Vet Visit

Panorama of South Field Gathering of Pigs – Click on the picture to zoom larger.
This is the fall sleeping area for the south herd. You can see some hay bales we put out which draws them in to sleep closer after they graze for the day in the farther fields. If you look closely you can Ben and Will with sorting boards.

We just had a veterinarian come to our farm yesterday for inspecting and tagging pigs who are going for an out-of-state shipment. These are live breeders headed west to start a new herd. To ship across state lines they need paper work and health certificates, thus the veterinarian’s visit. All went well.

Ear Tag for Interstate Transport of Breeders

The vet said they were some of the healthiest pigs she had ever seen and was very pleased with what she saw. She was quite surprised when she found out that their diet is almost all pasture/hay plus a little whey, a little spent barley and a bit of pomace. She is used to the more usual corn/soy feeding of pigs. (See the Pig Page for more details about our pigs’s diet, feed, rotational grazing and how we manage them.)

Interestingly, she said that the most common problem she sees with pigs is young pigs getting moldy food because the food is in a feeder getting rained on. An important note for people who are feeding commercial corn/soy based hog feed – keep the feed dry in storage and in feeders. Molds can produce mycotoxins which can hurt the animals, especially younger animals and those in utero.

Using Sorting Board in South Field Sleeping Area
The savannah type area under these saplings provides shelter but they are spaced widely enough that filtered sunlight gets down to the ground so grasses, clovers and brassicas grow. These make great farrowing areas.

Part of what the vet was impressed by with our herds was there were no signs of parasites and the pigs’s excellent condition. Our biggest
parasite controls are simply managed rotational grazing, healthy animals and winter. Cold weather and outdoor living kills parasites by disrupting their life cycle. I have come to suspect that even mildly cold weather can help with that. I also know that compost piles break the cycle as well – like the deep bedding packs we use in the winter. We also sporadically feed garlic which is an anti-parasitic. Whey may help as well since it lowers the gut pH. I will use Ivermec or Fenbendazole (SafeGuard), especially on occasion for weaners – a more in the winter thing when the pastures are less extensive. From talking with her I suspect that one issue people who do have parasite problems is that they’re in too great a density. She mentioned that problems arise with using the same soil year after year but we do that. The difference I suspect is that our pigs graze out over a large area on both a small and grand rotation.

Gilts and Boars on Strawberry Holding Area

This shipment involves mixing boars from two different herds. The boars are very evenly matched which makes mixing them an issue. The trick to getting everyone to get along is to have a party with lots of food, beautiful ladies, bedding and places to seek privacy. They worked their differences out quickly after a little shoulder shoving – boars’s equivelant of arm wrestling. The Blackieline boar won. In the coming days before they hop on the truck to go west they may tussle a little more but should be fine. This morning when I took this photo all looked well and everyone was getting along fine.

The vet was very impressed with the temperament of our pigs, that we were able to walk among the crowds of big ones, sorting, working with them, applying ear tags, sticking thermometers up their butts and such without any squeeze chute. As she noted, temperament is highly genetic. The knocker and the guy who unloads our pigs at the butcher each week have also both noted how well tempered our pigs are, something they appreciate. Good natured pigs are something we’ve been hard selecting for a long time and that has paid off. As I’ve said before: I eat mean people.

Waking up the next morning after the Big Party…

Another thing that the vet noticed was the fact that we don’t castrate. She was quite curious about that as visitors often are. She had some stories of her own to tell about pig balls and aggressive animals, of both sexes. I explained the factors that cause taint and what minimizes it. We spent years figuring things out, tasting and selecting progressively older boars, testing our genetics and researching it before stopping castrations. At this point we haven’t cut pigs for years now and don’t get taint. A combination of good genetics, high fiber from pasture and good extensive grazing management.

14 Pigs Buried in Hay plus a Chicken on Top

She loved our sorting boards. There are commercial versions, which are both expensive and heavy. Like her, we had experimented with making them out of plywood but those were even heavier. Then we hit on using 65 gallon plastic barrels which we cut the top band bottom off, split them and flattened them. Add some holes for handles and presto: inexpensive, durable, light weight sorting boards that are pig tough.

Tractor with Piglet Box docked to Loading Chute
To move the small pigs from the further area of the south field where we had gathered them we loaded them for a ride in the pig box which mounts on the tractor’s front forks. This makes for an easy calm transport across the mountain. This loading dock is what our van mates with each week for loading pigs to take to butcher.

I have come to suspect that the fact that we don’t castrate may be one of the factors that help with success on pasture because the boar pigs grow faster and are more efficient at converting feed to meat – both my own and experience and scientific research have shown this. Not castrating makes our boars reach market faster than the gilts and faster than barrows did back when we did castrate long ago. A fortuitous feedback loop.

Pigs in Pig Box

On a related note, the fact that we’ve spent so many years selecting for good temperament may also relate to this. Aggressive males might have higher taint levels and those are the ones I culled leaving the calmer ones who also were lower in taint. I had started culling for temperament prior to beginning work on the boar taint problem and that probably helped. Interlocking factors and balance.

The vet was very interested to learn about how we did the managed rotational grazing with pigs and how genetics, feed and management all interact with the taint and other management issues. We rotationally graze within herd fields and then those herds do grand rotations year to year so that in any year we’re only using about 40 acres out of the 70 acres of pasture that we graze.

Pigs Exiting Pig Box and into Loading Chute

Each boar group has it’s own territory. This means that typically boars grow up in a territory and don’t leave to cross over a different boar’s territory once they’re of size. We have found that this helps maintain the peace since the boars don’t feel their territory gets encroached by other males. They know their space. They’re secure there. Nobody invades them. They don’t invade anyone else’s territory. They’re aware of the others but are separated by no-boatman’s land. This is more like life out in the wild, a more natural setting. In the words of the great poet Robert Frost, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

The sows move between the boar herds which is how we control breeding lines. This allows management of boars, genetics, optimal forage growth, parasite management and to keep open a larger area than we need at the moment so that when we want to we can easily expand. The numbers of pigs can shift dramatically at times with new births such as when 41 pigs were born the other week and about 40 are shipping out now between this order of breeders and our weekly deliveries for meat.

Breeder Gilts with Ear Tags

The veterinarian complimented us on how quiet everything was, how smoothly our family members worked together as a team. No yelling, just calm competence. We do this work every week, even multiple times a week, moving pigs around, weaning, sorting, loading for market and such. She got a big kick out of how capable our kids are, that for example Hope, age 11, went up to make lunch, no question of ability just smooth team work. These were perhaps two of the best compliments of the day.

Gilt Grower Pigs in Loading Pen
This photo shows a predominance of reds but the group also includes blacks, whites, spotted and fawns.

It was quite interesting to have someone, an outsider, who is very experienced in the field of agriculture as a vet and has seen many farms over the decades, come and see things here on our farm and be impressed. A different view on things we see and do every day and a kudos.

Pasture works. Over a decade of hard genetic selection works. Rinse and repeat, 52 times or more a year making things a little better, a little more fine tuned with every pass. If you want to get good at something, do it a lot.

Some Related Reading:
One Day of Rotational Grazing
How Much Land Per Pig
Pasture Post Pig Grazing
InstaPigs and Animal Units
North Home Field Sow and Piglets
Sugar Mountain Farm Pigs: Feeding and Grazing
Vet Visit Field Tour
Painted Probed & Pierced Pigs
Sorting and Driving Pigs
Wild Farrowing – another view of the loading chute.

Outdoors: 52°F/43°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/60°F

Daily Spark: I eat mean people. If you’re nice you may get to stay on the farm and breed. If your children are nice then some of them may get to stay and breed as well. Mean begets mean. Nice begets nice. I’ve found that niceness is highly heritable in chickens, sheep and pigs. I expect it is the same is in other species. Being nice is a good survival strategy.

If you need a vet for small ruminants and pigs in northern central Vermont you might want to try Dr. Alison Cornwall, Mobile Veterinarian. She was excellent to work with.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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26 Responses to Vet Visit

  1. Edmund Brown says:

    Wow Walter. That panorama at the top is amazing. My little herd of 21 pigs would have that same area turned over, rooted up, and muddified in a few days. I’ve been looking at other pictures from your blog and they are similarly inspiring for me to find pigs that don’t root so, so heavily. You are not kidding about your pigs being good grazers. I am not going to keep any of my current cohort for breeding since I am convinced that their rooting is at least partly genetic. What do you charge for a young breeding quality boar or gilt?

    • I think you are correct that genetics is a strong component but there are also a lot of other factors such as the soil type, weather, pasture maturation, forage availability on the surface, interesting things below the surface (grubs, tubers), etc. See the article Rootless in Vermont for some more thoughts on the topic.

      The price of breeder stock varies with the season, sex and characteristics. See the Breeders Page for more information and pricing. Note that reserves extend out about nine months at this time which is fairly common since I’m picky on who gets a chance to breed. If you are to get breeders, from anyone, I would suggest getting a minimum of six to optimize your chances and results vs the costs of transport and setup. Two boars and four gilts is a good starter group. The advantage of older ones is they’ve had longer to get culled down so they’re finer selected and you’re getting started faster. The advantage of younger ones, weaner or grower primes, is they’re less expensive and you’re raising them from a younger age so they get to know you early. Trade offs both ways.

  2. Jeff says:

    Hey Walter,

    Love your blog man, always inspiring. Hey I just wanted to check on your shipping policy. I was under the impression you didn’t want to ship. Have you changed that recently? I’m out in South Dakota and would love the opportunity to purchase your stock.

    • We still don’t ship. The buyer arranged all that. We did take care of working with the veterinarian. If you’re interested in breeding stock then see the Breeder Page. At this time we’re sold out with reserves deep into 2015. I tend to be very picky about animals I select as breeding candidates so they are few and far between. I figure that in general it is about the top 5% of gilts and 0.5% of boars that get to be considered as test breeders.

  3. Andrea S. says:

    Love the tour and visit. Like visiting your farm myself to see these sorts of pictures and stories! I spotted Lili White in the top picture of the pigs. She’s neere the bottom off to the right side. I love to see that her spirit lives on, haunting your pictures. She was a good dog. You must all miss her.

  4. Someone asked in email:
    What does it cost to ship something like that? I would love to start my own genetics program here and I’ve been looking at sheep and/or pigs.

    I don’t actually know the costs since the buyer handled all that and this is the first time we’ve done this. I suspect the cost of trucking would depend greatly on the destination and source as well as what the animals are. My understanding is that the livestock truckers have a route where they make stops all around the country and some even travel internationally. I think that by doing it as a route they keep the cost down.

    When I ship timber it is about 250 to 500 dollars for a load to go a few hundred miles. For large equipment it is typically $1,500 to $3,000 for half to a full truck load long distances. I suspect that livestock would be more since they have additional care requirements.

    I would search on terms like “Livestock Hauling” or “Livestock Trucking” etc.

    Here are some other good resources:

    USDA Handling and Transport Page

    Trucking Livestock Guide

    We sell at the gate so I did not handle the transport. What we did was work with the local veterinarian to do the health certificates. The destination state determines what is required on inspection, tagging, etc.

  5. Nance says:

    What a great visit with the Vet. It is always good to get feedback and validation from someone outside your organization. I bet the Vet went home with a lot to think about! I enjoyed her visit almost as much as you did : )

  6. Someone asked: Bringing piglets into Canada? Do you anything about this? I am very interested in breeding stock piglets and it is very difficult to find good pasture – raised healthy crosses. I would want to start small, say 5…2 boars and 3 sows.

    I don’t know. I expect that there will be forms, a vet inspection, tag numbers, likely vaccines, possibly quarantine. I would suggest talking with the agency of agriculture in your province as they will have all the details.

    Have you raised pigs before? If not then I would suggest simply starting with some locally obtained feeders for doing summer pigs to get your feet in the mud. Then do a batch over the winter once your comfortable – this will let you learn winter raising. After that consider breeders. There is a lot to learn at each step.

  7. Peter says:

    I seem to think you have mentioned you sell breeders occasionally. Distribution amongst wide geographic space ensures against zombie apocalypse… :-)

    So then the interesting follow-up question becomes….do you keep in touch with said buyers on some sort of regular/irregular basis? I would think said info would be useful to you in further improving your herd genetics.

    • Exactly. There are other more pressing reasons than Zombie Apocalypses to be worried. Read up on the disasterous Kill-Kill-Kill policy of government that kills of herds, sometimes with no proof of problem, and then, sometimes apologies afterwards – often not. Then there is the other very real problem of disease or natural disaster. Distributing our genetics and keeping track means we have recourse. Not full protection but something.

  8. Someone asked: “I reside on the island of Ohau. I am very interested in bring Heritage Hogs to Hawaii via Ohau, Hawaii. I know you’ve been there and done it. I appreciate all you’ve done for hogs folks through out the world. I’m just open up to any of your suggestions on what would be the best breed for Hawaii.”

    I would think that in a hot sun tropical environment you would want to have a darker skinned pig for pasture. Any pig will need shade and wallow in their pastures as they can’t sweat and they use the mud for cooling as well as moisturizing their skin and for protection from insects.

    Large Black, Tamworth, Berkshire are all darker breeds that we have found do very well on pasture. It is important to get breeding stock from someone who is already raising them on pasture for many generations rather than in pens because there is a degree of adaptation that goes on that causes the breeds to split into Show vs Confinement vs Pasture lines simply through the process of genetic selection for the localized farm environment.

    We have worked with people who have shipped our pigs long distances but I have no knowledge of what it would take to have them fly or any special requirements Hawaii might have. When we work with livestock shippers we have a vet come to our farm to inspect the animals and provide them with ear tags and health certificates. The paper work is then given to the livestock trucker who has it on hand for the state inspectors and then hands it over to the buyers at the destination. I do know that shipping is quite expensive since the livestock require special handling. When we recently shipped 20 breeders, half of which were grower size and half of which were adult size, it cost the buyer about $7,500 for the transport from Vermont to Utah – that was by truck over land. Interestingly, my understanding that the cost of shipping 30 or 40 animals would have been the same – it was paying for the truck that was the cost. The number of animals in that case did not make a big difference.

    As of now, December 2014, we won’t have any breeders available for a while as we are currently reserved out to August of 2015 on breeder stock. I am very picky about which animals make it to that category, selecting only about the top 5% or so which means most go as meat. Being highly selective will be the way to improve your herd genetics over the years. Breed the best of the best and eat the rest.

    There is also a discussion list at with people from around the world who are pasturing pigs and may have some additional thoughts on breed choices, transport and pasturing in various climates. This is a joined moderated forum, thus no spam, just good ham.

    • Peter says:

      Doesn’t Hawaii have a big problem with feral pigs though? And agricultural imports there are held VERY tightly. I’d think the state agriculture department would want to keep a tight leash (as it were) on imports. Just saying…

      • I’ve always found the government’s claim that there is a “feral hog problem” to be disingenuous. If the government really wanted to get rid of feral hogs they could quite easily. It is as simple as making them open season year round and offering a bounty of $100 per pair of ears. Our beloved fearless leaders have had great success in the past driving peoples and species into extinction using this method in the past. It’s old hat. The fact that they don’t do this is the proof that they aren’t really interested in solving the “problem” at all but rather have other agendas on hand.

  9. Marc says:

    You mentioned that these pigs went – or should I say came – to Utah. As I’ve followed your blog I’ve often thought on what it would take to get a piglet from you. Now I hear that there are pigs from your breeding efforts here in Utah, where I live! I’m wondering if the farmer who purchased those pigs will be managing them in the same fashion as you have been – pasture and lots of open space, and if they are open to selling some of their offspring, piglets that is, in the future?

    • I believe that’s the plan. In addition to selling meat to local stores and restaurants I think they’ll also have feeders and eventually breeders available. A herd away from home.

      • Peter says:

        Where in Utah? Jokingly, I think Park City, since it is (a) hilly like Vermont but (b) does have flat spots and (c) skiing and is (d) about another 5000 feet up. I wonder if a Tamworth can ski, hmmm…. :-)

  10. Tyler Neff says:

    Hello Walter,
    I’m just getting started with pasturing pigs. My goal would be to keep my boar and two sows with the the 9 feeders I have in one group but on occasion the feeders are getting teeth marks from boar. Should he be kept separate or should his teeth be cut? Quite perturbed by the damage he’s causing!


    • We keep our boars, sows and finishers together and we don’t cut tusks. However, we have spent years selecting for temperament and that does make a difference. If you have a boar, or any pig, who is beating up other pigs I would cull it. It will make good meat and someone else would like that breeding slot, someone who is nicer. I cull easily, I cull hard, I cull far, I cull wide. Over time this makes a big difference in the quality of herd genetics. Behaviors are very often genetic. And if they are simply bad learning, culling is also an easy solution.

  11. Tami says:

    Hello Walter, I’m in Midwest,northern Michigan we moved onto the family centennial farm the first year we cleaned it up, still doing that too. Last summer I bought 4 feeders raised them for us and a couple friends, got attached and cried, but I do love bacon, I bought 5 more in October sire was full mulefoot dame was 3/4 mulefoot and 1/4 hamshire, so I had 3 feeders and 2 gilts, 2 weeks after I bought a full blood Berkshire, whom apparently has a sense of humor, we kept the gilts to breed with Tank. We have a huge pole barn, dirt floor, we sectioned it in half then in half again so it has a common area with access outside anytime they wanted. Next to that is another common area, for the sows and piglets,with 2 farrowing stalls next to the second common area, there will be an access door off that common area for them to go outside also. We fenced in a fresh pasture area that has a small spring fed pond we are hoping they excavate it for better use. Since we opened the end of the corral for access to the pasture and cut the grain feeding down to once a day at night they have lost a bit of weight which concerns me for I think marge may be impregnated. We have dairy farms around us how do I go about get whey from them? We haven’t been able to build a hut for them to stay out in the pasture they still have access to the barn which happens to be a long walk down on hard clay uneven ground which I believe has caused merge to have a sore leg she does good in the pasture it’s just getting her down there I do apologize this is long and I have much more to say and pick your brain with thank you

  12. Julia says:

    I’m interested in contacting owners of pigs from your breeding program who are west of the Rockies. My husband and I bought a small farm, which we plan to rent to farmers, in Oregon not far from Portland. The farm has a 2 acre apple orchard, many hazelnuts and a lot of oak trees as well, at least a few pigs seem like a good idea.

    I don’t think this could happen in 2017, we’re still fixing up the house and clearing blackberries (although I know pigs could be helpful for that, we need people on-site before there are livestock on site). Just hoping you could put me in touch and I can start networking. . .

  13. Alma Naylor says:

    I would be interested to find out if the herd in Utah is still around and if they are willing to sell breeders. We’re not set up for pigs yet but when we are, it would be great to bring in genetics from your herd. We’re only a few miles from the Utah Idaho border.

    We’re slowly growing a milk goat herd, eventually I want to add pigs to eat whey and extra milk.

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