A Balmy 79°F
For winter paddocks we build deep bedding packs of wood chips† and hay. In the picture above a grower pig is checking my checking of the long probe checking the temperature of the bedding pack where she sleeps.
The air temperature was 27°F and it had been 21°F last night.
Two feet down the bedding pack was a balmy 79°F.
About 3″ below the surface it was 94°F.
A pig’s normal internal body temperature is 103°F.
Their surface temperature is 70°F.
My surface temperature is 71°F.
My internal body temperature is 95°F. I’m a bit cold hearted.
As compost piles go the deep bedding packs are rather thin but they still produce heat and break down the wood chips and fibers through the winter producing both food and belly heat for the pigs. At a deeper depth of pack the composting action would go faster as the pile would heat up into the optimal range of 95°F to 125°F however this slower composting is fine for what we’re doing. Winter lasts a long time here in the central mountains of northern Vermont so the bed needs to last similarly. By spring there will be little left and that will go to fertilize our orchards and land.
An added benefit of the composting action is it acts as predigestion for the pigs improving the digestibility of the wood chips and hay that makes up the deep bedding pack. The pigs can eat their bedding, and do.
Steam rises gently from the disturbed pack as I snuggle in with the pigs and check out their bed. It’s toasty warm and I can see why they like it so much.
Outdoors: 35°F/21°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/60°F
Daily Spark: I live in paradise. I vacation elsewhere.
†Note that our wood chips are brush and whole tree so they have more nitrogen than what one would get from wood shavings at a saw mill and thus compost as is.
Curious to see differences with soon to be opened greenhouse / ” pig palace ” to be opened as plans included areas for piglets requiring extra warmth.
How deep are the bedding packs? I guess this is a two part question, how deep are they when they are built, and how deep are they during the coldest part of the winter?
I didn’t think a primarily wood and hay pile would heat up so much, I thought the bacteria needed more nitrogen to provide heat. The old fashion hot beds were built of horse manure.
They’re not particularly deep which is why they don’t heat up to the higher temperatures. Two feet is pretty typical. While we only add the wood chips and hay the pigs add another secret ingredient of their own invention that is so critical to good composting action… Nitrogen. They use two sources…
Reading about your deep beds reminds me of the deep beds my goats used to make for themselves with spilled alfalfa. Similar cozy temps, though in Santa Barbara 30 degrees F. was considered COLD. Never actually probed their beds, but I know an inserted hand got warm fast, and tummies and udders were warm on arrival on the milking bench in the worst weather. I read years ago about how wild goats had managed in Scotland, in truly fierce winters, by building their own forage-and-manure deep beds in abandoned crofts.
I went on vacation and came home yesterday to wet beds. Someone who was helping tend to our animals while we were gone felt bad for them and added water (in the form of a kiddie pool filled by hose) to their sleeping areas. Animals love water. They splash. A lot. I told her many times, “no water anywhere in their sleeping areas – they know how to get it when they want.”
It was 24 degrees outside this morning and I found a two inch layer of ice inside their beds (top layers) in some areas, and less in others. I suspect the water seeped all the way down through, because a pitchfork turned up deep frost in some of the areas I checked.
Overnight temps tomorrow will be single digit, with a -2 wind chill. That’s lethal.
More work. Yay. At least I enjoyed the holiday, while it lasted.
Ouch. How unfortunate. There are things that people do to try and be helpful not understanding how animals think differently and have different wants. Empathy doesn’t work and is no substitute for experience, unfortunately.
Glad to see you are adjusting to current conditions, I abandoned my outdoor farrowing for Jan and Feb. Unfortunate results using deep pack bed and corrugated metal “Farrowing Huts”, as labeled by the manufacturer. They are way too small for Mama sows. Groups of ladies in waiting are doing fine in Deep Pack and Three sided 12′ huts. Next to farrow gals have been moved into the barn, for farrowing. I had to Throw out all that junk stored there anyway! Maybe let the March gang farrow in the larger huts. Had great success farrowing in the woods all summer, Jan Feb, very different story. Thanks for all the information here!!
I have great hesitation on metal such as the corrugated metal farrowing huts because in our cold environment contact with metal causes frost bite and kill. Wind block, deep bedding pack composting to produce heat and food are the big tricks for getting through the cold of winter. After that it is genetic selection. Winter farrowing is a special ability and not all sows have it. Get a good base with summer pasture farrowing first. If you can, I would recommend avoiding winter farrowing. It is a very hard season.
Thanks for all your great info. It is wonderfully inspirational to us beginning permaculture homesteaders.
Regarding the bedding- I am wondering if the nitrogen added comes in the form of pig pee?
Watching my four Guinea hogs, they don’t seem to pee in their hut. Am I just not noticing? Certainly no poop in the gut.
I would love to use the deep pack method. About how long does it take to warm up? Is your recipe about 2 feet of chips with enough straw or hay on top to snuggle in to? Do you think that it is too late to start this year?
Looks like we are finally warming up!
Are you sugaring?
Enjoy the sun!
In our case the ‘wood chips’ are whole tree and brush which means there is significant nitrogen in the pile before the pigs get to it. The result is even the plain wood chip piles undergo composting action. The addition of bedding hay, pig urine and manure further adds to the composting action where they do that.
We observe that pigs have a ten second rule. When they get up from sleeping they will walk as far as ten seconds and then start peeing. This means that if their nest is small they pee outside the nest. That would be like your hut I suspect.
If I were going to try to start a composting bedding deep pack this time of the season I would want to maximize the depth of the pack. Two feet would be the bare minimum and four feet would be better. Add some urine to it for nitrogen and water. Cover it with a layer of hay to insulate. Within two weeks it should heat up. No guarantees as it is very dependent on temperatures and materials but that is what I would try.
Hi, I’m really enjoying all the information you’ve collected here on your blog. Great stuff! In regards to the deep pack, is mold not an issue or does it stay dry enough despite snow melt and rain? Our sheep make a deep pack and it gets rather funky in there. However, they also pee and poop on it. Thanks!
We haven’t had trouble with mold in the deep packs but that may be in part a climatic issue. The composting packs heat up and our environment is cold.
Hello there. I enjoy this site a lot. Thanks for taking the time to share, guide and educate us. This is our first year experimenting with pigs. We are working towards rotationally grazed pastured pigs but currently have our pigs in pens (concrete floors, don’t hate me!) If had I read about pastured pigs earlier we would have started things differently. Would you recommend just adding to the stall floor and forming a deep composting layer as opposed to mucking out the stalls every time?
Also, can you train full grown pigs to respect fences?
Thank you again,
Yes to both. All animals need training to electric fencing. Start with a physical fence and then an electric fence inside of that for training. A composting deep bedding pack is one way to step up from the bare concrete and the pigs will appreciate it.