Spot Out

Spot is Dead – Long Live the King!

Spot was our head boar at Sugar Mountain Farm for an extended period. He took over from Archimedies. Spot was the biggest, toughest, sharpest tusked kid on the blog. He was gentle with human but firm with other pigs without being excessively mean.

At six chronological years of age he was getting up to around the equivelant in pig years of about 65 human years. Yet he still visited the ladies and managed his herd against young upstarts.

This fall Spot died in his sleep. I measured his crown to tail base length a length (L) of 95″ and a girt (G) of 84″. He is the definition of a long bacon pig rather than a short torso lard pig that would have more similar G and L measurements. Spot measured 36″ at hip height. If he were to stand upright like a man he would be an an amazing 12′ tall. A gentle giant.

He did not carry a lot of fat but was tall in the shoulder and heavily muscled on that big bone frame of his. He now relaxes in a large compost pile, return to the soil whence we all came. [In the spring of 2011 I turned that pile and the only bone I found was his skull – I had wrapped plastic around his head to try and save that. Everything else had decomposed into the compost pile.]

I have no way to measure his actual weight with a scale but using the string method I get a gestimate of over 1,700 lbs life weight for Spot. He was a big boy and not at all fat. This fits with the 1,400 lbs I measured for his brother Big’Un. In both cases the tractor, which can lift 1,600 lb bales, had difficulty lifting the carcasses and moving them to the compost piles. These were big animals.

Outdoors: 49°F/26°F Partially Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/65°F

Daily Spark: “Good things come to those who persevere.”

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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16 Responses to Spot Out

  1. Marie says:

    So, who will be the new “top pig?” Is this something you leave entirely up to your herd, or do you exert a little control?

    • They must sort it out. Archimedes and Speckles seem evenly matched and are getting along, just a little chomping. I can’t stand over them at all times to enforce it so it would be foolish of me to try. I can only eliminate a mean animal – neither of them are mean. A dominant animal can dominate without being mean. They get first access to food but they don’t do vicious biting of others for example. We have had mean animals in the past and identified the lineage and culled it. It is interesting just how strongly genetic temperament is.

  2. Mel says:

    So if you’re looking for a pig that is docile around humans but keeps good control of his herd (is that the correct term for a group of pigs?), it’s probably an animal that has a very well developed sense of order and The Rules, and is skilled at enforcing them. It seems that if such a pig ever lost the sense that humans were the top of the heap and tried to put you in your place it could be very dangerous, even if it’s not a particularly mean animal. Do you have to be careful about that, or is your height and being human enough that it’s not an issue?

  3. Lorie says:

    Walter, I am sorry your big boy is gone… It is hard for me to imagine that a hog can weigh almost as much as our Belgian draft horse- so cool (and I must admit a little scary :))

    so, I am trying to do the math: if he was 95 inches long, that is almost 8 feet (!) but I don’t understand how he would be almost 12 feet tall if he stood like a man… am I missing something?

    Thank you for sharing about your hogs- I was just thinking that my 300 pound hogs are enormous- but in perspective, I guess they are “still babies”!

    • The missing part is his nose – pigs have very long noses. Standing upright his would be pretty much pointed at the sky giving him that extra height. When measuring the 95 inches that is just from his butt (joint of pelvis and tail) to his crown (between the ears). He still had a lot more distance from the crown to the tip of his nose. Thus 36″ at hip + 95″ to crown + another 16″ or so to the tip of his nose is just over 12′.

      You’re right that the perspective is tricky. When we go to pick pigs each week to go to market we’re looking for ones that are about 4′ long or slightly more butt to crown. The goal is 250 lbs or even up to 300 lbs. When they stand next to a big sow or boar they look small. I rely on my measuring stick (48″) to double check what I think I see. Once we’ve got them selected in the final sorting pen we get lengths with a tailor’s tape.

      This brings us to Mel’s question: animals tend to perceive size two dimensionally. That is they look at how tall and wide you are, mostly tall. They figure that if you’re 6′ tall then there must be a corresponding length behind that using their own private species mathematics. By this measure the pigs thing I’m 6,000 lbs or so and even more when I “Loom” which is to raise my arms up and out. They perceive that all of a sudden I get much bigger which may mean I’m coming at them faster and am bigger than they thought. Think of when bears, dogs, horses or other animals lift up on their hind legs to fight and present a larger looming profile.

      As to rules, the pigs are very much rule governed. Herd hierarchy is very important and determines who gets to eat first of those who are present. Others will steal in if they can but given the opportunity a dominant will stop subs until it is done eating. Likewise with mating, choice of sleeping spot, who turns aside when meeting on a path, etc. Dominants rule.

      Temperament is one of the key parts of our selection process. A pig that loses its respect for humans, dogs or is even simply too mean to other pigs should be culled quickly before it hurts anyone. In the past I discovered from looking at the genealogy of our pigs that there was a ‘mean line’. All of them could be traced back to one particular sow. More over the mean ones had a particular phenotype of not marbling in the females which is less good from a taste point of view. We culled all of the pigs in that line. On the other extreme are flighty pigs and we’re working on breeding that out. Ease of handling and safety is important. Knowing this we work to make sure that the animals that get to be breeders are of the manageable, docile temperament.

  4. Nance says:

    Very interesting. If I haven’t learned one thing in a given day (as I wish to learn at least one new thing each day), I can always come here, to SugarMtn and learn a lot! Sending my regrets for Spot but . . . life goes on — LONG LIVE THE KING!

    and aren’t those piglets just the cutest things!

  5. Lorie says:

    Thank you Walter for helping me figure that out.

    Holy Mackerel, Spot was one BIG PIG!

    I have thoroughly enjoyed raising our two little butcher piggies, and I am too excited to take them to the butcher next week. They had to be in a pen this time, but with all your help and suggestions, next year’s piggies will have a moveable electric corral (and I am going to “leash train” them!).

    yay Pastured Pork!

  6. ben says:

    Hi Walter,

    I’m wondering if you’ve identified the point of diminishing returns as relating to food consumption and growth. We’ve been experimenting with growing our pigs out a little longer; slaughtering at 8 mos or so, which has yielded 250-300 pound hanging weights. A good bit more than we’ve ever had at the typical 6 month slaughter age (usually 150-180lbs hanging weight), and worth the extra feed. But at some point, feed-gain ratio must become less favorable. The question is, at what point?

    I does help that about 50% of their feed comes from waste milk from local dairies and run them on pasture. Big savings over all grain.

    • Doing 50% of their feed coming from milk would be a lot. I would be worried about overly fat pigs as the milk is high in butter fat. I know of someone who fed a lot of Jersey milk (high fat) and got 4″ of back fat using piglets he got from us. Our pigs go to market with about 3/4″ of back fat at the same age. Same genetics but different results. The change is diet. As he said, “lard’s good but you only need so much.” Unfortunately in many cases the butcher throws away the extra lard and consumers don’t want it. This increases the waste and the cost of butchering which is done on the hanging weight basis.

      But on to your main question: If one were feeding grain I have read that the optimized growth vs feed input is around 225 lbs. Looking at the inputs and where the growth curves change is important. There is a lot of research about this topic since the Confinement Animal Feeding Operations live or die on $5 per pig which can be a matter of days of feeding. However their genetics are designed for their indoor confinement raising situations which will be different than heritage breeds or anyone else raising pigs outdoors on pasture.

      Our goal weight goal weight is 300 lbs live which gives 200 lbs hanging. At that weight the slaughter and butchering costs are optimized and it produces a very nice size of cuts. This works with our farm, feed and management. We are not hitting 300 lbs right now on our weekly market pigs but are a bit lower.

      We find is that in the warmer months the pigs grow to weight in about six months and during the colder months it takes a couple of months more. Part of our problem is we sell a lot of weaner piglets in the spring – the cash in hand in the spring is tempting. This tends to produce a tight supply of finishers in the late summer and fall for us.

      Ultimately for us it is a supply and demand side issue that determines the size of the pig going to market. For example if someone orders a larger pig, say they want to make prosciutto, then we raise the pig a little longer to meet their needs. Otherwise we balance how many pigs we can take sustainably each week. If we take too many we end up pushing the weight curve down. If we take fewer then it lets us raise the finish weight a bit which is more economical.

  7. Jeff Marchand says:

    Sorry you lost your big guy. Have you ever thought slaughtering a boar at that age before he dies? I wonder what he would taste like. He would have made ALOT of sausage.

    • We’ve tasted two boars up to 30 months.[1, 2] Both were excellent. No taint. Not as tender as a finisher. Great sausage, hot dogs and kielbasa. And a great deal of it as those were up to 800 lb animals.

      I would have liked to have slaughtered Spot and Big’Un who died earlier this year. Both were in fine condition although getting older and would have made great sausage although I would not sell cuts from them. I had been considering taking Spot to slaughter for this fall. The quandary is whether to change over the genetics or to keep these males who were so well proven. Big’Un I would have liked to keep a few more years.

      Then there was the logistics of transportation – neither would fit in our 19′ long van. After all, we need some space for the driver. We can carry six finisher pigs. We can carry a big sow or two. We even took the medium sized boars Basa and Longson to butcher. Fitting a giant like Big’Un or Spot in the van just isn’t possible without removing everything else and even then I would be hesitant as they weigh so much. Any shifting side to side on their part would be dangerous and I would not want to be in there if they freaked out over something. That meant hiring a livestock hauler at considerable cost. Thus I had been putting it off until we get our on-farm slaughterhouse built. This is my preference especially for such big animals.

      Unfortunately, since they died in their sleep on farm the meat is only fit for dogs and compost pile. They both lived to a ripe old age and enjoyed their time hear on Earth. This is good.

  8. irma says:

    I wonder, it seems the general way of doing things that if they die on their own that you don’t use them for human food. What is the difference between an otherwise healthy pig that dies in its sleep of old age and an old pig that gets butchered? I mean you never know when a pig that is old is going to die in its sleep. (I hope this makes sence, I haven’t really done farming yet) I do however know that it is not good if it is obviously diseased, sometimes I think you might not be able to tell the difference.

    • A healthy pig that dies of old age in its sleep would be perfectly good food. Many people don’t like the taste of the higher blood content which would occur since it wasn’t bled out at death. The meat is still good if you catch it right away. However as the meat ages at a warm temperature bacteria would begin to grow to naturally decompose the carcass and that would eventually be a problem. Normally during slaughter the animal is stunned, bled out immediately and eviscerated (gutted) and then chilled. The chilling brings the carcass temperature down to minimize bacterial growth.

  9. irma says:

    I didn’t see your comment to Peter, so now it makes sence. It is all about if they get to bleed out properly? Am I understanding that right?

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