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Sugar Mountain Farm is a small sustainable family farm nestled in the forested mountains of northern central Vermont. We raise a diverse variety of animals with pastured pigs being our primary product. Enjoy the stories and how-to articles here on our blog, find out about our Big Project – the construction of our own nano-scale, on-farm slaughterhouse and butcher shop, join our CSA and enjoy wholesome, healthy, delicious pastured pork from our family’s farm to your family’s table.

Eat good food and enjoy life,
neither will keep!

-Walter Jeffries

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55 Responses to Home

  1. Cherry Unger says:

    I love your family farm blog. You have such a positive can do attitude. I know there must be a lot of hard work behind it and that it isn’t all a bed of roses but you guys accomplish so much. I so much want to have a farm like yours someday.

  2. Philip Katatumba says:

    Hi Walter. Hope all is well at the farm? I’am thinking of using goats to get my pigs interested in pasture. I was just wondering whether there is a specific reason you use Sheep? Could it be that Sheep are tranquil and goats notorious? I fear my pigs could take on goat character.

  3. Paddy Conlon says:

    Hi i have been tring to raise pastured pork for a few years now. I have two herford sows and a bore. the problem that I have is the litters not surviving during birth, thet get stopped on or layed on. I am afraid to just leave them in the field, so I bring them in to a stall-8’x10′. Am I confining them to much? Should I just leave them so nature can take it’s course, do I need to seperate her from everyone else? thanks for your help.

    • How heavy are the sows? My understanding is that overly fat sows tend to lose litters to crushing. We don’t have that so I don’t see it. Pasturing doesn’t tend to produce fat sows. Another issue is how responsive is the sow to piglet distress and how gently does she lie down. A good sow lowers herself slowly, rising a bit if she hears distress until she’s finally all the way down. A bad sow simply flops down, crushing piglets.

      You might try buffer boards around the perimeter, that may help too.

      We have very good results with simply farrowing on pasture.

  4. Philip Katatumba says:

    Hi Walter, is inbreeding much of a concern to you? If so, how do you handle it? I have always felt that it depends on how good or bad the genes with in the family are. The advice am getting from some vets, is that it should not happen at all.
    thank you?

    • We started with several lines and haven’t had enough to time for inbreeding to be an issue even if we let it become one. However, inbreeding is not really the problem that people commonly think of it as being. Simply put, you breed the best and eat the rest. The nice thing about working with pigs, chickens, etc is you can eat any mistakes. This is the same no matter how close the genetics. Properly done it is called line breeding and that is how breed foundations are established. If you have problem animals, don’t breed them, no matter how close or far apart they are.

  5. Jeanne a Jeffries says:

    I enjoyed the blog about the pumpkins and sunflowers. Our gardens have not done
    well this year. How do I send to Hope? does she have a blog? West Hill pig was very good.

  6. Sol says:

    Do you sell rendered lard?

    • We do render lard at home for our own use but we can’t render lard to sell yet as we are still working on building our commercial kitchen which is part of our butcher shop. Until then though you can buy back fat which you can render to make lard. See the order form on the literature page.

  7. Philip Katatumba says:

    One of my 4 day old piglets‘ got a sizable soft swelling on its throat. Just noticed it today. Feels like a blood engorgment. But no visible bruise or laceration. Any idea what it could be?
    Am just waiting it out for now.

    • It could be a hematoma or a cyst. I would wait and watch. Hopefully it will improve by itself.

      • Philip Katatumba says:

        It has improved indeed. Swelling is no longer visible.
        My sows lost alot of weight during breast feeding. The piglets are weaning now. Its been about 3 weeks but the sows do not seem to be putting back that finished weight quick enough.
        I think they have worms. Guess I have not got the garlic mix right. I would like to inject a de-wormer but I am not sure of the technique. Do you mind posting a brief on your technique for IM and subcuteneous injections? Thanks.

  8. Bettina Reiter says:

    Hi Walter
    I live in New Zealand and have been tinkering with semi- pastured heritage breed chooks and ducks for a couple of years to produce eggs and meat for our family which is working quite well. I now want to get into pigs and was wondering what the best breed would be to run pretty much exclusively on pasture.

    Kind regards

    Bettina

    • See the Pigs page for details about our herds, their breeding and pasturing. Follow those links to more articles. I would suggest Yorkshire combined with Large Black and Berkshire. What is more important is that you select from a line of pigs that is already adjusted to pasture. I’ve done pigs purely on pasture but pasture alone is low in lysine, an amino-acid, needed for building protein so just on pasture they tend to grow a couple of months slower. For this reason we also feed dairy. Dairy also offers additional calories and gives a sweet flavor to the pork. See the Feeding section of the tag cloud in the right hand column.

      • Adam Saso says:

        I love your blog and thank you so much for writing it! It is so filled with great information! I am just getting started along this journey here in Australia and have found your writings to be so helpful. I hope you write a book. There is so much information on the blog and I’m working my way through it but having it all organized in a book would be great!

  9. Tj Bernardin says:

    I keep reading references to a book, in the works. Yet no info on how to pre-order or get my name on a waiting list. I really want one or 2 or 3.

    • Due out in late 2013… When it is close I’ll announce it. There is also a Farm Tour DVD video to satisfy all those desiring a tour. It will be a more in depth tour than even an intern could possibly get, going over the five seasons of the year.

  10. Jay Cee Clark says:

    Hi Walter,
    I have been wondering about how you and the family were doing. Looks like you’re doing GREAT!. So good to find you here and to hear from you again. Met you on the TN Homesteading group some time back.

    Blessings,
    Jay cee ~ ~

  11. Ginger McCarty says:

    Walter,
    I can’t thank you enough for all of your invaluable help with Peanut’s first litter (?). I cannot tell you what your graciousness & patience meant as I emailed pictures of her…ummm…”lady parts” trying to determine pregnancy (For those of you “listening in”, Peanut was sent back from the breeder with the sad news that she either didn’t get bred or didn’t stick…I kept telling everyone I thought she was bred & they assured me she wasn’t). I am pleased to say she raised 14 NICE piglets without any help from her humans besides food & water. I weaned the piglets at 8 weeks & at 12 weeks old all are well over 100#.
    I am also grateful for the wealth of information of alternative methods of raising pigs. When I wanted to breed Peanut, I was told she would need AI’d. I was warned repeatedly that letting her pig in her 75″ square pen in the woods would be disastrous–she would crush or eat her piglets. I sold or tithed 5 piglets as feeders and the rest I turn out nearly every day to forage over our 10 acres. Despite the lack of “appropriate” woven wire boundary fencing–we have barbed wire–only once did the little porkers wander off to the neighbors pasture…mostly they stay with the horses & my blind cow. Now, once again, I am fighting “traditional” methods. I am operating on faith concerning the boar taint. Even after discussing with 2 people the reasoning behind not cutting the boars (& these boars would be isolated–miles from the nearest hogs), the vet convinced them they HAD to be cut…& then charged $180 to cut them! Altough I am not sure, I believe Peanut to be a Large Black/Duroc cross and the boar is a Hamp/York cross. Both are gentle as dogs…in fact I’m pretty sure Peanut thinlks hihe s a dog. I am able to discern taint. I guess my question is, is taint detectable at all prior to slaughter? Although she doesn’t smell as good as my horse, Peanut doesn’t stink…and despite his living conditions (the boar is coming to our house this time!), the boar doesn’t smell “rank” either. I have smelled “rank” critters before. I guess I’m getting a little nervous cause everyone is convinced I’ll regret this, but I just don’t want to cut them. As all of my hogs are “sold” (have deposits down) & will be headed for slaughter in the next 60 days or so, I guess I’m looking for a little reassurance. This is my first batch of hogs & not only do I not want to waste anyone’s hard-earned money–including my own, I am hoping to develop a little niche-market for myself with the hog markets & pork safety concerns being what they are. Any thoughts?
    Thanks again for all of your help and I intend to be on that list as well when the book comes out!!
    Ginger

    • If you are able to detect taint, not everyone can, and you are not smelling it on any of the pigs then the probability is that they are fine. The only sure way to know about taint is to test the pigs. We did this initially by not castrating a group of boars and then taste testing them at progressively older ages one month apart. Now I have another method you might want to try which is to do a biopsy – you take a small bite of the pig and see how it is. That is described in the article “Have Your Pig and Eat It Too.

      Note that taint is caused by a number of different factors including genetics, feed and management. Regarding genetics, the Red Duroc is the number one pig that I have heard to be tainted but not all Duroc pigs are tainted from the reports I’ve gotten from people. One researcher told me that the lighter colored pigs like the Yorkshire have the least taint. He also mentioned that corn/soy based commercial feed is strongly implicated in taint and that diets high in fiber tend to produce pigs that have low or no taint. Thus a pasture/hay diet is preferable to the commercial hog feed. On management, pigs kept in pens tend to taint more due to the skatole type taint since they are eating, breathing and always in their own feces. On the other hand, pigs kept on pasture do not have this problem. Again, another reason to pasture. By the way, woods and brush counts as pasture for this purpose. Taint is sometimes blamed for poor slaughter methods (stress taint), poor bleed out (blood flavor), poor chilling (meat rot) and poor cutting (bone rot & poor hygiene) so sometimes it isn’t a matter of castration but of proper handling and procedure.

  12. Ginger McCarty says:

    How much hay do you feed to your pigs? Right now I have 1 sow, & 10 butcher hogs weighing an estimated 150-190. They are getting a 16% corn-based ration (approx 7# each, 10# for my sow–you’ve seen pictures of her), I “dumpster dive” at a couple of local supermarkets & so supplement with eggs, veggies, dairy & bread products. Because of the expense, I would like to cut back on grain & feed more hay (I have access to good alfalfa/orchard grass hay at a very reasonable price that they eat very well) but do not want to lose any gain. My grain is costing me $22.60/100# & the hay is $8/70-80# bale. How many flakes should they each get daily?
    Thanks once again for your help. I pray you all have a very blessed Christmas!
    Ginger

    • Our pigs eat about 0.8 to 1.6 lbs of hay per day per hundred weight during the winter months. That’s about half a bale of hay per pig per winter since the bales weigh about 800 lbs each. The sows use about one bale of hay per litter. The hay we get is low in selenium so we supplement with dirt from our farm which has good selenium levels or kelp. Hay is also low in lysine – we free feed dairy, primarily whey, year round. Our hay, and pasture, has a lot of legumes in it such as clovers and alfalfa which are good sources of protein. Eggs are a very good food for pigs and if you cook them there is twice as much available protein. Bread is good calories but don’t go over board on that. See these articles about feeding hay and see the pig page for more about our livestock diet.

  13. Ginger McCarty says:

    You and I have discussed my feeding program for my butcher hogs, so you are aware that at an avg 200# (4 months old) they are getting approx 7# of a ground corn/soy based ration in addition to forage, alfalfa mixed hay, veggie slops & dairy (from my dumpster diving efforts–LOL!) daily. My question is this, there seems to be a LOT of undigested grain in their feces, and although my chickens are appreciative, does this mean they are getting too much & it’s just being wasted? Or is this just a “normal” inefficiency of digestion? At $22.40/100#, I am trying desperately to optimize my gain while minimizing my cost, so would rather not be wasteful.
    Thoughts?
    Happy New Year to you & yours!
    Ginger

    • If you feed whole grains then most of them will go right through the pigs, sheep, cows, humans… This is why following larger livestock with chickens is so profitable. Not only that but the grains fed to cows get softened and then the old saying is you can feed a pig on two cows. What that means is the pig following the cows eats their poops and gains the feed value to cows passed. Likewise with chickens following cows and pigs, etc.

      To get good digestibility grains should be ground, sprouted or soaked. Otherwise it’s a waste of money and the animals can actually starve in the midst of plenty. See Feeding Barley.

      • Ginger McCarty says:

        The feed is ground–it resembles a coarse meal. My pigs are obviously doing well on what I’m feeding. I just would like to feed less if possible. So do you think if I soak it first, making a “porridge” of it, that it will make it still more easily digestible? How long do you suggest soaking? I usually feed am & pm as I think if you only feed once daily, a lot of feed gets pushed through before being fully digested. If I brought in the next feedings grain & soaked it in warm water/milk till the next feeding that that would be sufficient?
        Another off the wall question…these will be the first pigs we’ve ever raised & butchered. When we raise & finish out our beef, it is always graded USDA Prime. We like to hang our beef 28-35 days, depending on the fat cover. Will a longer hanging time for pork have the same benefit as it does on beef? How long do you usually hang your pork before processing?
        I cannot thank you enough for being so gracious & patient with me as I pick your brain! Too many of the hog producers around us raise them using more commercial methods. There are a couple of “organic” producers advertised in the area, but neither have been open to letting me tour their operation, which leaves me wondering as I count it a joy & a privilege to help others with their poultry, crochet, canning or equine questions. I believe God gives each of us gifts & strengths that we are to use to serve others. I am grateful for yours.
        Ginger

        • I don’t do the soaking thing but what I have read is over night soaking is what most people do who soak grains. I expect you would want it to swell up with water so that it is easily chewable and digestible. Try chewing some after soaking to test it.

          When feeding a treatish food like grains I would suggest offering it in the afternoon or evening. Have freely available pasture, hay and such during the rest of the day. Feed no more ‘candy’, that is to say pig chow or grains, than they clean up in an hour. I would also suggest feeding it on a hay pack. This helps teach pigs to eat hay. So delicious you can eat the dishes as the candy man would say…

          I hang pork for about a week. See this article about Hanging. Many butchers hot cut pork or only chill it for a minimal 12 to 24 hours. I think that this is insufficient. Longer hang times result in better quality, just like with beef and sheep.

          I don’t mind in the least answering questions on the blog. I prefer that to email as then it shares the information with other people for years to come. We don’t do tours because of biosecurity, insurance and regulatory issues. I like helping others both because I have been helped and because it will help spread small farming which is a much better alternative to Big Ag. Spread the knowledge you gain so it isn’t lost.

  14. Robert Stoffel says:

    I have a small farm with 11 cows and 4 strs for our beef supply. I like the idea of running hogs with the cows on pasture. I want to get 4 60-80 lb’ers to run with them. But dont want them to root up the pasture. How do you do yours without them destroying the pasture. Think hog rings would work? Thanks your page is awsome and love reading all.

  15. Todd Stewart says:

    Hey Walter,

    I just wanted to drop you a quick note of thanks and encouragement for your work on this blog. I am just now getting into raising free range pigs on my property and your blog postings have been very enlightening and entertaining. When I have pig questions, I always come here first to see if you’ve blogged about it. I have learned a ton from your website and wanted to extend my sincerest thanks. Keep up the good work!

  16. Ginger says:

    Walter,
    just wanted to let you know that we finally butchered our hogs…3 boars & 7 gilts. Amidst prayer & doomsayers, I held firm about not cutting the boars and we butchered between 243-286lbs (3 biggest were the boars) . Not a bit of taint! I have to thank you for your common sense advice and natural/pastured approach to pigs. We aren’t completely pastured due to cost of fencing for our place but we’re getting closer. Have now started growing fodder to replace grain supplements (much cheaper!), so hope to soon just be pasture, alfalfa hay & fodder (dairy & produce when I can get it).
    Last night reinforced for me the wisdom of letting my sows farrow in the field. One of my neighbors, who used to hog farm commercially, recently got himself a gilt to raise a few pigs. Although he didn’t use a crate, his farrowing box was only about 3 X 4 with rails…did NOT go well! Needless to say, I got a harried call about 10pm and now have 8 orphan pigs (& 40 chicks) in the spare bedroom (we don’t have a barn yet either! LOL!). I realize fully that the box wasn’t the whole issue (Mom was trying to eat them), but I’m thinking if she’d had them in peace in the pasture, it might have gone better. Ironically, she wasn’t done & had 3 more after things got quiet…which she’s caring for. Not wanting to upset the apple cart, we are not going to try & reintroduce them to her.
    Soooo this is my first experience with “orphans” & I could use some advice. These piglets never nursed so didn’t get any colostrum. I couldn’t find pig clostrix, so have given them goat/sheep. They are just starting to eat well out of a pie pan (we skipped the whole bottle thing!). The owner insisted on clipping the needle teeth (which I didn’t & won’t do), & wanted to dock tails…I told him I’d rather not, so we didn’t (he was worried they would chew the ends off…is it really an issue in large pens/pasture like we use?). He had me give them iron (I read just putting a pan of clean dirt (since not outside with Mama) would take care of deficiencies…is it needed? The bottle said to repeat the dose…
    Last time I didn’t give any vaccinations or use medicated feed, do you think I should since these are orphans without the benefit of colostrum? I’m not holding you responsible, LOL, just would like to know your thoughts since you haven’t steered me wrong yet…
    THank you again for all your help!
    Ginger

    • Hand raising piglets is very hard to do. The sow’s colostrum is very important for their immune system. There is commercial multi-species colostrum you can buy at the feed store that is somewhat of a substitute but not as good. For the first few days they need very frequent feedings – every few hours. I find a soft baby bottle nipple works better than a hard nipple and that they drink about one to two ounces per feeding. Getting them to eat as soon as possible out of a low dish is very good because then they can self feed. A heavy dish such a small pyrex baking dish works well since they tend to push at it with their noses. After they have some fluid put a piece of soft bread in the dish and they’ll learn to eat that which is also good for them. I also feed a little molasses and powdered garlic alternating with yogurt. The molasses has lots of iron. The yogurt good bacteria. The garlic suppresses bad bacteria. I give a drop or two of 7% iodine per quart of water. The iodine helps clear out bad bacteria and some viruses according to some research I’ve read. The yogurt helps repopulate with the good stuff probiotics. Next give them some scrambled eggs once they’re eating those things well. Cooked eggs have double the available protein as raw and don’t bind some nutrients. They may also need vaccinations as they won’t have immunity from the sow. There are a raft of possibilities there. Lastly, sunlight.

      We do not clip needle teeth, dock tails or such. See Piglet Interventions.

      It is hard. Good luck. You’ll need it.

      • Ginger says:

        Thank you! I’ve got all of them eating fairly well out of a shallow pan…I love the bread idea! Love the other “natural” ideas as well. They have consumed the whole 2 qts of store-bought colostrum…they are roughly 24 hours old now so further colostrum is useless isn’t it?
        Again, thanks for everything!
        Ginger
        PS, haven’t had time to cruise your website lately…did you ever get that book written?

        • The book will be a series and I’m working on it. That is a background task behind farming, building the butcher shop, homeschooling and even blogging. A fun thing to work on. It may be a few years. I am dividing it up into a series of small books to make it both affordable and doable. Each will cover focused topics.

          On the colostrum, I believe the sows produce it for three days so I would feed out that for three days. Warmth and dry bedding are important. Minimize drafts but have good fresh air.

  17. Mary says:

    need some advice: I have piggies on the way and this is the first time for both of us. Do I need to give anything (shots of anykind to them) I am a novice I have raised cows, sheep, goats but not pigs. Help, Help, I want to do this right. we are as close to organic as possible without being certified. Thanks Mary

  18. Kenn Davis says:

    do you lose pigs to predators?

    • It has happened but is rare, not just pigs. Our livestock guardian herding dogs are our primary protection combined with fencing. Predators include cougar, bear, martin (fisher), coyotes, ravens, crows, owls, eagles, hawks and a lynx has been sighted but never implicated.

  19. Scott Quale says:

    Walter, LOVE your comments that are scattered on almost every pig forum that I read. Quick question, when you pasture your pigs do you worry about the lack of Lysine that I have heard so much about in grass?
    Thanks.

  20. John says:

    Hi Walter and family,
    Wondering if you breed your herding LGDs, if so do you sell pups?
    Thanks,
    John
    western M.A

    • We do but they rarely have litters as the bitches only come into heat about once a year and we don’t breed that often. There is a very long list of people who have asked for dogs from our pack. I would estimate that none will be available until after the year 2114 with the current rate of dogs reproducing and the length of the list. (That’s not a typo – figuring 100 years.)

  21. John says:

    Hi Walter,
    I have a first time mulefoot sow nursing five piglets, two days after she farrowed (out in the pasture) she broke down the fence and mated with my boar. She mated / went through heat for the next few days. Have you ever had this happen? I thought nursing sows went through heat a few days after weaning. This was my first litter, any advice would be much appreciated.
    Thankyou
    John
    Western MA

    • Yes, I’ve seen this many times with our Blackieline sows. They typically return to heat at about ten days and they also short gestate resulting in us often getting three litters a year from sows of that line. They produce big fine litters and recover their weight fine on pasture so I’m not concerned. First time it happened the sow in question, Blackie herself, vaulted a nearly 4′ high fence to get to the boar and then jumped back to her piglets. At just two days your sow might not have actually ovulated but you’ll know in a few months…

  22. John says:

    Thanks Walter your knowledge is priceless, I’d donate to the server cost if I wasn’t broke

  23. John says:

    Good morning Walter,
    Back in May I bought a year old Gloucestershire old spot boar. Hes always had a wart\ small bump on his scrotum, this morning he had a little bit of blood leaking out of this small wart, its never been a open wound before.
    He’s always been sexualy active and still is, also seems very healthy eating hay, forage, and grain out in wooded pasture.
    Are boars susceptible to tesicular cancer? I’m not too worried right now but I’m going to keep monitoring him. Have you had similar cases?
    Thanks,
    John
    Western MA

    • I’ve never seen them get cancer. I have seen them get cuts on their scrotum, as well as other parts of their skin. It may be that he has a old infection that his body encapsulated into a cyst near the skin surface and is dumping by gradually shifting the cyst out of his body. This can happen if they get a puncture type wound from a thorn where the tip of the thorn breaks off below the skin – I’ve had the same thing on my hands and feet on occasion and I’ve seen pigs get that as well as dogs.

      If he’ll let you then you might wash it with some iodine or the like but otherwise I would just watch it. They tend to heal up from things very well. I’m not a vet, of course, so that’s all just from field experience – usual disclaimers and all that. :)

      • John says:

        Interesting, thanks. I tried cleaning it up with iodine and it went well.
        Also I’m moving to aroostook county ME in the spring to expand my herd with pure mulefoots, I’m planning on starting a small orchard and I’ve been doing lots of apple research. What apples do you prefer for your climate?
        I have pyrenean mountain lgds and old buff Orpington laying hens. Have you use old laying hens as dog food? If so do you behead them and feed them whole? Or pluck feathers and gut them?
        Your knowledge and advice is much appreciated.
        Thanks

        • Feeding the chickens whole is fine for our dogs. I’ve even seen one of our dogs, Kia, swallow an entire whole large henwhole and then regurgitate it later for her puppies. They devoured it. A very National Geographic moment.

          I plant #1 apples that I like. #2 Other apples. Macintosh are high on my list. The pigs don’t really care. I get stock from northern nurseries as they have lines that are already adapted to our cold climate.

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