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. Brea Mcpherson says:

    Hi, our piglets are outside with their mom so we have never done iron shots. Two weeks ago we got three bottle baby large black piglets and gave them iron shots on their hind legs where we were told to give them (just to find out that that is wrong and it should be given through their neck.) One has had a stiff leg held up in the air bent as off he was taking a step since the day he got the shot. He is eating fine but I am not sure what to do to help his leg. Any suggestions???

  2. Dawn Carroll says:

    I give them their iron shots Sub-Q in the neck. I give them because I know that my area is deficient in iron. I found too that I got way better growth and health with the iron shots than I did without. If you don’t want to give them shots there is an oral iron supplement that can be given to them in the first 3 days of life.

  3. Myles says:

    Hi Walter. I’m just starting to get my land ready for pigs that I plan to rotate through about 1.5 – 2 acres. I have a total of 5 acres in the British Columbia Okanagan but there is about 1.5 acres behind a pond that stretches across the entire property. The land behind is lightly wooded with some pine, willow and alder. Unfortunately this piece has not been farmed or maintained like the front 3 acres which are nice level pasture grass. There is lots of shrubs and long grasses as well as a number of old stumps. Really I would graze them on the front 3 acres but would, at some point in the 2016 season, like to utilize them to help clear this back land. I would have to supplement them with grain as I don’t think there is enough good food for them as it is. The grasses are long and tough but do you think they could do the job for me? Would they root through this stuff and help me out or do you think I should try and knock the long grass down first. I’m just not sure. The ultimate goal is to clean up that area and put in about 15-20 nut trees (filbert, walnut, chestnut, maybe some acorn) which in the distant future could be used to finish my hogs. Also I guess I would need to fence them away from the pond? I think pigs can swim and I wouldn’t want them to climb in for a dip and get out on the unfenced side. Would they do that?

    • I would setup a very good perimeter fence around the whole area. Pigs can swim. You may or may not wish to fence off the pond and leave a buffer zone. Then divide it into many paddocks. The bare minimum for rotational grazing is four but ten or twenty can be far better. You don’t have to do all the paddock divisions at once but can rather grow into them once you have the perimeter fence strong. See the rotational grazing section on the Pig Page and follow links from there.

  4. Roger says:

    I’ve seen some nasty videos on YouTube about how mean some of the factory farms are and I noticed what they are filming and saying are two different things. What’s really going on and what they say they are doing is not right. They don’t keep a suffering pig alive that can’t walk to go to the market. A pig that can’t walk is put down. Well anyway there were a lot of things they said that wasn’t right with what was really going on. I run a factory finishing site and the pigs are well cared for.

    • Aye, the people making that movie are trying to sell something – their organization – so that you will send you their money. You’re the wrong audience for them since you know what you’re seeing in the video footage.

  5. dragons haven hill farm says:

    ok not sure how this forum/blog works so hope this is in right spot. I have a few questions and ill try give as much info as possible :-)

    We want to raise pigs for ourselves as well as make some money in return. We are trying to limit amount of supplemental feeding we do. So we plan to rotate in fields. wont have much room as have other animals on site to. but will set up a square 32×32 pen. and have 2 maybe three.. its on clay ground but on raised area so should drain pretty well.

    So my question is this… how often should i rotate them. and what ground cover should i plant? i want 1 male and 2 females. would pen size work. “i know 100’2 per pig. but i be selling the babies as feeders or butchering them at 7months”.

    So how often should i rotate them in “to be safe as might not get 3rd pen up” 2 pens and what ground cover?

    And and plants in virginia i should watch out for as dangerous. And what types of feed “corn meal.. soy..” would work best. i have a mill not to far away that specializes in cow feed. but does others as well.

    id post pics of area but no idea how to on here. i want to ensure pens large enough to handle them. with out being to large and have less pens can rotate threw.

    Also i havent seen mention of it here but…. whats best way to put them down. i do have a 30.06 rifle and getting a .357 magnum hand gun “other reasons not pigs”. but whats most humane way to put them down? Raiseing them all humanely is nice and all… but if gonna hack them to death defeats purpose lol So whats best way you would suggest? hmm as i was typing this post i saw a post above mine i had missed asking similar…

    have few more questions but dont want to ask to much. i know your busy and answering 20 of my questions would take while lol “i type slow myself”

    k thanks for any input you can give.

    We are building a offgrid and organic farm. trying to show others in my area how to be self sustainable :-) we are even starting aqua-phonics also

    • I would suggest a minimum of four paddocks and preferably more like ten. Many small paddocks rotated faster is far better than fewer larger paddocks rotated slower. It does work to make a very good perimeter fence and give them that and then as you have time and money start subdividing it into many small paddocks. Mob seed behind them. I find that I must have a minimum of 23 sq-ft per hundred weight of pig per day for sustainable managed rotational grazing. I would not suggest approaching that upper limit until you have developed the management skills, quality pasture and good pastured pig genetics. See these two articles:

      How Much Land per Pig

      One Day of Rotational Grazing Shoats

      Also go to the Pig Page and read the grazing section, clicking through to the linked articles for more details.

      We plant:
      soft grasses (bluegrass, rye, timothy, wheat, etc);
      legumes (alfalfa, clovers, trefoil, vetch, ect);
      brassicas (kale, broccoli, turnips, etc);
      millets (White Proso Millet, Japanese Millet, Pearl Millet);
      amaranth;
      chicory; and
      other forages and herbs.

      Exactly varieties will depend on your local climate and soils. I avoid the grasses and such that turn toxic with drought, frost or other stress as they make our management system too complex.

      For the kill, I would suggest you have a very experienced knocker help you the first and even second time. You have a fraction of a second to do it right, to make six to ten months of effort pay off. Do it wrong and you cause suffering in the animal and can stress taint the meat. On the farm I use a .22LR hollow point in a rifle. A higher caliber can do too much damage and blast through into the body cavity or neck. The goal is to stun and immediately bleed out for the highest quality meat coupled with zero stress for the animal. See Box of Death and Kindest Killing Blow.

  6. Rickie Jones says:

    This blog is a fantastic source of information on how to raise show pigs! I have been looking for a good place for to learn from experienced show pig breeders and this is obviously the place for it.

  7. Farmerbob1 says:

    All five seasons?

    Vermont. Hrm. So, that’s:

    Summer, Fall, ShallowMud, Winter, and DeepMud?

  8. Joe says:

    Hey Walter, two questions. First, how do you manage boars? Do you let them run with the herd or are they confined seperately so you can control breeding? Second, do you maintain records for your sows performance? If so, how does that look exactly? Thanks!

    • We have boar territories which are made up of multiple fields and paddocks. These are separate managed rotational grazing systems that have a buffer between them and the other territories. Each territory has a dominant boar and then generally one or more sub-boars to act as backup and eventually replace the dominant boar. I rotate the sows through the boar territories to control breeding combinations. You can think of each territory as almost being a separate farm.

      I keep records on the pigs, in my head and in spreadsheets. Sometime I’ll do an article about record keeping. I would recommend spreadsheets and text files rather than dedicated software because if the software vendor stops supporting the software you’re scrod.

  9. Joe says:

    Another question, do you drive? When I first started down this road I learned pretty quickly that the more I did to rely on my property and the more I disconnected from the “the system” the better off I was. This included, among other things, not driving a vehicle and instead using a bicycle to get around. In hindsight I would say that decision was one of the prominent factors which has ultimately made it possible for me to farm for a living. Now I am better off financially and the idea of having a truck would be nice but at this point is not a necessity. I could buy one and sacrifice growth and self reliance for convenience or I can continue down the road I am on and probably be better off in the long run. Another option would be the middle ground, a 49cc scooter which is incredibly low cost and more convenient than a bike. I know that you import hay and whey, and I don’t know this, but I would guess that you have them delivered. Do you have or rather NEED a truck to run your operation?

    • It’s difficult to haul six pigs on a bicycle or scooter, especially in steep mountainous terrain on dirt roads and through deep snow. A truck does the job far better. See this article about the Harriet and Amby our primary and backup trucks. In addition to hauling tons of pork the trucks backhaul tons of spent barley, apple pomance and other goodies for the pigs to eat as part of their diet. The right tool for the job is often key. In a more urban situation a scooter might do you well but not out here in the northern mountains far from paved roads.

  10. Joe says:

    I have been having horrible luck in expanding my breeding herd beyond a couple of sows. Too often they develop a disease where they start wasting away no matter how well they are treated. I researched it and there are several possibilities, most of which are endemic and have no treatment. Any advice?

  11. Farmerbob1 says:

    Walter, if I hadn’t seen you post on another forum yesterday, I’d be worried!

    I’m going to guess that you’ve been too busy to do content creation? If so, I hope it’s not anything seriously bad that you’re having to deal with.

    Or did you get the other hand surgery done, and the doc and family are keeping you from spending more than a couple minutes at a time on the computer while it heals?

    It’s also possible, I guess, that the pigs got to your phone line again.

    Or, I suppose, you might just want a break from all this internet stuff, eh?

    In any case, I hope all is well.

    • Pig’s haven’t gotten the phone line this time. Rather I have had surgery for my other wrist and then I had a cold. My wife Holly had another breakdown and bugged out so we’be been very busy doing her work in addition to our own as I bought out her share of the farm after she left last year. I have written posts but not had the time to finish polishing them so they haven’t gotten released yet. Gradually getting things back on track. Thanks for asking. Cheers, -Walter

  12. George Moss says:

    Hello Mr. Walter, I live in West TN, I am planning on raising 3 or 4 pigs this year. I raised an AGH last year and the pork was great. I am wondering what breed is best as the AGH was too small. Also, how long will it take for the pigs to get to 200 to 250 lbs on rotated pasture with corn and DBM diet? Thank Yao sir.

    • There is no best breed. Rather there are many different breeds with different characteristics. I raise Yorkshire, Berkshire, Large Black, Tamworth and our cross lines. The cross lines are my best performing lines and then the others follow them in the order listed with Yorkshire being faster than Berkshire and Tamworth growing the slowest. Typically time to market size is about six months for boars from my best lines over the warm months on a high pasture diet. Adding corn and soy meal would speed up the growth rate.

  13. George Moss says:

    I meant soybean meal.

  14. Josh says:

    Hi, I desparately need help!
    My wife and I completed a 4-month internship at Full Circle Farm in Live Oak, FL and have now moved to Skaneateles, NY in New York’s famous Finger Lakes region. We moved in with our friend Ryan on his 1,000 acre organic cash crop farm to partner with him and start raising pasture-based holistic animal products. We will be doing pastured layers & broilers, pastured pork, and grass finished beef. We will mill our own feed from the organic grains Ryan already produces and use Fertrell’s nutri-balancers, and other products for minerals, vitamins and probiotics. We can roast our own soybeans and crimp or roll our own oats. I have rations for layer and broiler which I got from my Joel Salatin books, but have not had any success finding a ration for pig feed to supplement the pasture, which will be their main feed source. Here, we will be getting 1 or 2 dairy cows ourselves, not for sale, but for personal milk. We will definitely use excess, spoiled, and skimmed milk for these first 12 piglets, but as we grow to larger pig groups, this eventually wont be enough. We have lots of organic confinement dairies around here which I despise personally,(milk should be 100%grass-fed and raw!) but will probably utilize them for milk, skim, and/or whey eventually. There are also plenty of orchards and vineyards/wineries around here to acquire windfall/spoiled apples and grape and apple pomace.
    We have reserved 12 registered Gloucestershire Old Spot piglets from a pasture-based breeder nearby. We will pick up the first 4 on may 20th and the remaining 8 will be available(from a different sow) mid-june. The farm we interned at was a 100% grass-only raw dairy and so we fed the old spot pigs and piglets there lots of raw skim milk, the by-product of their dairy’s cream production. When the pigs were very young we mixed the skim with a non-gmo bagged swine grower feed in 5-gallon buckets with lids and let it sit anywhere from 8 to 24 hours, sometimes longer, to encourage fermentation and curdling of the milk.
    My question to you is can you help me find a feed ration to supplement pasture that will utilize the things being produced here on this farm? that would be as follows: (all are organic) corn, soybeans, oats, barley, alfalfa and timothy hay, and alfalfa “baleage” which I think is just his word for alfalfa sileage? He bales his alfalfa 3’x3’x6′ and wraps it in airtight plastic wrap at 35% moisture so that it ferments and is ready in about a month. He sells a lot of it to the organic dairies around here. We have a couple of Fertrell dealers nearby from which to get Swine Nutri-Balancer. I have heard of people supplementing their pasture with feeders filled with only barley and oats, I have heard of people using commercial bagged feeds, I have heard of many things, but nothing I have read has provided a ration. -Except for industry rations for confinement pigs. -And in the same article they usually rambled on about how pasture cannot provide pigs any reasonable amount of nutrition… yeah… I disregarded those immediately.
    My piglets will be here in 32 days! please help! Btw, Thanks so much for providing this website, blog and forum!

    • I have pastured four sets of pigs on just pasture alone. With the right genetics, the right management and the right pasture forages that can work. But, that is a hard way to start. I would suggest you ease into things. You are taking on a huge amount. I would suggest that you focus on a narrower range and get very good at it. For what we feed start on the Pig Page and read the feed and grazing sections. Then follow the links there to additional articles and so forth.

  15. Farmerbob1 says:

    Hey Walter,

    If I remember right, you had a minor surgery recently to release tendons that were binding in you left hand, with the intention of having the same surgery done in the other hand at a later time. I think you said that the tendon ferrules were snipped, allowing the tendons to move freely? Or did you have scar tissue on the tendons themselves thinned?

    I’m wondering if you were experiencing the same issues I am. I have several fingers on one hand, and my thumb on the other which will stiffen up pretty significantly when I am not using them actively for a few hours. The joints are fine, and not painful, but the tendons seem to be sticking in the little ferrules that they run through. If I stretch my hands, and start using them actively, the tendons glide properly again, only catching very slightly.

    Does that sound like what you were experiencing? If so, how are the results from that surgery you had? Clearly, I’m going to consult a doctor before considering the same sort of surgery, but I like to gather data first.

    • I haven’t had any problem – both hands are doing great. I wish I could have had the surgery 30 years ago but back then they weren’t doing such a good job. Both time I was butchering pigs, one handed, the day after surgery and a week later I was using the hand gradually more and more. With each surgery my cutting speed improved.

  16. Emerald says:

    Hello Walter. Thank you so much for your blog!I have a question about de-worming. I asked you a question earlier this month about my pregnant gilt, who gave birth to 12 healthy piglets right after I posted my comment, lol. And I thank u for your response to that. Anyways, they are now a little over a week old . Can we give mom her couple of clicks, and will that de-worm the piglets thru the milk? Or should we just try to give the babies a tiny click individually? I know that’s probably best but she acts feisty if we start touching them. They will be for food, so the sooner the better right? Thanks so much.

    • Interesting question. I know that deworming her prior to farrowing helps deworm the piglets but I don’t know if it will help post farrowing while they’re nursing via the milk. Sounds like an opportunity for some home research. Science time!

      I would not try and deworm the piglets this young. Instead, I would collect fecal samples from them and do a fecal test. It would be interesting information. Doing it about a week prior to weaning will likely give the best answers.

      Ivermec has a tigher LD50, a tigher tolerance, than Fenbendazole (SafeGard) so if I was going to deworm the piglets I would do it with the Fenben.

      If you do the testing, please let us know your results. Data!

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