Winter Hay Feeding Day

Today was a curing day on the tiny cottage roof. It was drizzling, a little windy and not a good time to mess around with concrete outdoors. So we worked on other projects like fencing, whey pipe lines and valve setup, putting out the weekly round bales of hay to the herd (two bales) and grower piglets (one bale).

Things are a big wet right now so the pigs go through the hay faster than they do when it freezes up hard and there is less waste. Last winter was warmer than usual and we ended up feeding out more bales than I expected. Fortunately I had bought a few extra. A typical adult pig (around 500 lbs) eats about 800 lbs (one bale) per winter (November through April) as well as using that hay for bedding. I like to use hay rather than wood shavings, saw dust or straw because the hay is edible. In the words of Willy Wonka, “You can even eat the dishes,” er, bedding…

Data from last year:
30 round bales x 800 lbs/bale = 24,000 lbs of hay
30 sows x 500 lbs = 15,000 lbs of sows
+ 1 boar x 700 lbs = 700 lbs of boar
+ 10 growers x 100 lbs = 1,000 lbs of growers
Total = 16,700 lbs of pigs

=> 133 lbs of hay consumed per day
=> 1 round bale lasted 6 days on average
=> 144 lbs of hay per winter per 100 lbs of pig
=> 24 lbs of hay per 100 lbs of pig per month
=> 0.8 lbs of hay per 100 lbs of pig per day
=> 500 lb adult pig eats ~4 lbs of hay a day
=> 200 lb finisher eats ~1.6 lbs of hay a day
=> 100 lb grower eats ~0.8 lbs of hay a day

Keep in mind that this is a herd average over many sizes of animals over a long period. In reality the bigger pigs eat a bit more hay per 100 lbs of body weight than the smaller pigs. Bigger pigs have bigger jaws, longer digestive tracts and are better able to digest the hay. That said, even piglets munch down on the hay within a week or so of birth just as they do on grasses and herbs in the pasture during the warmer season. Of course, fresh pastures in the warm months are better than winter hay just as our fresh summer garden veggies and fruit are better than what we can for our own table to keep us eating over the winter.

Note that the wrapped round bales are high quality hay and have more moisture content than the small square bales (about 40 lbs each). In the past we had fed the square bales but over the last few years have been switching to the round bales. See this article from last week about moving the round bales using a chain hook.

Over the course of the winter the pigs eat almost all of the hay and there is little waste. What there is for “waste” goes into the soil of the garden corrals increasing their organic matter content which is good. In the spring the chickens kill off almost all weeds that result so we don’t have to waste our time weeding. Then we plant. This turns our marginal Vermont mountain soil into rich organic gardens. Sequencing and timing are important.

The picture at the top is Saturn howling off the coyotes from atop a log pile. Saturn is one of our Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) and he is making sure the local predators know in no uncertain terms that they are not to get near his pigs. Check out Sweetnicks for more weekend dog blogging.

Outdoors: 42°F/31°F Drizzle
Farm house: 64°F/55°F 2 logs
Tiny Cottage: 57°F/48°F curing the roof

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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21 Responses to Winter Hay Feeding Day

  1. Patti says:

    We still feed the small squares even though they are getting harder to find. Our faithful 8n just can’t handle the large round bales.

  2. Jane says:

    The thought of your pigs eating herbs in the spring… It must make the pork taste extra special.

    I’ve really enjoyed the seeing the building of the cottage so far, but what has drawn me to comment was the picture of Saturn howling, fantastic photo gives a real feeling of the winter.

  3. Louisa says:

    What are your local predators other than coyotes?

  4. Jane, I think it makes a difference in the taste. We have done taste tests of pigs that were born of our sows where one group was fed commercial grain based feed (someone who bought piglets from us), others were fed just pasture and others got pasture plus dairy. Note that in the winter, pasture consists of hay. The ones on just pasture are leaner but still better tasting than the commercial fed pigs. The ones on pasture plus dairy taste the absolute best with a sweet flavor to them but still not too fat. All of them tasted better than the store bought chops.

  5. Louisa, in addition to coyotes we also have ravens, hawks, occasional eagles, weasels, fishercats, bobcat, cougar (extinct but still deadly), bear and two-leggers for predators. Cheers, -Walter

  6. Anonymous says:

    what breed of pig do you have and do you feed them anything other then hay during the winter? i just got my first two gilts in oct.


  7. In the warm weather the pigs get pasture using intensive grazing management. We replace that with hay in the winter. When available we also feed excess milk, whey, bread, cottage cheese, cheese trim as well as some veggies in the fall that we grow for the pigs such as corn, pumpkins, squashes, sunflowers, turnips, etc. The last are not a large part of their diet but they help make the transition to winter and extend the grazing season. So far we’ve done it just by having the animals harvest the veggies themselves for the most part.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Walter, I have begun a small pig/chicken farm here in Pennsylvania, and I've found your site tremendously helpful. Up until now I've only been raising pigs to roast in the summertime, and this will be my first year wintering them. Grain is starting to get a little pricey, and I get a lot of advice from people who only know of raising pigs second hand. You know,"My friend does this" & "I read on the internet that".
    My question for you is hay or haylage the only feed you supply you herd in the winter?

  9. We have fed just hay but it is far better to combine it with dairy such as whey, milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.

  10. JF Roldan says:

    Hi, can you go cold turkey with hogs that were on commercial feed and put them on hay/dairy/scraps from one day to the next?

  11. JF,

    I would not suggest it but I’ve never tried it so I don’t know for sure. The pigs would probably live. They might slow down their gain for a few days or even longer. Instead I would suggest making a gradual transition over a period of weeks onto the new feed.



  12. JF Roldan says:

    I am not too worried about gain as I don’t plan on eating them. They are 5.5 months old and will be my breeders. I am the one who asked about the Berkshires a while ago on the yahoo list.

    I will go get some feed tomorrow I guess. I found a source for cheese whey and can get 225 litres per week.

    How old does a gilt need to be before breding her?



  13. Typically gilts are about eight months old at breeding. I’ve had some breed as early as about six months and they farrowed excellent, large litters. We call those Lolitas. The rule of thumb I’ve heard is the goal weight at farrowing is around 300 lbs and breed on the second heat or later. Just approximations. All this varies with the breed and individual animal.

  14. Karen B in northern Idaho says:

    The local farmer I will be getting my breeders from, tells me I will need at least 2 tons of straw per pig for bedding through the winter. I wonder why he goes through so much compared to your 600 lbs. per pig, and yours is hay so they also eat much of it. He does winter his pigs in gigantic hoop houses… perhaps they are crowded. I plan on starting the bedding pack with straw but will top with hay and add more hay as the winter goes on.

  15. Karen my guess for the reason that he uses 4,000 lbs of straw per pig per winter is that he is confining the pigs so the pigs completely such that the straw must soak up all of their manure and urine.

    Since our pigs are free to move about all winter and I separate their bedding area from their feeding area by several hundred feet they end up spreading their manure and urine through the winter just as they do on pasture during the summer. If he has all of their feed, water and bedding in the same location then he might need to use a lot more bedding material to soak up the fluid wastes.

    He may have wetter environmental conditions too although I would think Idaho would be similar to our climate.

  16. oliver griswold says:

    what might you hazard the protein % of your hay is? do you have a sense as to what the overall protein % is of all their feed (ie: hay+whey+produce+other) is over an average winter period (a week or month)? do you ever get an overload of protein into them that results in more odor in their manure or do they stay pretty well balanced through the variety of their diet? thanks much!

    • Rather than testing every batch of pasture, hay and whey, etc we provide a variety with the base feed being the the pasture/hay + dairy. Doing testing on everything over and over would just waste money. Confinement Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) need it because they are trying to force the animals through their system so fast. They must get each pig to market weight of a certain size within a certain number of days. A basic benefit of pasturing is that we can be more relaxed on the time frame. If a pig doesn’t hit the same size in the same exact number of days it is not critical.

      As to odor, the pigs, as well as chickens, ducks, geese and sheep, are spreading their manure and urine out over the fields naturally. The problem with odor comes when you pile it all up in one place. Even in the winter the animals are on many acres. We setup their feed and water a significant distance from their bedding areas so they then walk, spreading nutrients along the path. An excessively high protein diet like what is used in show pigs and CAFOs does lead to excessive nitrogen excretions and thus higher smells. I think we avoid this due to the high fiber content of our animal diets and the better balance.

  17. oliver griswold says:

    thanks walter. what i’m finding with my girls (who are on pasture and have plenty of hay) is that they will selectively chow down on my soy-free pig feed if i don’t ration it to them here in the winter. when this happens (i’m away for a weekend as example) their manure gets quite odoriferous which i’m assuming is because they’re overloading on the protein and can’t assimilate it all. when i put them back on rations it forces them to balance with the foraging and hay. do you have to so ration your pigs or do you more or less free choice the whey ‘n such to them? my pig feed is ostensibly 14-16% protein. thanks!

    • I think our hay is higher than that in protein. The hay and whey are both fed free choice. You might try feeding the “candy” extra foods in the evening which lets the pigs fill up on pasture/hay during the day. Watch their condition. They do need a source of lysine (a protein) which is what we use the dairy for. It is harder doing this sort of feeding if you’re not there but with the pasture/hay available they could go without for a day. Or perhaps you could figure out a clever feeder that lets the food come down slowly to limit consumption. Picture: Pig pushes button, a kernel of corn falls down. Pig eats it. Pig pushes the button… Lots of work for little food to space it out. :)

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