Ben and Will Driving Pigs
Each week we call pigs down from the mountain pastures to sort, select, redistribute and take to market. I use my magic wand, waving it above the herd and then spray paint their backs with Halloween air spray to indicate who is pregnant in late gestation with an “O”, to be saved back “X” or to be considered for market “/”. It is like a game of Tic-Tac-Toe with a board consisting of hundreds of pigs.
The late gestation sows (“O”) from the main herd get moved into the gestation fields where they’ll farrow and nurse their piglets for six to eight weeks.
The saved back pigs (“X”) are too small, breeder gilts and sows who are not yet in late gestation or breeder boars who are staying on the farm to do their job. Only the top 5% of gilts typically get a chance to become breeders and only about 0.5% of the boars will stay on. Your odds of staying on the farm are 10x better if you’re a lady.
This weekly sorting process gives me a chance to examine each pig, check how they are doing, look for any issues, talk to them, treat them and assess how the herds are. Since they’re normally out on our mountain pastures I may not see particular pigs in any day – they’re spread out over 70 acres of savanna style fields across our mountain. In fact, without this weekly sorting I might not see a pig for weeks.
The purpose of the symbols is so that all of us doing the herding can know how I’ve evaluated each pig. O’s to be sent to the closer pastures to farrow, X’s to be sent back to the mountain pastures to grow or mate, /’s to be moved forward towards the sorting and loading areas for the weekly trip to market. By having clear symbols on the pigs it is easy to know who to move, herd, sort and drop as we shift around 20,000 to 50,000 lbs of pigs.
To move the pigs, to sort them out and to shift the groups we use sorting boards[1, 2] made from plastic 65 gallon food grade drums. Flattened with flame and with handles cut in them they make easy walls that we can shift around to let a pig drop back or to move another onward in the direction we want.
Roughly the top 20 candidates out of the group of striped pigs (“/”) get herded to the sorting pen near our driveway where I examine them in more intimate detail. I check sizes, evaluate who I might want to keep back as a potential breeder, compare them with each other. At that point they either gain more stripes or an “X” that sends them back out to the fields to grow larger and possibly to win big, producing the next generation.
After winnowing the group down to about eight to ten finisher and roaster pigs we move them down the driveway to the loading pen where the van is parked with hay in it. The pigs rest there overnight and get to explore the back of our truck at their leisure. Sometimes they will have already loaded themselves when we come down early in the morning.
Finally, as early as 4 am, we drive pigs away, down the mountain and the three hours to the Adams Slaughterhouse in Athol, Mass. They’re very good at handling the animals and well worth the drive, skipping past closer processors.
We are now done construction with our own butcher shop for meat cutting and sausage making. This winter we’ll add the walk-in freezer, cooler, brine room and cave. Then we’ll be able to add smoking to our repertoire. Our kids are really looking forward to learning to smoke. What proud parent wouldn’t want their kids smoking bacon!?!
Later down the road we’ll finish off the abattoir portion of our on-farm USDA/State inspected meat processing facility, a.k.a. the butcher shop. When that happens we’ll no longer need to drive pigs three hours down to Mass. It’s a journey, both ways.
Some Related Reading:
One Day of Rotational Grazing
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
Wild Farrowing – another view of the loading chute.
Outdoors: 79°F/53°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 69°F/65°F
Butcher Shop: 60°F iCutter Processign Room in Butcher Shop
Daily Spark: A “short period” is an interesting concept. A period is a dot. If it were any longer it would be a dash, a hyphen or an underscore. If it were any shorter it would be nonexistent.