South Field Piglet Nest Fence

Sow with Piglets South Field Copse – Protective Fence

This sow had her litter out in the south field herd area. She made a very good nest and it is extremely difficult to move a sow once she’s homed to the nest. They don’t home to the piglets but rather to the nest location. Even taking the piglets would likely result in her staying at the nest to guard it.

Since she had such a good nesting location, other than it being in among 200 other pigs, what Will did was wrap two sections of livestock panel around her nest leaving an opening for her to go in and out. This opening is big enough for her but also small enough that she can easily guard it to keep other pigs from invading her nest.

Piglets and Sow

After about five days she moved her nest to a new location and Will moved the stock panel to follow, protecting her new nest. Sows move nests once the piglets are fully mobile so as to leave behind the scent of farrowing and possible disease build up. This results in healthier piglets. It’s a good instinct.

When she moves along and no longer needs the panels we’ll collect them to reuse. By having a simple maze that she can both negotiate and defend it means less work for us. She’s able to go out, get water, whey, hay, graze on the pastures and return to the piglets. As of today they are already venturing out with the sow on her trips.

Outdoors: 39°F/30°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 64°F/59°F

Daily Spark: Pigs have no reverse gear.

About Walter Jeffries

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7 Responses to South Field Piglet Nest Fence

  1. Sally Hurst says:

    I asked you about rotational grazing before, and I understood you to say that you moved pigs every 24hrs or so. This obviously won’t work for sows with piglets, so how often do you move them, and how large an area do you give them?

    You run three breeding groups? I assume keeping weaned piglets from these groups together, which makes, what, six groups of growers total? Do you keep all of their grazing areas totally separate, or does one field get used (at different times) by more than one group?

    I’m trying to get my head wrapped around all this so I can do a better job with my animals, but so far the theory is way easier than the practice. :)

    • Ah, no, not every 24 hours. That would be very fast and a lot of work. I’ve done that on rare occasions, mostly as a way of measuring consumption. I prefer larger paddocks that don’t require such fast rotation.

      Timing varies greatly with the size of the paddock, the pounds of pig on the paddock, the season and the available forages. As a general rule I want the pigs to move within two weeks and then the paddock to rest for at least three weeks – typically longer. The rest and regrowth time will also vary with the season, rainfall and paddock. Some paddocks get grazed once a year, some four times a year, depending on when they happen to fall within the grazing schedule and the seasons.

      The number of breeding groups has varied over the years from as few as one to as many as four. The breeding herds are boar centric territories which we move the sows between to control genetics. See the Vet Visit article for some discussion of that. The total number of groups varies with the season since in the warmer more extensive seasons we run larger groups on bigger paddocks but during the winter we pull into the smaller winter paddock areas at the center of our farm. During this colder time we break the animals into more groups of fewer animals each.

      The size of paddocks also varies from as little as perhaps 1/40th of an acre to ten acres depending on what animals will be on and during what seasons. This depends greatly on the purpose of the paddocks, smaller for weaning paddocks vs larger for fall final high mountain grazing areas.

      There is also difference in grazing goals such am I trying to mob down weeds and saplings to create new pasture, a multi-year process, or are we just doing the regular rotations. With the mobbing I put a lot more pounds of livestock to the task and leave them longer and then seed behind them or just before they leave an area so they dance the seed into the soil.

      Leaving a farrowing sow in a paddock as the herd moves on is not a big issue. She’ll have privacy and is very little impact on an area that could hold ten to a hundred times her mass. Once her piglets are up and ready in a week or so she can rejoin the herd or shift to a similar nursing herd.

      I would caution against applying hard numbers or trying to rotate just by the calendar days. It is less about math and more about observation. I watch the forages, consider the pounds of pigs and use that to manage the rotations within the goal of also breaking parasite life cycles. In a warmer climate this is harder as well since with much of our year being cold that gives us greater flexibility. Winter kills parasites and is perhaps the ultimate in life cycle breaks for them since even within our open greenhouses and open sheds it is still cool, or too hot for the parasites within the composting deep bedding pack.

      The theory isn’t complicated:
      1. Graze short periods – some people do as short as half a day, stay under two weeks.
      2. Rest long periods – three weeks or more.
      3. Let the soil and forages have time to regrow.
      4. Don’t leave fields ungrazed so long that weed species over take them.
      5. Break parasite life cycles – thus the three week minimum rest time.

      The rest of it is details. Adapt it to your personal management limits, local climate, animals and forages. Give it time and you’ll gradually figure out the details. Mistakes will be made and aren’t generally all that big a deal.

      • Steve Meyer says:

        You have a great site! So, I have a whole slew of questions where I would appreciate your opinions are best guesses on the way to do things.

        I have run cattle and sheep mob grazing one day to a pasture and would like to add in pigs and chickens. The ruminants have access to fresh pasture, water, and an appropriate mineral block. Some of the pastures have shade, but most do not at this time and trees grow really slow. The cattle are easy to fence in with one wire @ 30-36″ the sheep have a wire @12″, outside fences are 8″, 16″, 26″,& 36″. Everyone seems to get along fine and growth rates are good. The cattle will be the biggest eaters of the group by far probably comprising 80% of the animal numbers and even higher on a liveweight basis.

        I would like to move the whole group as one, but I am unsure if the pigs would suffer: do they need a wallow? do they need access to shade at all times? will the young piglets return to their sow if they wander under a 12″ wire and she cannot reach them?

        You mentioned letting a farrowing sow stay behind in a field while the herd moves on….do you think she would want to return to the group in a week or so? Would her piglets be able to keep out of the way when the mob entered a new pasture? Would that sow need anything more than trampled pasture, water, and waste (cow) milk/yogurt during that week? How long would the weaners have to be separate from the sow before they could rejoin the mob and the sow was dry?

        If you had access to milk instead of whey how would you feed it so the pig didn’t become too fat? Did your sheep try to drink the whey? Does it matter if they do?

        Some of the land I graze is not continuous…would a sow be able to walk 1 mile along a road? Would 2 month old pigs?

        Thanks for your time if you answer these questions. I am in northern WI and the same climate zone as you are and your blog have convinced me that pigs should do fine as I have ample shelter along and around my barn. The real issue is that in the summer the herd needs to keep moving in order to have enough grass to eat and not destroy the ground. Challenging, but for cheap forage and (hopefully) tasty meat, I’m trying to make it work.


        • The pigs need shade and having a wallow is helpful in hot weather. A portable shadow can be created with posts and a tarp at the very least.

          I have raised pigs, sheep, ducks, geese and chickens co-grazing the same pasture. Some people do it serially such that the cattle go first, then sheep, then pigs, then poultry.

          Mineral blocks differ for the different species. Sheep can’t take too much copper. Pigs can’t take too much salt as it can cause salt sickness that can kill them.

          Pigs tend to need better fencing than cattle. Sheep need higher fencing than pigs. Pigs tend to go low and nose under a fence.

          Piglets tend to follow the sow around and not go too far from her but if you have a busy road then you would want better fencing to keep them out of that.

          I would drop the sow back for weeks. Longer is better up to weaning.

          Milk is worth about 10x whey. Keep an eye on their condition. If they are getting to fat then reduce the milk or simply feed it in the evening after they gut fill with pasture. The sheep do drink the whey some.

          A good sow can do well on just pasture. Adding dairy is an excellent bonus. The issue can be getting too milked down and peakid. Lesser sows will tend towards that and need the supplemental calories.

          I would suggest weaning around six weeks and then separating from the sow for about a month. This gives you a chance to socialize the weaners. See: South Weaner Paddock.

          Pigs can walk several miles to a new pasture. Be patient, have a bread trail, have sorting boards. Working dogs can be helpful if they’re experienced.

          I would suggest planting up your pastures. We plant:
          soft grasses (bluegrass, rye, timothy, wheat, etc);
          legumes (alfalfa, clovers, trefoil, vetch, ect);
          brassicas (kale, broccoli, turnips, etc);
          millets (White Proso Millet, Japanese Millet, Pearl Millet);
          chicory; and
          other forages and herbs.

          • Steve Meyer says:

            Realized I changed an *or* to *are* in my first sentence, so thanks for answering my questions anyway.

            For the farrowing sows would it work better to separate them a week before farrowing and just keep them there for 7-8 weeks? I suppose I should still rotate the maternity/nursery group around, but once a week would probably do. I already plan on having a group of calves on milk out on pasture during the summer (with shade) so maybe the weaned piglets would bond nicely with the calves. Weaned calves and 2-3 month old piglets can then meet the mob together.

            How do I keep the sheep out of the pig mineral and vice versa? Right now I have my cattle mineral on a post 40″ high and the sheep mineral on the ground under a 30″ wire, but sheep and pigs can reach the same things.

            My pasture on the home farm is getting really nice…filled with clovers and lots of different grasses. I think I am getting some of the summer annual grasses showing up too. Lots of dandelions, but the cows love to eat them first anyway. Other land will be leased, so seeding is less of an option or not allowed. I am hopeful that mob grazing will help it improve however. For example I have no goldenrod that I’ve seen on my place, but 20 acres I am going to start grazing is pure yellow with it right now. The cows are good at knocking tall weeds and grass down even if they don’t eat it. Do pigs like goldenrod because that would be great?!

            If I only feed milk later in the day how much trough space should I have so the pigs don’t fight too much? Would something like 6″ for the weaners and 12-18″ for the bigger pigs be sufficient. I am envisioning 10′ sticks of 9″ PVC pipe cut in half connected to a barrel. Would they all stand there and drink till it was gone if they had already grazed all day?

            Thanks for the quick reply before,

          • Pigs can be trained to eat goldenrod. They also will trample it if mob grazing.

            Supplement later in the day to maximize grazing.

            Creative placement of mineral blocks that relies on physiology and behavior of the species helps keep it reserved for them.

  2. Sally Hurst says:

    Thank you very much for your detailed reply. It helps a great deal.

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