Winter is Here

Pigs Bedded Down on South Plateau

The pigs in the photo above are just waking up to a white world from their sleeping space on the south field plateau. They have a shed they can go into, and a few do, but most prefer to sleep out on the plateau. In the worst weather they’ll shift to sleeping in the open shed but for now the wind break of the compost pile and a nice bed of hay is their preference.

We’ve had a wonderfully unseasonably warm fall. Indian summer as it is often called. These are far preferred over the years when we get snow in October or even worse, August. I’m hoping this will be a gentle winter. The warm weather allowed us to close in the butcher shop so now we can continue interior construction over the winter. Other years construction has come to a grinding halt as the snows and cold get to bitter. Doing wet concrete work outdoors in December and January is not pleasant.

Ladies in Waiting – Hens on the Fence

We also have been tiding up the farm and bedding it down for winter. Soon everything will be buried under four feet of snow pack and the tops of the fences will disappear in the white landscape.

Outdoors: 34°F/15°F Cloudy, Snow, Ice
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/63°F

Daily Spark: In nature the herbivores breed to large numbers, store up fat, lots of them die of starvation or get eaten in the winter. The vegetarian strategy is to out breed the hardship. The other strategy is to eat vegetarians. Both work.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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13 Responses to Winter is Here

  1. Nate says:

    If the fences (‘tops of the fences”) disappear, what contains the pigs?

    • We lose all sorts of big things in the deep snows. Fences become rather moot. But the snows are not navigable by pointy footed, short legged animals like the pigs and sheep. Their weight is concentrated rather than distributed like our size 12 boots which act like snowshoes. The result is that while the dogs with their big paws and us with our big boots can walk on the surface the small hoofed animals spike right through up to their bellies, or further. Thus they stick to well broken trails and yards where they’ve trampled down the snow hard enough that they can walk on it. This is the same that the deer do in winter woods. Moose, on the other hand, have big splayed hoofs that act like our big feet and snowshoes so they are out and about all winter browsing on the small trees. Their long legs help too.

  2. Walter, if you don’t mind me asking, how much are you paying for hay? Supply is short in our area and at the auction on Tuesday it brought up to $370 per ton. Incredibly high for this area.
    Also what are the reasons you don’t use straw? I prefer straw or cornstalks in my hoop building because its more absorbent than hay, but maybe you’re using a lot more bedding than me so that point is moot.

    • It varies greatly with the size and quality of the hay as well as the quantity. For the best wrapped hay made to our specifications it is $50/bale delivered to the fields. For moderate quality it is $30 per bale delivered to the farm. For mulch $10/bale. Those are 800 lb bales so that is $125 per ton for the good hay.

      We don’t use straw because that is incredibly expensive around here – there isn’t any available locally – and because the pigs eat hay but not straw. Hay has a lot of nutritional value. The hay we buy is high in legumes. Very little is left by spring as they’ll eat their beds.

      Another issue is that once we get into winter proper, starting about now, things get very dry here because of the cold. The result is we don’t need the absorbency as much as some people do in warmer, wetter climates.

  3. Oliver says:

    Hey Walter!

    I’m amazed that your pigs hang out in the open on top of your hay mounds rather than tuck into the open shelters. My gang seems to always head into our crude lean-twos even in warmer weather. Do your pigs stick with the open hay even when it’s sleeting/freezing rain or more just when it’s colder and drier?



    • If the weather gets nasty enough they may go into the open sheds – that’s what they are there for, but the pigs’s definition of nasty and mine are different. They seem very tolerant of the weather. I think that may be in part because we have good wind breaks and when it gets cold it gets dry. Dry cold even into the deep negatives is fine. Wet cold around the freezing point is unpleasant. The wind breaks make a huge difference and the pigs definitely prefer the areas which are protected from wind.

      I think that if we had all the sleeping areas under cover we might use a little less hay. I’m doing some research on that now. If that is the case then I might set things up in future years so their sleeping areas are under a roof. Still open to get plenty of healthy fresh air but a roof to block the impact of precipitation. I think this effect may be particularly poignant in the mud seasons of fall and spring.

  4. Hi Walter, We raise Large Blacks in a group much like you do. They farrow and raise their piglets out on pasture. They always build their own nests for farrowing and bring the piglets back to the group when they are ready. We do not normally have much snow, but this winter has been a bit different. The pigs have treed areas with brush and hay that they bed down in and don’t seem much bothered by the weather. However, we lost a few piglets that were about 2 months old; I believe they were crushed or suffocated in the pig pile. I’ve had a few “conventional” people tell me to raise them inside and build enclosures that have an area where the piglets can get away from the sows, but I really like the idea of raising them as naturally as possible. Any advice on how to prevent this in the future would be very helpful!


    • We do not find it necessary to ‘raise them inside’. However, in the cold weather the animals sleep together in larger, tighter groups and that can lead to crushing. For this reason we break our herds up into more smaller groups by size. In the summer there might be 100 to 200 pigs on a pasture with the size range of a few pounds up to 1,000 lbs or more. But in the winter we find it is better to have them in cohorts that are similarly sized. This is especially true for the smaller animals.

      Another important thing is having good wind breaks and plenty of bedding hay, straw, wood chips or other material built up into a deep bed.

  5. Oliver says:

    We had our first cold morning here (7°F) and it is really incredible just how much warmer it feels than 28°-34°F often feels. That dryness to the air is key.

    Alas, where I am we get a lot of up ‘n down temperature through the winter and I think that’s why we do better with lean-tos and lots of hay therein. The roof is really needed to keep the bedding dry as we’re oft just as likely to get sleet or rain as snow even in January / February.


  6. Pengertian says:

    Nonetheless, from my own experience I can assure you that an enjoyable retirement is not —-This Spam has been castrated—–[Links removed: 2] compromised by publishing an opinion article or two.

  7. Nate says:

    Walter –

    I am curious how you handle watering in the winter.


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