Painted, Probed & Pierced Pigs

Painted Pigs Snoozing

Today I picked, prodded, painted, probed and pierced pigs. For them this was a special opportunity. All of them are breeders who are shipping to other farms across the country. While getting rectally probed and obtaining an earring might be a momentary indignation it gains them a place in that rarified group of the top few percent who get to go on to be breeder stock. These are the best of the best of their generation. A select few destined to serve but not to be served so soon.

Picked Pigs Awaiting Probing

Yesterday we had selected them from the main herds and sorted the potential applicants onto the strawberry level, one of our winter paddocks. As I sort I paint the pigs with brightly colored red halloween hair spray to mark their status in a temporary manner. The paint wears off after a day or two but that is long enough for me to move through the hundreds of pigs selecting out the few I’ve been watching over the past nine months to potentially become breeder stock for other farms.

Ben & Walter with Sorting Boards Selecting Prospective Pigs

Once sorted away from the herds these pigs spent the day and night in the holding paddock so I could observe them. There are a few understudies, extras who are hoping to make the cut should the main actors get disqualified for some reason. Thus there are a few more pigs in the group than are shipping.

Ben Boxing while Walter Probes Pigs under Veterinarian Supervision

This morning, bright and early, Ben and I herded the troop of hopefuls into the sorting pen north of the holding area. This is a small area with gates and a chute where I can work with each animal individually. Our family does the animal wrangling for the vet when she comes to inspect. This saves time and we know our animals plus they know us so the process goes smoothly.

Ben Blocking Chute with Sorting Board for Inspection

Each pig gets a visual inspection by the doctor: eyes, hooves, walking, eating, moving around and such. I take a rectal temperature and then if the pig passes it gets the much coveted earring, a USDA interstate shipping tag that allows it to cross the borders to its future farm home. Getting a tag means having a potentially long future as a breeder. We’ve had sows breed for as long as nine years and boars for as long as eight years. They leave behind hundreds offspring in the case of sows and thousands of direct offspring in the case of the boars. The pigs may not actually know how valuable that little metal clip is and they object for the instant of application. But the punch is fast and the hole heals quickly. Unlike most humans the prized pigs just get one ear piercing.

Walter Tagging Pigs while Ben Blocks and Alison Inspects and Records

All the pigs passed their health certification with flying colors. The veterinarian was very impressed with their health, condition and conformation. Now the picked, painted, probe and pierced pigs are ready to ride south and west to their respective new homes where they’ll start new herds based on Sugar Mountain Farm genetics that we’ve been selecting hard since 2003.

Breed the best of the best and eat the rest.

Dr. Alison Cornwall, Mobile Veterinarian

These two herds are shipping to farms in Virginia and Minnesota. Check out the article from last fall about the previous Vet Visit for the herd that shipped out west to Utah.

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

Outdoors: 42°F/24°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/62°F

Daily Spark: I’m a huge fan of evolution.

If you need a vet for small ruminants and pigs in northern central Vermont. She has been excellent to work with.

About Walter Jeffries

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20 Responses to Painted, Probed & Pierced Pigs

  1. am in the pm says:

    Nice series of photos describing sorting procedures of the lucky pigs destined for new farms. Love the second picture of pigs lined up.

    • They’re doing that because that is the direction back to where they were sleeping last night on the Strawberry Level winter paddock. Pigs are very homed creatures. They establish a place in the Universe and then want to return to it. Especially if the world gets weird.

      • traye says:

        A question about homing. When you move a group to better feeding ground do you just move them and lock them out of the spot where they were or do you allow access back a forth to let them home to the new better spot on their own?

        • We do it both ways. The opening up and leaving open for a couple of days is a great way to do it so they shift their homing sense to the new place.

          • traye says:

            Thanks, mine have been in a forest fenced by a strong fence, I’ve moved them into the field but it is electric only, none of my pigs challenge the fence but putting them in there with just a few strands of spindly wire is nerve wracking. I allowed one at a time out to train them to the electric, didn’t take long. Now they have all moved out to the pasture but I’m sure I’ll find them sleeping in their old woods in the morning. I figure I’ll give them about a week of both then the new place only.

  2. Aaron says:

    Is yor vet from MIB???? (men in black movie) Cool shades! Your reference to probing makes me think of the movie because of all the jokes about alien probing! As if aliens would fly umteengajillionish miles just to indulge in a fettish! :-} :-}

  3. PV says:

    Does the vet take precations to not bring disease on your farm?

    • Yes, she visits our farm first thing on her schedule for the day, runs her truck through a car wash on the way here and then parks down at our entrance. She suits up with a clean work suit, clean washed boots and gloves as you may have noticed in the photo. Meanwhile, I’ve designed our farm with biosecurity guidelines in mind. There are a lot of subtle little details that a visitor will not likely notice which are designed to protect our livestock from incoming disease on visitors such as set backs, buffer zones and if you look carefully at the picture of the driveway you might notice it slopes such that water from vehicle tires like the milk truck and our vans and tractor all flows to one side away from the animal areas and then dumps through a culvert we put under the road into a reserve field we have across the road. We also have separate in-town cloths and in-town shoes. A lot of little things that help.

  4. Ari says:

    Any hints on ear tagging for someone who’s never done it before? My three are 8 months old and weren’t going to be tagged, but to go to the abattoir instead of be slaughtered here (the original plan) they have to be.

    • We’re just tagging at this point for pigs that are shipping interstate as breeders so they can be matched to their health certificates. The vet has a tool like pliers and an ear tag that is a small metal clip. On the clip is an official tag number that the veterinarian records on her paperwork. See the picture in the article Vet Visit.

      I have another type of tagger that puts in a post and then a button over the post. This actually operates a little faster than the vet’s tagger and leaves a slightly larger more visible tag. See the picture in the article Body Piercing For Science. So far I’ve just used this on research groups but I may use it on all breeders later and then all pigs once we have slaughter on-farm so that I can do some interesting experiments.

  5. Jenny Carpenter says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for this great post. We want to buy some breederstock and have to think about these issues of how to get it here and the whole interstate transport stuff and vet issues. I would be very interested to see more posts on this and here more details!

    • Check with your state department of agriculture to find out what the rules are for importing breeder stock domestic swine to your state. My understanding is that with some states a health certificate and ear tag is required and with other states it is not required. Part of this I think has to do with which states are free of certain diseases, bordering states, etc. Your ag department will have the official word.

      We offer the service to people who are buying pigs to have the veterinarian we work with come to our farm. We’ll do the animal wrangling and the customer pay’s for the vet which costs about $200 to $300 per visit depending on how long it takes. Most of that cost is her travel thus doing five animals vs ten animals makes little difference in the total cost.

      The animals get an ear tag and then there is a report that gets filed plus printed for the customer to take incase they need to show it along the way during their trip.

      See the Breeder Page for more details. Note that the current reserve list for breeders extends out to fall. It is important to reserve well ahead as there are not many that I consider high enough to be ones I would choose myself as breeders – I’m very picky – and those are all I sell as breeders. Nearly all of our pigs go to our weekly meat production. Breed the best of the best and eat the rest – my way to constantly improving our herds.

  6. Farmerbob1 says:

    How resistant are pigs to problems caused by inbreeding? As rapidly as they can reproduce, I would imagine it might be hard to keep closely related pigs away from each other without having a whole lot of separate areas to segregate them in.

    Or do they have some sort of inclination to not breed with close relatives, perhaps based on scent?

    • I spoke with someone last year who had problems with inbreeding. He ended up throwing all his breeder stock away because of it. Ergo, pigs can have a problem with it. But it is easy to avoid. The problem came from breeding inferior genetics and failing to cull.

      With all plants and animals, if you breed the best of the best and eat the rest then it is line breeding rather than inbreeding. Inbreeding is when people fail to cull problems and end up concentrating bad characteristics. Even Mother Nature doesn’t allow inbreeding. That’s what predators are to prevent. Line breeding weeds out the bad genes quite quickly. The mistakes, in the case of pigs, taste like bacon. I figure that I only keep about the top 5% of gilts and the top 0.5% of boars as breeders. Almost all get eaten before they ever breed. This constant hard culling results in continuous gradual improvement of the herds.

      Pigs have no taboo against incest. Even humans don’t innately have any such taboo.

      • Farmerbob1 says:

        I didn’t imagine there would be any sort of biologically coded mechanism to prevent incest, but considering how good their sense of smell is, I wasn’t going to assume. For all I knew, they could smell the difference between a first and second cousin :)

        • There are plants that have biological mechanisms to prevent incest but from watching the pigs over the years it seems their strategy is more like rabbits. Have lots of young and let the predators sort out who is fit to survive. It seems to work. Pigs are very fecund.

  7. Jeff says:

    Walter do the people your sending these pigs to have contact info / websites? I’ve wanted to get stock from you for a while, but being in South Dakota it’s a hike. If I knew someone in Minnesota with your genetics I’d be happy to be their first customer.

  8. Jake says:

    Walter, you mentioned sows farrowing as long as 9 years, how do you decide when such a sow goes to the butcher? Health? As long as she shows signs of being healthy and productive keep her? Obviously the longer you keep her the higher the risk of something happening and having to basically bury her instead of butcher right?

    • It’s fairly simple:

      1) If a sow loses fertility she goes to butcher. Towards the end of their reproductive life their litter sizes drop to four, two, one and then that’s all she wrote. They can live for years longer but are no longer pulling their weight on the farm. The other pigs vote them off to the island. It’s a purely democratic system.

      2) Another sow is producing better offspring and applies for the position. Again, there’s a vote with a points scoring system and the loser goes to the island. Purely democratic.

      3) She tests in her initial couple of litters and simply doesn’t perform up to standards. It’s a high bar jump, not a game of limbo. Those that can’t meet the bar are culled, again by a points system.

      Since we are on pasture rather than feeding high priced grain I have the leeway of more flexibility and let things play out longer than a sow would get in a confinement operation where it’s hup-two-three-hump or else. This is one of the benefits of the extensive pasture based systems.

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