Breeding Groups

Shroom Stump

Cara asked
It seems you have mostly un-neutered animals, and I love that idea. It also seems you let the pigs pretty much “do their thing” and don’t try to control when they breed. But what about the other animals – sheep, dogs? How do you keep their reproduction in check (if you do)? Do you separate the sexes all the time or just at key times? How does your method work?

Many answers depending on the species, their cycles and our goals…

Pigs: We select the best of the best and organize them in herds which we can then cross back and forth. We have two herds, the north and the south, right now. We’ll add an east herd, perhaps next year. Each herd consists of the best gilts and sows (about 5% make the cut for first parity) along with the best boars (about 0.5% make the, er, cut for first testing). I like having paired males – one for backup. They service about 20 to 30 sows in each herd. Pigs come into heat about once every 21 days. Gestation is about three months, three weeks and three days as the old saying goes although some of the best sows, like Blackie and her daughters, go faster producing a full three litters a year while maintaining excellent condition.

Sheep: Just one ram most of the time. For a while we had two who were brothers. Again, I prefer having paired males who run with the ewes. This keeps it simple and provides backup mating in that critical short time span of estrus. Ewes twin annually breeding only once a year in the fall, around October.

Dogs: They only heat about once a year. We rarely have litters. If I don’t want a bitch to breed she simply stays by my side during her heat. The males are anxious but respectful. There is a very, very long list of people who want puppies from us but we just breed for the purpose of continuing our line of livestock guardian and herding dogs. You can’t just take any dog out of a shelter to do the job. There’s a large degree of instincts and specialized body form that are important in addition to all of the training that goes into raising up a working dog.

Geese: Breed once a year and seem to be in pairs although it isn’t 100% clear to me. They primarily lay eggs in the spring. We have five, three females and two males. So far there have been no actual hatchings although they lay lots of eggs each spring. Interestingly, one goose laid eggs this month. Unusual.

Ducks: Breed in the late winter through spring and lay eggs then. There is one male in our group of eight. If there were a lot of males then they are too much for the hen ducks. I would like to have another male in the group, a backup, but it is as it is.

Chickens: Breed year round and lay eggs most of the year. Usually we have several roosters. Like with ducks, too many can be a problem. With a few they stake out territories which goes fine. Too many and the hens get rooster pecked as opposed to hen pecked. Currently we have no roosters. Last month I taught the last one not to crow so early in the morning – roosters are delicious.

Ferrets: Fred & Georgia came to us neutered.

Humans: Breed for an offspring spacing of about five years. Maintained on pasture with natural weaning and homeschooling.

Outdoors: 60째F/40째F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 73째F/60째F

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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14 Responses to Breeding Groups

  1. dinkleberries says:

    Perfect, it doesn't get any better than that,esp., that last point!!
    Good job and thanks for setting a great example!!

  2. A Bay Horse says:

    Interesting choice of photo! I'm almost afraid to make a humorous comment of it! Really! :)

  3. Oh, do comment… :) I thought it appropriate too… :)

  4. Cara says:

    WOW, I never expected so thorough an answer – THANK YOU! and I love the choice of photo too – very appropriate!

  5. Mellifera says:

    Nice swarm of honey mushrooms there!

    …the apple trees aren't planted by there, are they?

  6. There are apple trees about 500' away. I took that photo of the mushroom stump in the upper part of our old south field. The stump is one of the trees we cut about 10 years ago when clearing those fields. With all the rain this year I've seen a bumper crop of mushrooms. Unfortunately, although I love eating them, I don't know enough about foraging them to dare pick them for our supper. That's one of my 'on-the-list" winter reading projects for some year. I have a couple of mushroom books on the shelf waiting for me to read them.

  7. Jeff says:

    Do you rotate boars between herds when their daughters are of breeding age?

  8. We rotate the daughters when they're much younger. This eases the problem of re-homing.

  9. Edmund Brown says:

    Geese – Are you familiar with Holdered’s book on Geese. I think it is called, “The Book of Geese”. For fertile eggs he says that many geese can’t pull off “the act” unless they have a pond to float in while doing it. Kiddie pools are sufficient ponds in most cases, so he says.

    • I haven’t seen that book but I’ll put it on my wish list. Thanks. As to water, we don’t get free standing water until spring so this may be part of why geese and perhaps ducks time their clutches when they do. Remembering I’m pretty sure I have seen the geese and I know I’ve seen the ducks mate on dry land – whether they took or not I am not sure.

  10. Aidan Hamilton says:

    Do any of your less desirable gilts get raised and sold for meat or do they all get sold to other farmers?

    Do you manage your hogs feed intake or do you only offer unlimited pasture and some hay and whey? I ask because I want to run my sows with my feeders and maintain one herd but I am worried about the sows gaining too much.

    • About 95% of the gilts go to meat.
      About 99.5% of the boars to to meat.
      The few remaining get test bred and then possibly become part of our breeding herds or they get sold as breeders. See the Breeder Page for details.

      The pigs get unlimited pasture/hay and as much whey is available. Since we don’t feed high calorie grain / commercial hog feed diets we don’t need to limit their intake. If you are feeding a commercial grain or other high calorie diet then you’ll want to limit the feed intake to prevent the sows from becoming fat – not an issue for us on a pasture based diet.

  11. Aidan Hamilton says:

    how long does it take to grow out your hogs feeding on pasture without high calorie grains?

    do you have a specific pasture mix?

    • It varies from six to nine months depending on the season, sex and genetic line. Summer is the easy fast growing season. Boars grow faster than gilts. The Tamworth grow the slowest, Large Black and Berkshire faster, Yorkshire faster still and our Mainline the fastest of all.

      Our pastures are a mix of mostly soft grasses, legumes, brassicas, millets, amaranth, chicory, plantain and other forages. Variety is the spice of life. I find that one of the big keys to success on pasture is the managed rotational grazing.

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