Spitz Head and Shoulders Above the Crowd

Berkshire Boar Spitz with Finishers

In the photo above Spitz, our Berkshire boar, is greeting the finisher pigs who were migrating over from the south fields where they wintered into his domain in the north. Much chomping of teeth and foaming at the mouth. Spitz was telling them all that he’s the boss in the north and not to forget it. Nobody challenged his position as king of the mountain.

The finisher pigs weigh 200 to 250 lbs. Spitz is head and shoulders above the crowd. He’s nearly twice their height at the shoulder, twice as long and twice as wide. I would estimate his weight around 850 to 1,000 lbs. He’s a big boy and that makes moving in a new group with him easier – everyone’s respectful and figures out their place right fast.

I measured Spitz this morning and he’s 87″ crown to tail base (Length) and 70″ in around the chest (Girth). Using the String Method this puts him at a possible 1,067 lbs – He is coming up on his third birthday later this summer. He’s tall too so he comes up to my chest – very tempting to ride although I’ve not trained him to saddle or bareback. Boars grow a lot faster than females so he is now taller, longer and far heavier than sows more than twice his age. Boars also put on a lot more muscle which pumps their weight up even more. This rapid growth makes boars a more economical animal to raise than barrows or gilts because they grow about 10% faster and are more efficient at turning food into meat. So what’s the disadvantage to boars? Well, they can’t get pregnant and they grow so fast that they eat a lot. On a high grain diet that would get very expensive – one more advantage of pastured pigs.

Spitz also has tusks and plenty of pheromones to convey his message. That’s what the knashing of teeth and foaming at the mouth are all about. He’s generating saliva and releasing his “He-Boar” scent into the air so that all the other pigs know who and what he is. He is so dominant to the other pigs that this is all he has to do and there are no challengers.

Once introductions were over Spitz turned around and headed out to the north field pastures, followed by his new herd mates.

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About Walter Jeffries

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7 Responses to Spitz Head and Shoulders Above the Crowd

  1. Laura says:

    Eeeek!! So your saying Spitz is like 10 ft tall if he were to stand up!! That is a huge animal!! Especially since he has huge teeth and pigs can bite. I would not feel safe around him. Aret you afraid of getting hurt?

    • We’re careful but realize that even a finisher pig at 250 lbs far out weighs us. Pigs who get to be breeders have been selected very hard for temperament. Any sign of meanness gets them a trip to the butcher. Temperament is highly genetic so after having selected for well behaved pigs for so many years we only have nice big ones left.

      One must still be careful, because yes, they can bite, they have sharp teeth and very powerful jaws. They also can simply accidentally crush someone up against a fence or rock, step on our feet, etc. They’re big animals. Taming them is also important – handling them, talking to them, touching them so they know us. In this regard the older bigger ones are actually better because they have had so many years of work.

  2. Jonath says:

    I have wondered if you separate your finishers by gender. I would think that the gilts may start to cycle before the are butchered and how you would handle that.

    • Sometimes, it depends on the situation. Gilts almost never get pregnant before age eight months and we take pigs to slaughter generally around six to seven months. Occasionally we get a Lolita who does get pregnant as early as six months in which case I simple let her farrow her litter and see how she does.

  3. Trey Jackson says:

    You say that the boars grow faster and are more efficient at turning food into weight. Does this make you more likely to sell female piglets (when you do sell piglets)? – thereby keeping boars around until they reach 250#.

    And, only slightly related, how/when do you do selection for breeding? i.e. When you decide it’s time to keep some of the boars/sows for breeding purposes – are you making this decision close to the time that they’d be ready for slaughter (250#) or can/do you make that determination much earlier (say, around 50#).

    • This creates an interesting quandary for when I’m selling weaner feeder piglets. On the one hand the boars are more efficient at growing and grazing so they get to market about a month faster than gilts but on the other hand I only want to keep back 0.5% of boars but I want to keep back 5% of gilts to see who might be worthy of the breeder track. Guys have it tough on the farm, and in the wild.

      When I’m looking for breeders I start by evaluating piglets as they’re born. At weaning time I score piglets.

      Some of them get negative points that fast track them to the feeder group. They’re fine meat pigs but not ones I would keep as breeders. Some points are relatively minor, others are major and carry heavier weight. This is a topic for an upcoming article.

      A few weaner pigs get fast tracked towards breeders – not a guarantee but likely if they have a perfect conformation, 16 or more teats and are nice, not screamers. Being in the breeder track as a piglet is no guarantee of getting to test breed which happens around eight months of age as that is a long ways off at this point.

      The majority are in the middle. They could become breeders or feeders. Most likely they’ll end up in the feeder group as finishers. Very few ever get to be breeders on the farm, just like in nature.

      As the pigs grow through grower to finisher stages I continue to watch them and shift them between tracks. This is not a physical separation but me keeping track of who’s who and how they’re scoring.

      The result of all this is that by the time a pig gets selected to test breed it has been through about 34 cullings. That’s a lot of tests and a lot of scoring – Fail any of them and you’re the guest of honor at dinner. Every week I cull pigs to market. In doing so I improve the herds. It’s an ongoing process.

      This is also why breeder gilts and boars of age cost so much more than finishers and select or breeder piglets. By the time they come of age they have survived all those tests without being culled to market.

      Breed the best of the best and eat the rest – it’s a long term strategy for genetic improvement, one that Mother Nature uses which we call evolution. It works.

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