200 Bales of Hay on the Landing,
200 Bales of Hay.
Take one down,
Feed it around,
199 Bales of Hay on the Landing…
In addition to those 200 bales we have another 100 coming from another farmer so this year I think we’ll finally have enough hay. As our herds have grown it has been a continuing struggle to find enough good hay each year. Hay is important to get our livestock through the coming six months of winter. It is summer pastured stored for winter much like the vegetable canning, drying and cold storage we do for our family. By spring they will have eaten up virtually all of the hay we put out.
Pigs Eating Grass and Pooping it Out
There is a myth that pigs can’t eat grass, hay or pasture. I just saw someone I respect actually write on her blog “Pigs don’t eat grass.” She told people that farmers who are pasturing are misleading consumers into thinking pigs can eat grass. She later changed it to “Pigs don’t eat grass exclusively.” but the damage is done. Her post title was the Definitive Guide but it is anything but that. Unfortunatly, she’s also promoting a number of other myth-conceptions. Shame on her.
Reality check: Pigs Eat Grass! In fact, they thrive on it.
These confused people reason that because pigs are monogastric rather than ruminants the pigs are unable to digest grass. This is false. It just means pigs don’t digest grass the way that cows do. There are many species that eat grass and even harder to digest cellulose (e.g., beavers). Some animals have four stomaches, some have two, some have one – There are many strategies. The fact is the pigs get a lot of food value out of grass.
Tammy Worth coming over to check me out sitting in her paddock.
Additionally, pasture is not all grass – there are clovers, alfalfa, shrubs, young trees and a lot of other forages. Cows, sheep and goats don’t just eat grass either. They too enjoy the above forages. In fact, sheep graze (ground) and browse (brush) while goats mostly browse (brush and trees). The reality is the pigs thrive on pasture as the majority of their diet and they can even do very well on just pasture/hay. They simply grow a little bit slower and are leaner than grain fed pigs. Pasture is lower in calories and lysine – a limiting amino-acid. We have raised several groups on only pasture/hay with no supplements, no grain, no commercial hog feeds. It works.
There are a lot of reasons why people are confused about monogastric animals eating grass. The first and foremost is that they presuppose that all pasture is grass. It isn’t. Yes, you can plant a monocrop of just grass, a lawn like pasture, but the reality is that natural pastures are a wide variety of plant species. With intent you can improve this further mixing soft grasses with legumes, brassicas, small grains, amaranths, chicory and other forages. Next is the issue that when ‘experts’ calculate nutrition they do it from the point of view of dry grasses when what pigs like best are aged, fermented and composted items such as those they naturally gather. These processes make the fibrous foods more digestible just like in multi-stomached animals. The problem with how nutritionists calculate is that they’re using too sharp a pencil and not understanding the real world, which is where the pastured pigs live.
Most of the time we also feed dairy which provides lysine and added calories. Dairy also makes the pork taste sweeter. We grow and feed pumpkins, other veggies, apples and recently we sometimes get boiled barley (high in fiber, protein and minerals) from a local brew pub. But these things are a small part of our pig’s total diet. The fact remains, pigs do eat pasture, hay and grass and they can thrive on it.
Hmm… My boot doesn’t taste as good good as grass.
So what about the question of digestibility? Our pastured pigs really are out eating grass in the pastures and they do digest it. I know. I look at their manure both macroscopically and microscopically. I study their dung to know their health. I have taken the pigs apart and examined their entrails, looking at it in various places through their digestive track. It is very clear that the grass is being broken down and digested. Over the course of the summer our pigs mow the fields eating hundreds of thousands of pounds of grass, clover, alfalfa and other forages. Over the course of the winter they consume virtually all of the over 100,000 lbs of hay we put out each year. There is almost no ‘waste’ left in the spring for me to compost. It went through the pigs and the pigs grew.
The fact that the pigs thrive and grow is the final proof:
Pigs do eat grass.
Outdoors: 40°F/22°F 1″ Snow in morning, Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/67°F
Daily Spark: The bleeding edge is where visionaries go to die.
In my college biology class, we were given a fetal pig for dissection, and accompanying lectures. Professor Stiers told us of how Pigs have the Caecum, analogous to our appendix, which allows for the digestion of cellulose. He said there was some speculation that our appendix used to be the same sort of organ, but was something “just hanging on by habit, and to give surgeons work.” Of course, there was a lot of stuff in that course that has since been disproved, but that seemed pretty straightforward.
A question, Walter. How many uses have you found for the plastic bale wraps you have in such abundance? Reading your posts, I’m sure you’ve found uses.
Interesting point on the Caecum.
We’ve certainly not found enough uses for bale wrap. The best use to date is insulation. They can be stuffed into bags and then they have a lot of air spaces divided up which works very well for insulating around things like the tanks. I would love to be able to unravel the bale rather than cutting the wrap off. That would make it even more useful.
Plastic mulch for the garden, perhaps? I know Johnny’s Seeds talks a lot about this stuff for season extension…
In New Zealand and Australia there is outfits that collect it form the farm and recycle it. They can make plastic panels for curved yards, fence posts, and are always developing new ideas.
Interesting about the caecum. Perhaps our appendix would help us digest fermented grass. I definitely would want the grass to be minced very fine though. Minced fermented grass recipes, anyone? Sounds like the base for a new line of vegan products. I just figured out how to get rich!
On a side note, that reminds me of Walter’s spark from a few posts previous. “Save a plant. Eat a vegan.” Pastured vegans.
Is they hay you feed an alfalfa or clover mix or just straight grass?
Like our pastures the hay is a mix of various grasses, clovers, alfalfa and other good forages. People tend to think of hay as just pasture and hay as grass but the reality is that most are a mixture of many plants. When we seed we mix about a dozen different species. This provides balance.
Do you prefer hay with a higher alfalfa content for added protein? It seems, from the little bit of reading I’ve done that alfalfa is a very good forage for pigs. I am wondering if your experience warranted the extra expense and effort (at least here in Wisconsin it seems like most alfalfa is chopped and bagged for dairy use) to find round bales with more alfalfa.
Yes, definitely. And not just alfalfa but also clovers. If you observe the pigs eating in the field you will graze the more tender younger grasses and legumes (alfalfa, clover, etc) first. These are easier to digest. Later they’ll go for the heavier grasses, eat seed heads, browse some types of brush, briars and such. They love thistles and burdock. We over seed, frost seed, our pastures with legumes among other things to increase the balance of those. This raises the protein profile of the pasture and it sucks nitrogen out of the atmosphere in addition to CO2 so that fertilizes our fields.
The round bales we get are mostly destined for dairy. Or they were, until we started buying them up years ago. Those are full of clover and alfalfa.
How sad that someone would publicise such drivel. Anyone who has read your blog knows that pigs eat grass. You have tons and tons and tons of photos of them doing it. Keep doing what you do and keep doing it so well! I am fortunate to live close enough to eat your pork (we buy it at onion river) and I absolutely love it.
In your winter pens do you put the bale in their bedding area for them to eat and let them spread it around for bedding? Or do you place a bale in a feeding area then put some hay down in their bedding area?
I have been gradually shifting my hogs over to hay, but not sure if the hay would be better utilized by putting it in their bedding area only. They seem to really just spread the hay around the pen if it is not in their shelter whereas it gets chewed on and laid on if it is in their shelter.
We mostly put the hay on the ground. We start now in the fall by building up a thick layer, putting it in faster than the pigs will consume it to get a thick bedding pack down. I use a cheaper hay for this first layer. Then we switch to only putting it out better hay as they eat up what is on the top layer. By spring the bottom bedding decomposes – providing warmth all winter. At some point I then add it to a compost pile.
We also have made some hay feeders. I’m still experimenting with that. They work well to store the hay where the pigs can come get it but it is easier to simply put out the bales. The bigger hay feeders can work as a creep for smaller pigs.
The easiest method we’ve found, quite accidentally, is to set the round bales up on the winter paddocks as wind blocks and then the pigs open the bales as needed over the course of the winter. The pigs are remarkably good at not wasting the hay with this method. It has nothing to do with intelligence or planning. They are simply lazy, basic behavioral physics – things and critters take the path of least resistance. They don’t want to do more work than necessary to get their food. The only disadvantage is that we have to pickup the bale wrap. I have yet to be able to teach the pigs to properly unwrap the bales, fold the bale wrap up and put it in the trash can’s I provide. We’ll keep working on that.
As an interesting note, our dogs also are good at self-feeding, er, gathering from a bale. They don’t eat the hay, they use it for bedding. I had put a bale up that I was intending to distribute between dog shelters. The dogs opened it and pulled out hay which they took to their spaces as well as making a nest right in the lea of the bale.
If after all that you still need more proof that pigs eat grass just have a look at the pig to the left of miss Tammy Worth. Grass in one end s**t out the other!!
As you know Walter, we are long time followers and students of your blog school. last summer during a pasture walk a visitor was SHOCKED to see our hogs eating grass. “My husband said pigs won’t eat grass!” Turned out her hubbie had been raising hogs for over 30 years…in confinement. She couldn’t wait to run home and tell him
You may have hit on a key there: it’s hard to eat grass when standing on concrete.
This reminds me of the words of our eldest grandchild when she was 4 years old: “Bears don’t have nipples!” upon being introduced to the concept of mammals :-). “Pigs don’t eat grass” is right up there with the four-year-old’s exclamation.
In my country this kind of bales would be used for silage, because they can be sealed airtight. I guess yours is dry hay, right ?
You can dry the hay to what ever level you would like and then seal it air tight. Sealing it plus the right amount of fermentation results in excellent storage longevity, sort of like sauerkraut. Over the years we’ve been fine tuning this for our pigs. With cattle they tend to use a wetter silage than we use for the pigs and sheep. When opened the bales smell fresher, not like silage and slightly alcoholly. On the other hand, hay that is square baled is much drier. I like having lots of the round bales (800 to 1,000 lb) because they’re easy to feed out large amounts with the tractor but also some small squares (50 to 80 lb) for hand work.
I was asking because I usually associate silage with clostridia, resulting in reduced life expectancy of cattle, and contaminated milk to boot.
Pigs are of course much more like humans, and will profit from a few servings of sauerkraut :)
You mention storage longevity – would a non-sealed bale of hay or hay in a barn have less of that ?
I hesitate to reply too deeply because I’m still learning too much about hay and don’t know enough about the deep details not to stick my foot in the wrong orifice. :) I’ve heard of various spoilage problems including listeria resulting from the wrong dryness or insufficient time in curing of the round bales. I’ve twice gotten burnt over the years when I mistakenly bought hay from a new source that gave us very bad hay. I’m very thankful for the knowledge and skill of the four good sources which I know of who have provided us with hay over the years. We buy all the hay one of them produces – he produces really good stuff, according to the opinions of our sheep and pigs.
Not a problem; you’re a wonderful source of information and encouragement :)I’m trying to get my hands on a piece of land at the moment, and will probably be trying to grow rabbits the traditional way.
There’s much to be learned in that regard, especially how to grow a pasture that will be capable of providing all the winter food for them – something very few people in “developed countries” will ever have attempted.
With the silage there’s one interesting bit I didn’t know:
Organic cheese makers in my country will refuse silage-fed milk, because only non-organic producers employ a technique that’ll turn this milk into something that (mediocre) cheese can be made of – they’ll use a centrifuge to get rid of (most of) the bacteria…
Huh. I had never heard of using a centrifuge for that! So mine is good for something else besides extracting Uranium. Possibilities… :)
Uranium! You’re a hoot- always up to something.
We have never used plastic wrapped bales, always just string wrapped. I love the small squares, as I can handle them on my own, but my husband is determined to use all big rounds next year, so that he doesn’t have to hand stack every one! So next year I will be unrolling them one at a time in the barn and loading wheelbarrows or sleds to feed- Luckily, I love my animals (and my hubby too!)
hi guys! just wanted to share this korean way of farming pigs. he used 20-30% fermented sawdust in his feed ration daily.
Interesting. Although I don’t like the confinement nature of the farm the pigs look healthy and like they’re growing well. Fermenting or composting the wood may make nutrients available. Out in the pastures the pigs do eat wood. They chew up brush, decaying logs, roots, etc so they may well be able to digest a fair bit of it.
Of course that pigs eat pasture and i think that the person, who wrote that pigs do not eat grass, never saw a pigs, except on tv. The things that i would like to bring to attention is that different species of pigs react different to the lack of grains: there are some species that will grow much slower without grains and there are species that will not have there growth affected so much by the lack of grains. The species that usually do not pass more than 120kg at maturity will not be very affected by the lack of grains.
In Romania some farmers started to grow Vietnamess pigs because the cost of grains is higher than ever.
By the way, what species of pigs you grow?
Good luck with your farm.
I agree that not all pigs do well on pasture but it isn’t a matter of a 120 Kg size limit. In fact, the bigger pigs graze better. Our sows grow to 800 lbs (~400 Kg) and our boars grow as large as about 1,700 lbs (~800 Kg) and they thrive on pasture. Ours are a mix of primarily Yorkshire with some Large Black and Berkshire plus a pinch of Tamworth, Glouster Old Spot and perhaps some other mixed in there. No Vietnamese Pot Bellied at all.
Thank you for your answer. I am amazed by the weight of your pigs. In Romania we have Duroc and the Great White as species that goes to about 200kg in a year and to about 350 in 2 years, but they need to be fed also with grains to grow so big.
Another reason that people in Romania started to grow vietnamess pigs is because its meat does not have so much “fat”, it is recomended (of course in small quantities) also to the ones that have health problems.
How long do your pigs need to go to 400/800 kg? In the first year of life how fat will it be?
Our pigs on pure pasture grow to about 250 lbs in about seven to eight months. They hit that weight in about six months on pasture/hay+dairy. The dairy provides extra calories and more importantly additional lysine, a limiting amino-acid necessary for building protein for muscle growth. They have about 3/4″, about 2 cm, of back fat, e.g., they’re fairly lean – not fat like grain fed animals which can be 2″ to 4″ of back fat on the pigs I see at the butcher from other farms where they feed grain.
On the primarily pasture/hay+dairy diet we use our pigs top out at around 800 lbs (sows) to 1,500 lbs (boars) after about six years. The 1,700 lb boar was an exceptionally large animal by the name of Spot. See this article for more about big pigs.
My understanding from reading research is that the fat of animals raised eating lots of pasture is high in desirable Omega-3 fatty acids where as the fat from animals raised eating grains is high in the not so good Omega-6 fatty acids. We are doing long term longitudinal research study on this topic right now. Details to follow.
I’m really interested in how you grow our pigs on pasture without grain.
How much and what type of dairy do you typically feed your feeder pigs? Do you produce the dairy yourself, or do you buy it (whey) from a local source near your place? Thank you from France,
See the Pig Page and read about the diet, feed, genetics and rotational grazing. From there follow the links through to additional articles from over the years. In a nut shell, the pigs typically eat 80% or more pasture by dry matter intake (DMI) which is how feeds are measured in order to cut out the weight of water. During the warm months this is fresh pasture and in the winter we replace the fresh pasture with canned pasture, e.g., hay, just like we can veggies for our family’s table. They get up to 7% dairy which consists primarily of whey from a local creamery just over the mountain from us. See the article above for details and do follow through to the linked articles for more information.
I just started feeding my pigs some fresh cut oat grass that I used as a cover crop in my garden, and they enthusiastacly eat every bit I give them.
So amazing. I never would have believed it but pigs really can eat grass. I guess it makes sense once I think about it because they’ve been surviving fro millions of years in the wild and elephants and hippopotomi are closely related and they eat grass.
I’m wondering what sort of grass/legume mix you would recommend for seeding a newly cleared area. My pigs helped clear some land of brush, now I’ve had an excavator take out the stumps.
I have been reading your posts about planting things like kale, beets, turnips and legumes. As it is autumn, it is a good time to start perennial grasses/etc, which will be ready for spring pig-snacking. Do you have a blend (or different percentages) you recommend?
(or maybe there is a post somewhere on your blog that already answers this? –I couldn’t find it.)
What ever grasses grow well in your climate and soils is what I would start with for a foundation. Check your local extension on dairy and experiment. Then add to that legumes like clovers of several varieties, alfalfa, etc. See this article about Frost Seeding and Regrowth.
I would recommend not clearing the stumps. Let them rot in place. This is much cheaper, keeps the nutrients in the soil, avoids disturbing the soil layers and eventually when the stumps are rotted enough the pigs will chew out the grubs. They’re not much for stump removal in my experience until the stumps rot. Cut the stumps low and throw some manure and dirt on top of them to help the progress.
I’ve read that you can encourage pigs to root or stumps by poking corn into the ground around the base of the stump and into the rootball as it becomes exposed.
I’ve tried this but not found it to be terribly effective. That surprised me as I was pretty sure it would work. Pouring molasses on the stumps is another trick but again is not as effective as I expected.
I was wondering if you’d happen to know what pigs do *not* eat while foraging. Is there anything pigs generally prefer to eat or pass over? :)
Our pigs are not particularly fond of raw onions or garlic. To feed them garlic for deworming/worm prevention we use powdered garlic and mix it in with their whey.
They also don’t like citrus skins but can learn to open oranges. They’re not at all fond of lemons or limes. They will eat grapefruit, once they learn to open them by crushing them.
There are a number of plants on pasture that are toxic. Those tend to have a very bitter taste which warns off animals. Unless they’re very hungry they won’t eat those.
The pigs love clover, alfalfa, grass seed heads, the tender grass shoots. After that they eat the tougher grasses. The larger pigs tend to be better at grazing the bigger grasses.
They also love burdock and thistles.
I suspect the dislike of citrus fruits is due to the way they spray extremely aromatic mist into the air when the skins of ripe fruit are broken.
Even for a human, getting a nose full of the spray from a punctured citrus fruit is irritating. Pigs have MUCH more sensitive noses.
Walter – Have been reading your posts just about from the beginning. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge!
Would love your take/thoughts on my pig adventure:
This year I took the plunge and am trying my hand at raising dairy/pastured/hay fed pigs(they are currently about 4 months old). I have them fenced (livestock with hot wire on the inside) into a 1/2 acre paddock that had previously housed a horse and other assorted animals over the last 5 years. They have a 10×10 shed (3 sided) that they share with a dozen hens and two caged rabbits.
I gave them a couple of round bales to start, and they did a good job of breaking it down over the last three months. I have been getting organic, pastured/grass fed whey from a local cheese maker. On the weeks that are either too cold, or there isn’t any whey, I’ve been giving them milk replacer (just milk, no additives). I also have been giving them ‘pig soup’ – all sorts of veggies from the freezer and scraps, some meat, some eggs etc.
They are so hungry, but I don’t notice them eating a lot of the hay. I have nice stemmy alfalfa, but they mostly trample it underfoot.
Question – How do I get them to eat more hay?… They get about 5 gallons of either whey, milk or ‘soup’ twice a day. A few time a week I give them a whole oats/cracked corn/molasses horse feed, but can see by their poop that they don’t digest that well.
I’ve been considering using a mixer-grinder to mix up the horse feed with two or three square alfalfa bales. I’m trying to keep the corn at a minimum. I have all the pasture grass hay and alfalfa hay I want.
They are muscular but lean, well defined shoulders and hips, straight sides.
Any thoughts on what I’m doing and what I could do differently/more efficiently? I am doing most of the work myself.
Thanks so much,
Congratulations, you’re a swine herder! Sounds like a pretty good setup. When the warm weather comes I would divide that space up into four or more paddocks so that you can do managed rotational grazing. The livestock panels with hot wire on the inside is an excellent perimeter fence. Two or three hot poly-wires on step in posts will make good paddock divisions within that. Once trained to electric the pigs are very respectful of it. The managed rotational grazing will cut down on parasites, increase forage growth and reduce soil compaction. A tic-tac-toe board works well. Behind them plant legumes such as clover as well as other fast growing crops for them to eat when they return to the paddocks. Rotate them out after a few days to week or two and then don’t bring them back to a paddock for a minimum of 21 days and preferably at least 30 days as that breaks the parasite life cycles. This will gradually improve soil in their field and the legumes will suck down nitrogen to fertilize the soil as well. The next year you can setup a second field like this and graze them there while you garden in this field with above ground crops. If you have several of these fields setup for annual rotations you can develop a sustainable permaculture.
Your feed regime sounds good. We keep a lot of free ranging hens in the rotation to eat insects, break parasite life cycles and break up manure paddies. The hens also produce a large number of eggs during the warmer seasons without any feed – just the grazing. If you cook the eggs they have double the available protein and are an excellent pig feed, especially for younger pigs but all ages appreciate them.
The pigs have to learn to eat hay if they weren’t born of pigs that already know to eat hay. Build up a pad of hay and then pour some good food on it like yogurt, etc. Another trick would be to mix in some hay with their “soup” so they get familiar with eating it as part of their feed.
I would suggest feeding the supplements like the grains late in the day. This way they focus on eating the pasture/hay and dairy during the first part of the day rather than gorging on candy. Remember: eat your main course before you get dessert. :)
If you want more fat on them the trick is to increase their caloric intake during the last month or two of finishing. That is when they’ll put the calories to fat most efficiently. Another trick is to grow them out an extra month or two. Our pigs which are on a pasture/hay+dairy diet where most of the dairy is whey never get fat. They have a back fat layer of about 0.5″ for boars and 0.75″ or so for gilts. Even the big sows don’t have more than about 1″ to a peak of 1.5″ during gestation before farrowing and nursing. Compare this with grain fed pigs where I routinely see back fat of 2″ to 4″ in depth. Back fat is great if you want to make a lot of lard but otherwise it is a waste as most people are looking for meat not fat. The way to really put on the fat is to feed whole milk and confine the pigs – not what I would advise but it does the job. Note that some pigs are lard type, with shorter bodies, and some are bacon type, with longer bodies that mean more bacon and more pork chops. We breed for long bodied.
Sounds like you’ve got a great start on things. Keep on keeping.
We have just acquired pasture-fed pigs for our organic system, so happy to hear this affirmation that they can live on grass, as organic feed is very expensive. I have a few questions:
– How much milk a day do you give them?
– Do you know the ratio of fresh grass to dry grass if we are cutting grass to feed them?
– We got our pigs to be our digging machines where we want to establish gardens, and were told that they will only dig if they have eaten down the grass, and only dig a couple of inches. We found that was NOT the case with a small 8 week pig that escaped under the fence. We have random holes dug all over our paddock, with the turf pulled right back. We have seen the baby boer and a year old sow turn 100 square metre (1000 square foot) garden completely over in a week to over a foot deep, and that is with supplementing with windfall quinces, pears, and cut long grass and grape vines from the orchard. We are worried they will do the same to open paddock and destroy the grass. Two things may be in play – we are on quite sandy soil near the beach. We are in the worst NZ drought in 30 years. Because we are just starting and are understocked, there is good long grass, but any worms etc are a long way down in the soil.
Free fed our pigs eat about 3.5 gallons per hundred weight per day of milk/whey. See the article All the Whey in the World.
Our pigs graze in the warm months and get hey in the winter – I don’t have a ratio of fresh to dry that I use. When fresh is available that is preferred.
On rooting see the article Rootless in Vermont and Of Tiller Pigs & Weeder Chickens.
Those articles will give you an idea of what has worked for us but remember that things will be different in different climates, soil conditions, etc.
I just bought seed today to seed in the paddocks that the pigs are moved out of. I have oats, field peas, ladino clover and rapeseed. What sort of percentages and seeding rate would you suggest? I am figuring on broadcasting it.
Since I am over seeding I use a fraction of the recommended seeding rate depending on how dense the existing plant base is. Typically around 25%. So if the seed vendor recommends 10 lbs per acre I would use 2.5 lbs per acre. I typically seed with multiple species so that further adjusts this downward.
The paddacks are pretty much bare dirt now. They had old corn in them that the pigs mowed down, ate the corn, and turned in the stalks, and there’s nothing growing there now.
It’s hard for me to find seeding rates for them, other than each one by itself. When it comes to using them as a mix, I’m not coming up with a lot of information.
That is essentially what I found to. The university trials data and the company fact sheets seem to focus on growing mono-crops of species, all alfalfa, all red clover, all timothy, etc. This isn’t how we want our fields to be. Rather we favor a mix of forages. So over the past decade and a half I’ve been mixing the seedings, using a reduced rate compared with the mono-crop rates. Then I’m watching what does well in different areas. Using long off periods in the grazing cycle lets a lot of species get to their seed state so those ones that did well and thrived both in our climate, soils and grazing then get a chance to reproduce.
What about all the rooting the pigs do? How do you control that so they don’t destroy your pastures? Or are there certain pig breeds that don’t root as much? We have put 4 pigs on five acres of fallow pasture with lots of weeds and some grass and they have really dug it up in certain spots. Those spots are really bumpy and mucky when it rains. Any ideas of how to solve this problem?
See the article “Rootless in Vermont” for thoughts on rooting and solutions.
Kathy Voth wrote a few articles for onpasture.com describing how she thought livestock (cows) to eat weeds.
article on the benefits: http://onpasture.com/2013/05/27/is-teaching-cows-to-eat-weeds-a-beneficial-weed-control-technique/#sthash.goyYMfiC.dpuf
The basic concept sounds much like we did with our pigs ten years ago. But rather than us doing the training we had sheep who did the job. Our sheep were the ones who started the process of teaching our pigs to eat pasture. Once I realized what was going I encouraged it. In turn those pigs who learned from the sheep taught their piglets who taught their piglets down the generations. It works. Getting back to a natural diet. It is amazing how much in nature is learned. People tend to think that animals operate on instinct, and that is a basis of much that they do, but there is also a lot of learned behavior that they get from eating near their parents and observing what the parents eat, how they behave, etc.
Hi Fellow Hog Bloggers, I have an unusual situation in that I am forging an organic, pasture-fed, free-range pig farm in northern Thailand (Chiang Mai). Getting the right breed is difficult enough, getting the feed is another challenge. I have to worry about mosquitoes, sunburn and local envy. I intend to grow alfalfa, clovers, grasses, artichoke and maize. What breeds do you suggest might be best suited to this area? And where is a good place to source the seeds for such pasturing?
This system of amimals production is really economical in some aspect but i want to know if all the animals feeds come from only organic product? if so those products from beckery how fact is it to be 100% organic products. I would like to carry out such practises.
Yes, you can raise organically – simply choose to not use pesticides, herbicides and such and when getting outside sources of feeds and such select organic choices. Check the labels and good luck with your venture in Costa Rica.
We have a young kunekune boar (Boris) who is staying with a young angus calf. They are both 4 1/2 months old. No doubt Angus taught Boris to graze. Just because I am a bit lazy and have only 3 pigs total, I am feeding powdered milk replacer for the dairy part of their diet. I’m guessing on how much is enough but they look really good. Alfalfa hay is always available in addition to the pasture and twice a day milk replacer. It’s such fun to experiment!
Hi from Serbia,
I have been searching quiet a time to find out if pigs can happily live just of grass alone without much success for a precise answer until…wow your site popped up!
I have a few sows – Landrace and a mix of great Yorkshire and landrace as to gain experience on rising in the hope of expanding to sell. I have asked advice of pig farmers and veterinarians on what is best to feed my pigs.
At the moment I feed them a mixture of grains and premix of vitamins and minerals with added greens from pasture a “desert” as I found out this is what they most enjoy, so much so that my piglets like grass far better than mix cereals.
As economy is always the judge of running any business big or small it would seem a great and almost unbelievable idea to feed pigs on what I can produce in abundance, for next to nothing instead of having endure agricultural costs of sowing etc. So my question is can sows (pigs) live and breed on grass (greens) alone and stay healthy at the same time?
Very interesting site!
We have raised several batches of pigs to market weight on pasture alone. It works. They’ll grow more slowly and be leaner taking about nine months to get to market weight. Adding dairy increases the growth rate so the boars get to market weight and about six or seven months and gilts in about a month longer over the warm weather. In the colder months they take a little longer than that since cold uses calories and thus slows growth as well as winter hay not being as good as fresh summer pastures.
All of this will depend on your pig genetics, the quality of the pastures and any supplemental feeds like dairy, apples, etc. Seasonally we have mangels, turnips, sugar beets, pumpkins, apples and other things we grow as well as sometimes spent barley from a local brew pub and sometimes pomace (crushed apples) from a local cider house.
Managed rotational grazing is also a key element of this. That helps to maximize the quality of the pasture and the food value the animals are able to obtain from the land while improving the land, breaking parasite life cycles and avoiding soil compaction.
For more about what we feed our pigs see the Pig Page.
Very nice write-up. I love this website. Thanks!
Hey Walter, Just curious, What kind of tractor do you use to pick up your round bales?
We have John Deere 47xx. That is what we use year round. When the hay is delivered a somewhat larger tractor comes with it and does the unloading as it has a higher reach which is safer.
Hi walter! We are looking into raising a couple pigs for the freezer this year and I had a few questions. We just finished fencing in a large pasture for our goats and was wondering 2 things, there is a lot of golden rod in the pasture that the goats will not eat they prefer the brush and trees etc in the pasture…can and will pigs eat golden rod? And if they can and will eat it what are your thoughts on posturing pigs with goats durring the day? They would have separate stalls in the barn for sleeping quarters. I cannot find any info on golden rod and pigs and I would love to utilize the WHOLE pasture. Thank you
Pigs are not fond of goldenrod but can be trained to eat it. Our eastern goldenrod in our acidic soils is apparently not toxic but I have read that the western goldenrod in alkaline soils is toxic. The pigs will also eliminate goldenrod simply by trampling it in a mob situation. This requires many pigs in small paddocks for long enough.
Goldenrod is susceptible to well timed mowing. This could be by hand with a scythe or motorized mowing.
I’ve never had goats so I can’t comment on them directly as to pasturing with pigs. We have had sheep for years and they have done well with our pigs. We did find it important to separate ewes from pigs during lambing.
I can’t answer your question, but I say as someone that has kept goats for a while – your biggest problem will be managing the barber pole worms. Having pigs and goats together is a great way to do this. It is also a bit of a fallacy that goats mainly browse, goats will go for the most tasty and nutritious food around, and if it is a well blooming patch of orchard grass/or timothy grass then they will go wild on that, even if you wave their favourite branch in front of them to bring them home. When your goats have stripped the trees – which they will do rather quickly (as they regrow rather slowly) – then they will go for the grass, and maybe the goldenrod as well. (http://familycow.proboards.com/thread/12499)
When they do start going for the grass you need to be careful about the barber pole worms, and they live in the first 15cm (6 inch) of grass from the ground. One way to deal with worms is to break up the pasture movable electric fences etc. and to rotate the pigs and the goats though it. (Let the goats eat the grass, let it regrow, and then put the pigs on it. They will eat most of the worm larve that have hatched on the new growth and kill them, as the worms pigs get are not the worms that goats get.) We have GREAT problems with pigs digging up the pasture, and as we are certified organic we are not allowed to put rings in their noses. Our answer is to mow the grass in the paddock and feed this to the pigs. As long as it is still young and tender, they love it! Goats can also be trained to love this is well, even after it as sat for a few days and turned to silage. We have purchased a large ride-on mower with catcher, and mow a few local lawns as a reciprocal favour (they get their lawns mowed, we get nutritious goat feed that is parasite free).
Like you we don’t do ringing of pig noses. To manage rooting we simply rotate the pigs between pastures. See Root Less in Vermont for more details about rooting and grazing.
I can’t remember you suggesting this to anyone who is trying to establish pasture into the diet of pigs that don’t have sows to teach them what to eat.
If you are feeding a commercial pig food, do you think it would encourage pasture consumption if you were to go out into your pasture, cut a bunch of whatever is there, and start mixing it in with the pig feed?
Start off slow, just to get them used to the taste, then slowly wean them off grain by increasing the pasture.
Sure, it’s labor intensive to get started, you have to gather pasture, chop it up, and add it to their grain in such a way that the pigs will be forced to eat it with their grain. In the winter time, you might have to go heavier on the grain for a while, and mix in hay until they understand hay is food too.
Of course the pigs will prefer grain. It’s a higher calorie diet, and I’m sure it tastes better to them, because grains taste better to us than most grasses and leaves. That being said, it’s just another kind of weaning. I’m sure the piglets would have preferred to stay on mama pig’s milk, just like grain-pigs would prefer to stay on grain. Have you ever tried grain-weaning with cut pasture?
Yes, fading it in like that helps as the pigs get started in their initial home space. Then as they begin rotational grazing what I recommend is to start feeding later and later in the day. This trains the pigs to forage and graze early in the day before they get the treats. Taken to the next level the grain feed can be faded out as low as you want.
We have 40 acres of 16 yr old pines with a lot of undergrowth can I rotate my pigs through this we are raising ossabaw pigs thanks for your time.
I find that quickly rotated through they tend to ignore evergreens like pine and spruce. But do it with close observation and try one section at a time. 40 acres is a large area – you’ll need to divide that to many paddocks to do good rotations.
Can someone provide specificity on what types of grass or grasses should and could be planted to use as supplemental feeding to pigs? I only se grass mentioned but not the type. Please advise.
See the article Pasture Post Pig Grazing and the Pig Page.
Hello, thanks for a great blog with lots of useful information!
A couple of questions.
My guess used to be that ruminants are more efficient in converting grass to meat then pigs are. Your pigs seem to be able to compete quite well though. Since you have had both sheep and pigs what is your impression do the pigs produce meat more efficient/cheap than the sheep? If, yes what is the reason? Is the school book wrong about the efficiency of ruminants, or is it the higher production of piglets per sow and birth compared the the the production of lambs per sheep and birth, or of course the higher meat ratio as percentage of live weight of pigs? Some other reasons? Would you say that pigs are easier to handle than sheep? This could make the cost from investment of time lower.
Are you producing pigs at an even pace around the year or do you have a peak during the grass growing season when you can pasture feed the pigs for free? It would be interesting to know more about the yearly population dynamics of your pigs.
I live in southern Sweden where winters are not very reliable, often temps fluctuate between above freezing and below freezing. Unfrozen and wet ground can easily be damaged by larger animals, at least of cattle size. Have you ever had problems with your pigs damaging wet, unfrozen ground? Maybe it’s possible to tackle the problem by using lower stocking density on the winter pastures.
I read in another blog post that you feed your pigs youghurt. How important is that for their ability to process grass, is it just an improvement or is it a considerable improvement?
Best regards and thanks,
Christopher from Sweden
We produce pork year round, delivering weekly to local stores and restaurants. That’s about 80% of our business. We also do some deliveries of CSA boxes, retail cuts and whole/half pigs to individuals and families. There is a little bit of a peaking but it has to do with the buying patterns of people rather than the pastures. There is a surge in the May to August months. There is a slight dip in September as kids go back to school. Then it picks up again October through New Years with a dip again in January and then gradually picking up to Easter, a slight dip and then we’re around the year again. There are also multiple markets: wholesale cuts, retail cuts, whole pigs, spit roaster pigs, oven roaster pigs, live feeder weaner pigs, etc which each have their own cycles over the year based on consumer buying patterns. Because of this we farrow year round. If I had my druthers I would skip farrowing from December to March in our climate but we deal with it.
Sweden is probably very similar to our central mountains of northern Vermont but we have more consistent cold temperatures it sounds like. We use ‘sacrificial paddocks’ in the muddy periods of fall and spring. These become summer gardens where I plant them with sunflowers, pumpkins, beets, turnips, etc which grow over the summer and then in the fall and early winter the animals get turned into these areas to self-harvest. This has resulted in the gradual improvement of our poor mountain soil to rich loam. During the winter months we have deep hard snow that lifts the animals high above the ground for the long months of winter.
Ruminants and pigs use different strategies for digesting hay. There is some suggestion that pigs may do some bacterial digestion of fibers in the hind gut but my observation is that they do a lot of it by predigesting through composting action. Pigs love composting materials, even woody materials that cows and sheep can’t eat, although goats can and do. Pigs also eat the leaves on trees like goats do. I don’t know how efficient they are comparatively but I do know that I can grow both on our land without grain. I’ve raised four groups of pigs completely on pasture. They grow a bit slower than if they have whey, grain or some other supplemental source of calories and protein but they do grow and they grow much faster than cattle or sheep. I guess that means they’re efficient – or maybe they just try harder. :)
The carcass yield of pigs is much higher than all of the ruminants, one of the reasons I chose to raise pigs. They also produce far more offspring and have more birthings, farrowings, per year. The result is through her offspring a sow will produce perhaps 5,000 or more pounds of meat a year while a ewe produces only about 90 lbs of meat per year and a cow produces about 200 lbs of meat. Mice do surprisingly well too. Two of the worst animals, economically, to raise for meat are horses and humans. Do the math.
As to ease of handling, I am very good at raising sheep. I switched to pigs because I couldn’t pay the mortgage with sheep between their low birth rate, low meat production, slow growth and small market. I love lamb and mutton. I enjoy raising sheep. But I have bills to pay and children to feed & cloth. I found pigs are far more profitable than sheep. To be sustainable we must first be profitable. However, all that said, once we have the slaughter part of the butcher shop finished it will change the economics plus we’ll be able to add lamb to our established weekly delivery route. At that point I plan to start raising sheep again.
I think it is amazing that this kind of pig farming (pigs on pasture) is virtually unknown. I’ve vaguely heard about it for some time but your case is the first actual example I’ve seen.
In the old songs from the medieval era sometimes they sing about “swineherds”. I guess they where pasture farming pigs back in those days, but in lack of any fancy fences they had to use a swineherd instead. The pigs seems to have been so deeply swallowed by industrial farming that the old knowledge about pasture farming them has been almost totally forgotten.
Around here the animal of choice by small-scale “hobby” farmers is the sheep. Given this new knowledge about pasture farming pigs seems to be a better choice.
Yes, that’s my assessment too about swineherders. They may well have used dogs as well as some training of the pigs. Pigs are quite herdable. I have heard some people say you can’t herd pigs but they are people who haven’t herded pigs and I suspect they were thinking of pigs that hadn’t been herded. If the pigs are raised from a young age in the structure of being herded out on pasture they behave as herds and as I like to say, pigs flow like water. It is likely that herdability is both a matter of the herder learning how to herd pigs and the pigs learning to be herded. Dogs are worth five humans when it comes to herding.
About fermented grass. Once I accidentally fermented a bunch of grass underwater in a plastic wheelbarrow. It rained heavily while I was weeding and I forgot about it for a week or so. Well, you know how cabbage ferments to sauerkraut? If there’s not enough juice, or if the floating cabbage isn’t weighed down so that it stays submerged, then the part exposed to air just rots? It was the same thing with this massive amount of grass. The part that fermented underwater smelled EXACTLY like cow manure (something I used to be very familiar with before I grew up, became an idiot, and left home). In fact, it made me nostalgic (which is what happens every time I smell that smell). It became brown and it turned the water brown. Since I started reading your site, I have learned that pigs eat cow manure. I would not be surprised if the nutritional value of hay could be increased be “pre-digesting” it in this way. Someday, when I leave this town and my factory job, and get us some pigs–I am going to try this. Sauerkraut grass.
How many round bales will a typical adult pig eat during the winter? (here in Vermont) Also, do you prefer first or second cut hay for them?
I figure one for eating per pig and one per farrowing.
Winter is about from late October to early May. Deep snow is typically December to March.Coldest period (-25°F to -45°F typical daytimes on many days) is January.
Note that I’m up on a mountain in central Vermont so I get about a month more of winterish weather on either side than they do down in the valley. A side effect of that is we have very little frost depth since the ground gets covered with snow early on in the fall.
Thanks! Yes, here in Lowell we have many more weeks of winter than even Morrisville or Newport.
Do you think it makes a difference if it’s first or second cut? I’ve noticed that they, like most animals, prefer second. But it may be that the energy/insulation quality of first cut makes it ultimately better. My preferred type for my cows is first cut that has some alfalfa. Would that be good?
I get both 1st and 2nd cuts. Second is better by a little. I have it dried to 25% moisture. Alfalfa is very good fresh out in the field but I have not found it to be good for winter – too wet in all that I have tried.
Second cut is better but I buy both.
Also, can I just put it in with them and let them self feed all winter? Or is it important to ration it?
Setup a rick ideally. Spacing it out is important.