Dipping Your Toes in Breeding

Fall Pigs in North Field

Tina wrote:
I have a question I purchased a finishing pig about 3-1/2 months ago and was getting ready to take her to the butcher; Four days before butcher when she broke out of the pasture we had her in and went into the back woods behind our house. We went and got her and she broke out again and again finally we just left her there My thinking was she found better food or something like that. The next day we went to get her and found that she had nine piglets. She is a great mother. She is a Hampshire. After looking at the babies we noticed that 4 of them where white with black spots and the cutest things ever. I started doing research on them and found out that they could be the GOS so I checked to see if the person we bought from had those types of boars and guess what they do. I am no pig farmer and said I never would be yet I find my self refusing to even give the possiblity for getting rid of these four piglets. I want to raise them and breed them with full blood GOS’s can I get a full blood line after breeding these ones with someone elses a couple of times. And what about the mom she is such a good mother and very friendly should I keep her and breed her again or when shes ready send her to the butcher. Oh ya one more thing in all the research I have been doing non stop for 8 days now I am on your page at least twice a day thank you for all the info.

It takes many generations to ‘get back to a full blood line’. Some breed registries do allow that sort of out breeding and then breeding back to the line. If you’re interested in pure breeding and registering then study their rules carefully.

I urge you to examine your goals and motivations. Getting into breeding is a very big step from where you are. There are a lot of things to learn and infrastructure to establish such as good fencing and places that make good nests.

If what you want is to keep these pigs and breed them because it is a fun thing to do and you want the meat to eat or sell then that’s great – go for it, with open eyes. The fact that your sow had a good litter with no intervention is a sign of a good sow and of good genetics. It is somewhere to start. Do not be set on keeping all of the piglets but instead I suggest that you raise these up and then breed only the best of them. The rest should go to meat. That is to say, cull to the table any who show anything less than desirable traits such as low nipple counts, temperament issues, etc. This is how one does selective breeding. To be a breeder you need to be able to be very selective. Typically we keep only about 5% of gilts (females) for test breeding and only about 0.5% of boars for test breeding. Breed the best of the best and eat the rest.

If you want to keep them due to an emotional attachment then don’t make a decision now. Raise them up for six months. They’ll be a whole lot less cute by market age. Once they’re full size you can think about this again and perhaps not have the emotional pull of the hyper cuteness to deal with. Make your decisions rationally – you’re taking on a very large responsibility that can rapidly multiply.

If your goal is to raise pure bred heritage Glouster Old Spot (GOS) pigs then I would urge you to start with full blooded GOS pigs instead of with a mix that you must breed back for many generations. You will find the former more rewarding.

If you’re going into it for the long term, which is what breed selection takes, then plant an orchard for them on pasture, establish a managed rotational grazing system of paddocks and get some geese and chickens to forage with them.

I would strongly not suggest going into this with the idea of pets. See Pet Pigs for more thoughts on that. Some of our sows get to 800 lbs and boars to 1,700 lbs. Farm pigs are not a good choice for pets.

Either way be aware that the pigs can multiply very rapidly, need plenty of space, eat a tremendous amount of food and produce a lot of (wonderful) manure. Make sure you are not in a location zoned against them. Put in very good fences. Make sure you have a market for the literally tons of pork you’re going to be faced with. Do a business plan to understand your costs and enjoy!

Also see:
How Many Sows Do You Need
Have You got the Right Stuff to be a Breeder
Keeping a Pig for Meat
Breeders Page

Outdoors: 38°F/19°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/62°F No fire last three days

Daily Spark:
I met a Leprechaun who said he would grant me one wish. 
Immediately I said, “I want to live forever.”
“Sorry,” replied the Leprechaun, “I’m not allowed to grant eternal life.”
“OK,” I said, “then I want to die after Congress gets its head out of its ass.”
“Oh, you crafty bastard!” exclaimed the Leprechaun.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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58 Responses to Dipping Your Toes in Breeding

  1. Tina says:

    Hi Walter,
    Thank you so much for the info. I planted an orchard last spring and had a big garden the orchard is still small and I lost 8 trees that i need to replace. The drought was bad in my neck of the woods. How long does the orchard need to grow before I can let the pigs in there? As for my garden it was not good once again do to weather. Should I put the pigs in there before planting again? The whole cute thing is diffently out but after looking into this type off pig it said the meat is great, good pasture pigs, great mothers as well as being good for frist timers is this ture? If we were to keep them and sell them at a good butcher age then sell them I could just buy a full blood boar from one breeder then a full blood gilt from another and breed those or have you ever heard of people that would trade kind of like a two for one deal. I heard that those GOS’s are where you can make back some of your money great meat. My husband and I have 30 arces of land and thought if we fence off 5 arces and use your tic tac toe for smaller paddocks within it to start; will it be enough to start 4 piglets? I didn’t think this was something I would ever do just wanted good pork for my family with no injections and bad stuff just all natual. We just wanted to start with one that was our plan it ofcourse changed and I love being with them and raising them so this time four is a good number in my mind What do you think?

    • We plant the trees between two fence lines and mounded up slightly from the paddocks right by the trees. The fence lines protect the trees from the livestock. A spacing of four to six feet between the fences works well. I also put a tree guard of hardware cloth (mesh screen) around the young trees to protect them from mice in the winter. See Fruit Tree Guards and Saving Twine.

      For gardens of non-ground crops it works very well to run the pigs through or even use them as winter paddocks. In the warm months we grow a wide variety of crops in the areas that are our winter paddocks. The pigs, sheep, geese, ducks and chickens do an excellent job of killing off the weeds and fertilizing. I would not grow carrots or other root crops there for our own consumption in the first year after but higher crops or root crops for the animals work great. See these articles and Of Tiller Pigs and Weeder Chickens.

      Yes, the Glouster Old Spot are a good heritage pasture breed. We have some in our lines although no pure bred GOS. You’ll need to figure out your goals, are you interested in breed preservation and purebreds or are you interesting in developing a pig that works well in your climate and management but not constrained to the registry. When you pick your boar and gilts you’ll want to ask them about the lines and get them far apart as possible.

      Realize that not all animals are fertile. In the ‘industry’ about 75% of the gilts are fertile. I find the percent is higher, more like 95%. Given that I would suggest starting with at least two gilts.

      There is also the issue of economics to keep a boar. Boars eat a lot of food. Sows too. I’ll touch on that in another post I have mostly written. The rule of thumb is six sows per gilt to justify a boar if you’re grain feeding, three if you’re pasturing. AI or a rent-a-boar are other options. Sows and boars pay for themselves by producing piglets. Your four is a good number to start with, especially if you can do lots of pasturing. You might consider doing AI the first round of breeding. This could then provide you with your own boar down the road by picking the best.

      For our pastures I figure the maximum sustainable load is about ten pigs per acre. See How Much Land per Pig. Thus for your five acres you could sustainably do fifty pigs if your soils and forages are like ours. Plant lots of legumes like clover and alfalfa into the mix. We also plant turnips, beets, kale, rape, pumpkins and such to provide more forage. Some of this is in the winter pastures and some out in the warm season fields. See the Pigs Page and Frost Seeding. It is important to watch the conditions of the pasture and the pigs so you can adjust. Each pasture is different and dynamic as they improve over time.

      • J says:

        The post above about breeding was really good, and thanks for linking to the Frost Seeding post too. I’ve been following your blog for 4+ years, but somehow I missed that one. It was excellent and answered some questions I’ve always had in the back of my mind.

        Have you ever thought about putting together a book about how to raise pastured pigs? I’m guessing you’d most of the material has already been written somewhere on this blog. I’d gladly pay for the book, just so I could have it handy and within reach at anytime.

        • A book has been suggested by many people. I have written up an outline. The amount of information is so great that I will have to divide it up over several volumes to make it manageable both for the writing, the reading and the costs. I am working on doing that. If all goes as planned I should have the first book done by 2014. But first I have a butcher shop to finish building… I’m never bored. :)

          • Charles Baker says:

            I’ve been lurking here all year and have been wanting to reply to many things, this comment finally got me off my tail to do it. I cant wait for a book to come out.

            I’m sure you already know this, but everything you do has a multiplier effect. The open source butcher shop plans, all of the info on pigs all of the innovations and re-thinkings. The first one through the wall gets bloody, but you are paving the way (and writing the blueprint) for many others to follow and start their on process of innovation and re-thinking. Almost like a pyramid scheme but in a good way ;)

            Thank you so much for all that you do.


    • Diane N. says:

      Tina, you didn’t ask about it so this is unsolicited advice. Your mention of a new orchard and garden that did poorly in the drought made me think of an online
      film about a gardening method. The man actually began doing it to save his orchard trees, which he could not water adequately from their well. We’ve followed these guidelines for our garden and it made it through the 2012 drought (and neglect) with fruitfulness. The website is: http://backtoedenfilm.com/

  2. Susan Lea says:

    I do appreciate your detailed answer to Tina’s question, but since I’m not going to breed pigs, I’ll focus on your Daily Spark which made me howl out loud! I don’t know if you chose it (I’m guessing you did), but anyway, thanks for the great laugh!

  3. pete says:

    The registry for GOS pigs does not allow grading up, neither do most if not all of the other swine breeds (especially the heritage breeds). So if purebred breeding and propagating heritage breeds are a priority for you then sell these for meat to help build a customer base and use the funds to buy purebred GOSA registered stock. You will find the purebred GOS wonderfully suited for outdoor raising on pasture and are extremely docile and easy to handle; not to mention the great meat.

    On the other hand if purebred breeding is not a priority and you want the hybrid vigor then you could also breed from where you are by getting a boar of a third breed and starting a three breed rotation with GOS as one of those breeds.

    Oh, and if she’s really so friendly why does she keep breaking out and why can’t you just lead her straight into the trailer with a bucket of feed?

    • Tina says:

      She kept braking out to have her babies we didn’t know she was P.G
      But she is just fine in the nest we made for her very happy and back to her great self.

  4. Tina says:

    Sorry to bother you with more questioned however, this is really important I just went to give our moma and babies some fresh hay when my bother in law informed me that he is having the AG guy come out and de-tusk the babies and clip thier tails is that right I now that I don’t want thier tails cut after reading what you had to say yet he said it stops the tails from curling? I’m LIKE WHAT!! but he paid for half the sow and says he has the say no tails on my piggies however, what does he mean tusk?

    • Cutting tusks is really breaking off of the newborn ‘wolf’ teeth. This is ineffective since those teeth will just fall out. It is inhumane because it induces a great deal of pain and can cause infection and death.

      Sows only grow minimal tusks. Boars before normal slaughter age also only have minimal tusks. We get some very large tusks in our big boars, up to 11.5″ long, but they are older and very large.

      Clipping their tails is also completely unnecessary and inhumane. Pigs curl their tails as a part of communication and they use their long tails to swat flies in the summer heat. In Confinement Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs also known as Factory Farms) they cut the tails because the animals are crowded into small pens and get bored so they bite each other’s tails, ears and other body parts. Cutting is not necessary or desirable to do.

      I highly recommend that you do not do this. Tell your brother in law he can cut his half of the piglets but to leave your piglets alone. Then you can watch them all grow and see how they do to find out if these mutilations are necessary or not.

      See Piglet Interventions.

  5. NickL says:

    not true pete grading up is widely known for helping to recover rare breeds and is used in the hog circles for pure breeds a quick search on the web finds this

    • Pete says:

      As a member of GOSA and a longtime GOS breeder I can tell you this is absolutely false for the Old Spots breed specifically. Grading up is prohibited by both the US and UK associations. And the same is true for the other pedigreed rare breed hogs I am familiar with (though there may be some exceptions).

      So Nick, if you know of a hog registry that will register non-purebred hogs please speak up.

      This is not to say that there are not people crossbreeding these breeds, but you generally can’t register the offspring nor honestly call them pure.

      And from a breed conservation standpoint crossbreeding is only rarely done.

  6. bruce king says:

    I’d be more curious about how you got a pig that was old enough to have a litter. They usually don’t breed until they’re 7 to 9 months old at the earliest, and a litter takes the better part of 4 months, so you’re looking at a pig that is 11 to 13 months old – normal growout should be something between 6 and 9 months total. So something is odd in your setup; either you’re waiting longer than most to slaughter, or the pig that you got sold is a lot older than usual, or both.

    It’s pretty common for pigs to get anxious about the time of their first litter and be fairly insistent about finding a good place to farrow. That’s not a sign of a bad sow, it’s what most sows do.

    • Tina says:

      You know I never thought of that until you mentioned it. I wanted to get a finishing hog when my brother in law stepped in the all knowing, knows everything and went and picked one out. When he brought her home he said that it would take about 30days on craked corn to take her to the butcher. However, with a few issues we did not get to take her and had to wait which ended up being 31/2 months you are right she has to be older like a year or so but my brother in laws say no. I just quit listening to him and read Walters post they help far more.

  7. Tina says:

    Great news we are in an unincorporated zone so they said I can do what ever I want. We have decided to take one of the white/ black spotted boars at weaning and a white/black spotted female as well as one hampshire looking female to breed is this ok to breed the brother to the sisters for meat. Also we are going to start our fencing tomorrow can we use a cattle fencing for outer perimeter with electric inside the paddocks. Also can we house them in a safe house at night do to predators out here?
    Thank you for you help.

    • Wonderful news on the zoning.

      Yes, you can breed brother and sister, especially for terminal generation (meat). If the parents were good and you pick the best of the best you’ll likely end up with fine piglets. If you see negative traits then that tells you the parents are both carriers for recessive traits you don’t want. Monsters are unlikely, but edible.

      Sounds like great fencing. Use at least a 2.5 joule energizer. My favorite one is the Zareba 15 WASP 15 Joule but they also make lower powered versions down to at least six joules and maybe less. Tractor Supply also sells a similar model made by the same vendor.

      A safe house at night is a good idea if you’ve got strong predator pressures and don’t have a good pack of livestock guardian herding dogs. It tells the predators to move along and hunt somewhere else. You might consider putting a hot wire at the top of your perimeter fence and one low on the outside. This is very effective at keeping most predators out. Walk the fence at least weekly and learn the cadence of the energizer clicks when it is good and when it is shorted. You may also be interested in this article about Calibrating Pain.

  8. Tina says:

    We have a solor Fi-shock energizer with 5mile range we want to use it with the High Tinsile 12 ga. fencing. I saw that you did not really care for solor can you tell me if we had a back up do to weather, cloudy days, ect if this is ok. I started the blue print for the paddocks not quite the tic-tac-toe yet I was thinking we have lots of pecan trees and acorn trees in our back pasture so if i make a paddock back there they get nuts is this ok?do you think i should plant hazlenut as well we can’t have walnuts in our state.

    • I would not use solar chargers. They have too little power. A ‘five mile range’ is not sufficient since that is five miles of perfect wire under perfect grounding conditions with full sun and no weed load under wet soil and dry weather conditions. In other words, they’re overly optimistic. Realize than when they say five miles they mean one wire. If you have two wires then it becomes a maximum of two and a half miles of fence. If you have four wires then it’s down to 1.25 miles of fence length.

      Do you have AC plugin power at your house or barn? If so then I would get a good AC fence energizer of at least 2.5 joules and run power from that out to the fence area. You can do it with a fence line or an underground line whether it is really underground or not (it is simply insulated).

      If you don’t have AC power then I would get an AC powered charger and a big RV or truck battery with an inverter to power the fence energizer.

      Setup good grounding. The Kencove link has some good articles on grounding and fence setup.

      Just be sure to protect the trees from the livestock. Many like to nibble on the bark, especially of young trees.

  9. Tina says:

    Thanks Walter,
    I have an AC energizer I used for my horses so I think I’ll just use that instead. How big should I make each paddock I was thinking 40’x 100′ is this two big. also my outer fence if i put the electric across the top and one on the outside for predators can our deer still get in we have the only pond in like 10miles this is where they drink. Also will the pigs harm our pond this is where we fish and raise fish for our friends and family. Sorry for so many questions but I find that we are the most helpful and I want to get this right for my family and the pigs:).

    • Tina says:

      I meant you are the most helpful I know nothing but am learning from you.

    • Do you know the joule rating of the horse energizer? I ask because we had a horse energizer but found it was too weak for the pigs. That one was 0.5 joules. I found that the minimum I wanted to use with the pigs was 2.5 joules. In wet weather that tended to get it’s voltage pulled down. With six joules I found the wet fences were pretty much okay. We pour our fences with two 15 joule energizers right now. That 1.5 miles of fence around the outside perimeter at four wires so a total of 6 miles of wire plus the inside paddock divisions. The ratings on the energizer for miles of fencing are very optimistic.

      40’x100′ is the minimum I would suggest. You had mentioned you have five acres you were considering using. That is about the same size as our south field which we have divided up into twelves areas. Their not all equal in size but if they were that seven acre field of ours would be about 23,000 sq-ft per paddock or about 580’x40′ for comparison. We tend to fence for the medium to large pigs and not worry about the piglets. They mostly stay with the herds. They may creep feed into new paddocks but that is fine. When weaning we do have tighter fenced areas that contain piglets. The trick with managed rotational grazing is to move them out of a paddock when they’ve have eaten it down to a couple of inches and to not move them into a paddock until it has rested for at least 21 days, preferably 30 days. The rest part of the cycle can be much longer – the timing is to break parasite life cycles. The on period is ideally a week or less. So how big you make the paddocks will affect how fast your rotation is. Too many tiny paddocks become a bother to keep properly fenced and make for more effort. Too large a paddock doesn’t get grazed well and becomes muddy or weedy.

      We have fish in the same ponds our pigs enjoy. No problem. We don’t swim in those ponds though because pigs do pee and poop in their pig ponds. Not my flavor. We have a reservoir that the pigs don’t go into called our Upper Pond. That is where we swim. The purpose of the upper pond is to provide a large storage of water to get through dry months like July and August.

  10. Tina says:

    Hi again,
    I’m not sure what the joules are I’ll have to find that out. On the paddocks I guess im getting numbers wrong the side’s off my land is 1065ft E to W and 365ft N to S so I figured at 9 paddocks that would be 355ft is that right. I really have no ideal how to do that I just stand in the field and look where to put fence this is not good I know. I did however get two smaller paddocks set out for the weaning pigs they are about 75×75
    I have to do two because I told my brother in law that he can’t have anything to do with my pigs and so we have to make sure the piglets are separated; is that big enough or do i need to twick it a bit before they a move over.

    • *grin* Your brother-in-law is a trip. Best to keep your pigs separate to avoid consternation. When they’re piglets 75’x75′ is plenty big enough for a paddock. The 1065’x365′ sounds like a good size to divide up as you describe. You don’t have to be super exact – the pigs aren’t picky.

      Run some chickens behind the pigs. Ours graze right in with the pigs and in near by paddocks too, sort of following the pigs around the fields. The chickens help with flies, mice, snakes, pests and help to break the parasite life cycles. They’ll also pick apart pig poop piles.

  11. Tina says:

    Your right he is a trip:) How many chicken should I get and how old do you think? We don’t have any for sell do to time of year but in March or April not sure they start sending them to the feed stores or places like tractor supply. Also Last year I had great geese but they got eaten I was so sad. Should I get some more as well as chickens

    • I would probably keep about 100 layer hens for a group and space of that size. They will produce a lot of eggs which are a great source of pastured protein for the young pigs. Setup a coop for the hens to lay in and train them to that. We don’t feed ours during the warm season since they get all of their food from following the pigs and from the pasture such as insects as well as forages. During the winter feed them a layer feed or you can feed meat. Araucana are my favorite closely followed by NH Red, RI Red, Buff Orpington, White Orpington and Speckled Sussex. I like having a few roosters in the mix as they will defend the hens and they also act as a guard keeping their eyes open for predators. Now is the time to order chicks.

      • Tina says:

        Hi Walter,
        Long day I was working on the paddocks today and ran into a problem hope you can help me. I started where we kept our sow before we found out she was P.G. we have her in a differenat place right now with the babies and all. Anyways when I went to the field we kept her in to start working on the field and trees as well as the electric fence I found a spot that looks like a burn pile; lots of glass Now noone has lived on this 5 arces since 1884 that is a long time. I did find really cool things like old medican bottels and such but I am worried because of the glass as I begain digging down there is alot of little pieces of glass i can’t even get them all because they are so small what do I do this was going to be one of the nices paddocks because it has nut trees, fruit tree’s, strawberry and blackberry bushes what can I do? Will this hurt my pigs do I need to move else where and forget the fruit and nuts what do I do I have racked, spaded and dig be holes all day.

        • I would suggest fencing off that area if there is a lot of broken glass. If at some point you can dig up the top foot of soil, move that and replace it then it would be useable. A very hot fire will melt glass and get rid of sharp edges.

  12. Tina says:

    Where do I order chicken? When will they get here? Will a two sided lean-to shed work for a chicken coop and night housing for the pigs.

  13. Tina says:

    Hi Walter,
    Well its been along day got one paddock cleaned and inspected. It looks good put a back on the lean-to that we will use for pigs house and added a roast for chickens and a coop inside. I have a few old dead trees to remove yet, but thats ok and will start fencing and seeding tomorrow. I have a question we went and looked at the piglets today and I do believe there is only two girls out of the nine the mother has 14 usible teats can’t tell on the babies yet. One of the girls white/black spot just comes up and puts her head in your hands, she loves playing with your pant legs and running around you the other girl is a little stand offish and calls for her mom if you get to close she mostly looks like a hampshire the little boy is white/ black spots and love attention but beats up the others not sure on his teats yet but he loves my husband trys to follow him but get very upset because he can’t get out of the fence to get to my husband he is very out going and loves to play do these ones sound like they are a good group they are only 12days old and i know i need to keep watching but what do you think so far. I really was hoping for more girls to look at but guess not we can also always try to swap with another local farmer if need be.

  14. Tina says:

    I was looking into the livestock guardian dogs and found a gentalman the raises some he said he uses them with his goats and that they are great dogs. Both the mother and father are the best livestock guardian dogs he has ever had. The father is full anatolian and the mother is 1/2 pyrenees and 1/2 collie would these be a good guardian for my pigs. What do you look for when selecting your dogs?
    Thanks Tina

    • These sound like good possibilities. You’ll need to introduce them to your livestock carefully so they learn to care for yours. Our dogs do pigs, poultry and sheep so I suspect that goat dogs can adapt to add pigs and poultry to their repertoire. Patiences, persistence and attention.

      When looking at a dog I watch how it interacts with me, with other dogs, with the target species. I look for alertness and understanding. A lot can be trained but starting with proper exposure and good instincts is a big leg up.

  15. Melissa Meryweather says:

    THank you Tina for sharing your unexpected pleasure of having a litter of piglets dumped in your lap!! It has given me a preview of the many realities that come with raising pigs.

    Walter, I have spent the last 24 hours glued to this sight, reading, and copy/pasting for reference. Lovely pictures, funny stories, and love the Daily Spark–isn’t it amazing that the brain actually gets to have time to slow down, to ponder and think while doing chores!

    I’m not sure where to ask this , so I’ll just go ahead and ask here. I would like to improve the wooded lot that we currently have–some 15 acres.

    Dear Husband says pigs are out of the question for another year, but I would like to start improving the land NOW. I have sheep and chickens. The land is moderately sloped, on the north side of a hill leading to a distant river. The hard woods are tall and easy to walk under and provide mostly leaves in the fall and ferns from spring to fall. Dear Husband has been clearing slowly.Though the stump spouts are winning. lol The trees are mostly young, 40-50 years at best, some pine, oaks, maples, lots of birch. Can I use the sheep or chickens to prep the land for seeding? How do I find the right grass and legume mixes for my area? I’ve read about so many different seeds that my head spins.And like you, I have some reservations about what the state ag people will recommend. THe soil is shallow, only a few inches with duff on top from the decaying leaves.

    I really wanted the pigs as tillers to help with the transistion. Just don’t see how I can feed another animal at this time.

    Thank you.

    • Sheep and chickens are an excellent start at revitalizing pasture. Sheep are good for eating the regen coming up from the stumps. Goats are even better. Also plant legumes like clovers which will suck down free nitrogen fertilizer from the sky. See Frost Seeding.

      It takes a lot of pigs to till an area as they must be mob grazed on it to get good digging density. At ten pigs per acre it is sustainable grazing so you would need a lot more to get good tillage. Consider this a multi-year project. If you took those same ten pigs and limited them to a tenth of an acre for a couple of weeks they would likely do a good job of chewing it up. Then in the last couple of days before you move them out you can broadcast seed by hand – this is what I call mob seeding, another way of getting the seed into the soil easily. Then move them off of that tenth acre for a year as they work on each of the remaining patches. Sheep and chickens can be used the same way – they won’t root as much, of course, but they do mob graze well. Portable net fencing is handy for this. Smaller patches are fine to do.

      I would preserve lots of the oaks. Use double line fencing to protect them from the animals. The acorns they drop are valuable pig feed.

      To figure out the right grass mix for your area, start by looking at what local dairy farmers are using for pasture. Add in some cereals, millets and lots of legumes. In our cool climate I plant rape and kale in the fields. You’re climate in Mass is a little warmer and it sounds like your soil is similarly thin like ours. I would recommend going with a wide variety of seed types and then observing which ones thrive on your land. It may even be that in different parts you will have different species thriving. Then as needed plant more of the ones that thrive. Your county extension agency may have some suggestions and are worth using as a basis to experiment from. Do get a soil test done so you know your profile.

  16. Melissa Meryweather says:

    How do you keep the chickens in the areas where the pigs are grazed?? Mine congregate near their coop and spread out about 125 feet from there, with a few like the buff orpingtons and the marans. But they don’t stay for long. Do you have housing out on the pastures to provide shelter for the pigs, and a”coop” for the chickens?

    • The chickens are fenced out of places I don’t want them, such as tender gardens. Other than that they follow the herds. They tend to stay within about 750′ of their roosting spots, following contours and obstacles to a degree. We do have several coop locations which helps to center the flocks. The South Field Shed is one such space. The Mid-Level Hoop is another.

      You can tell when you get out to the edge of the areas the chickens patrol because the population of black flies goes up. We have virtually no black flies, horse flies, etc around the central area of the farm because the chickens keep them eaten down.

  17. Melissa Meryweather says:

    Does the fencing work as a deterrent or is the fence high? Some of my birds do like to fly if it suits them to jump a fence. DOes having plenty of yummy eatings help keep them on the right side of the fencing?

    I see bushes in your fields– what are they? Just for shade to create a microclimate, or is it foliage for munching on?

    • It’s a combination. The biggest thing is having what an animal wants on its own side of the fence. Next, on poultry, when they’re young, clip the flight feathers of one wing. This reduces their tendency to fly so they walk instead. The feathers grow back so you’ll probably need to go through this cycle twice. Also, having the fence hot, that is to say electrified, helps greatly to convince them not to mess with it. Lastly is height. If I have a very appetitive area I don’t want them in then I build high fences and don’t put areas like that where they can approach from up hill.

      There is lots of different kinds of shrubbery out in the fields. I leave some trees and brush both for food value (e.g., apples, nuts) and for shade as well as wind blocking to create the more temperate microclimate than we would otherwise have. See the photo in this post for a wonderful habitat of pasture under trees. Those are primarily poplar also known as aspen in that photo.

  18. Ben Godfrey says:

    Would you suggest a good resource for learning about selective breeding. I would like to read up on the subject and a recommendation from you would carry a lot of weight.

    Thank you,

    • There was a book about the ‘science of breeding domestic livestock’ but right now it is stored away and I can’t get my hands on it to give you the exact title or author. Those words were in the title. I just tried a search on Amazon but couldn’t find it using those terms. If you find it, could you please post a note here to share the title.

  19. Aidan Hamilton says:

    Do you have any thoughts for or against Artificial Insemination? If I only get two bred gilts to farrow next spring like I want, I can’t justify a boar to rebreed them after weaning. So I am either left with a late line breeding or AI.

    Do you have any tips for selecting AI semen? There are a great many more metrics I am interested in than just the regular carcass weight, back fat and loin eye etc. I want to know about disease and parasite resistance, pasture farrowing/mothering, cold hardiness and other traits I don’t expect to see in a catalogue.

    • I think AI is fine, just complicated and expensive when you get to our size. For a small herd or single sow it would be an excellent choice. Back when we only had four sows I had strongly researched doing AI but I never ended up doing it as we got a loaner boar – back then biosecurity wasn’t such a concern with so few sows. That worked well for our first three breeding rounds and then we bought the third boar, Archimedes. Since then we have brought in a few boars but otherwise pretty much maintain a closed herd, something we can do since we have many different lines of breeds.

      • Golden Bear says:

        What does your 1700 lb boar look like? Can I see pictures? You have been selective breeding for sometime. What does your best genetics look like and what are the noticeable traits you are experiencing? Do you keep improved genetics of each breed or are your improved genetics from mixing breeds?

        • There are several thousand photos including photos of the big boar scattered throughout the blog’s articles. Use the search feature in the upper right with key words like boar, spot, big’un and such as well as going to the Pig Page and Breeder Page. I work to improve all of the lines, both individual breeds and our cross lines.

  20. traye says:

    Walter, we had a sow farrow Monday night, had six healthy piglets and they and mom are all doing fine, the only thing is she decided to nest in a terrible spot on the farm. It’s really thick brush so to her I’m sure it seemed ideal, but she is just inside the back perimeter of our farm not near water, food or cooling mud. I’m having to haul all that to her multiple times a day.

    Do you have any advice on convincing her to move to a better part of the farm? I know that they usually move after a few days, I would just like to help her get to a better guarded area with closer access to pasture and water.

    We tried to lock her into an area close to the house the day before she farrowed, but she had already chosen her nest area and jumped her 400 pound pregnant body over a fence.

    • Sounds like she found a great spot. You shouldn’t need to be hauling to her – she can walk in to water and food as she needs. The piglets hunker down quietly while the sow is gone and then within four days to a week they’ll typically be following her from the nest and she’ll move the nest to a new location.

      Moving sows is generally ill advised and difficult. I would only do it in dire circumstances. Our sows will walk half a mile to go get food and water and then return to their nests. They are homed to the nest not the piglets so moving the piglets may not work. This is an instinctual issue.

      I would suggest patience. If she farrowed Monday I would expect her to be ready to move her nest closer by this weekend, maybe early this coming week. It is likely she’ll choose a closer to food, water and wallow location for the second nest. The first nest criteria tends to be based on privacy – being able to get away from everyone else so she can be undisturbed during farrowing.

      • traye says:

        Thanks, this afternoon she decided to leave the area for a bit, walked out to a nice wallow. Went and checked and the piglets were all laying low in the brush around the nest. My big worry was the heat but if she is going to walk out of the woods for a mud bath that’s ok. Hopefully, when she does bring the piglets out I can talk her into coming up to a closer area.

  21. Carol Sharkey says:

    Hi Walter. I have a quick question about breeding. I have been breeding pigs on a very small scale for about 3 years. I started with a wonderful young Tamworth boar and a few Duroc sows. They cross beautifully and I can’t produce enough for my current customer base. My question is, my boar is now about 650-750 lbs (about 2 years old). I have kept him on limited feed in order for him not to grow too quickly but he is in excellent shape, has tons of energy, and is a pleasure to have around. I have added some Berkshire gilts to the farm but am concerned that Homer J may be too big to breed to them. I have kept one of his sons as well to bring up for my next breeder. Homer J produces excellent piglets, great growers, and nice temperaments so I would like to keep breeding with him. Should I keep breeding him only to the Duroc girls or will the Berkshire girls eventually be able to handle his weight for breeding?

    • We have had very big boars breed gilts who were 250 to 300 lbs with no problem at all. Pigs’s bones and joints are designed to lock to support immense weight. If they have good footing like out on pasture they should be fine. Concrete, ice or wood floors are a problem. Our boars have gotten far larger than that and keep breeding.

  22. Carol Sharkey says:

    Hi Walter. Thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly.

    All of our breeding is done out on pasture so it looks like Homer J can continue to be a daddy for us.

    Thank you for your advice. I really respect your opinion and your vision toward farming.

  23. Andy says:

    Hello, I actually have 3 questions? Why do people want to know how many teets a boar has, I don’t understand. Is it also true if you let a gilt go for 3 or 4 heats before breeding they are supposed to have more babies? I have a sow that is 3 year old and when I feed she is always the first to the troft, but today i went out and she was laying down, never got up to come and eat. I checked her what I know to check, what could be wrong?

    • The answer is easy: more is better.
      The number of teats is genetically determined.
      How many teats a boar has is a strong determinant, along with how many teats the sow has, of how many teats the offspring gilts will have.
      Gilts with more teats can produce more milk weaning more larger piglets resulting in higher production.

      There is no need to let a gilt cycle three or four times before breeding. We keep the gilts in with breeder boars and they breed when they are ready. Typically the first heat is just a get ready cycle so they don’t take on that. By eight months a gilt typically successfully breeds for the first time.

      The number of piglets typically goes up with each farrowing by about one piglet. Bigger older sows have more resources to produce piglets. At the end they start producing fewer, typically after six to nine years of production.

      Lots of things could cause her not to be up an at it. Hard to say without a lot more data.

  24. Katie Coady says:

    Hi Walter, I have leaned heavily in your blog for pig knowledge over the past 2 years since we got our Guinea hogs. Wonder if you could offer some insight on an issue we are having. We have a 2.5 year old sow and 3 year old boar that we got with the intentions of continuing to produce our own pork. She had a litter may 2017 but none since. She had no issues that we could tell and was a decent mother. The sow and boar are housed together all the time and have 2 acres of mixed forest and pasture. They get get grain, hay, and eggs in addition to acorns and whatever else they forage. We’ve seen her get bred twice now with no piglets resulting. What might we be doing wrong? Or if it is an issue with one of the pigs, is there any way to tell if it is with the boar or sow? I don’t want to replace them both.

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