Another View of the same weaner paddock system from a different angle later after regrowth. Sows in distance are in a different paddock system beyond the road.
We generally wean piglets at around six weeks of age. Sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later depending on the season and conditions. Much earlier and the piglets don’t do as well. Too much later and the sow becomes peakid and suffers loss of condition. Being nursed by a dozen hungry mouths is an extreme weight watcher’s diet plan. Thus we search for a balance of the sow’s needs vs the piglets desires around that age. At some point the sow will try to wean them by laying on her stomach to protect her teats but with so many going at her she can’t get up to eat, drink or relieve herself. Eventually the piglets win the battle with her if we don’t intervene.
Note: The two bare lanes in the back (far upper left of photo) are roads that lead up to high pastures. Those are not part of the weaning paddocks. We seed those and they grow up when their high paddocks are not in use.
Ben with Piglets in South Weaning Paddock
“So why,” you ask, “do sows succeed in weaning in nature?” Simple numbers. In the wild most piglets die before weaning age, typically eaten by predators. In the wild if a sow were breeding once a year and producing six piglets a litter, a small count, then she only needs to have 4.6% survive to replace herself and her ‘romantic partner’. This means she can lose most of her piglets over the span of four years and still succeed as a breeder in the wild. By the time the piglets are of weaning age in the wild she usually only has one or two left and it is easier for her to break them of the nursing habit.
On the farm we have fences and livestock guardian dogs that reduce these rates of predation so there is a much higher survival rate of piglets. That means by the time the sow is ready to wean them she must deal with far more coming at her from all directions. After trying to wean them herself she gives up and lets them nurse long past the time they should wean. This would result in the sow losing her body reserves and becoming peakid, that is to say her backbone peaks up as back fat and muscle are lost. Thus we step in and help her.
When weaning the piglets we use a strongly physically fenced area distantly separated from the sows. Piglets can go through small holes so it needs to be tight fencing. The ideal setup is at least two fences between them and at least 50′ of distance plus electric on both sides. The best setup is out of sight, out of mind. About three days later the sows are drying up and the piglets are used to their new routine.
Weaned piglets go to weaning paddocks like the one pictured above which is a small managed rotational grazing setup separate from the herds. This gives us a chance to interact with the piglets to tame them. Out on the pastures they don’t get much interaction with people so they need this chance to get to know that we’re good, the source of treats, to herd and to follow. During this time the dogs also work the piglets to train them how to move as a herd group.
Electric fencing works very well with pigs. Electric is a psychological fencing so animals need training learn about it. Otherwise they may plow right through the lightweight electric fencing. Same as with sheep, goats, cattle, horses, etc.
If you look closely in the photo you’ll see that there are several different fencing systems in these weaning paddocks. The piglets rotate through them starting at the most physically fenced hog panel section. Next they learn about electricity with a physical barrier behind it. Later they get exposure to netting and then gradually less and less electric fence. Notice how there are a lot of step-in posts – this gives a good visual for them to learn from. Out on the bigger pastures where they are born they might never run into a fence when their nursing with their mother. This setup makes sure that they’re trained to all our fencing types by the time they graduate to the large pastures.
These weaning paddocks have been rotated through four times so far this year. After the pigs have been through a paddock this intensely it looks brown but there is still a lot of root mass which quickly sends up new shoots. They’ve flipped the top layer after grazing off the forages. As soon as the pigs are gone that springs up with new growth. I find that the pigs can eat up to 80% of the root mass and the paddock will still come back well. This is very intensive managed rotational grazing, more intensive than we do out in the main fields.
If you wanted to change the forage mix in a paddock the time to seed is a couple of days before moving out the livestock. This way they trample the seed into the soil and the seeds don’t sprout until after the animals move on.
Bens & Shoat Pigs in South Weaning Paddock
With faster rotation the forages will come back faster but don’t let that tempt you to put the next round of animals on too soon. I like to have animals off the paddock for a minimum of three weeks, preferably a month as that breaks parasite life cycles as well as giving the forages time to come back. Managed rotational grazing should be done based mainly on graze down (how quickly to move out) and forage regrowth after the life cycle break has been achieved (how long to wait before moving in).
You might notice the tall sunflowers between the paddocks. I was experimenting with growing sunflowers right in with the piglets. If the sunflowers get a good start then they coexist quite nicely with the piglets, providing shade. These ones are Mammoth sunflowers. They were about 9′ tall when I took the photo and taller now. For comparison, Ben’s closing in on 6′.
The weaning paddocks also have shade from trees and a bit of forest uphill as well as water that runs through them in a series of barrel troughs from the brick spring up on Sugar Mountain. That is what the white and blue objects are further up the paddocks. The water flows from one to the next continuously and then out to the main herd through the south fields so they always have fresh mountain spring water.
Also see the Pig Page and follow the links to articles on rotational grazing and feeds. Also see One day of Rotational Grazing and How Much Land Per Pig. Another view in the paddock. And some regrowth as well as weaning info in Weaners Weaning Wee Wee Wee and Cohort Size and another photo of the weaning paddocks in Lard vs Bacon Pigs.
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Thanks for the advice! I’ve never tried electric fencing for pigs but I certainly will now since they keep breaking out.
This is a very good and helpful explanation. I’m sure we won’t ever be breeding and farrowing our own pigs, but it’s good to know about the part that happens before we get them. We had sheep this year instead of pigs, and we both prefer pigs WAY more!
Thanks for information was thinking about getting pigs.
What’s in the bowls?
Apples. ‘Tis the season.
Love seeing the details on how you do things.
Any advice on younger pigs over the colder months?
We are processing out our two hogs and I figured we were done for the year. This was a personal experiment and it worked for us. So much so that the wife and kids want to continue through the season.
We have a strong 6×8 hut enclosed on 3 1/2 sides (narrow door and a large window on one side) whose floor is raised up off the ground. Good ventilation up top. I built it for rough weather. It is edging a pen area that can go from small for new piglets, and then expand via gates as they grow. Water is polyethelene tanks with nipple drinkers and feeders are the self-feeder style. This is all in a glen under mature beech and oak forest.
I figure if this is going to work we need to ensure the basics (food, water, shelter). I can keep the water and food fine, but we have no heat for the shelter. We don’t have electricity out there (but considering it for the water tanks). We are not a heavy cold zone (USDA 7) but it will freeze on occasion and snow far less frequently.
I think we need to get the piglets and raise them up a bit before the cold sets in. But realistically, when does winter become a problem? What is “cold” to a pig? Does that shelter (more of a house) need heat? Can 5-6 pigs weighing 60 pound (my estimate of where they would be when it gets “cold”) do fine in an unheated shelter?
I am more than happy with, “I don’t think you are ready for this.” My first consideration is doing things right.
Your thought always appreciated. The locals all raise animals in barns and the locals thought I was nuts for raising the ones we got outside with nothing but a shelter. Now some are starting to do the same…
Typo up top. I should have said, “the locals though I was nuts.” I wasn’t worried. The USDA has documents going back to the ’30s explaining the exact setup we used (minus some modern details). My pig house was the basic post-Depression pig house for a small-share farmer looking to feed the family. I just made it stronger and put it on a frame that could be moved by tractor.
The history was rather silent on cold, though.
See this post about Winter Pig Housing.
I have a gilt that just had her first litter and we are almost in her third week of nursing an all has been well until the other morning I went up and fed and watered! One nipple has been chewed so badly until it looks like it’s been through a meat grinder all the way to the base of her tit! She’s still nursing but she is pretty apprehensive about doing it thou! And the tit is huge with milk now and I’m sure it’s sore, but it won’t milk! Don’t no what to do!? Should I clean an try and wrap it, give her antibiotic shot? Would you try and Wien three week old pigs? They have already started drinking water and chewing on whole corn. Any advice much appreciated!
I have seen this, rarely. It heals up and the breast becomes productive again. It probably had a blocked duct, thus the engorgement, the piglet got too vigorous and thus the damage. You could paint that teat with hot spice or something else bad tasting to encourage piglets not to suckle on it. Massaging the breast may help release the milk. A hot compress will likely help. Unless there are indications of serious infection I would not go to antibiotics. If you do go with antibiotics be sure to use a full course.
Walter I was wondering if at any point do you reunite your sows out and onto the fields with their piglets after they have been weaned or do you keep them apart from the point of separation?
Yes, they do typically see each other again although it is not a purposeful reunion. Rather it is just part of the herd rotations. In addition to the herds rotating between grazing paddocks the sows rotate between breeding boar herds, gestation where they might be with any group of pigs and farrowing which are more private fields.
At what point would you put with the main herd the growers which you are keeping for breeding?
I’m thinking they need more protein and perhaps get more of certain treats as they’re in the growing stage?
Do you use the young upcoming boars to breed your gilts, rather than the larger, full-size proven studs?
All the pigs get essentially the same diet. A few things like eggs get concentrated towards the weaners but otherwise we don’t tend to vary things. The vast majority of what the pigs eat is pasture (60% to 90%) followed distantly by whey (5% to 10%) with variation primarily being a seasonal thing.
Yes, we start the younger boars with gilts but the bigger boars also breed them. There isn’t a hard and fast rule although I do watch out for too much miss-match in size. Most important is to have good footing during mating.
Do the weaners have access to whey via a lane of some kind, or do you feed whey by hand in these paddocks?
Another question regarding the whey and wallow areas for the bigger pigs – If whey and wallows are in central locations with pigs coming to them from various paddocks, does this become a parasite issue? Why or why not?
There are waterers and whey troughs in each of the paddocks. For some setups we use lanes with switching gates. I have not found a problem with parasite loads going up in common central areas like that. I had worried about it years ago but have not seen it become an issue. I think this might be due to the high water content / mud of that area. The parasites often need to interact with plants, climb up the stem of grass and be ingested to reinfect and that doesn’t happen in the wallow or feeding area. Alternatively one could setup the central area to rotate. See this setup for divisible troughs in the article Trough Divider and follow the links for more photos.
“well physically fenced area well separated”
You might want to look at this section and reword it, Walter. I stumbled pretty hard when I hit it. The first well could probably go away, and well separated might become well-separated ? Lots of different ways to make it a bit less stumblesome.
Thanks for the feedback. I reworded it so hopefully it is clearer. Let me know.
It’s much better now!
do you have shelters in your south weaning paddocks
There is brush, trees and huts so there is shade. See the article Piglet Huts for an example of the portable piglet huts.
Walter, the text formatting of this page is different from normal for your site. Smaller text throughout most of the page. The change appears to happen after the second inline picture in the article.
Fixed. There was a stray tag. Thanks for spotting that.
do you have gates on every paddock