The chickens think they are candy and will actually wait for them to fall into the feeder cup. It makes for a nearly free auto feeding system. It might be a fun addition spreading a few barrels around where the chickens graze. They are really high in calcium which is excellent for laying hens as well as young birds.

    • I’ve heard of the black soldier flies being reared as chicken food but never tried it. I will be interested in how it goes. Please do report back. Another thing that we find works great as food for chickens in the winter is pigs. That is to say, each week pigs go to slaughter and there are some extra bits, bones to pick if you will, that make a good replacement for the insects the chickens eat in the warm months.

      Here’s the Wiki link for those who are interested.

  5. Thank you for the detailed growth information. Impressive growth and amazing on pasture. I would also wager that the feed cost per lb of meat produced is among the best ever.

  6. Mary says:

    Walter I love your homilys. Both the little daily sparks at the end and the way you tell multiple stories with your blog posts. Given your success with pigs on pasture I think I will go with option B of rolling my eyes at people who say pigs can’t eat grass. After all, vegans do it. I just love bacon though so I could never be a vagan or even a vegetarian!

  7. Mike says:

    As a spider would say, ‘thats some pig!’ He looks robust and tasty!

  8. Jesse says:

    So what you’re saying is that big agriculture is feeding the expensive grains in order to put more pigs through the same space in a year. Makes sense. They get permitted for a fixed number of ”stalls” and have to assemply line as many animals through as possible. I like your slow food approach.

  9. Kristin says:

    We raise our pigs the same way (just on a smaller scale). We have 6 sows and 2 boars that enjoying running, playing and eating in the pasture. They also get ground grains from our local farmers and are staring at the garden when the end of summer hits. They can’t wait to get all the garden scraps and apples that have fallen on the ground. We feel that if the animals are wrestling, running and wagging their tails, they are happy. We tell our kids that they are on this earth to feed us and while they are here they are treated with the upmost respect. They have good food, all the clean water they could drink, and love. Kuddos to your family! I enjoy reading your posts and take some of your ideas home to our farm…..

  10. Kris says:

    I just wanted to say bravo to you and your family for treating animals with respect and raising them the right way. We enjoy your delicious meat at the coop. We don’t like to buy the factory stuff and want to support our local farmers like you while getting the best quality. Thank you thank you!

  11. Hey Walter

    I was looking for the post you have about your hay but couldn’t locate it. I am starting to prepare for my first winter with my pigs and I just wanted to know if you knew the alfalfa content in the hay you buy? Is there anything else specific I could be looking for in the hay we buy?

    Thanks so much

  12. Nathan says:

    Walter,
    I love this post. I know that you provide the pigs with cooked eggs which increase the protein value, however I was wondering what you think about apples? Do you feel there would be any additional value to feed the pigs apples that have been boiled as opposed to fresh apples. Thanks!

    • Interesting question. I’m not sure. Apples are good food for pigs. We don’t cook them though. Probably cooking would increase the availability of some nutrients and break down the structure of the plant cells which makes them easier to digest. On the eggs it doubles the available protein and reduces the binding of biotin.jn.n1716

  13. Nathan says:

    Thanks for the response, Walter. I am gonna start cooking up some apples, potatoes and eggs for the pigs. In terms of using the eggs from the hens that you keep, have you found that you can get a better return from using them as pig food rather than selling eggs, or do you do both? I know you do not feed commercial feed to your hens, so I am interested in understanding how you quantify your results. That also reminds me… do you supplement the hens with any calcium? And what type of production do you get out of them? I know for me… I look at my pig poop and all I see is chicken food and scratch my head at the thought of buying layer feed.

    • Egg prices are pretty low around here. Selling eggs involves marketing, cleaning, sorting, boxing, government regulations and such that the pigs don’t care about so we find that feeding eggs to the pigs is better in our case. The eggs are a valuable food for the pigs, especially the weaner and grower pigs.

      Most of the hen’s calcium comes from insects so we don’t have to supplement during the warm seasons. In the winters we have offer them crushed oyster shells. Bone is another good source of calcium.

      The hens lay 0.6 to 0.8 eggs per hen per day depending on the season. If we bought commercial layer feed we would get higher egg rates in the winter (the 0.6 time). But, we don’t feed them commercial feed so the egg production in the winter drops a little. I have a plan for that. I find that if we grind pig skin, bones and such left over from butchering the chickens really like that so it may be worth having a grinder for that.

    • Patrick says:

      Prepping eggs for commercial sale is a pain. People say they want “farm fresh eggs”, but what they really want is “graded, sorted, cleaned and packaged ‘farm fresh eggs'”. We are not even talking laws or regulation (which are pretty lenient in our area for small producers). It’s what the people want. Consumers demand more than a small operation can sensibly perform. That is good for them – the market can provide for them at a low cost. For us: not worth the trouble. We give some away, and the pigs eat the rest (after cooking).

      As for feed, be careful using additional calcium with commercial laying rations. The commercial feeds are “complete” and contain enough calcium already. Too much and the eggs can bind in the birds. Be judicious.

      We are switching the birds to commercial feeds here a little at a time in prep for winter. Already the pickings from nature are dropping fast (dry weather hasn’t helped the bug supply, either). I figure we’ll see them go all rations over the next month. Too bad because summer is a cheap time for birds.

      That also means we are culling and concentrating the flocks to eliminate non-producers. I did all the roosters this last weekend (we didn’t want them but got them anyway), and are about to cut back the Muscovy males to a better ratio for the girls plus a few extra, just in case. Muscovy are worth breeding; chickens are so cheap by mail that unless you enjoy the breeder/hatching process (many do) it makes more sense to buy them in bulk. We also got two Buff Geese left over from four. The girls got taken this summer by something while wandering the woods. Normally we’d process them out (extra feed with no real gain), but we like the two boys. They are good with my kids and they honk when upset. I am pretty sure they’ve scared away at least a raccoon or two this last week – all birds run together day and night so they may have saved us some birds. I will also admit a certain fondness for them. They are not pets. But…they got names. That’s kinda like a call from the Governor’s Office around here. If the kids give you a name…you goose ain’t cooked.

      Unless you are pig. They eat too much.

  14. Nathan says:

    Walter, I have a concern. Yesterday evening my prized gilt appeared to be in pain and limping. This morning I noticed the same and a bit more noticeable. I checked her feet but they are fine. She is a bit slower to get up than normal, and if food is not dropped in a timely manner she will coddle her front right side and lay down again. When food is dropped she will run and stand and eat almost as normal however she will limp around the paddock a bit. Could this be just a sprain or sore shoulder/leg ? Have you seen things like this come and go? My fear is that I have a sow in the same paddock that is much bigger and when she goes into heat really throws her weight around and seems to pick/lean on my gilt a bit more. Do you have any advice or thoughts? Thank you.

    • From our experience, it could be several things:
      1) Injury from jousting with the other sow, miss-step, etc – such as a sprain. Feel for tenderness, swelling. It should heal up soon.
      2) Injury from a puncture – might get infected. Feel for heat, tenderness, swelling. Generally heal without antibiotics but observe and treat if needed.
      3) Arthritis – there are bacteria that can cause this even in younger animals. Antibiotics or slaughter.

      You might check out ThePigSite.com which has a lot of info about disease.

      Good luck!

  15. Nathan says:

    Thanks Walter. Naturally I am hoping it is simply scenario 1. Frustrating part is that were talking about my best pig… I’ll keep you posted and thanks again for taking the time.

  16. Nathan says:

    Just a quick update… She is doing much better. A slight limp but all in all she has gotten back to her old self.

  17. Allie Snyder says:

    I’m so thrilled to have found your blog, bravo on your family’s work!

    My fiance is currently managing a MiG farm in the Shenandoah Valley of VA, connected to Joel Salatin’s Polyface farm. They have forest raised pork, which they supplement with commercial feed. The more we research and plan to begin our own farm for the beginning of 2014 in Maryland, the feed cost for raising pigs seems just outrageous and hardly sustainable. We are eager to find alternative, free supplement sources, and are considering either whey and/or spent brewer’s grains (depending on if we can find sufficient suppliers).

    I’m wondering how you would recommend storing and distributing the whey? I imagine it could get very stinky? How long does it last? Any other advice you may have for acquiring whey? Also, do you have any experience with brewer’s grains? But with that said, I think I would prefer whey, since brewer’s grains would likely by GMO.

    Thank you!

    • In our climate the whey does not seem to go back, however our pigs eat it up in just a day or two. On rare occasions a pail of it has sat around for a few weeks with no problem. Normally we get fresh deliveries of about 1,800 gallons every day or other day and it is all drunk up by the pigs by the time the next delivery comes so it doesn’t have time to sit.

      Corn might be GMO but barley is not – that is the most common brewers spent grain. It has had the carbohydrates, the sugars, removed so what is left is fiber, protein and minerals for the most part. Good animal food. Smells delicious. I love barley and lamb soup.

      You may find theses posts of interest:
      Feeding
      Barley
      Whey
      Managed Rotational Grazing
      Yogurt
      Pig Diet
      All the Whey in the World
      Winter Hay

    • Patrick says:

      Allie, I am in Maryland and am raising a small number of animals, including pigs. The feed prices are non-trivial around here (.26/lb for quality complete feed in small quantities). I know local farmers who do this full-time and they don’t pay much less. They have to supplement with locally grown corn and hay, often with their own. Going organic here is hard. So few places to get the feed and so few arable acres that would immediately qualify.

      The upside is the area consumers will pay for it. I know small outfits that are charging more than $5/lb for locally grown whole chicken – not cut or deboned. Eggs are not something people will pay a lot for, but the locavore trends are bringing people to the small butchers and farm-stand counters. Here in Southern Maryland there has been a large increase in the number of on-farm commercial stores and facilities. New construction is common, and ranges in the 500-1000 square foot mini-store. They do sell produce in the right months, but what keeps them alive is the year-round fare of meat. There are no fewer than five of these places within 20 miles of me in the last two years, and I hardly know them all.

      The local model appears to be pasture-raised, locally grown and sustainably/humanely grown animals. Right now the big sellers are heritage beef, goat, lamb and pork, and chicken. Poultry is the bottom of that list, and pork is not as popular as other livestock. That said, I am getting a lot of interest our Berkshires from those who understand it’s not ‘the other white meat’.

      If you are thinking of doing this in Maryland (not sure where you are), there are sometimes local cooperative efforts to build branding and share marketing and resources. See http://www.southernmarylandmeats.com/ for the marketing side, and http://smadc.com/ for farmer resources. If you join in the group, you get access to real things of value…for instance, there is a refrigerated/freezer truck owned and operated by the commission that you can rent to get your product back from the processors.

      In addition to feed, you need to figure out processing. That is a non-trivial issue. Maryland has only one USDA processor who will do your livestock, and that is way out on the eastern shore. For less of a drive, most go to Fauquier County, VA or up into PA. Cut and stuff (bagging, freezing) starts at $.70 a pund with $.90 being common. That does not include slaughter or gas.

      Hope this helps.

      • Allie Snyder says:

        Hi Patrick,

        Thank you for your response. Where in Southern Maryland are you? We went to college at St. Mary’s and lived in Leonardtown for a few years after that until returning to our hometown of Hagerstown, where we will begin our farm.

        We have done lots of research in regards to feed prices, and butchering/processing options. We plan to start with a small flock of layers, broilers (which we will process on-farm), pigs, and a few lamb.

        My fiance actually worked for SMADC while we were living in Southern Maryland so we are very aware of the different resources. We joined the a Young Farmer’s group too, but aren’t sure about what’s available here in Washington County.

        As far as feed – we aren’t concerned with organic certification, but would prefer non-GMO. If we could find a decent local source, I would feel much better about it. But ideally, we really like the concept behind whey: a cost effective, efficient method to minimize/eliminate waste (assuming we can find a source that could keep up with our demand).

        My fiance is also very interested in the charcuterie aspect of pork and aged meats, which I realize is a whole other ballgame. He’s been experimenting a bit just for our own personal consumption, but I think he would love to pursue it more seriously years down the road. Maryland regulations seem to be a bit of a nightmare though.

        We are getting married in Leonardtown next spring so are in appointments. Perhaps we could make a visit to your farm and see your operation?

  18. Mark Tripp says:

    What is your thought or experiences on feeding bailage/grass silage to heritage pigs over the winter as an additional feed source? How would it compare to hay?

    • The wrapped round bales are called balage or silage by some. The terms tend to be fairly loose. Rather we talk about the percent moisture content, analysis, forage types, which cut, weight and if it is wrapped or not. We mostly buy 2nd and later cuts, wrapped, about 20% to 25% moisture content, wrapped round bales, 4×4~800lb, and they smell slightly alcholly and mildly fermented, sweet.

  19. Vaughn Peters says:

    Hi Walter
    Thanks for the informative site and answering questions, it’s no small task
    to manage a site this well.
    I’m getting my first 4 pigs this spring to raise on pasture (thanks in part to
    information on the site ). I considered buying some of your feeder pigs ,but
    you are about 6 hours from here , so it seemed silly to not just buy local. The
    problem is, not many farmers here have the same commitment or confidence in
    relying heavily on pasture. The Glouster old spots I,m receiving get a fair amount
    of grain (both parents and piglets ) and mostly just run around in the pasture.
    I’m concerned about how to push them towards pasture.
    How much of a role do you think old pigs teaching young pigs what and how
    to eat plays in you’re high pasture feed rate?
    How will I know my pigs are not doing well on pasture other than slow growth?
    If I offer my pigs grain , won’t they ignore the pasture to some extent ?
    Do you think a couple of goats would encourage the pigs to eat more pasture?
    Sorry to through out a pile of questions, but I want to rely on outside food
    sources (for me or my animals ) as little as possible, but I don’t like experimenting
    on a pigs life unnecessarily, besides taking 8 months to see the results .
    ,

    • If possible I would suggest getting pigs locally. We are already reserved out to June and local pigs might be more adapted to your local climate, soils, etc. Getting them from someone who actually has them rotationally grazing on pasture and getting most of their food that way is ideal but if you can’t then at least someone who has them on pasture will help. It’s a matter of steps and degrees.

      Pasturing is part genetics and part learned. Having the goats around to demonstrate that pasture is food is a good thing to do. You can also feed any supplements in the latter part of the day so the pigs must look for food in the earlier part of the day. These articles about rotational grazing and hay will also give you some tips that you can apply. The rotational grazing is important to breaking parasite life cycles and to improving forage and soil quality.

      On the growth, that is something you’ll develop an eye for. For this reason I would suggest easing into pasturing. Supplement with a full feed in the latter part of the day and then in the easy seasons experiment with cutting that back a bit to see how they do. Once they get the idea, if you have good pastures and good genetics in the pigs they should be able to get a lot of feed from the pasture. The advantage of commercial feed is all the thinking on the food’s been done for you, at a price.

      Figure on spending several cycles to learn things and keep learning. It is a process. And you’ll get to enjoy the meat of your labors as you learn!

  20. Nancy says:

    Hi and thanks for the wonderful information. I have two 5-6 week old guinea/Berkshire cross piglets (females). We live next door to 5 acres of olives that are not harvested. Was wondering if you’ve ever heard of pigs eating raw olives and whether they could be harmful (since people can’t eat them) and would they choke on the pits if they did? Thanks again!

    • hat an interesting question… I have no personal experience since I eat all the olives I can find and won’t share with the pigs. We lack olive trees so I never get satiated. So I googled and found that yes, pigs are fed olives in extensive systems (e.g., grazing under the trees) as well as the pressed olive cake much like our apple pomace from making cider. My only question would be how the pork would taste. Sounds like an experiment to do…

      As to choking on the pits, I don’t think that would be a problem. The pits are small and I’ve seen pigs eat peach pits which are much larger as well as spit out the peach pits and other stuff they didn’t want. My guess is the olive seeds would pass right through the pigs and you might get more olive trees growing. Many plants use animals to spread themselves in this way. Fruit’s objective is to get eaten.

  21. Nancy says:

    Thanks for the response! I will try it and see if they will eat the olives. It will be interesting and since I’m a lover of olive oil; I’d “hope” the meat will not be negatively impacted. We’ve been bottle feeding our baby Angus and after reading your recipe that includes whey; I sprinkled some powdered milk in the pigs dinner and they loved it. Thanks again!!!

  22. Cassandra says:

    Your website is a revelation to me, thank you! I don’t want to be redundant but have so many questions. We raised two pigs on on grain and they were healthy and delicious but so expensive (we feed organic), I feel there must be a better way.
    I live in the Pacific Northwest so things are already starting to grow and will keep growing long after piglets we get now are in the freezer. I was wondering how much pasture each pig needs for a lifetime? Also, do you think it would be obvious if a pig was not getting what they needed from the pasture? I have only raised the two pigs so far so I feel confident but I am certainly not an expert.
    Do you recommend any book or other reference material for pasture raising?
    Thank you so much for your help,
    Cassandra

    • Make a gradual transition to managed rotational grazing by setting up a pasture with a goot strong perimeter fence and then sub-dividing it into paddocks. A minimum of four, ideally eight or ten. It does not take much land. See this article about using a quarter acre divided into ten paddocks. That would be enough for two or three pigs.

      Rotate out after a couple of days or up to a maximum of two weeks.

      Rotate in after the paddock rests for at least 21 days, ideally longer so the parasite life cycles are broken and forages regrow.

      Mob seed the last day the pigs are in a paddock with small seeds to change the forage mix as needed.

      Feed supplemental feed in the latter part of the day.

      I figure about 10 pigs per acre is sustainable. See “How Much Land Per Pig”. This will vary with supplements, soil, forages and pig sizes.

      If the pigs aren’t growing, are not muscling, aren’t putting on weight then they need more food. This could be from better pasture or more supplements. The other possibility is intestinal parasites.

      I know of no good book that describes pasturing pigs the way we do it but the book “Small Scale Pig Raising” by Dirk van Loon is an excellent read on pig raising in general. After that Harris on the Pig and then Swine Science. Follow the links in articles on my blog and in the right side bar for about 2,000 articles about how we do things here at Sugar Mountain Farm and enjoy your pigs and pork!

  23. Bill Ellis says:

    Hello, your site is the best. This is the first year I’m trying grazing, in the past couple of seasons I have done it the traditional way, but I not to keen on the standing around in the mud all the time thing. I read much of your site and decided, this year I’ll try it their way. So that being said I’ll tell you a little about my setup, then I have a few questions.

    First I’m in the Northeast Kingdom, I have two Durocs, one barrow one gilt. I have 4 paddocks of about 1000 sq ft each. The graze is basically a rich growth of thick grass, but includes, clover,vetch, clevers, and quite a few other odds and ends. I rotate about every two weeks as advised by you. I don’t have a lot of access to dairy so I must feed commercial pig food. They also get fruit and veggies and some(very little) dairy from me and a local market. I guess my biggest question is how much, how do you calculate how much a pig should be eating? Is there some sort of formula? I’ve heard many different ideas. Like only feed what they can eat in 15 min, twice a day. You seem to come up with percentages of dairy, veggies, fruits, etc. but how?????

    Now second, both seem to be happy and healthy (one exception I will get to third) the gilt, is a little smaller, same length and height but leaner, no sign of worms but she runs every where, full tilt. Sometimes I think she is going to run right though the electric fence……. but she always stops. String weight puts her about 10 to 15 lbs lighter than the barrow. They are same age by the way, same litter.

    Third the barrow very rarely runs anywhere, he has 1/8 the energy of his sister. She is slightly aggressive he is not ( ‘cept when it comes to meal time). Should I be looking for anything special? Now the strange thing, he walks around at least half the time on the backs of his wrists. It’s like he’s to lazy to stand on his feet.

    Well I hope I haven’t taken to much of your time. Again great site, I keep going back to it for reference.

    Bill

    • You may need to adjust the grazing timing shorter if the animals are eating up the forages in the time they’re on the paddock. Two weeks is the upper limit of how long to be on a paddock based on parasite life cycles. The actual timing should be shortened as needed to fit the available pasture. If the animals are not grazing the entire paddock within the two weeks then the paddocks are too small for the number of animals or they’re being supplemented too much, or both. This takes some fine tuning with experience. You’ll get it in time.

      In terms of paddock count more smaller paddocks are better than fewer larger paddocks. If they are taking two weeks or more to graze your 1,000 sq-ft paddocks then I would suggest dividing them all in half to get eight 500 sq-ft paddocks and rotating more quickly through those.

      You don’t want to return to a paddock for a minimum of 21 days to break parasite life cycles but it could be a longer period based on the rate of forage regrowth.

      Grain isn’t evil, just expensive. When you’re getting started out I recommend using a commercial hog feed because that way someone who knows about nutrition has already figured out that part of the diet for you. Feed the commercial hog feed in the latter part of the day so the pigs graze during the early part of the day. If you have supplemental veggies and other things feed them after the pasture and before the commercial grain based feed. Candy comes last in the day.

      As to how much to feed – it’s as much as the pigs will eat. Pigs are eating and growing wonders. The more balanced diet volume they get the faster they grow. The caveat on all of this is that what they eat will determine their flavor. The flavor is in the fat. Feed for flavor.

      As to how much of what to feed – we feed what we have. The foundation of our pigs’s diet is pasture which is a mix of soft grasses, legumes (alfalfa, clovers, trefoil, vetch, etc), brassicas, millets, amaranth, chicory and other forages. Based on dry matter intake (DMI) they eat about 80% pasture. We get about 3% to 7% more of their diet from dairy – the whey – that is what is available to us. You could use eggs, grains and many other things instead. Use your available resources. (See in the article above and the Feed links.) If you feed too many calories the pigs will get fat and you can see that by the disappearance of muscle lines, the over formation of the jowl, too much rounding in the back and hams, etc. In that case back the calories off and feed the higher calorie things later in the day.

      Gilts are generally smaller than barrows who are generally smaller than boars so that does not surprise me. Boars tend to be the biggest, fastest growing and most efficient at turning feed into meat. Not always but on average. However, gilts are generally rounder than boars so if she’s lean and of the same genetics I would think to check parasite levels. I would look at her gums and inner eye lid to see if they are anemic and white – often a sign of parasites. I would look at her coat which can be rougher due to parasites stealing nutrients. A fecal test is the final authoritative test and generally about $15 to $45 from a vet – you can also find directions on the web for doing it yourself. It is also completely possible that she is simply randomly thinner.

      I would do a fecal on the third one. Frankly, if any of them test positive you want to deworm all of them.

  24. Eric Hagen says:

    Hey Walter,
    Around May 20th I bought 58 weaned piglets and have been raising them since. I tried to incorporate a lot of your ideas into the project. They’re all raised on 10 acres of mixed woods and pasture, with 6 acres being fully in pasture. I’ve got paddocks between .5 and 1 acres in size.

    I started out splitting the pigs into two groups. Half of the pigs I used a big gravity feeder and fed a standard hog mix, moving the group after the bin was empty of its ton. I did this because the farmer I work for feeds grain and was doubtful of raising pigs other ways, and also to insure financial success.

    The other half I’ve only been feeding spent brewers waste, spent milk from our dairy (about 10 gal per day, sometimes more sometimes less), preconsumer produce scraps, and apple pressings from a cider house. I moved them whenever their pasture looked ready to move (about once a week).

    I started out with high hopes, but the pigs just didn’t do that well. They were all really skinny and didn’t grow fast, and more prone to sunburn than their counterparts. I basically had to keep removing pigs until I’m just left with 15 in the waste food group. They look nice and chubby, but I’m feeding them way more supplemental feed than you seem to, and they’re only around 90 pounds at 6 months of age.

    They only recently seemed to really enjoy eating pasture. When they were young I would see them nibble, but nothing more. I’ve been feeding them once in the middle of the day (I’ve always wondered why you suggested once at the end of the day, why do you think time of day rather than time between feedings makes a difference?). They also screamed terribly each time they saw me and dogged me like little demons when they were younger, but that’s in check now that there are fewer and they’re bigger.

    And the last thing I’ve noticed that I’m curious about is that some of them have huge bellies, though there aren’t any other signs of parasites. I’m wondering if this has to do with a high fiber diet and a habit for gorging once a day. I’ve got some fecal samples in to a vet now out of curiosity.

    I guess my big question, because I want to continue to try to raise pigs without commercial grain and with high pasture intake, is if the difference between my pigs and your pigs can all be made up with breeding.

    Were your pigs like this when you first started your breeding program?

    Am I making obvious mistakes?

    Did you let nature cull a lot of pigs or have a lot of stunted pigs when you first started out?

    How did spitz and his offspring do so well when his background hasn’t been selected for pasture?

    Is it because my pigs didn’t see their mothers eating grass?

    I’m really really curious how to make this work better. Thanks, and good luck with the butcher shop opening and with the coming winter months.

    • Growth is slower on the high pasture diet rather than commercial hog feed / grain but your results are very low so there is something going on that you should be able to fix. Pasturing success is a combination of genetics, learned behavior, management and pasture quality itself. Even the sex of the animal makes a difference: boars grow faster than barrows.

      There is definitely a variation in how well some pigs pasture vs others. This is not about breed but rather about line. Pigs within any breed get selected over generations to perform in the system that they are being raised in: confinement, show, pasture, etc. See the article about lines which covers this in fair detail. We got to where we are with the genetics by spending years culling hard, selecting the ones that did well on pasture to produce the next generation. Spitz came to us already from a pasturing farm so he was already in that direction. Getting pigs from someone who raises them the way you want to raise them helps immensely. Genetics is one of the keys to success.

      Learning to eat forages and specifically what to eat comes from having done it at their sow’s snout as well as from smelling her manure according to research. Our sheep taught our first pigs to eat pasture and hay. That learning by example is powerful.

      Management is about how you do the rotational grazing, control parasites and your keen eye to the pig. That comes with experience and will take several cycles of doing it to develop your skills – keep at it.

      Part of management is when you feed the supplements if any. When you feed them in the morning the pigs don’t forage as well. Instead feed supplements later in the day so the pigs wake up, graze and then get dessert.

      The pasture quality makes a big difference. We started out with low quality pasture and acidic soils. The mere act of grazing the animals helps both the pasture (knocking down brush and weed species) as well as soil acidity by raising it towards neutral which is what many forages need. We over seeded with soft grasses, legumes, brassicas, millets, amaranth, chicory and other forages to improve our pasture quality. That is a process that takes years – trading time for cost. Seed is cheaper than feed and self-seeding species are 100x cheaper still. But that takes time. Keep at it.

      The huge bellies sounds like parasite load – see what your fecal tests show.

      Also get soil tests to see if you need to be supplementing any minerals. Kelp is a good source if you need to do that. See this article.

  25. Suzanne says:

    Thank you for your excellent blog and website! I have a question about pasture diets; what about pregnant sows? Our sow is pregnant and hardly shows interest in the feed we give her. Instead we see her grazing a lot, there’s plenty of grass available for her. She is due in about three weeks and her lack of interest in the food has been worrying us. Does she need any extra supplements other than commercial pig feed, the occasional veg and grass?

    • I would not worry. If I was going to supplement with anything the first thing would be kelp. Then I would look at her condition and consider if she was peakid and needed more calories. Next I would consider the forages: if plenty of legumes then she should be doing okay on protein but adding dairy might benefit. I’ve raised many pigs on just pasture with no extra supplements. I tend to be opportunistic about supplementing pasture, that is to say, using what is available. I do hope you’ve done routine reproductive vaccinations.

  26. George says:

    Would kune kunes require whey to provide lysine? Or would they grow just as well without it?

    George

    • There is nothing magical about Kunekune pigs. They too require lysine. There is some lysine in pasture. I’ve raised many different breeds and crosses on just pasture. Some can thrive on just pasture but they do grow more slowly and are leaner. See the Pig Page.

  27. amanda says:

    Hi Walter

    I googled pigs and olives and couldn’t find your answer.

    Could you tell me please if it is safe for pigs to eat fallen olives whole ?

  28. Amy Young says:

    Mr. Jeffries,

    Love your blog; I reference it often.
    My question is what do you do with your sows after they’ve been bred? Do they stay with the boar all the way through farrowing or do you separate them out? I have two sows and a boar and part way through their pregnancies I separated them because I was afraid that perhaps the boar might injure them or their piglets once they farrowed. I feel bad that the boar might be lonely.
    Thank you!
    Amy Young

  29. Jerilyn Ingram says:

    I just bought a farm in Ireland and raise GOS pigs. We rotate them on pasture, but right now our pasture is very low quality. Each paddock only gets about one month off at a time. Not really enough time to get much established when reseeding. We have been supplementing with free fed whey. The growers do great and have come up to butcher weight by 6 months. I am starting to have fertility issues with my breeding stock, though, and I wonder if we are missing out on nutrients. I am thinking of adding fresh seaweed to their diet. Do you have any insight or suggestions for us?

  30. Jerilyn Ingram says:

    Thanks so much for your unbelievably quick responses!

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