Hay Consumption

Piglets, Sow, Rooster on Hay

This morning Brian asked on Four Generations of Blackie:
When you discuss your annual hay consumption by the hogs, how much do you figure is used strewn around for nests? Do the hogs eventually eat some of it?

The vast majority of the hay ends up passing through the hogs rather than getting strewn. I actually got an interesting rough measure of this over a three year period on the pumpkin plateau winter paddock. I figured out that the pigs eat about 90% or so of the hay. Even the hay that the pigs bed in they eat a large portion of.

The biggest non-consumption of the hay occurs with the farrowing sows. They actively build nests and don’t eat much of the nest hay. I think that in the sow hut they actually use a little less hay. As the month passes they keep adding hay to the nest building up high sides and a deep pack. Note that I say “they” add to the nests. It is very important to let them do it themselves. They chop the hay and pack it into the right shape. If humans add the hay it is wrong and can end up burying piglets. Better to set a supply of hay where the sow can get to it and carry it back to her nest. Besides, she enjoys the process and it keeps her busy. Idle snouts and all that…

Next up in wasters is the smaller pigs. Their small teeth, jaws and digestive tracks are not as good at processing hay as the big pigs. The big pigs eat everything in front of them in big mouthfuls but the little pigs pick through the hay looking for the clover, alfalfa, seed heads and finer leaves. The result is they leave behind the courser materials which pile up to make a thick bed.

After winter I pile up remainders in my compost piles. This works well as by then it has manure in it. This gives me my annual supply of hay/carbon for our compost piles. That then becomes soil amendment for our extensive gardens. Nothing goes to waste.

Outdoors: 60°F/30°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/64°F

Daily Spark: “Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming ~ WOO HOO what a ride!” -Hunter S. Thompson

This post originally appeared and then was lost in my old web server crash. I’m reposting it now to bring this new server up-to-date. Some comments may have been lost when the hard drive crashed and burned.

About Walter Jeffries

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7 Responses to Hay Consumption

  1. Zach says:

    I have noticed that the hay laid out for the hogs on my farm is best put to use in the bedding area. They push it around, make nice use of covering themselves up in it, and chew it up. Just went through 30 bales, and have about two bales worth of compostable hay as a result.
    To watch them it doesn’t look like they do much but push it around. Maybe they are shy about eating their sheets…. But I love the fact that in a years rotation my field is getting a natural improvement and I am selling the best pork in the area.

  2. Skeptic7 says:

    How long does it take for the winter’s supply of hay waste to decompose? Is this used on next year’s gardens or the current spring plantings?

    I love this pictures with all the cute white piglets. I like the last posting with Blackie and the colored piglets too. I am surprised at how little hair the pigs seem to have even in the middle of the winter. I saw a picture of feral pigs/wild pigs that were nearly furry in the winter time.

    • I do composting the easy lazy way, using static piles. I turn them over only infrequently. If you were to do it the hard way, wasting time and burning more diesel, you could probably get them all composted in a couple of months. Doing it my way it is more like six months to a year. I’m in no rush and have other things to do.

      However, even that first year I grow things on the compost piles. Pumpkins, sunflowers, broccoli and other things love the warm, ultra rich soil of the pile. I mix in some dirt when making the piles, a practice another farmer found very strange. But it works. This means that the first year when the compost is breaking down I grow a crop on it in a pile. Then in the fall or the next spring I spread that compost and grow flat crops.

      On the highly hairy wild piglets they might have been short of selenium since they’re up on snow and can’t get dirt. We learned how to deal with this. It isn’t a problem for piglets born in the warm months with dirt access but in the winter is an issue. This causes more hairiness. Occasionally, like this week, I’ll see a piglet that seems to have a genetic problem with taking up selenium so even though I’m making sure they get dirt in the winter it still ends up with white muscles disease, the bone twisting and the hairiness associated with selenium deficiency. Once they get back onto dirt they look normal. During the winter when I am moving bales around I grab a backhoe scoop of dirt for pigs. They eat the dirt which provides them with minerals. This works on our farm because we have good dirt, rich in all the minerals. It is worth testing your soil because some places are low in selenium or other minerals.

      • Guy Stuyt says:

        Thank you Walter for all the great information that you pass along. Some months back I acquired two mature (4 years) Russian Boars, They have since produced six healthy boarlets complete with tiger stripes that I am now attempting to pasture feed. Trouble is .. Mom and dad do not “graze” pasture they bulldoze through it at a consistent depth of about 10 to 16 inches, eating huge amounts of soil and some grass roots but not the grass,weeds, herbs etc which then quickly wither and blow away. My fields soon resemble moonscapes. These two if left unchecked will CONSUME 1/2 acre of pasture each month.

        Could this be a learned behavior or might I am over-feeding them with grain and or hay?. They appear to be thriving in every way. They happily eat most grasses and plants if I first pull them up and offer it along with grain or hay – the exceptions being Burdock and Thistle which they won’t even come near.
        Do Eurasian boars not graze?.

        • I’ve never dealt with Russian pigs so I can’t comment from experience. I have been told that Tamworth pigs would root and never graze but those people were proved wrong when I got a herd containing purebred Tamworths who graze quite nicely under our system. I would suggest learning about managed rotational grazing. It is very different than simply putting the pigs out on pasture. It may take some time for the pigs to change and there can be soil or other issues that encourage rooting, especially in pasture that is new and has a lot of tubers and insects in it. Also see this article about Rootless in Vermont which may give you some more ideas. Worst case is it is a learned behavior which you may have to break through a cull generation.

          Our pigs love burdock and thistles as well as blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. I’m not sure how they do it, with all those spines and prickers, but they have cleared the fields such that the only burdock and thistles now are outside where the pigs can get to. Perhaps try feeding them less so they graze more. I noticed that in videos Joel Saladin’s pigs were ignoring perfectly good graze including burdock and suspect it is because they have unlimited candy, that is to say free feeding of grain / commercial feed. With those available in more than they can eat the pigs would gorge on the high calorie appetitive feed and ignore the things lower on their menu.

  3. cecilia Gunther says:

    I am avidly following your blog about pigs, we will be getting two this spring for our little sustainable farm and i want them to be able to live out on the pastures and bed down in the barn at night.. can I do that? Will they take themselves back to bed at night?We are small, so they would have their own entrances and exits.. Or should i make them little mobile huts. I do also have cows and sheep.. and chickens of course.. celi

    • Yes, once you re-home them to their new space they will likely return to the shelter at night if that is the best place to sleep. Realize that their idea and your idea of “best” may not coincide. If you want to force the issue simply feed them a treat there in the evening and close the door. Teach them to come when you call.

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