Winter Hay 2013

Hay There (Click image for large view)

Along with the first snow we’ve been receiving our winter hay for the coming cold season. The snow was not appreciated but the winter hay is good to get in. Soon the truck will have difficulty getting up the mountain to us as the roads soften up in preparation for their making deep ruts that will freeze hard.

Also on the road landing are three truck loads of sand mixed with Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) in the insulated bunker of hay bales. The CMA is an environmentally friendly alternative to salt which won’t hurt plants, won’t kill pigs and won’t rust steel or damage concrete. This is our third year of using it and I’m very pleased with it.

The bunker of hay bales around the sand pile keep the sand warmer and prevent it from spreading sideways. Those bales will be some of the last ones we use once we no longer need their bunker properties in the spring. The sand pile is also tarped on top of insulation bags (bags of bale wrap) to keep water out of the sand.

At the south end of the pile towards the right of the picture is the bunker for the wood chips. Pigs eat trees. Yes, really! They favor the twigs of deciduous and will eat evergreens too. But that is not why we get wood chips. The edible bits are incidental. Most of wood chips are large chips which make a good base for the deep bedding packs in our sheds. These compost over the winter providing heat coming up to the pigs bellies. The large chips drain well and are easy to shovel out with the bucket loader when the time comes. Those then go into the compost pile and eventually onto our gardens and orchards.

The orange tractor is not ours but rather a loaner with opposable thumbs, that is to say a bale grabber on the front. This gem makes it easy to move and stack bales. Normally we move bales with a bucket and chain or the pallet forks. I would love to have opposable thumbs but it seems like just one more piece of equipment to be swapping thus so far I’ve resisted the urge to buy more big iron.

Most of the hay goes out into the fields now where it will get used over the winter. Some we’ll keep stored on the landing since predicting usage is not 100% accurate and I buy extra hay beyond what I know we’ll need.

On the other side of the tractor you can see Ben’s stone carving workshop. He has a very solid split level bench anchored to the old maple tree stump. The bench is strong enough that he can put 500 lb slabs of granite up on it to cut, carve and grind them without having to hunch over on the ground. This is where he cut the sills for our butcher shop.[1, 2, 3] Leaning up against the bench is the inspector’s granite desk top which will go in the USDA’s office next spring.

This year we got 270 round bales between 800 and 1,000 lbs each. That’s about 243,000 lbs of hay or about 120 tons. I figure that each feeder pig eats about 400 lbs of hay a winter and the breeders eat about 1,200 lbs or more depending on age. Bigger pigs have bigger jaws, bigger teeth and longer digestive systems making them more capable of eating fiber food stuffs like pasture and hay. Hay is our winter canned pasture just like we can stews, soups and such for our family to eat over the winter.

It is always a big relief to get in the winter hay, chips, sand and other necessities to get through the coming cold season.

Outdoors: 36°F/28°F Partly Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 60°F/57°F

Daily Spark: The vegetarian strategy is to out breed the hardship. The omnivore and carnivore strategy is to eat vegetarians.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Winter Hay 2013

  1. skeptic7 says:

    I’m glad that you are stocked up for the winter and you have the greenhouses ready for housing the pigs. It looks like the pigs would be much happier with walls to keep off the wind and a sunny roof over them.
    Do you clean out the greenhouses as soon as the winter is over and the pigs move out or do you let the wood chips and hay decay some more before you take it to the compost heap.

  2. Ben Godfrey says:

    Winter is coming to Nebraska – first snow due this week. This is our first year over-wintering pigs and I am feeling very nervous. We have laid in a good supply of hay and have upholstered their shelters with it. I have been feeding pumpkins gleaned from nearby fields but with the hard freeze last week those are now all mush. We also get 4 to 6 loads of brewers grain each month.

    I am really struggling with believing that I am feeding them well enough. It is a great feeling to put them out on a new paddock full of forage or to see a giant pile of pumpkins in the field. Yet all I see now is the dry hay in the shelter and the empty spot where they ate all of yesterday’s brewers grain.

    Can you say something comforting? Or should I go out and buy some feed?

    Thank you!


    • Pumpkins and brewers grain are good foods, wish I had more of each, but they’re low in calories which the pigs need more of in the winter to keep warm. Milk, as opposed to low-cal whey, is a good source of calories as is bread (not too much) and corn is traditionally used to boost the calories. The feeding of the corn originated because the farmers had too much corn selling in too great a volume for too low a price. Feeding it to pigs was a value added route to a higher priced product (lard, bacon, hams, etc). Look in your potential feeds for what you might have that will boost the calories over the cold season. The other simple solution that nature uses is back fat – animals put on fat in the summer and fall to keep them going through the cold months and by-golly that works!

      On the mushy pumpkins, they’re still good food, in fact they are more digestible after the frost, so don’t toss them away but instead feed them to the pigs.

      • George says:

        Am I missing something?
        I thought you got your pigs thru winter with just hay and whey.
        Ain’t that low-cal too?
        Or do you depend on back fat?


        • Very importantly, I select for pigs that put on weight well on pasture so that in the fall they have a good layer of back fat. The pasture/hay and dairy (primarily whey) makes up the vast majority of our pig’s diet and that is low calorie but that is not all there is. I save up things during the warm months that we grow (e.g., non-GMO sugar beets, pumpkins, etc) or get (e.g., cheese) which are higher in calories. For example we sometimes we get cheese trim, the cuttings from making the cheese into neat blocks, which is higher in calories than the pig’s other fare and this gets fed out over the winter to boost their calories.

          • Ben Godfrey says:

            I followed your advice and yesterday we made our first feed purchase of the year. My vision is that as we develope our soil and our contacts we will be able to pack more stored nutrition into the winter paddock and will be able to bring in more calories from outside free sources (you have such an *unfair* advantage with that dairy on the far side of the hill!!)
            what methods do you use to prepare your winter paddock?
            The pumpkins you must harvest and store. Do you harvest the sugar beets or are they left in the ground in the winter paddock?

          • We don’t harvest and store much in the way of animal feeds but rather progressively let the animals into the winter paddocks so that they self harvest the pumpkins, beets, turnips and other things. As the freeze hits a lot of these plants they become more digestible and nutritious. Note that there are some plants that become more toxic with frost – avoid those. e.g., prussic acid and the like which get bad after frost in some plants.

  3. Ben Godfrey says:


    I guess this this goes to what a sustainable farming community can do for a guy! After my last message we did have to make a couple of runs to two new friends who grind organic and transitional feed based primarily on grains that they grow themselves. In that sense it was really nice to expand our community and meet some of the key players in the area’s sustainable community.

    And then — as we were less than 1/2 way into feeding the second load we received an email from a friend of a friend who had seen some of our posts on the Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society listserv. He had been hauling old produce from the Omaha Wholefoods for a year, driving over an hour each way. He was tired of the drive and wondered if we might like to take over. Wow!!

    We now drive a quick 20 minutes each way – usually combined with some other reason we had to go into town anyway – and pick up between 1 an 2 TONS(!!) each week of tired produce, melon peels, juice pulp, and cheese trimmings :)

    Couple that with the new distribution deal the craft brewery we have been hauling spent grain for, and we are now feeding whole pickup loads 4 or five days each week which leaves plenty on the pasture to feed the herd on the few off days.

    Thank you for holding my hand through a tough time and giving us a shoulder to cry on!


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