Hair Spray

Painting Pigs

No, it is not a sudden urge to do graffiti. These are not designer pigs of many color coats. We are just keeping track of who has been seen in the milling crowd.

When we count pigs we simplify the process with two little tricks:

  1. Feed a big treat so the pigs come find us rather than us having to hunt them down all over the mountain.
  2. Paint the pigs so we don’t count the same pigs twice.

To paint the pigs we use vivid Halloween spray paints. The pink shows up best against the variety of colored pigs. It was suggested we could use paint ball guns but that would hurt. The pigs aren’t bothered at all by a little stripe of fluorescent hair spray – they’re focussed on the treat at hand.

Counting pigs is best done by at least two people. One is spraying the pigs, often calling out their category. e.g., Suckling, Weaner, Grower, Roaster, Finisher, Market Hog, Gilt Prime, Boar Prime, Big Boar, Big Sow (Dry, Pregnant, Near, Nursing, etc). The other person has a clipboard and pen and is keeping track of how many pigs of each sex we have in each age group as well as making notes about pregnancy state, health, etc. Breeder pigs have names which are recorded since they’re around long enough that we need to keep track of them individually.

Since our pigs are spread out over the mountain’s 70 acres or so of pasture it never seems like there are 300 pigs there. Even when calling them to us with food for counting we only get groups of 50 to 100 at a time since there are multiple herds and paddocks. Pigs who are several thousand feet away take a long time to show up or don’t even come to this feeding. This is why we’ll sometimes count on two days in succession – the hair spray is still visible the next day.

The purpose of counting the pigs into groups is so that we know how many we can take to market each week for this month, next month, the following month, etc. Since we breed all of our own pigs we are not buying in groups of pigs for sales like a finishing farm does. We are what is termed a farrow-to-finish farm with our own breeding herds. This means our pigs live their entire lives on our farm rather than being born on one farm, grown on another and then finished on a third as is common in the industry.

Additionally the sows don’t produce a consistent 1.5 litters per week. Rather they cluster their farrowing dates a bit so sometimes we might go for a whole month with only one litter being born and then in a week we might have sixty pigs born. With a little luck, and some planning on weaning dates, those clusters tend to fall in good weather.

In all it takes us about ten months to go from conception to market and then about two to four weeks more to get paid. Throw in a month of down time and that is about a one year business cycle.

As an interesting sub-note, it takes us five to six months to produce a weaner age piglet, such as what someone might buy for raising as a summer pig. Then in just four to five more months that pig grows from 20 lbs to 250 lbs where we can sell it as a full sized CSA pig. Pigs grow that last half far faster than the first half. Then they slow down their growth again which is why market pigs are around the weight they are.

Notice the chicken in the foreground.

Outdoors: 49°F/39°F Mostly Overcast, Some Rain
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/63°F Roof Tested

Daily Spark: The problem with being famous is it is fleeting. Infamy though is long lasting.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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6 Responses to Hair Spray

  1. Kevin Korkie says:

    Those are some fine looking pigs! I love how you keep all the ages together out on pasture. It is the natural family group in their natural setting.

  2. longious says:

    am impressed by the whole set up
    am gonna start one immediately

  3. Nance says:

    what a great idea! Interesting (to me anyway as I don’t remember those farming days) my 71 yr old brother wrote this, this week, about counting Iowa pigs 60+ years ago: Father had a method of counting pigs. We would make a small opening with a gate at the fence corner. I would chase the pigs through, and he would count them. hmmm. I don’t think Father had 300 pigs to count!

  4. We have been crocheting hats the last couple of years. We all like ours. They are great moderate weather hats and indoor hats in the winter. Then when it gets really cold we put another hat layer over them. We’re now doing stockings as an experiment.

  5. Brit says:

    300 pigs on 70 acres so 4.3 pigs per acre? Is that right?

    • Er, don’t generalize too much from numbers like that. We had our pigs on 20 acres until last year. Then we expanded our grazing area in a large jump, reclearing old fields. Gradually we’ll increase our herds to match the available pasture. These sorts of things aren’t linear or necessarily in sync. One can’t just add 0.25 acres as each pig is added but rather 30 acres might be added all at once and then the herd gradually adjusted.

      Additionally, how much land is needed varies greatly with the soil type, grazing forage, climate, moisture, pig size, supplemental feed and other factors. What works here and now at this instant in time is just that, an snap-shot. See this post and this post for some more discussion.

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