One Day of Rotational Grazing – Shoats


Shoats in New Paddock

These are shoats, small pigs after the weaning stage. They’ve been rotationally grazed through the weaning paddocks, just completed the lower garden paddock for its fall gleaning and are now moving into the next paddock. What is of particular interest is that this is a well measured dining experience.

The paddock shown above along the old farm house is 35′ x 15′ and has grasses and other forages grown up to a height of 34″. There were 80 shoat pigs averaging about 30 lbs each. They grazed down all the forages in this space in 24 hours. This was all their food. They had not yet rooted so we did not hit a ceiling effect. They were satisfied with dinner. Stuffed pigs.

With the 34″ tall growth of mostly grasses I see the numbers as:

35′ x 15′ / 80 shoats

gives 6.5625 sq-ft per pig. Divide that by pig size times 100:

6.5625 sq-ft / 30 lbs per shoat x 100

gives us:

21.875 sq-ft per hundred weight of pig

as the daily area each pig needs for grazing. Looking at it per hundred weight adjusts for size to an average middle size pig from piglet up to finisher size of about 250 lbs.

An acre is 208.71′ x 208.71′ or 43,560 sq-ft so divide that by the above number yielding:

1,991 grazing days per acre

If the pigs take 200 days each to get to market weight from this age that gives:

9.96 ±1 pigs per acre or about 10 pigs per acre

Which is almost exactly the same number I’ve measured out on pasture with the entire herd and on smaller groups before. This is an interesting confirmation that we can sustainably raise about ten pigs per acre using managed rotational grazing. Note that this is without any commercial hog supplemental feed, just good quality pasture. Normally we do have whey available and the combination of whey plus pasture/hay is better than either alone. There is a synergy.

This paddock, which they mowed down in a day, will spring back from the seeds and roots in the soil and be better than ever for having had the grazing and the fertilizing of the pigs. This is actually it’s second cycle of the year. The pigs will move on to the next paddock and then the next as they rotate around the circle of life on the farm.

Some Related Reading:
How Much Land Per Pig
Pasture Post Pig Grazing
InstaPigs and Animal Units
North Home Field Sow and Piglets
Sugar Mountain Farm Pigs: Feeding and Grazing
Vet Visit Field Tour
Painted Probed & Pierced Pigs
Sorting and Driving Pigs
Mini Rotational Grazing Setup

Outdoors: 63°F/41°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/59°F

Daily Spark: Patience is a must. Either that or be distracted enough to simulate patience…

We find that boars of our best genetics, the Mainline, get to market weight in about six months from birth over the warm season. Gilts take about a month or so longer. Barrows, which we don’t have since we don’t castrate, take about as long as gilts, maybe slightly faster. The other lines (Yorkshire, Berkshire, Tamworth, Large Black, Blackieline, Redline and crosses of these) take a little longer than the Mainline which has seen the greatest improvement as I’ve been working the genetics for the longest. All of them take a month or two longer in the cold season when they are on hay rather than fresh pasture and some feed energy is going to staying warm. Genetics makes a big difference in how animals will pasture be they pigs, cows, chickens or what ever. Adding supplemental feed will speed up the growth.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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19 Responses to One Day of Rotational Grazing – Shoats

  1. Kristin says:

    What do you have planted there for them?

    Great info, btw. I love when people do the math.

    • It isn’t often that things are precisely metered out that I can do the math on a short grazing like this and with the big areas it gets more fuzzy so this was a nice metric.

      This paddock was mostly grasses plus a little clover.

      The previous paddocks were a mix of brassicas, grasses, clovers, amaranth, chicory and plantain.

      The next paddock in the rotation contains grasses, clovers, amaranth, chicory, plantain, jewel weed, pig weed, radishes and goldenrod. The last is something I’m training them to eat.

      The paddock after that is primarily pig weed, grasses, clovers, chicory, jewel weed as well as some sunchokes, pumpkins, goldenrod and other forages.

      • Eric Hagen says:

        How is the goldenrod training going? How are you going about it?

        • It worked. Goldenrod is not their favorite but they’ll now willingly eat it. I trained by putting them in situations where they had that and a few other forages as well as giving them goldenrod stems mixed in with pig weed, lambs quarter and jewel weed as they ate down paddocks. A matter of exposure and not having a lot of other choices. Training sows is important as they then train their future piglets.

          Do note that there are some varieties of goldenrod in alkaline soils like Arizona that have toxicity issues. Our soils are acidic and the goldenrod is not the same type so it apparently does not have that issue.

  2. Laura says:

    Walter- You had said the shoats “had not yet rooted”. I did not realize that rooting behavior was slow to develop. Is it something they learn from the older pigs?

    • They are quite capable of rooting but tend to start with the easy foods at the top of the plants. These pigs started eating at the top and moved downward on the plants to the ground. When the plants are eaten up they would start rooting up the roots, tubers and such in the soil and till up the entire area if left in there longer. With managed rotational grazing they don’t tend to do a lot of rooting as we move them onward. In the 24 hour period they had not yet begun the tilling but had completed eating the above ground forages. See Rootless in Vermont and Of Tiller Pigs & Weeder Chickens for more on that.

  3. Darren Bauder says:

    An acre is 43,560 square feet (209.71ft x 209.51ft) not 43,264 (208ft x 208ft)

    • I suspect you meant 208.71 ft rather than 209.71 for an acre. I had rounded down to 208 ft-sq. But it is a good point and I’ve edited the above math to 43,560 to avoid confusion. That changes the final number by about 0.1 pigs which is probably less than the margin of error but it is always nice to have numbers right. I should probably put +/-1 after that number so people don’t sharpen their pencils too much. Done.

  4. Sally Hurst says:

    Do you use some sort of movable fencing to contain your rotating pigs, or do you have each field perimeter fenced and then move them when the above-ground plants are gone? Is the short stay on one piece of ground typical, or just because this particular space is small?

    • This particular space is particularly small and there were a lot of pigs on it which is why the rotation was so fast. In the training paddocks there are several like this for weaners. Timing depends in part on the number of pounds of pigs per paddock. That is to say 100 finisher size pigs will move through a five acre field fairly quickly while 100 shoat sized pigs would take longer. I like to use an upper limit of about two weeks, typically much less, per paddock and then rest for three weeks or longer. The three week minimum helps to break parasite life cycles naturally. The longer times is for allowing forage regrowth as necessary and varies with the season as plants grow faster and slower during different parts of the year. Follow the links about managed rotational grazing from the Pig Page and also check out these articles on feeding and grazing in addition to the links in the article above.

      Fencing is mostly electric high tensile smooth wire or polywire. There is about 1.5 miles of outside perimeter fence line in five wires surrounding the farm area which is energized by two large 15 joule fence energizers as independent halves. That is then subdivided into field divisions off of the perimeter and the fields are subdivided into paddocks off of the field and perimeter fencing. See the articles on fencing for more about how we do it.

  5. David Davidson says:

    Love the real world numbers there! Great article! Your visitor counter says over 4million visitors! That blows my mind!

  6. Keith Murphy says:

    Walter,

    Is there any chance you took an “after” picture when you moved them? You said in the post:

    “This paddock, which they mowed down in a day, will spring back from the seeds and roots in the soil and be better than ever for having had the grazing and the fertilizing of the pigs.”

    As I’m developing my rotational grazing I am struggling to find the sweet spot for actually moving them before they do to much damage. Was it essentially bare earth with the roots in it or where there stems above the ground? It sounds like they ate more than the “tops” of the grasses. It may just be my OCD tendencies but I really dislike looking at bare earth :)

    Thanks!

    Keith

    • I thought I had taken a photo but I’m not finding it now. It was essentially bare ground with a little trampled forage but they had not yet started rooting into it which would have been their next step had I left them there. If you check out the article South Weaning Paddock you’ll see a set of ten paddocks in various states of regrowth.

  7. W Fisher says:

    Doesn’t the fact that the same paddock can be grazed 2 or 3 times a season come to play on this math?

  8. Amber says:

    Hi,

    Just wanted to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the posts you have on your blog here. I have found them to be so informative and very helpful.

    I was wondering if you have worked out a general idea as to how much it costs to raise one of your pigs to slaughter using your feeding methods? I have a lot of general estimates about costs raising them the conventional way, but I was wondering about how much it costs to feed them using this strategy compared to feeding them commercial feed.

    Thanks so much,

    Amber

    P. S.

    If you wrote a book on the subject I would definitely buy it!

    • As little as I can make it be. I figure the cost of a pig is divided into three main roughly equal parts:
      1) Piglet
      2) Feed
      3) Processing
      Additionally there is a little more for overhead things like fencing and such which makes up about 10% more on top of every pig.

      The more I do of each of those tasks the more money sticks to my palm as they say, the more that stays in my pocket. That is to say by having our own breeders we produce our own piglets. By raising our pigs on pasture where they get about 80% to 90% of their diet we save that cost. By taking on the processing in our own butcher shop we will save that cost as well. Of course, there are some costs associated with each of those steps but mostly it is a matter of our labor and ingenuity. By us doing the labor we get paid for each of those steps instead of hiring them out.

      After that it becomes a matter of scaling. For example, one needs to be doing about 100 pigs a year to make breeding them worth it financially compared with just buying feeders. One has to be processing several hundred pigs a year on a regular weekly basis to make having a butcher shop worth it.

      So how much it will costs with any system will depend on how much of the entire process you take on. Vertical integration reduces friction in the economic system as well.

      That wasn’t an exact dollar figure but that is because I can’t give you one. With any local set of variables it’s going to be different and ours varies year to year. But that gives you a way to think about it for figuring out numbers for your situation.

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