Moo Cow Sow

Moo Cow Sow chewing her cud…

Occasionally some miss-informed individual tells me that pigs can’t eat grass, can’t eat hay, can’t thrive on pasture. When I relay this message to my sows it sends them into spasms of laughter which causes them to roll down our steep hills until they fetch up at the stone walls that were fortuitously placed along the edges. We all have a good chuckle and then they go back to eating pasture.

The serious note here is that there are indeed individuals and organizations that want you to believe that pigs, and chickens, can only be raised by feeding them commercial feed typically made from corn and soy. We neither buy nor feed this. The vast majority, about 80%, of our pigs’s diet is indeed pasture.

As available they also get about 7% whey in their diet and seasonally other good things like apple pomace (just coming into season now), pumpkins, sunflowers and other good things we grow in our winter paddocks which become summer gardens during the warm month. Occasionally we get a little spent barley from a local brew pub, high in protein and fiber, but we have had many years without it and the pigs still grow.

I’m not fanatical about diet but pasture is the vast majority of what they eat. In the winter the fresh pastures are replaced with hay, summer harvested and stored over for the winter just like our family’s canned veggies that we serve at our own table.

Why would the big feed companies promote such an obvious falsehood that animals require grain to grow? Same reason the drug companies promote antibiotics for growth in the factory farms. Money. If you don’t buy their commercial feed products there will be a lot of starving speculators sitting on silos of corn they can’t sell. That would be a crying shame now wouldn’t it! So *shhhh* now there. Don’t go telling other folks that pigs and chickens can eat pasture. You could be upsetting the apple cart and the status quo.

Grain isn’t evil, it’s just expensive.

Outdoors: 67°F/42°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/60°F

Daily Spark: I’m told I have an active imagination. I wonder why?

15 thoughts on “Moo Cow Sow

  1. Now you’ve got my attention. I’ve been under the impression that pigs can only get about 10% of their nutrition off pasture and that it is necessary to supplement that with feed. We raise our pigs on pasture (6 acres for only 5 pigs right now) but we also give them a GMO-free, soy-free feed (as well as plenty of culls from our gardens). Starting next year I’m hoping to start using temporary fencing to release them into more woods so they can finish up on acorns. Count me as one of those who never would have guessed pigs could live on hay in the winter. Inspired now to work harder to find ways to eliminate the need for feed.

    • 10% is the lowest number I’ve ever heard given… I’ve done it on four groups with 100% of their food from pasture. Growth is slower that way as pasture is lysine (an amino-acid) and calorie limited. The type of pasture, the forages, the warmth of the season, the genetics of the pigs and such all make a difference. Even the sex of the pig makes a difference – boars grow more efficiently and faster than gilts or barrows. Managed rotational grazing is key. Ease into it. It takes time to learn and there are a lot of little details to get right. Acorns are wonderful – something we don’t have although we have beech and other forage trees.

  2. Hey Walter!
    I am a long time reader and fan. I too pasture my 40 or so pigs, in-fact they are all loving the amount of acorns to be found on the pasture edges this year. However, it’s important for folks and for you to realize that your situation is 1 in a million! Having cabbot deliver to your doorstep is something the rest of us can only dream about. Certainly, their are other great sources of pig feed available to those who search – but i’d be tough to be your situation!

    Devils advocate…
    Keep up the good work!


    • Actually, there are quite a few pig farmers who are getting deliveries or picking up from local dairies. It’s quite common and I’ve talked with many others. Furthermore, we’ve done it years without the dairy. There are many resources people use. But it is important to realize that the fact remains, pigs can and do eat grass, clovers and other pasture forages. They can not just survive but thrive on it. Sadly some people deny that outright or use excuses like the fact that we use other resources available, such as the whey. The fact is, I’ve raised batches of pigs solely on pasture. It works. Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

  3. My pigs have grown & finished quite well on alfalfa fields. Since they can’t keep up with the fast growing alfalfa hay I also cut, rake, bale the hay, and put it in stacks. The pigs like the shorter newer hay over the stuff that is over 10 inches anyway. They leave my windrows alone which makes me happy.
    The only problems I have had with them is they pull the plugs on the irrigation pipe and run around with them like they are toys. I use the Nuflex pipe so the little gates are easy to put in or take out of the flexible pipe.
    Pigs not only thrive on the alfalfa fields but they gain well. They also seek out the morning glory and other weeds keeping those under control. They also really like horny goat weeds and gobble the entire plant up.
    The pigs naturally seek out many different types of forages as they need them. I do have to limit their grazing times because the sows have a tendency to get way to fat for their own good.

  4. Someone asked about time to market on a primarily pasture diet…

    Our Mainline boars over the warm season take about six months to get to market weight on a diet of almost entirely pasture. Gilts take about a month longer. Slower breeds like the Tamworth add a month or two. Add another month or two over the cold months. See the Pig page for details. Genetics plays a big part in how well animals pasture, be they pigs, chows, chickens, etc. Managed rotational grazing is key. Good quality pasture is important.

    • When you say “managed rotational grazing” are you using the same definition/criteria the cattle folks do? (From reading) their ideal seems to be a piece of ground grazed not less than 60 days before (but preferably longer) which, at the end of a 12 or 24 hr period (dairy or beef) is completely eaten, or at least trampled. Are those your parameters as well? Do you use movable or permanent fencing?

      • Yes, just like with cattle, sheep, goat, etc. We learned managed rotational grazing with our sheep back in the 1990’s. We then used it with chickens and ducks as well and later in the ’00s we began doing it with pigs. We mostly have permanent fencing although years ago we started with temporary fencing.

  5. Walter,

    You’ve talked about how your pigs learned to eat pasture from your sheep.

    Do you think that was a necessary condition? If you had not had sheep to begin with do you think your pigs would have started eating grain by themselves?

    • I don’t think the sheep are a must have for teaching pigs to eat pasture but I think they did help by providing an role model. Our pigs now learn at the snout of their sows, a similar demonstration of “eat this”. Pigs can be a little timid about trying new things, contrary to their reputation, which is reasonable since some things are toxic.

      One trick I’ve recommended sheepless people to do for getting their pigs eating pasture is to put the pigs onto good pasture and then every day feed them a little later. The reports back from people are that this works quite well. It makes sure the pigs are getting food and growing but gives them a time before the candy when they will consider other things. They’ll nibble and discover that “Gee, this green stuff is good!”

      The next step is to start fading off the amount you feed in once you have them back to evening feedings.

  6. I will never raise curly-tailed pigs or sheep but I sure do enjoy reading and learning about all the issues involved. I wish I was closer so I could buy your processed, home-grown pork.

    • Cheviot is what we’ve had before but I’m considering some others as well. The time of choice is still far off so for now it is just idle thought. In an ideal world I would get sheep this late winter but it may be another year or two.

  7. Hi Walter, I’m a newly minted pig-raiser and have really enjoyed your blog. I had a question: I’ve got a line on free whey from a local creamery for the coming season but was wondering roughly how much whey you feed per pig per day? You say 7% of of their diet in the post above, but is that by weight of feed? By weight of the pig? By calorie? By volume? Also, have you ever used spent brewers’ grain for feed? Any thoughts on it? Thanks for all you do!

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