Weaners Relaxing in Shade
We just weaned 30 piglets. This means they graduated from being piglets to being weaner pigs. In a few weeks they’ll be shoats and then growers, roasters and finishers – graduations based on age which relates to size. See the FAQ Page for more fun terms of the pig.
We tend to wean in cohorts of pigs about two weeks wide at around six weeks of age. This means there may be some as young as four weeks and some as old as eight weeks in this group. When weaning out of the field I tend to leave any that are a little small so they can continue to benefit from nursing on the remaining sows. Any that are particularly large I’ll take a little early – thus the span of ages. Holding small ones back a grade can make a difference in their later advancement but it is a point against them when scoring.
We wean using a creep and hurdle setup, herding the sows and piglets from the pastures through a maze that sorts them. We herd the groups of sows and piglets along a fence line that narrows down into a draw. Sows jump over the final hurdles and the piglets scoot under the creep boards into the holding area where they have been trained there will be a treat using creep feeding. This is an easy low stress method of catching piglets out on pasture. The one improvement I would like to make to it is to have the piglet creep catch lead up to the weaning paddocks so we can then just walk the piglets up to their new home.
The south field weaner paddocks where these piglets were moved to consists of ten small paddocks over a quarter acre area. The first four paddocks are small, very tightly fenced areas both physically and with electric to begin the piglet’s training to fencing. Thirty to fifty piglets eat down one of these paddocks in a day – see One Day of Grazing. Then as their weaning time progresses they’ll shift to gradually larger paddocks to match their growth, slow the rotation and continue their training to the different types of fencing we use on our farm.
The weaning time is also a valuable time for us and the dogs to train the piglets. They learn that we are the source of goodness, of food and to come when we call. Several times a day we show up with a treat and call out “Heeere Pig-pig-pig!” with a high pitch on the first word. The pigs learn this call means they’re about to get something good. First one there gets first bites of bread. We typically use little bits of bread for this since on their high pasture diet the bread is a highly appetitive food. They also get whey, boiled eggs, pumpkins, apples and other available supplements.
The small paddocks are important to rehome the piglets so their perception of the center of the Universe shifts. Pigs are very homed animals and will return to a familiar location. If you buy piglets it is very important to put them into a physically tightly fenced area for their first week at their new home so that they’ll come to know their new home, to rehome, and get to know your voice.
The other thing that happens at weaning time is inspections, injections, selections and rejections. I check each piglet over carefully, rating it based on the over thirty criteria I use for selection of replacement breeder stock. The piglet gets a point grade that puts it into one of the following classes:
Roasters: Those in the lowest quintile will become small roaster pigs – they are the ones that I do not see as faring the best. By culling them to roasters early on they are still good meat but lets us focus on the ones who will thrive out on pasture. I need some roasters each week and they’re my candidates.
Feeders: The middle half of the pigs, the majority, are quality feeder pigs. These are the ones we’ll raise up to be finishers for whole pig meat orders to stores, restaurants and individuals. They typically get to market size at six to eight months depending on sex (boars grow faster than gilts), season and breed line – our Mainline grows fastest followed by the Yorkshire and Berkshire dominated lines followed by the Large Black and tailed by the Tamworths. Some of these weaner pigs will go to other farms and homesteads for people buying spring and summer piglets to raise up over the easy season for their families.
Selects: The upper quintile of pigs I identify at weaning time as selects and even primes. These are the ones I would consider keeping back as possible breeders. I will watch them as they grow, continuing to cull and select this group based on what I observe. They tend to be the last ones I’ll take to market as meat out of the cohort. Selects might move down to feeders or up to primes during their tenure.
Primes: Roughly the very top 5% of gilts and 0.5% of boars being chosen to test breed – they are the primes. A prime at weaning is based on what I’ve observed so far on growth and behavior as well as physical conformation, number of teats, etc. By the time they’re six to eight months old I’ll know a lot more and they will have been culled further.
After weaning the sows get sorted to a drying paddock and then head out to one of the boar territory herds. In this case these sows will be heading north to visit with Spitz, our big Berkshire boar in the north field. Before they go there the sows that are currently with him will return south to the main herd where they’ll visit the backup boars. Time to change partners again.
Outdoors: 72°F/45°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/62°F
Daily Spark: I’m Ruthless but I have Hope, Will and Ben.