Blog

My Sugar Mountain Farm Blog is where I write about the adventures of our family, farm, animals and life here in the little cottage in the big woods. Some stories are entertaining, some are about the beauty of our natural world here in Vermont. In others I share experiences we’ve had that may help other people with challenges homesteading and small farming. These are excerpts from our journey through life. Through the blog you can experience a virtual tour of our farm during all five seasons of the year extending back to 2005 and beyond.

As of April 2016 my blog reach the 5,000,000 visitor mark. There are over 2,400 articles from the past 11 years along with almost 20,000 comments. Be sure to read the comments sections of articles as many questions are answered there as well as readers sharing their experiences. Feel free to comment on any article no matter how old – that is the beauty of the internet. I read all comments and reply to questions.

Tip #1: You can always get to the Sugar Mountain Farm blog home page by clicking “Sugar Mountain Farm” in the upper left corner of the page above the header picture.

Tip #2: Many pictures are clickable so that you can take a closer look as you visit. Try it on the mini image of my blog at right.

Tip #3: Check out the tag cloud and the favorite articles in the right sidebar.

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On a historical note, here is my first blog post which was Welcome to Sugar Mountain Farm.

“Walter’s blog has been one of the most helpful and inspiring resources for us while we increase our pig numbers and build infrastructure. We have been consulting Walter for his experience in building catenary arches over his head in his house, and his shop, with the hopes that we can build our own thin-shell ceiling in our drying room.”
-Brooks & Anna, North Mountain Pastures, PA

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135 Responses to Blog

  1. Steph says:

    Hi! We are trying to raise pigs (mulefoots and tamworths) the best we can and now going into winter are wondering about water and what you do in your rotational grazing system. Thanks!

    • Winter water in a freezing climate is hard. Literally. We have warm springs and live on a hillside which make it easier. In short the best waterers we’ve come up with have ground heating help and a micro-climate which shelters them. Think of a barrel set into the ground within a small greenhouse like shelter or a cave. Sometime I’ll write in more detail on winter watering.

  2. william johnson says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences at sugar mountain farm its really entertaining and also thanks for showing beauty of our natural world……

  3. Will Bunten says:

    Hi Walter, We just had two sows farrow in the last week who were bred by a boar (Ajax) you sold to Gopher Broke Farm. It was a first litter for both and they each had 14 piglets that seem to be doing quite well, growing fast and learning from mom to root in the soil. They’re starting to wonder about the wider world, which leads me to my question for you; when you start to train piglets to electric wire? I’d like to have them trained to single/double strand but I don’t know when the proper time to start the training is.

    Thanks as always Walter,
    Will

    • We train to electric fence from birth. There are electric fences. The piglets eventually find one and discover it is not to be messed with. This is an advantage of raising them out on pasture from the start. You don’t really need to worry about when to start training.

  4. Carol Binkley says:

    Haven’t seen any info on this yet. What do you do about vaccinations? From what I have been reading it is important to vaccinate against erisphilis{sp}. Bessy our bip spot that we bought at auction already bred had 8 babies that are a week old, so we will be attempting that soon.

    • What to vaccinate against depends greatly on your location, what is an issue in your area and how much exposure your pigs have from the outside. FarrowSure Gold B is a good overall vaccine that covers many of the problems including the disease you mentioned. Sometime I’ll write in detail about vaccines. My immediate suggestion would be for you to check with your state department of agriculture to find out what diseases are of issue in your area.

      • sue says:

        Ok, I have 2 sows I will breed in the new year. I want to let them out on pasture next year (not the right fencing right now). I have barb wire fence in one place on my property. I think its reasonable (but would like your input please) to run hotwire between the very bottom and the first line of barbwire to keep them in. Does that work? Also will pigs come to a sound, or when you call? sort of like if you had a bell and called them to it to bring them in at night??

        please advise sue

        • Barbed wire fencing is very bad for pigs, horses and humans. I would strongly suggest getting rid of all of the barbed wire. It is meant for cattle and sheep. Absolutely do not electrify near or on barbed wire. The animal can become trapped on the barbed wire spikes and receive repeated very bad shocks that can kill it. Barbed wire and electricity are an especially bad combination for any species.

          Yes, we train our pigs to come to “Heeerrreee Piiiig Pig Pig!” and to move ahead when herding using a guttural “Huh-huh!” which is a mild alert sound in their language.

          • jack says:

            I have talked with several people over the years and I was told to get the best strongest fence box I could afford.I found this 15 joule out put(200 mile) energizer by Zareba.I have 20ac of pasture that I plan on rotational grazing with a small herd(35 fainting goats)and a few pigs..Would the energizer be to strong?What do you think?I really enjoy you website..Lots of good info..Thanks for what you do…

          • That is an excellent unit. We’ve liked them. The only time I’ve seen ‘too strong’ is when it powers wires that are too thin such as in some cheap ribbon and polywire. Get the better polywire, avoid ribbon and ideally use high tensile wire. Never use barbed wire or have electric fencing even near barbed wire. I’ve also learned to avoid aluminum wire as it wears out too quickly.

          • jack says:

            Mr.Jeffries.I am sorry if I am posting in the wrong place..I am not very good with a computer…Thanks for your responce earlier.I thought I might pass this on to you..Blain’s Fleet Farm online has the Zareba 200 ml. low Impedence Ac fencer on sale through 10-18-15 for $279.99.I do not know if this is a good price or if you might know of a better price.I thought I would let you know just in case you needed one..Thanks again..

          • That is an excellent price. Thanks for sharing that.

      • Dawn says:

        Walter do you use the Farrowsure Gold B just on your breeding sows before breeding? Do you use some of the other vaccines for pre-farrowing like the Rhinishield TX-4 & Strepshield?
        I give my breeding boars the Farrowsure Gold B yearly, I give the sows this shot 2 times a year. I also give her Respisure One, Prefrarrow Strepshield, and Rhinishield TX-4 prior to farrowing. The piglets get iron shots day 1 thru 3, day 10, and day 21. If they are going to the fairs then they are also getting the required vaccines for those venues. When I first started out I didn’t give iron shots (I didn’t know about them) but when problems started, even though mine are out in the dirt, that a simple iron shot would fix I started giving them. And the difference in the growth was amazing between the piglets that had no iron and the ones that had iron. So even though my piglets and sows are out on pastures & dirt I give iron to the piglets as it really helps with vigor because they are not anemic from lack of iron in their blood. Because the ones that get the iron do so much better than the ones that don’t get the iron I came to the conclusion that the iron content in the ground was either not all that great or it was unavailable for the piglets to take in.
        I would like to hear your thoughts on this to give iron or not…

        • We do Farrowsure Gold B or it’s equivelant on a similar schedule. We haven’t tended to do the iron shots as our soil is rich in iron, as well as copper and other minerals. Sometime I’ll have to do a controlled study on just pasture vs pasture with iron shots to compare. It is a good idea to get a soil test to know what minerals are available. Something else that we do is we put iron into our water reservoirs and our whey tanks in the form of old chunks of iron. We are always picking up barbed wire out of the fence lines. This is an old farmer’s trick. See Mineral Deficiencies. Differences in soils is one of those critical things that can make or break and why I’ve said over and over for years that people need to get soil tests and adapt things to their own locations, climates, etc. Farming isn’t a one size fits all franchized plastic pink pigs in boxes game. Rather it is a matter of making what you have work.

  5. Kerry says:

    Hello,
    I see you live in Vermont. What town? We live in Mass near Sturbridge and are talking about getting a piglet. Your site is very interesting. I will show it to my husband and talk a bout it. Thank you, Kerry

  6. B T says:

    Hi Kerry,

    Me and my girlfriend are thinking about breeding pig’s, we live in the UK & she actually own’s a farm with other live-stock e.g. Sheep’s, cow’s. What things should we consider before looking into pig breeding?

    Thanks

  7. Chris Miner says:

    I’m just wondering if you could help. This is my third year raising pigs but my first year in the winter. I house the pig in a 11by 14 building with a wooden floor and a huge running pen. But with it getting cold here in NY. I have been keeping them in. But one of my two is having trouble walking on his hind leg. I checked his feet for sores or blisters but realized his ankles are swollen. They both are about two months old. I have never had this problems or seen this before. Thank you.

    • I suspect that your winters in NY are no colder that what we get here in the mountains of northern central Vermont since we’re far farm any lake or river effects. Our pigs are still out in the fields enjoying the weather and will be for quite a while. The foot sores and blisters you’re describing sound like perhaps the animals came in contact with some plant that had an irritating oil or nettle. That is my first guess. It is hard to tell without more info. Check your pastures for what might be causing that. If you figure it out I would love to hear what you discover.

  8. john says:

    I am looking to raise some pigs next spring and would like to learn for to butcher and process do you offer anything or would you be willing to teach me.
    thank you
    John

    • John, go to the Piglets page which you can find in the Products menu at the top. It is very important to reserve early because by mid-winter spring piglets are typically already sold out and we’re into June deliveries. We already have many reservations for 2012 piglets.

      As to learning how to butcher, I strongly recommend that you get the DVD series by Cole Ward about butchering. He is a master butcher and an excellent teacher. We apprenticed for eighteen months with Cole to learn commercial meat cutting for opening our own on-farm butcher shop. Note that you don’t have to have fancy equipment or even a bone saw. For years I simply did our butchering for our family with a sharp knife, stone, steel, bucket of warm water and a few pans. I deboned everything so that it was easy to then slice boneless chops with the knife. Dechining lets you have rib bones in which you simply slice between – no need for a saw. Deboning saves freezer space too. As I worked I would put the bones into a pot for making soup. Meat would get wrapped for the freezer or canned in mason jars. This keeps it simple.

      For your first time doing slaughter I would recommend having someone help you who is skilled at the process of stunning, killing, bleeding, gutting and cleaning the pig. After you spend six months raising the pig you’ll want to be sure you get that critical part of the process right and do it humanely. If the animal is stressed during slaughter it can ruin the meat. If you’re not selling the meat you can do it on-farm at your homestead yourself or with the aid of an itinerant slaughterer. If you are selling the meat then the regulations in most places require that the animal be killed in an inspected facility. If you are selling across state lines then the requirement raises to USDA (federal) inspected facility in the USA.

  9. Bee says:

    How much money do you say it costs to raise a piglet to slaughter? I’ve been thinking about doing it for a while, but I was worried about the costs involved. Were pretty strapped for cash atm.

    • That’s a very complicated question because it depends on how many pigs you’re raising and how you do it.

      There is infra-structure such as fencing. If you just raise one pig then all that gets costed to the single pig. If you raise four pigs then divide it by four to get the per pig cost. Even there it will vary greatly depending on your management style – pasture, pens, etc. Figure on $100 to $500 depending on how fancy you get.

      There is the cost of the piglet. See our Piglet page for current pricing. Currently boar piglets are $150 as of the winter of 2011. This varies greatly with location and with the time of year that you buy as well as the sex of the pig. You also get what you pay for. Don’t buy culls. Some people bring in truck loads of cull pigs from the confinement farms. These pigs aren’t growing well enough for the big operators to keep them so they dispose of them. Instead, put your money into better quality pigs that were born locally. They’ll have a leg up on thriving in your climate. Also look to get pigs from someone who is doing it the way you want to raise your pigs. I’ve heard of many a disaster where people took factory farm pigs and tried to put them on pasture or even simply not feeding the commercial hog feed. Those pigs have been bred for one diet and climate control. Without it they don’t thrive.

      Then there is feed. A pig eats about 700 to 1,000 lbs of feed depending on the pig (some are more efficient), the time of year (colder means energy goes to body heating), how big you got the pigs at, how big you’re raising them to and what is in the feed. Note that after about 250 lbs the gain to feed ratio declines. If you’re buying grain then price it locally for 800 lbs and that will give you a guestimate as to the cost of the feed. Figure on about $200 as a rough guess. This will vary with what you choose (organic, GMO, Chinese Melamine, etc) and how large a quantity you buy at a time.

      Alternatively you can raise them on pasture and augment with dairy like we do, grain or other good foods. This dramatically cuts the cost of the feed and it increases the quality of the pork. The flavor of the pork is set in the fat during the last two weeks to a month of the pig’s life. Apples, nuts and other good foods are great choices.

      There may be some other incidental costs but that is most of it. Figure on spending about $450 to $850.

      Then once you have the pig raised up you need to turn it into pork, sausage, hams and bacon. If you hire this done then figure on $150 to $200. This varies greatly with the region.

      Grand total of about $600 to $1050 plus your time depending on how you do it. See the article on What is a Half Pig Share which will give you some weights to work with. Note that this is a real rough write up of the costs and they’ll vary greatly depending on a lot of factors.

  10. Frank James says:

    I am considering raising pigs.

    I have a virtually unlimited supply of whey available. I am wondering how much different breeds can drink? I have read anywhere from 2–6 gallons per day. I am also curious about the cost ratio of different sized pigs.

    • It’s not the breed but rather the size of the pig that matters. You’ll also need to get them accustom to drinking whey and feed a high fiber diet (e.g., pasture) along with the whey. See the right sidebar and look in the tag cloud for the Feeding topic. Lots of articles there to get you started. Yogurt is useful.

  11. shane lamb says:

    Hi can you help ? Can I use a 2 year old female pig for sausage meat as she can’t breed.
    Kind regards Shane

  12. Victoria Jordan says:

    I have been checking in on your blog. I would like to raise a few pigs for just family consumption but my one acre lot has some zoning and other restrictions. I am afraid I am only allowed pot belly pigs. Thought I might get away with the Kune Kune pigs. Just wondering how they are for meat rather than pets. Any ideas out there? I am also in the Phoenix area so heat, rather than cold, is a problem. Thanks, Victoria

    • I don’t have any personal experience with Kune Kune or with Vietnamese Pot Bellied pigs. I have read of both being kept for meat and being good eating if raised on pasture. The Pot Bellied are rumored to tend towards fat, a lard type pig. Both stay much smaller than most farm breeds, getting only into the 200 to 400 lb range as adults. With your hot sun a dark pig may be a good choice for UV protection. You’ll still want to provide shade and a wallow.

  13. amanda says:

    We raise red wattle hogs. We are having lots of problems with our sows sitting on her babies and killing them. How do you allow your pigs to farrow? We are looking into several different techniques.

  14. Chuck Held says:

    First let me compliment you on a GREAT website and useful blog.
    I have a problem with our wallows. They have a bunch of algae growing and I wonder if there is a safe way to remove it using a non-toxic chemical such as copper sulfate. If so, would the pigs need to be kept away for a certain amount of time. Also, other than being gross looking, can the algae be detrimental to the pigs’ health?

    • Why remove the algae? The kinds of algae I see growing sometimes in our troughs won’t hurt the pigs. In fact, they eat it. It is using up nutrients in the water and then in turn nutritious for the ducks and pigs to eat. We keep ducks specifically for their wallow and pond cleaning capability. They stir up the water, eat mosquito larva and eat plants like algae. I’m incline not to use a -cide. If you do then observe any recommended withdrawal from the manufacture. On a positive note, copper naturally kills off many parasites and digestive worms.

  15. Ed says:

    Wonderful posts! I googled here with questions about how to raise some pigs this summer and your blog keeps popping to the top probably because you cover the topic so well. Thanks again!

  16. Ellen says:

    Thank you for all the wonderful information you have shared. We’re just starting to get into pigs and have so many questions most of which are answered on your blog!

  17. Debera Chez says:

    Good article, thanks! Added to my feed!

  18. Sean says:

    Hi Walter and Holly,
    Wonderful site! Thank you for your posting and thoughtful farming practices! Our farm is on the same relative path and this is a breathe of fresh air to read.

    A question on your boar-taint article (http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2005/11/11/to-cut-or-not/) – the two reports you posted are gone. If you have a copy of them, can you please send them to me via email? I’m interested in raising boars not barrows, and, I have a boar that’s about 1 year old that has served his use on our farm and must be put down. I’ve separated him from the sows and gilts we have and want to go the natural route in preparation for slaughter, so I’m going to try chicory root, garlic, and dandelion roots and leaves. Have you tried them yet? And, are you still raising boars and analyzing the taste at one month intervals of age?
    Thank you again!
    Sean Zigmund
    Root ‘N Roost Farm
    White Sulphur Springs, NY

    • We stopped castrating complete years ago. We now raise boars to market age and they go to butcher just about every week of the year. The oldest boar we’ve taste tested was Archimedes at eight years. After many boars and thousands of customers eating our meat, both boar and gilt, over a period of many years with no reports of taint so I am very convinced that we do not get any boar taint with our genetics, under our management (rotational grazing on pasture) with our feed (pasture/hay+dairy+).

      You can read a lot more recent articles about the taint conundrum in these posts. Since you have a boar to test you may be particularly interested in the article “Have Your Pig and Eat it Too” which is about doing a biopsy test.

  19. Sandra says:

    Hi Folks,
    I have been looking at your hoop houses for chickens/ducks. Do you have any predator problems with those houses? I currently lock my flocks in coops which are knock on wood predator proof. But I want to expand and I like the idea of the fresh air and the relative low cost of building a hoop house. Snow load?
    Thanks, feel free to direct me to a book or some other source if you have one!
    sandra

    • We don’t tend to have predator problems but that is because we have both dogs and an electric perimeter fence. The electric fence keeps most larger predators out of our close fields, about 40 acres around the house. The dogs reinforce that boundary and eat small predators.

      If you don’t have livestock guardian dogs and do have heavy predator pressure then I would suggest putting an electric fence around the coop to protect the poultry.

      Snow load isn’t a problem due to the arched design. In fact as you’ll see in this post the hoop house is typically buried in the winter which insulates it from the cold.

      Here is a search pattern for more articles on the chicken coops.

    • Sean Zigmund says:

      We use small hoop houses for our ducks and chickens and don’t have predator problems, but that’s due to our dogs, fences, and we use small solar lights all over our farm and find that predators don’t come close when there is constant light outside around the animals pens. The hoop coops, as we refer to them, are 4 feet wide by 6 feet long by 4 feet hight and are completely mobile (just drag them to a new spot) and weigh about 60 pounds (because of the wood frame). We use a 2″x4″ base frame, 1 1/4″ conduit, and plastic sheathing. Very simple and cost effective, and, you can then use it to cover crops and protect those too, and provide a good, warm growing spot. The hoops are 1 foot apart, so snow load is no problem. If you’d like our design plans, email me… I can send you a pdf.

  20. Pam says:

    Hi,
    we are raising two Berkshire gilts this year for the first time. Due to harvest in late Dec. I have been feeding them whole grains, oats, barley, wheat and corn all organic no GMO. Also a livestock feed also organic. With a scoop of Alfalfa pellets or a flake of alfalfa. We have goats and chickens so they get milk and raw eggs shells and all. I mix scoops of all their grains in a very large tub and let them soak either in water and /or milk for the next day. I feed them small meals several times a day. They have a large area that they share with my chickens (have not had any problems). Do you see any thing that I might be doing wrong or any changes I should make to finish them for harvest. Thank you

    • That sounds like plenty of food of good variety. I would suggest feeding them pasture in the first part of the day and reserve any grains and such for the late afternoon so they graze. I would not do the many meals a day – too much work, not much benefit. Better to free feed pasture and then as much other things in the evening as they’ll eat.

      Since this is the season you might add apples and nuts to the mix. Give them as much as they will eat to maximize growth. If they’re fattening too much then cut back on calories (e.g., corn) and boost protein. Watch their jowls and back fat.

      Good to see you’re soaking the grains. Have you checked the manure for pass through? For those not familiar with feeding whole grains, be sure to do something to make the grains digestible? The natural ‘agreement’ between plants and animals is that the plants feed their seed to animals who pass much of it through their digestive system untouched and then deposit in their rich manure spread around the landscape. This benefits the plant by spreading their seed in fertilized patches. It benefits the animals by feeding them. Animals are often incomplete chewers so much of the grain passes through them. If you don’t grind or soak the grain it will pass through as shown in this article. When feeding grain, run chickens behind the pigs, cows, etc to eat the passed grains. Alternatively one can use the animals as a way of planting very small seeds like clover, brassicas, etc.

      Enjoy your coming meat and the process getting there!

      Cheers,

      -Walter

  21. Pam says:

    Why am I watching their jowls and back fat. I have no proper fencing for pigs at this time to pasture them. I do give alfalfa hay and or pellets. They seem to be solid as a rock. LOL. How many pounds should they be getting at this age (6 mos.)

    • The jowls are a place that show early the effects of over feeding calories. The back fat should be there, too little and the pigs look peakid. Too much and they look like a whale as someone put it. At six months they are generally up around 200 to 250 lbs live weight – depends on feed, sex (boars grow faster), etc but that’s a good rule of thumb.

  22. Julia Cronin says:

    Hello Walter,

    You are always my “go-to guy” on the web when I have questions about our pigs. I’ve searched your site but have not been able to find the answer to this question: Can a quality pig be finished off with a substantial part of their diet consisting of tree nuts (red oak acorns, white oak acorns, and beechnuts)? I have the opportunity to work with some foresters who are looking at the viability of this project. They are collecting all the nuts, I’m providing a couple of pigs to test it out on. Been searching for some nutritional information of nuts and potential formulations, but haven’t had any luck. Can you recommend any resources to help prepare for this little experiment?

    Thanks for all your help!

    • Nuts are a valuable source of fats and protein and make great pig feed. We have some types but unfortunately not acorns – something I would love to have. I don’t know exact numbers. I would start with this and here and this search pattern. The book “Non-Traditional Feeds for Use in Swine Production” may be of great interest.

  23. Pam says:

    I have checked the manure for any grain passing. They have very little since I do soak their feed over night in milk and or water. I have cut the corn down a little what can I replace it with that will add weight but no excessive fat? I do feed a dairy/livestock blended pellets.

    INGREDIENTS: Organic Corn, Organic Wheat, Organic Barley, Organic Soybean Meal, Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium, Selenite, Magnesium Oxide, Magnesium Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Soybean Oil, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin E, Organic Iodine, Vitamin D-3, Cobalt Proteinate.

    Crude Protein 13%

    Crude Fat 2.61%

    Crude Fiber 7.0%

    Calcium (minimum) 50%

    Calcium (maximum) 0.75%

    Phosphorus 0.42%

    Zinc 75ppm

    Copper 15 ppm

    Selenium .3 ppm

    Vitamin A 3420 IU/lb.

    Vitamin D-3 855 IU/lb.

    Vitamin E 4 IU/lb.

    I will be adding molasses to their feed later this week, how much do you think I should add? I took a measure of the biggest gilt and she came out at about 248 lbs. Thank you so much for your time. Pam

    • The soaking is good. At this point they are finisher size. What you’re giving them is fine. If you want to add molasses for energy, such as is needed in the winter, that is fine. If you’re concerned about cutting down corn calories to avoid excessive fat then don’t add molasses.

  24. Val Vetter - Piney Woods Ranch, Winnsboro, Texas says:

    Hi Walter,

    I found your website, blog, and farm while Googling “Boar Taint” and read your entries with much optimism as we’ve been raising a couple of boars that were *supposed* to be sold as intact breeding stock, but we ended up keeping them because of poor planning on our part and a customer who backed out of a sale.

    We raise Large Black Hogs and LBH/Hampshire crosses. Our pigs live on the edge of the woods on our 40-acre mixed pine/hardwood property in the Piney Woods region of East Texas. Like your farm, we’re also Certified Naturally Grown and got into this “business” to take more control of our food supply and avoid all the chemical and GMO-filled stuff that dominates supermarket shelves.

    Background out of the way – we were concerned about “boar taint” and thus our searching on the topic and finding your site. We normally would castrate our males intended for meat – though we prefer to sell them as breeders when we can. With these guys being much too old to even *consider* castrating, we’re worried that we’re gonna end up with a lot of very expensive organic dog food. Though our pigs do get some nourishment from rooting in our woods for acorns and other mast, the bulk of their food is certified organic hog grower – we don;t have much real “pasture” and these guys tear it up so fast that we’d have none if we let them “graze”. They do a nice job of browsing the overgrown woods though – eating pretty much everything but holly.

    Anyway, we’re hoping that by processing these guys early (six months) and keeping them separate from females, we’ll minimize our chances of getting tainted meat. I noticed that your blog posts mentioned something about the slaughtering process causing or contributing to boar taint, so I was hoping you could elaborate on that point and perhaps we can pass it along to our meat processor – who IS Animal Welfare Approved as well as state inspected.

    Though it’s not a topic we like to even think about, our 3 year old, 500+ pound herd boar won’t be able to breed forever either – and he is definitely well-equipped and quite mature. We’re hoping that by the time he’s ready to “retire” that just keeping him celibate for a few months will do the trick. It’ll be bad enough to have to slaughter a pig that you’ve come to know and love, but to have all that bacon and loin be inedible would be a financial blow as well as heartbreaking.

    Thanks for any suggestion, we enjoy your site and your blog!

    Val & Deb
    Piney Woods Ranch

    • I would suggest doing the biopsy test and see if you can detect any taint. The testers must be able to detect taint. About 25% of people can’t. Pasturing, high fiber diet and separation are all things that are thought to help. The best news is most boars don’t have taint at slaughter age. Beyond that, without testing your genetics, management and feed you won’t know. Consider him the start of the process.

  25. Hubert Karreman says:

    Hi Walter,
    As I am raising pastured pigs for the first time over the last 3 months, I am amazed at how pigs are such earthbound creatures – literally. Then I was thinking that as they root and go through all the soil to get at roots to eat, they must take in a fair amount of earth, with all its minerals. This got me thinking that pastured pigs really shouldn’t require any minerals added to their feed at all. Anything to this thought?

  26. Melissa Schmalz says:

    want to thank you. My sows farrowed out without any problems or heat lamps. I did put a regular light bulb out there so when I checked on them i could easily see in the pens. I’m still blown away that this worked!!. I guess I was over thinking this whole process. The nests the moms made are amazing. I would prefer NOT to farrow out during the winter, but my sons are in 4H and to make weight in July, we need to have our babies now. ( I breed Boer goats too)
    I will be building a straw bale barn this summer so it will make it easier for my animals next winter.
    Again…THANK YOU!

    Melissa
    Fruita, Colorado

  27. Val Vetter - Piney Woods Ranch, Winnsboro, Texas says:

    Hi Walter and Holly,

    I’m glad to see that you interact directly and frequently with your public through your Sugar Mountain blog! (This gives me the opportunity to pump you for more intel! :P )

    Anyway, we started raising our CNG Large Blacks a little over three years ago, and though we often hear the term “Pastured Pork” – we were a little depressed hear (to put it mildly) that other raisers of “pastured” pork say “Yes, the pigs graze and eat grass – but only when they’re not eating your expensive (In my case, organic) feed”. Our pigs live in our woods -where there is indeed *some* natural food in the way of acorns, hickory nuts, tasty roots, etc, etc, etc – but when we have our pigs on pasture – grass – they tear it up pretty badly in just a few short days. Around here (East Texas) where “drought” is a near constant the last 5 or 10 years – grass takes forever to recover from pig rooting and never does under continued attack.

    I guess the question is: What kind of ‘pasture’ do you have, and don’t the pigs tear it up?”

    We’re trying to open up new areas in our woods, but we’re on a 40-acre *mixed* forest with many pine trees and young, scrubby trees that don’t produce much food. We’re trying to grow more food for our small pig herd, but even that requires huge inputs of labor, seed, cultivation – and especially – water.

    Any suggestions how we can produce good pork without spending so much on expensive feed? Longer grow-out times are fine – but we don;t wanna starve our pigs.

    V

    • We truly pasture our pigs. Both in that is where they live their lives and that is what they eat for the vast majority of their diet. See the Pig Page for details on our pigs’s diet and follow the links there to various discussions.

      Pasturing, eating forages including grasses and hay are partially genetic and partially learned. In our pigs’s case we have been selecting for those who thrive on pasture – the genetics side of the equation – and our pigs grow up seeing their mothers eat pasture so that is what they learn to eat. Originally it was our sheep who taught our first pigs to eat pasture and hay.

      Rooting is controlled by a number of factors and can be largely managed through good rotational grazing practices. We see minimal rooting. For more on that topic see this article.

  28. Michi says:

    Your blog inspires me to pack up my belongings, move to Vermont, and become a farmgirl! Thank you Walter for sharing such great information with us. As well as the pretty pictures. So inviting! Hope your spring is a fruitful one!

  29. Mary says:

    what is everyone feeding their pigs, we were wondering if we are doing this right

    • The Tao of the Pig has many right ways. Part of what is great about chickens and pigs are they are omnivores so they can thrive on a very wide range of feeds. The conventional commercial feeds are the easy way to do it as they are pre-formulated so you don’t have to worry about protein, calories, minerals and vitamins – that’s a good place to start out. At the opposite end of the extreme is formulating your own feed from scratch either from bought items or things you grow. Most people are somewhere in between. We feed a foundation of freely accessible pasture/hay+whey that is supplemented with pumpkins, beets, turnips, apples we grow and other things like that but no commercial feed. If you want to go that way, ease into it slowly so that you can learn. It’s a journey, not a leap. For more about what we feed see the Pigs Page where you can follow the feeding links.

      • Mary says:

        Thank you so much, we have been feeding produce from a resturant, but now know they just started washing veggies in a chemical (poison) to kill bacteria. So sad, such a waste, I will not feed the pigs this junk. They are doing well on hay and some organic feed. Thank you again. You have become my resource for info.

  30. Mary says:

    first litter is here 8 in all pretty funny 4boys 4 girls all doing well. just checked on weaning and will do what you say. Also good to know about breeding back. I have asked everyone with a pig or two and no one really knew. I have mama separated right now with her little ones. Can I leave her with the other sows or should she stay by herself? I was afraid the others would hurt the little ones. Thanks again

  31. Keep up the great works guys I’ve included you guys to my personal blogroll.

  32. Max says:

    Our hog overheated from not enough shade and is collapsed in the barn.
    He was panting at first but has stopped now but still will not get up.
    We have poured water on him and are squirting water into his mouth with a syringe.
    What should we do?

    Thanks

    • Overheating is very serious for pigs as they do not have a good built in heat regulation system for cooling down like humans or even as good as dogs. I would bath the pig in cool water. The problem there is you don’t want to over chill the pig either. Giving him water is good as he needs to have fluids – If the pig were not able to take water orally I would give it rectally. Most of all he needs to dump the excess heat. Laying in cool mud should help. Good luck!

  33. Max says:

    yes,
    He is lying in a mud puddle :)

  34. Richard says:

    Walter,
    My question has to do with watering pigs from a creek that is the run off of a man made small pond. I started raising large blacks a couple years ago and have since used woven wire & a hot wire at the bottom with posts to give them about 5 acres of pasture. I have another 5 acres that I plan to fence off for them as well. This 5 acres has a creek that lines the property line. So the creek separates the property from the neighbors. The creek is about 200 yards long. Is there anything wrong with allowing the pigs to use this creek bed as a permanent water source? I’m trying to get away from using troughs as they do freeze in the winter and cleaning them/filling them is time consuming. The creek has a constant flow of water. Also, any ideas as to how I could set up the fencing parallel to the creek. (Through the middle of it or allow pigs access to only a portion of it) I’ve considered using only a couple strands of hot wire elevated above the water line to keep them from crossing over to the neighbors.
    Your simple, direct, and clever ideas keep me reading your blog. Please advise
    -Richard

    • Depending on the situation the pigs may be fine watering from the moving water or they may turn it into a mud path or they may drown. The safest thing to do is to run a 1″ or 2″ black plastic water line from the creek to various waterers along the way and then fence off the creek itself. But it’s very situational. You could try it and see how they utilize it. Despite the posted signs, pigs will pee and poop in the pool which is why I don’t swim in the pig ponds (wallows). As the old saying goes, “Don’t drink downstream of the herd.”

  35. tammy says:

    hello I would like to know if you have to brine a ham if your going to smoke it ?also I want to try my luck at dehydrating what part of the pig would you suggest for pork jerky thank-you!

    • I have never heard of not brining the ham before smoking. Brining the ham puts salt in and draws water out which helps to keep the meat from spoiling during the warm smoke process. If I wasn’t going to brine I think I would do a hot smoke so as to stay over the temperature where bacteria might grow. A good book on smoking is “Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design” by Marianski. I have a few others but that is one I have come back to over and over.

  36. Jasmine says:

    Hey there! So we bought 2 Berkshire girls, about 4 mos old and we want to try pasturing them from now on but winter is coming and we are wondering if we can handle them the same as cattle and horses, because usually we just let them all paw for grass in the winter and only start feeding them hay if the snow gets too deep for them to paw. And we are in Saskatchewan so it goes down to -60 degrees celsius the past couple winters so Im hoping some straw for them to burrow in will be enough considering they have that awesome hardy black skin.
    They will be on 160 acres, not split up all, free roam with 2 horses, Im hoping that that will be enough land for them supplemented with a bit of crushed barley or something every week or 2 for a pick me up, that we wont have to split it up to rotate them. There is plenty of grass, little hills, Poplars and buckbrush. What do you think?
    And also, Im wondering about when it comes time to farrow will we be able to leave the boar out with them in the pasture when they give birth since they will have so much room?
    Looking for ward to hearing from you!
    Thanks!
    Flat Mountain Farm

    • Not to be a downer but I think you would be headed for trouble with that plan. It takes really good genetics to deal with winter like that. I would suggest that as you learn about the pigs and get used to them to plan on feeding a commercial hog feed the first year. This will give your time to develop husbandry skills and get infrastructure in place. Winter is by far the hardest time of year. Pigs that may do fine over the summer months won’t thrive in our cold winters. We’ve spent over a decade selecting for pigs that will but I wouldn’t want to try it with two random new pigs and no setup or skills yet developed.

      We do keep our boars in with our farrowing sows most times. I purposefully select for gentle boars and we don’t have a problem. If anything, I’ve observed that our boars are more gentle with piglets than the sows.

  37. Daniel says:

    Hello, My wife and I love reading your blog and have found it a wealth of information and inspiration. We have a bunch of chickens and raise 2 pigs at a time for our own meat. Currently we have 2 Mangalitsa-Berkshire crosses. I have a question regarding watering and I apologize for the long preface to the actual question. We live in northern California where we have very hot summers, long stretches of 100 degree days and winters going as low as the 20s. Our 5 acres is completely barren of any tree cover except for an oak tree near the pig area and what we have planted in the last 5-7 years. We, primarily my wife, have been filling up a water trough for our pigs, sometimes 2-3 times a day. I want to put in watering nipples, but our water lines are a long way from the well and are 6 inches underground. When we start the water it is hot and we have to run the water for a few minutes in order to get cold water. Pigs don’t like hot water in summer, so how can I get an automatic waterer to our pigs that won’t be hot? I thank you again for all your great information, humor, photos and realistic commentary about your farm life.

    • Hmm… You must have a higher ground temperature than us so the solution is probably to put the water lines deeper under ground. An interesting problem and the opposite of here. Our ground temperature is in the 40’s to high 50’s so the water is always cool. It sounds like your water source is much deeper and thus cooler for that. I think I would dig a test hole 4′ down and see what the earth temperature was like at that point to find out if it is worth burying the lines deeper.

  38. Dawn says:

    I live in Eastern Oregon temps not too unlike Northern Cal. I bury my waterlines 4 ft deep. One winter even at 3 ft I had a frost free hydrant freeze but it was an unusually cold winter a couple of winters ago.
    I just got done helping a friend install Bar Bar A frost free, electric free waterers. The manufacture tells me that the “pig” people buy the sheep units for their pigs. They currently have some bigger pig farms testing out the sheep units to see that the waterers will hold up to the pigs.
    My only concern with these waterers is…pigs tend to hold the buttons or paddles down on auto waterers so they will over flow to create mud holes. These Bar Bar waterers would be easy for a pig (who are much smarter than cows, horses, sheep, & goats) to continually over flow.
    And the waterers are a bit time consuming to install but once installed correctly will run off low pressure and will function for years with no maintenance. The first one we installed was very frustrating and the next 14 were a breeze.
    We used a mini excavator to dig the 4 x 4 x 5 ft deep “drain” field they have to have and also used the excavator to dig the water lines. For 15 waterers this took 3 days. So for one waterer that should take one day.
    What I want to know is….since I was the one running the excavator is how those grave diggers get such square straight sided hole dug with their equipment.
    In the summer months for my pigs I run black 1/2 drip pipe with .08 gal/minute fogger/misters every 3 ft along the fence lines. I also run the pipe on the roof’s peak on their shelters. These misters running during the hot months keeps my water cooler for filling the troughs during the summer heat and since the misters are such low volume my well pump isn’t stressed at keeping them going during the day.

  39. Daniel says:

    Hello Walter, Thanks for the quick reply. Our water table is at 40 feet and we are fortunate to have cool clear water. I’ll try a 4 foot test hole as you advised. Not sure I want to retrench 250 feet of water line, 4 feet down, from our well to our hog area, but if it keeps our water cool it would be worth it. It would be a lot easier if I could just put those tacky little drink umbrellas in their water and be done with it! :) Thanks again. Daniel

  40. Melissa says:

    Tell me more about the eggs….Please :0). It may be here somewhere but with such an extensive (and great) site I missed it. How many? how often? (and such) We are currently building and expanding our farm and I am absorbing everything from everyone and I like you approach. Keep up the good work!!

    • We keep several hundred laying hens on pasture. Their primary job is organic pest control because we live out in the mountains (black flies) up above a marsh (mosquitoes) and have livestock. The hens thrive on the pasture and insects during the warm season. In the winter they eat pigs (weekly meat scraps from butchering) and a little hay. Thus we don’t have to buy them any commercial hen feed / grain. The result is they produce tens of thousands of pastured eggs which we feed to our pigs. The majority of those eggs get concentrated towards the younger suckling, weaner, shoat and grower pigs. They’ll eat several to a half dozen a day. Cooking the eggs doubles the available protein and resolves the biotin antagonist. Chickens and pigs co-graze well together and are good complementary animals on the homestead and farmstead.

      • Melissa says:

        Thank you for the information and fast response, I can only hope to be you one day when we have our operation more complete and up to date. Now for another enquiry.

        During your warmer months when your chickens are on pasture alone, how do you know they aren’t hungry, that they are getting enough to eat? This may sound like a silly question but as mother, I worry about my little ones (you should have seen me when our new (to me and the farm) first time heifer gave birth, I was a wreck leading up to it and for a couple weeks after). Our poultry, we currently have around 20 hens, 4 ducks, and 2 geese, are free pastured but I give them barley fodder (from organically grown barley seed) which I grow and a couple small scoops of Non-GMO, No Soy feed in the evening. (I let them out in the morning and they put themselves to bed at night.) We still have grass somewhat growing, yet every time I step out the door they coming running, this is normal behavior since we started them on pasture. I know they associate me with food but how do I know they are not REALLY hungry? I realize during this time of the year I will still need to supplement the pasture but I would really like to eliminate the feed (not necessarily the fodder). They all appear and look healthy.

        While I realize you may be more a pig expert then chicken expert, I thought I would ask away while I had your ear. I have found and read blogs, books and articles from others who do not buy any extras, however, many other farmers feed their animals bought supplemental feed of some kind throughout the year, especially in the winter. Our goal is one of being self-sufficient on as many levels as possible so I value the advice of those who have gone before us.

        I thank you sincerely in advance, and hope you don’t cringe when you see any more posts from me.

        • If they’re hungry they hunt. That’s the natural order of things. With a grain fed system animals end up loafing around a lot because they don’t need to graze or hunt for food. With a pastured system they spend their time finding food, or having sex, etc.

          Confinement operation systems have bred animals to loaf around and become growing machines that simply input food and output meat and manure, and perhaps eggs or milk. Then they spend a lot of time, money and energy catering to the animals by planting and harvesting crops for them that were grown with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Then the farmers waste time and energy gathering the manure and hopefully at least spreading it on fields although all too often it just goes to lagoons. By inserting themselves into the system at so many points and taking so much control they disrupt the biological systems.

          I prefer a more natural sustainable method of farming where the animals get to enjoy harvesting the pasture and spreading the manure themselves. With a little management of grazing rotation even much of the seeding is naturally done since many seeds pass right through the animals and get planted by the animals in their manure.

  41. Melissa says:

    One more thought …(question) have you ever used goat milk and its product? Any reason not too?

  42. Davidb says:

    Nice article been raising boer goats for a while now but I know I have so uch more to learn.

  43. Leslie Henderson says:

    Can or should pigs eat meat? I never have fed mine meat, but someone keeps telling me it is fine for them to eat meat. Just checking with the pros, to be sure.
    ~Leslie

  44. Leslie says:

    Is it fact or fiction that pigs should not eat meat? They are omnivores in the wild, one of our chickens got in the pig pen and our pig ate it!! I do not feed my pigs meat, just pasture and grain, but is it bad for them to eat meat?
    thank you,
    Leslie

  45. James says:

    More research done. This is a wonderful article .Nice job.

  46. William says:

    hello Mr Jefferies, I was reading one of your answers to someone else’s question about a brother and sister pig breeding and if it was possible. I know that it is, and if left long enough they will 99% of the time, but my question is have you had any breeding happen this way or seen any problems with a brother, sister,dad, daughter, ect mating?
    Also i love your blog i’ve been reading it for a long time now, it is a wealth of information for anybody raising pigs, i used a lot of your blog entries when we switched from raising pigs in what i would consider now small pens, to out on pasture.

    • We have had brother x sister and parent x offspring. They made fine feeder pigs and in a smaller number of cases went on to become breeders. I’m very, very picking about who becomes a breeder no matter the source, only about the top 5% of gilts ever get to test as breeders and only about the top 0.5% of boars get to be breeders. Problems come from the genes – they don’t appear spontaneously – we’ll ignore mutation for this discussion as that is rare. Inbreeding is when breeding is done willy-nilly without proper culling. With linebreeding, which is what this is called when you’re purposeful and careful, you can discover what is in the genes and then weed out problems through culling. This is not politically correct with humans but culled pig mistakes taste like bacon. Since 95.5% of our pigs go for meat before they have any chance at breeding it means that only the best of the best are staying here on the farm to become breeders. I need meat animals each week so we cull hard and often. Over time that weeds out any problematic genes.

      On the other hand, if someone were to inbreed animals, or plants, and keep the worst as breeders they could create some really messed up genetic lines. This is evident in what has been produced for some of the stranger breeds of plants and animals. For example, in some dairy cattle they have ruined the mothering instinct since they don’t have the cows raise their offspring and keep almost all the heifers thus failing select for good mothering. With bulldogs they have apparently created a dog that is often incapable of giving birth because the female pelvis is too narrow. This has happened in other animals too that you might be able to think of – highly impolitic to mention. :)

      • William says:

        lol, thank you for the quick reply. I think i am going to start selecting ones to try breeding out of are own stock. i have been selling pigs that i think would of made good breeders. just to go buy another female, just to cull her, because they don’t do well unless u force ground corn/soy down there throats.(most/ any that i know of, pig farmers around me do not breed to do well on pasture) so as long as they grow good, easy to be around, come from a pig with good motherly skills, to look at it in a simple way it should be worth a try? i mean i’m at the point where a lot of my good sows are getting a little old. The way i have been trying to get new breeders aint workin , whats it called when you do the same thing over and over and expect diff. results…..lol ;)

        • I’m of the opinion that when you see good stock it’s worth trial breeding it. It takes time, generations, but eventually you can start molding the genetics to what you want, to what works well for you in your climate, pastures and management. This is how we did it. Pick big goals to start with. Keep refining.

        • Dawn Carroll says:

          Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is called insanity…I keep the best out of my best sows & boars. I hide the best or don’t show them when prospective buyers come to pick out their pigs. But when I am offered a ridiculous price for the ones I want to keep…like $450 for a weaner then yes I sell them.

          • Hmm… That’s a quote from Einstein but he was wrong. He considered a mathematically perfect stateless universe where what you do in the past has no effect on the next iteration, how conditions change, how sometimes it takes more than one time to accomplish something. A simple example is breaking a rock. You hit it once and nothing happens. You hit it 100 times and it splits. This is the counter example that neatly disproves Einstein. He was good at what he did but he was not always right.

  47. Kevin says:

    i recently purchased a handful of young piggies and put them out on some pasture (this is the third batch i’ve done. yay!). it’s been a couple of weeks now, and some of them have begun coughing. otherwise, they appear to be healthy and happy. what could be the cause? and what can i do to solve it?

    thanks!

    • Dust
      Pneumonia
      Allergy (pollen)
      Parasites (lung worm)
      Inhaled something (would only be one not all of them)
      …or something else

      Has it been dewormed? That would hopefully eliminate parasites. If not it might have lung worms.

      Is the environment dusty? (moldy or dusty hay) This can easily cause coughing.

      Has it got a temperature (try rectal – 103°F is normal) If so then it might have pneumonia or such. ThePigSite.com has a disease problem solver tool that might help. It tends to give false positives but may help to narrow down the causes.

      Is it pollen season where you are? I don’t know of pigs being allergic but I suppose it is possible.

      The parasites are more likely the cause if they’re happy and healthy otherwise as pneumonia will put them under the weather. If it is all of them then parasites or pneumonia are my best guess. A fecal will confirm or eliminate the parasites. A local vet should be able to do this or you can do your own fecals – directions on the net.

      Good luck!

  48. Dawn Carroll says:

    Parasites would be my first guess too but if they have pneumonia & a fever (because of the pneumonia) you might want to treat that with Nuflor…sub Q every three days for 4 injections. Don’t stop giving it just because after one shot they are doing better.
    SMZ’s also work well for pneumonia problems but it is not as fast acting or as broad spectrum as Nuflor. Sometimes antibiotics are a necessary evil…
    The other thing that helps is a little bit of Banamine. If you can get them to lay down by rubbing their bellies and you have a stethoscope you can listen to their lungs to determine how much crackling is going on etc…
    But if they have no fever and are otherwise doing good worm them every week for 4 weeks. That gets the new eggs that always hatch right after worming them…and if you worm for 4 weeks in a row you should be able to get them worm free. I use the Cow & Swine Ivomec (I buy it from Valley Vet Supply on line 500 ml bottles for $69 on sale but I also use it for my horses orally) as you can put it in their feed if they are fed individually so you know that each one has gotten their dose.
    Or you can give them a carrot and when they go to bite that carrot inject the stuff in their mouth with a 12 ml or bigger syringe that has no needle on it.
    Or you can inject the stuff Sub Q…if I can feed them individually and be able to move the treated ones to a different pen (so they don’t get mixed up and you don’t know whose been treated and who hasn’t) then that is what I do when I worm if I am not injecting the wormer. BTW all of them will need to be wormed on the same schedules.
    Anyway that is what I do with mine. I pretty much have an open farrow outfit (12 x 24 ft stalls) with the sows being able to eat pasture with their piglets in the pasture months.

  49. Dawn Carroll says:

    But of course I also highly recommend that you consult with your veterinarian. I am not a veterinarian but I do have local veterinarians who call me or refer people to me for treatments for things wrong with their pigs.. I tell them what to get at the veterinarians office and he will usually concur with my courses of treatments. We don’t have any pig veterinarians in our area and there are not many pig farmers in this area either so knowledge is scarce.

  50. Gay Gunn says:

    I have access to nearly out of date chocolate milk. Is it safe for pigs?

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