We are a small, family owned and operated farm in the mountains of Vermont with our own on-farm inspected butcher shop. We breed and raise pigs humanely and naturally on pasture/hay plus dairy to produce high quality pork, roasters for events and live feeder weaner piglets for people who want to raise their own. We deliver year round on our weekly route to stores, restaurants and individuals.
At any time we have about two to four hundred pigs out on our pastures in multiple breeding herds of several heritage breeds including Yorkshire, Berkshire, Large Black and Tamworth with a pinch of Glouster Old Spot and Hampshire in our Mainline, Blackieline, Berkline and Tamline crosses in addition to our purebred lines. We have been selecting our breeder herds since 2003 to produce a pig that pastures well in our northern mountain climate with excellent temperament as well as marbling for flavor. With each generation we breed the best of the best and eat the rest. Gradually over time this results in the improvement of the herd, stronger animals adapted to our climate, better meat, marbling, length, temperament, mother and pasture grazing ability to name a few of the traits we select for. You can read more about our breeding lines in the articles Four Sows and Piglets, Lard vs Bacon Pigs and Classic Large White Sow.
Diet: Yes, pigs really do eat grass, clover and other forages – they thrive living out on pasture. Pastured does not mean that is all they eat but rather where they live and that in our case what they eat mostly comes from pasture – We do not buy or feed commercial hog feeds.
Pasture is the foundation of our pigs’s diet in it’s various forms makes up about 80% to 90% of what our pigs eat as measured by percent dry matter intake (%DMI†). We have raised four experimental groups of pigs purely on pasture and it is do-able but the pigs grow slowly on a diet of only pasture due to the low lysine levels (an amino acid which is a building block of protein) and low calorie levels so they are leaner taking a few extra months to reach market weight. The addition of nuts, eggs, dairy and such to provide lysine and calories creates a balanced diet based on high pasture so the pigs grow faster, almost the same speed as on commercial hog feeds – roughly six to seven months for finishing for boars from our best lines in the warm season and a month or so longer in the cold months. Gilts and barrows grow a month or so slower. Some breeds like our Tamworths take additional time to reach market weight. Growth rates are effected by sex, genetics, season, temperature and feed.
All pasture is not grass. In fact, grass makes up only one of many of the forages on pasture including legumes like alfalfa and clovers, brassicas, millets, oats, barley, amaranth, chicory, burdock, thistles and more. Our fresh pastures are a very diverse mix of plants. In the winter we replace the fresh pasture with hay – storing summer pastures for the winter just like we can our garden veggies and fruits for our family’s table to enjoy over the cold months. Hay is not nearly as good as fresh pasture, but it gets the livestock through our cold northern deep snow winters. Also from our pastures comes a variety of fruits and vegetables for our pigs such as pumpkins, turnips, kale, apples, sunflowers, sunchokes, beets and other things we grow in the winter paddocks which become summer gardens.
Eggs are a wonderful pig food. While eggs only make up about 0.5% to 1% of the pigs’s diet over their life time, we get the most we can from each egg by concentrating them to the smaller pigs such as weaners and shoats to maximize nutritional leverage. In addition to keeping the flies down the hens produce a lot of eggs without any commercial hen feed. We keep a lot of heritage laying hens for organic pest control as there is a large marsh just down hill from us so we have plenty of insects. Eggs are a product of our pastures since that is where most of the chickens’s food comes from – we do not buy commercial hen feed either. In the winter our hens eat pastured pork, the trim from butchering pigs each week – chickens are naturally omnivores with a tendency to the carnivore side of the plate like their distant ancestors from the Jurassic period. It’s all part of the cycle of life.
Tip: Cooking the eggs doubles the available protein and helps resolve the biotin antagonist issue with egg whites.jn.n1716 One can cook eggs with the shells on either baked, boiled or scrambled. We feed them in the shells to the pigs – An easy way to produce one’s own organic pig feed which is additional pasture based protein.
Supplements to pasture increase growth rate such as the whey mentioned above. The diet of our pigs varies seasonally and has changed over the years as our pastured improved and with supplemental resource availability like the dairy (mostly whey) from making butter, cheese and yogurt at about 7%DMI. Sometimes we get apple pomace, the crushed portion left over after squeeze apples from a local cider mill. This is seasonally part of our pigs’s diet making up ~3% of what they eat on average over the course of the year with most of that in the fall and winter. We also get a little spent barley from a beer maker at a local brew pub – that typically varies from 2% of our pigs’s diet. Occasionally we get a little bread from a local bakery which makes up about 1% of the pigs’s diet – great for training and leading pigs as it is highly appetitive since they don’t get many treats like that. At times we’ve gotten loads of cottage cheese, cut barley, molasses, peanut butter[1, 2, 3] by the ton (upto 7%DMI) and other excellent supplements to our pig’s diets. One of the great things about pigs is they can use foods that would otherwise go to waste due to their very flexible digestive system. We use the resources we have available to produce quality pork for your dining pleasure.
This diet is not a fixed day-to-day regime but varies. The numbers above are typical representing the data from our last couple of years. Often pasture has been 90% of their diet. Four times we’ve even done pigs with 100% pasture. Pasture is the foundation of our animals’s diet. Other resources add to that seasonally, changing over time with availability. To learn more about what we feed our animals see these articles on Feeding. See these links to learn more about raising pigs on pasture, feeding hay, managed rotational grazing and alternative feeds. Go with the flow as the seasons progress. Every year is different and to be cherished. Most of all, don’t use too sharp of a pencil when calculating or you’ll poke your eye out.
Genetics make a big difference in pasturing ability of pigs. Some lines within some breeds will utterly fail on pasture because they have been fed highly concentrated commercial feeds for so many generations, they’ve been crated during gestation or farrowing and lost their mothering instincts and other issues. By being selected for confinement conditions they’ve lost their pasture abilities which may conflict with the needs of a CAFO. We have spent thirteen years breeding for the traits that work in our climate, our pasture based feeds and our outdoor management to produce a pig that works for our farm. This is a critical aspect of farming – traditional selective breeding for genetics that work. We select for characteristics such as marbling, flavor, temperament, length, pasture-ability, mothering, growth and other traits. We purchased our original breeder stock back in early 2003 and have only occasionally brought in new animals over the years to expand our genetics and herds. Hard selection over more than a decade has paid off in improvements we see today. We run a near closed herd – historically producing nearly all of our own pigs, feeder stock and breeder stock through our multiple genetic lines. We have bought in pigs from other farms over the years. In addition to knowing the genetics of our own animals a closed herd helps with biosecurity by naturally keeping disease and parasites at bay through isolation. This biosecurity issue is why we do not do agritourism. As needed we do buy in other pigs to satisfy orders. If you want pigs specifically from one of our genetic lines or a specific sex of pig just request that when ordering, there is a small upcharge and it may limit availability & timing. Otherwise it is farmer’s pick at no additional cost.
Our breeding herds of pigs are divided into multiple boar centric primary groups each of which runs with mixed ages. Having multiple herd groups gives us more control over the genetics and more parallel generations per year. We then rotate our sows between the boar herds. In addition to the breeders there are typically about 200 to 400 market pigs out on pasture at any time depending on season and what piglets have been born recently. Often times the sows will cluster their farrowing with many of them birthing at the same time in cohorts so numbers can jump considerably week to week.
“You guys must spend a lot of time working with your pigs. I can tell because they are so calm and easy to handle.” -David the Knocker at the slaughterhouse
Managed Rotational Grazing Quick Guide: Rotational grazing is key to our pasturing of livestock because it improves our soils and lets us get much of our feed from our land by harvesting sunshine. This system of management mimics natural grazing and is called many things such as MIG, MIRG, Mob Grazing, Rotational Grazing, cell grazing and more. There are many variations of how it is done depending on the terrain, climate, soils, farm layout, species and fencing. Some rotational grazing systems look like grids from the air, some look like wagon wheels and others look more like natural grass lands and brush, blending into the terrain with trails and lanes for moving animals between areas. But no matter what it is called, the basics are simple – provide forage and move the livestock. Depending on the season and goals the forages may be grazed to a few inches or right to the crown and grown with mob seeding. It can be implemented on a nano-scale with about 100’x100′ for two to three piglets or with hundreds of pigs on doing a 40 acre grand rotation over a larger acreage of land divided into dozens of fields and sub-paddocks like we do for a much larger set of multiple herds. See this article for photos and more of a very tiny paddock setup.
We graze 70 acres of savannah style pasture using a 40 to 50 acre grand rotation over that area larger area which gets opened up in the fall as pastures wane. Our grazing land is divided into major fields with traditional New England stone walls, rock is a resource we have a lot of, and permanent fencing. These are then sub-divided to paddocks. This major vs minor rotation allows some areas to go mostly ungrazed in any particular year. We include brush and forested areas in our pastures for shade, variety of habitat and variety of forages creating a savanna style pasture. The livestock move out to their grazing paddocks daily along trails and lanes and return to the central areas for water, wallows, whey and treats. Exactly how things are setup depends a lot on the year and season and has changed over time as we’ve grown into the fields we cleared in in the late 1990’s and then again more in 2009. It’s an ever changing process as the pastures develop.
At the most basic level, managed rotational grazing means putting up a strong perimeter fence, ours runs a little out into our wooded areas to include trees, and then subdivide the space into four to ten paddocks per quarter acre if one is doing a couple of pigs – we use much larger paddocks for our bigger herds. More paddocks are better than fewer. Smaller paddocks are better than larger. Its a balance between effort and efficient grazing. As a rule of thumb, move animals into a paddock for short times letting them graze down the forages and then move them out after up to two weeks, preferably faster. Typical grazing periods are a day to ten days – moving time is defined more by the forages than by the calendar. This reduces soil compaction but knocks down weed species. Ideally move the livestock when they’ve reduced the pasture down to a few inches. It is fine if they root some, in fact they can turn up about 80% of the area and it will come back quickly because the grass has evolved to handle this sort of action from snout and hoof of herbivores moving through on migrational grazing. While you see dirt, in reality there is a great deal of root mass that springs back. This is beneficial to grasses and other grazing forages since they can handle this type of near tillage but trees and brush can’t take the grazing action – this is how pastures naturally evolved about 55 million years ago.
“If you’re raising piglets on pasture, eventually all research roads lead back to the prolific and generous Walter Jeffries at Sugar Mountain Farm.” -Auburn Meadow Farm
To improve the forage mix, seed behind the pigs and rake in a mix of seeds for soft grasses, legumes (alfalfa, clovers, trefoil…), brassicas (rape, kale, broccoli…), millets, chicory, amaranth, herbs and other forages. This is called mob seeding. Keep grazing stock out of paddocks for a minimum of 21 days, preferably longer based on forage growth. This 21 day cycle breaks parasite life cycles. Keep rotating the animals through paddocks and over time you can improve the quality of the soil, the forages, provide much of the food for your pigs and get a high quality meat.
Direct Sales: We offer direct sales of our pork through our meat CSA and through sales at the gate. See Products for details. We do not have a farm store for browsing – all sales are pre-orders. To learn more about the cuts on a pig see Cuts of Pork: Nose-to-Tail and What is a Half Pig Share. If you’re looking for just a few cuts we highly recommend the many stores in Vermont who carry our meat…
CSA Boxes: You can get regular deliveries of our pork on a weekly, bi-weekly and monthly basis for a season as well as year round. CSA subscriptions are twelve boxes or more and gain you a discount. Prepaid subscriptions get free delivery if your are along our weekly delivery route. Box sizes and options to fit everyone’s budget and desires from oddments to farmer’s basket to High-on-the-Hog to pick of the pig.
Retail: Stores and Restaurants throughout Vermont offer our pork to their customers. See Retail for details and a list of outlets carrying our products. If you’re a store or restaurant that would like to carry our products please see the wholesale page.
Piglets: We offer live piglets for people to raise themselves. Reserve piglets early as they sell fast in the spring’s high demand season. Note that these are farm pigs, not pet pigs. See Piglets for details.
Roasters: Reserve roaster pigs a month or more in advance of your event date. All sizes available from suckling up to very large roasters. Occasionally we have one in the freezer. See Roasters for details.
Tusks: We offer skulls and tusks from small to large sizes. See Tusks for details. We also make authentic bone knuckle dice from our pigs – great for historical games.
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Our all natural hot dogs and sausage are nitrates/nitrites free. Just the good stuff! We are a NoWeirdStuff.org farm.
We do not use gestation nor farrowing crates, pesticides, herbicides, routine antibiotic nor hormones at our farm.
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What we produce is good wholesome food to feed our family. We share this bounty with you.
†Percent Dry Matter Intake is the standard for how diets are measured for simplicity and because knowing the dry matter weight of each type of food in diet you can then calculate everything else about the diet such as energy, calories, proteins, etc.
They are nice looking
They are nice looking.
Do you offer any additional supplements or minerals to the pigs with this diet? What about during pregnancy or nursing would you offer anything additional?
Our soil is rich in all minerals according to the soil tests however I found that adding kelp increases litters by one piglet on average.
Hi = fantastic web site and useful info. thanks! I was wondering, how do you deal with the effects of the pigs on the land? I raise 3 pigs every year and am trying to figure out the right amount of space they need so that they do not completely ruin the land. Thanks – Ale
Hi Ale, See this article about pigs and land. If one does rotational grazing they are not going to ‘ruin’ the land. In fact, you’ll improve the land, enriching the soil. Our pigs tend to graze rather than root. Together with the sheep and chickens they’re a great combination. We also have ducks and geese in the mix, each animal grazing different things. As a very basic rule of thumb for a maximum is about 10 pigs per acre but that greatly depends on a lot of factors. Do check out the article I liked to above. Also always remember you can’t simply plug someone else’s numbers and techniques into your situation. e.g., how it works here on our farm may or may not work for you. You have to adapt things to your local systems.
Thank you for being here!!
We just moved to Hanover from Bloomington, IN and we miss our neighbors who raised truly free range, pasture pigs, turkeys and chickens. I will now definitely ask for Sugar Mountain pork at Dan and Whit’s and WRJ coop…. where do you sell your chickens and turkeys? Maybe I haven’t read far enough. THANK YOU!!!!
Welcome to the area. We don’t sell chickens or turkeys but my brother and his wife do. They are at Sidetrack Farm on in Hartland. They’re also working on developing goats milk products.
The other outlet right now near you is the Killdeer Farm Stand in Norwich. They also carry our pastured pork and sausage.
I would love to see a “characters” type of page somewhere on your site. Here you could introduce some of the animals, such as the head Boar, some of your sows and geese, the dogs, etc. Then readers could get to know them as the individuals they are!
Interesting idea. I’ve done posts sort of like this but they’re spread out through the various categories (e.g., pigs, dogs, sheep, geese, etc). See this one for a goose example. I’ll have to think of how to do that. Perhaps as avatar pictures in each animal section that lead to posts about that individual.
I could have sworn that I had seen a page on your site about what you get when you buy half a hog. I am trying to advise friends what to think about when buying that much pork and would rather not start from scratch when you have done it already.
Am I wrong or has it moved?
Thanks for the great blog we enjoy it a great deal.
Haskins Family Farm
Mary, see “What is a Half Pig Share” which includes the pork cut chart. Cheers, -Walter
hi walter i just love what you and your family do! i have pig breeding question i have 2 old gloucestershire pigs both 13 months old gilt still is not bred boar has not bred her yet .i took them both to vet she said all checks out good.she suggested to seperate them so i did for 7 weeks they been thirty miles apart. yesterday i took her to him put them in his house he was very excited he sniffed nudged her side grunted only after about 20 min he tried a little to mount her but stopped she seems to stand for him but he just doesnt finish she goes into cycle like clock work every 21 days. and he has never been exposed to any other gilts or sows . so if you have any suggestions it would be very helpfull
Hmm… I’m dubious about the separation idea. This isn’t an emotional issue. When their bodies cycle and produce the hormones they generate the phermones that instigate the mating response from the boar and the hormones cause the gilt to be interested in sex. Her regular cycling is a good sign however not all gilts are fertile and neither are all boars. She could have the normal hormonal cycling but have blocked fallopian tubes, a closed cervix or something else. He could be shooting blanks. With neither one of them proven before it is hard to tell but the odds are one or the other is infertile for some reason. By 13 months of age I would expect a gilt to be heavily in pig (pregnant) or to have farrowed by then.
Ours generally farrow around one year of age for the first time. Last week we took one to market who was 12 months old and still open – she was a beautiful gilt who I had hoped to have as a breeder but she never got pregnant.
I was interested to see that your sausages contain no nitrates/nitrites. Would that be saltpeter (or equivalent) that keeps the ‘pink’ colour? We have only processed one of our pigs and I couldn’t get what I believed was ‘mandatory saltpeter’ so we managed without. Our sausages are grand but the hams just don’t look quite so appetising. How do you handle that aspect?
Nitrates/Nitrites/Saltpeter make the meat pinker. We don’t use them in the sausage or hot dogs but the only USDA approved formula the smokehouse has for bacon and hams does have them so we have to have them in bacon/hams for now. When we have our own smokehouse we’ll have more control over this. For more in the nitrates and such see NoWeirdStuff down at the bottom in the questions and answers.
Walter- Hi-what kind of shelters do you use for your hogs? I am not good at construction, but trying to find something for farrowing sows and for providing winter shelter for growing pigs. Love your site-aways interesting!
We have many different winter housing solutions. Check out the Animal Housing tag in the tag cloud in the right column. This year we made a fairly large hoop greenhouse that we really like. We had been planning to make several more of them but winter is here and construction is winding down. I’ll post more details about that one soon.
We raise Berkshire pigs (pastured) and I’m trying to find out if it is okay for brothers and sisters to breed. I can’t seem to find much info as to whether this is a “no-no” genetically or not. The litters would be for meat production. Since the pigs are pastured it’s hard to keep them apart. They are young still but I’d like to know if I have to move them before it’s too late.
Yes, you can breed brothers and sisters. Doing it for terminal generations, for meat, is not likely to be an issue. If your pigs have negative recessive traits then those characteristics may show up. Cull them to meat, of course. Breeding related pigs and keeping track of what you get is a way of finding out what the parent pigs carry for genes and then through careful breeding you can improve your herds. Inbreeding is the random or non-intentional process of breeding too closely. Line-breeding is when you do it carefully with purpose to improve your breed.
My husband and I are about to embark on our second round of raising pigs and we’ve been looking into the best and fastest crops to plant behind the pigs for their feed. What do you think of rutabagas? My brother says they grow fast but I wasn’t sure about if the pigs would really go for them. Also, would sunchokes keep coming back every year or do the pigs pretty much clear them out? What other crops would you suggest? Where do you get your seeds from for this? I was looking into High Mowing Seeds since they’re just down the road but I’m not sure if it is the most economical option.
Thanks for your wealth of knowledge and this wonderful blog!
Sunchokes are really good because the pigs help replant them. I don’t have a clear answer for you on “best” but would rather suggest variety. We plant a mix of pumpkins & squash (winter paddocks), sunchokes, sunflowers, turnips (rutabagas is another name I think), beets, kale, rape, etc. Basically I look for protein, deep roots, lysine, calories, fast growth (for quickie areas), ease of planting (scatter seeds) and what does well in our climate and soil. I’m not very successful with corn – we had a string of years with failed crops after several with good crops so I don’t do a lot of it. A big failure is too much. It’s too finicky for our location. You’re similar to us I would hazard.
High mow is an excellent seed source – we’ve gotten from them in the past as well as Johnny’s and others. Ask about last years seeds. Lower germination rate but they may have a great deal. Generally the germination rate goes down about 10% a year or so.
I tried your link: http://flashweb.com/blog/tag/animal-housing
and got a message that the page no longer exists. I’m a student at Sterling College (in Craftsbury Cmn) and am working on intensively rotating pigs on one of our lesser quality pastures, with the intent of reseeding it. The farm manager and I are looking into building 2 movable houses for the pigs, one for the sows and another for the piglets (who will be slaughtered throughout the summer and fall, thus the house will ideally never be too small for all of them). The shelters would be 6×6′ and 6×8′ and 3 sided with cedar split down half as runners. Other ideas include a tarp configuration, or using palettes for the shelter siding. The thing is that we’ll be moving them daily, with man-power only so as to not compact the soil and b/c the tractors/horses can’t be easily scheduled on a daily basis. Any tips/ideas would be much appreciated!!
The link got changed to http://flashweb.com/blog/tag/housing where did you find the old link?
For renovating the pastures, do a slower rotation than for grazing so that the pigs will root more. It is handy if it rains more. Smaller areas for the paddocks helps. Then seed after it is rooted up well and then move the pigs. Seeding before the pigs move means they’ll trample seed into the ground. Alternatively a heavy rain storm right after seeding will drive the seed into the soil. A matter of timing. If the pigs have brush then housing is not necessary in the warm months – now through October.
An alternative to moving the housing would be to set it in the middle of the field in a home base and set the paddocks up in a tic-tac-toe arrangement around the housing. Food, water, house would then be in the central home square. Pigs would be rotated out to each of the grazing squares as needed. Next year the home square will be a great garden. Keep it smaller than the other paddocks – minimal size is all that is needed.
Great, thanks for all the input. We’ll definitely consider it!
I found the link on this blog, on a January 13th, 2011 posting of yours.
Was wondering how you “catch” your piglets to sell as you do not have a barn type confinement. Our gilt will farrow the end of August, we don’t have a barn, just a hoop house/Aframe in the middle of our pasture and were wondering how we will go about catching the squirming bundles of joy for expecting folks. Thanks for all the many questions you’ve answered in our new ventures.
The easiest way is to wean them off to a to a tightly fenced paddock and then at feeding time pick the ones I want. They’re very focussed on the food and I can generally simply pickup the ones I want and pass them to someone with a carrier.
Wondering if you might share your thoughts/experiences on the business and financial potential of pasturing pigs. I am interested in hearing how your efforts and your farm grew, such that you are now both paying the mortgage and have a living wage.
Do you see pasturing pigs as “needing” a certain scale for a fair and decent return? Do you find your work load and your family life balance well enough throughout the year?
What might you recommend to a person wondering about scaling up, hoping to do that as one component of a farm income…. But hoping for more than “just” breaking even.
We are into our fourth year with pasturing pigs and are wondering about potentials. Any insights or advice, any guidelines on realistic expectations would be greatly appreciated.
I do hope my questions have not been too “scripted”, am really looking for some financial realities/potentials – or whatever you might be willing to share!
thank you – we do really appreciate your work on the ground, and the fact you post it to the web for us to browse.
Hmm… That’s a whole post, or book, in and of itself. In fact, I was just asked to write a book on that very topic. But, here’s a short answer:
We grew our farm slowly and gradually. We practiced in small ways, adding to our skills along the way. This is how I do things rather than jumping in fast. It may look otherwise to an outsider but we’ve done a lot of practice steps along the way that are often not visible. For example, in building the butcher shop it is based on a great deal of how we built our cottage which is based on how we built a test dog house which was based on how we built some animal shelters which were based on how we built a bunch of table top scale models. Baby steps.
At four years with your pastured pigs you’re along a similar journey. We tried out other things, such as sheep and meat poultry for example. I like sheep but they don’t pay the mortgage. Right now we’re sheepless but will get sheep again as they are a great co-grazer for the pigs and when we have our own processing capacity they’ll be more profitable. Besides – I love lamb. The birds were even worse. With the pigs we find they are better for us in many ways including financially. Might or might not work for someone else, of course. To many variables to list them all here.
As to scale, we find that three to four pigs a week on average works out well for us now and we plan to gradually increase that to ten finisher pigs a week after we have our butcher shop finished completely. We take pigs to the butcher every week, delivering to stores and restaurants who have standing orders. Additionally we sell some roasters through the warm months, some whole and half pigs to individuals and weaner piglets in the spring. The killer is the processing costs which eats up a third to half of our gross sales income. This is a major reason for us building our own on-farm meat processing facility.
As to a living wage, I don’t believe in such a thing. The “Living Wage” mantra is a fallacy made up by theorists who spend too little time actually living on a minimalist budget. What I consider a good living they call poverty. The things they list as necessities I call luxuries. Two totally different world views. What is important is we earn enough to buy the things we need and pay our taxes. Everything else is gravy. I do like gravy but I don’t confuse it with the meat and potatoes. Fortunately we’ll never starve nor lack for a place to live – the nice thing about having land.
I would strongly suggest using a spreadsheet to model your numbers and writing up a business plan – just like with any venture. It will be wrong, of course, but it gives you an idea of things and you can keep updating it as you learn. In time the model and plan improve. This helps steer your course.
Yes, the financials and the business growth process could easily fill a book, and more! The “go slow, grow slow” is a theme I hear from many successful famers.
I’m sitting the fence right now, in a tricky spot – wondering if too many of our farm endeavors are “too small to be big, too big to be small”. I’m trying to find a way through the overhead and the labor…. to a decent cash flow….
What do you do once you’ve found mites on your pigs? What do you do to keep mites off your pigs?
I’ve found mites on our boar, who is in thick brush, heavy shade. Haven’t found them on the herd, who are on more open ground, sandier, drier.
thank you! ~chris
On the business stuff, start with making a business plan. Do one out for each aspect of your endeavors – e.g., pigs vs chickens vs cattle…
On the mites, I’ve never seen them on our pigs. I’ve looked for them but we don’t seem to get them. Knock-on-wood. I have read about smothering them with oil. I would use vegetable oil although some people talk of motor oil. I have also read that Ivermec works. No experience though.
Hey, i enjoy looking at your website! A question on feeding pigs whey, I have 5 berkshire/tamworth crosses that are fed a combination of grain, apples, small pasture and whey. Just wondering about how much whey I should be feeding them? not sure if if feed too much it will put extra fat on them? they were born in jun and july and are quite big at least 150-200 for larger two. thanks for any info you could give me!
Whey is low in calories so it isn’t going to make the pigs fat. We feed the whey for the lysine, a protein. If you are also getting some milk, cream or cheese that will add calories. We free feed – that is the pigs can eat as much as they want when they want. We feed almost totally pasture/hay and dairy. See the pigs page for details on our pig’s diet. On that diet we get about 3/4″ of back fat. I do know of someone who, using our same genetics since he buys piglets from us, feeding Jersey cow whole milk gets about 4″ of back fat. So calories in the diet matter.
We are getting two pigs (2months) next Saturday. We will be getting 60gallons of milk each week. How much grain and hay will they need? Also, I ferment the feed for our 700 (not a typo) chickens and give them kombucha tea as well as raw acv. Theh also get milk daily. Ive cornish rocks that are 20 weeks old and weigh about 15lbs. They fly,forage…its beautiful. Anyways, Ill also be sprouting for the chickens so…what do you think about doing the same for the pigs?
Also someone told me you can feed them all milk….is that true? Do you know how much they’d need? ive only found info over grains…
They don’t have to have grain. We’ve raised pigs for years without grain. If you can get grain inexpensively then it is a good addition to their diet. Many grains benefit from cooking or soaking before feeding to the pigs to make the grains more digestible. We free feed pasture/hay and dairy. At one point I figured out that our pigs were eating about 400 lbs of hay over the course of a winter when snows have us locked in (~5 months). That’s about 2.6 lbs of hay a day. I also figured out during that time that they were drinking about three gallons or so of dairy per hundred weight per day.
I would not suggest feeding all milk. They also need some roughage in their diet which ours get from the pasture in the warm months and the hay in the winter. The pasture/hay also provide other nutrients, vitamins and minerals. In the winter we give them dirt too.
Many forms of fermenting make the food more digestible and that’s good. It also helps with gut bacteria. We add yogurt to our dairy for this reason. If you have it go for a trial with the pigs too.
I have great respect for you with the Cornish Rocks. I’ve tried them three times with no success.
Hi! Really great information, thanks so much for sharing. My question is how you “serve” your pigs the whey. Mine are so enthusiastic they have knocked me as well as my 6’4″ farmhand over to get to the buckets in our hands. I think we can encourage them to not knock us over but they gang up on each other to feed first, get in our way of pouring, etc. I’d love to hear any suggestions, good as well as what hasn’t worked and perhaps why. Thanks so much.
For small amounts I would suggest just pouring it into a trough over a fence line.
What we do is feed with a valve through 2″ pipes and 4″ pipes from tanks to troughs. See these areticles for photos and details.
Thanks for the info and especially pointing me to the other whey articles. I see I need bigger troughs, or more little ones, that I can fill from the fence, as you say. Duh. Explaining all those little details are amazingly helpful.
Hi my name joe.
first i must say i love all the info you provide for free.
thank you so much. It has really helped me an my family !!
For my question it sats you have 40 sows an 4 boars for breeding is that in each herd or all together? Also does it work to keep boars together with sows do the boars fight are must the boars grown up together as babys? Also do you recomend only 10 sows per boar or is 15 a good number?
Those numbers are dynamic, sometimes we’re higher, sometimes lower. Right now we have two big boars plus several up and coming boars whom I’ll select from. Generally I like a boar per 10 to 15 sows and I like to have boars of a variety of sizes and ages so there are replacements in the wings. Growing up together is ideal. Introducing a new boar would be tricky. It might be better to get rid of the old boars and introduce new boars all at once. Having lots of room for them helps.
I would like to request a small piglet for $100 dollars. I have been looking for a pig for about 5 years and no one would give me a runt for 100. I hope you will be generous and help me out. Thank you
Elle, you can find the piglet pricing and details on the Piglets page. We don’t sell runts and even a ‘runt’ will grow to 600 to 1,000 lbs – not a small pig at all. Realize that these are farm pigs, bred to be large. I think you want to look for a Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pig. I have seen them selling in pet stores for around $400. From what I read they grow to just 200 or 300 lbs at full size and will eat far less than a farm pig. For more about pet pigs see these posts
I love your website and how you raise your animals. We have 8 acres of pasture and have not yet decides what to raise. i have been reading about pigs, and cows. So that is what we are going to do. But I think the pigs will be first. We have a neighbor that is interested in pigs as well. Do you have any suggestions on the breed? And can you tell me when to get them and at what age? We live in North West Ga.
On breed, start with anything you can get. Look around now for breeders because in the spring the demand is high and it will be hard to find piglets then. When you find someone, put down a deposit to secure your piglets. It is best to do this with someone who has more than one sow farrowing. At this early stage of the game I wouldn’t worry about specific breeds too much but more about learning how to raise them.
As a first animal I tend to recommend chickens to people. They are so easy. Next comes pigs.
Thanks so much for your response. And my husband and I agree that we are going to do chickens first and then pigs. We have a person that we have know for about 2 yrs that have pigs and raises them and they said they would sell us pigs when we are ready.
Thanks for all of the info on your website, it is nice to see farming being done right. I had a question about piglet fertility. I would like to keep all of my pigs together, boars, gilts, sows, piglets etc… however I have read all over that piglets can an do become fertile as early as four weeks old, both sexes. Have you found this to be true? If so do you seperate your pigs at all? Thanks!
No, I think there is a bit of confusion there – months vs weeks. Gilt (young female) pigs generally become fertile at about eight months and then have their first litter at about one year but can become fertile as young as six months, at least in the breeds I’ve dealt with. Pigs become sexually active as young four months but I have never seen them get pregnant until six to eight months. The males have a similar range. They’re not shooting full loads until about eight or even ten months.
We keep our pigs non-sex-segregated. That is the young boars and gilts are together. It is not a problem since they go to market around six months of age. We segregate by age in the cold months. If we were going to do more subdivisions of our herd then I would start segregating the males from the females at about four months simply to keep the groups under fifty pigs each. Right now we have about ten winter divisions. To do the sex-segregation would me we would have to work harder to take care of them and it isn’t necessary.
i am planning to raise my pigs on corn sprouts fodder alone. can they thrive on that alone?
I wouldn’t feed just that. It will be low in protein among other things. Variety is the spice of life.
corn is 15% crude protein, mine is free range so they can eat other grass, legumes etc. however, i just got this idea from this site check this out: http://www.foddersolutions.org/_webapp_1489819/Traditional_pigs_thrive_on_sprout_diet
15% protein in corn is very good. I don’t do corn since it doesn’t grow well here so I can’t comment directly but my understanding from reading is that corn lacks some specific amino-acids that the pigs need and these become growth limiting. Specifically lysine is an issue. There are some new genetically modified (GMO) corns that are supposed to be higher in protein and lysine however I’m very leery of those for all sorts of reasons so we just won’t go there. What variety of corn are you using and what are its amino-acid profiles?
Looking at the story you linked too I may have found the answer to the issue. They say:
“Slow growing pigs and fast feed has proved a successful combination for Todd and Georgina Guy who run a small mixed farming enterprise near Nobby on the Darling Downs.”
Note my underlined emphasis. Large Blacks aren’t particularly slow growing. But if you feed them a lysine limited diet they, or any other pig, will grow more slowly. This suggests to me that they’re confusing the effects of the diet with what they thing of as a characteristic of the pig. The pigs are normal but on a limited diet they grow more slowly.
This raises another important issue. It is not speed to market (growth rate) that matters as much as quality to market, humane raising, sustainability and low input costs. All too often I hear people focus on how fast they can grow the pig and ignore that it is costing them too much to do it so they’re not making a profit. The old, “lose $5 a pig but make it up in volume” theory of business. It doesn’t work, it’s not sustainable and puts the farmer in debt and out of business.
So, the Guy’s may be producing slower growing hogs but if they’re producing top quality meat humanely, sustainably and profitably it doesn’t matter that it is taking a little longer. It works. If the diet is deficient in lysine or another limiting amino-acid they may be able to speed up growth rates and improve muscling by balancing the diet more. This also helps to reduce the wastes that are coming out the back end.
In our case we primarily use dairy for our source of lysine as well as getting protein from pasture from legumes such as alfalfa, clovers and such. Over seeding brings up the mix in time.
that article about the fodder sprouts is really an advertisement for a highly intensive food production system. they arent pasturing theyre feeding a processed corn diet. nothing wrong with that if that is what you want to do but they shouldnt call it pastured. the pigs are getting their food from a highly mechanized source that involves a lot of energy to prodce. it is just like feeding any other commercial swine feed.
Correct. So really it should be viewed as a supplement to pasture much like feeding a commercial hog feed in addition to pasture. When feeding such things I would recommend feeding the supplement late in the day so that the pigs spend their days grazing to maximize their pasture intake rather than filling up on the supplement. This is especially true if you are free feeding the supplementary food. There is nothing wrong with good supplementary foods and variety is the spice of life.
I have a York sow @ about 500 lbs and a Texas Waddle Boar @ about 300 lbs. Neither has bred. When I put them in together they push and crowd each other and the sow sits on her bum. They go at this for quite some time until the boar is so tired he gives up. at the end of the visit I separate them as they mark each other and I am worried about one hurting or killing the other. Is this normal for first time breeding’s? Should I just put them in together and let them go to the end? Will they hurt each other? Is there any other way to introduce them that I don’t know of? I have only dealt with pigs that have breeding for quite sometime at my parents. My partent are gone now and I am not sure where to get info on this. Thank You
If she has never farrowed a litter then she’s a gilt, not a sow – just a bit of terminology. What I have read is that if a gilt has not had a litter by her second year then she loses her fertility. If she is sitting on her bum then she’s saying “Not tonight, Dear.” She might not be in heat. Have you seen signs of heating? Vulva swelling and pinking? They normally heat every 21 days or so. I would leave them together. If they have not bred within three more months then I do not think she is fertile. Good luck!
Hi. Like so many, I didn’t know where to post a question. So I just bought electric fencing and have put my pigs out to pasture 😎😄. My question is, my girl just had her first farrowing, and with the male being in same pasture with her is she going to get pregnant again too soon?. Will he be harassing her?? I Only have 2 adult piggies so far.
In my experience they do not rebreed too soon. A young inexperienced male may ‘bother’ the sow during farrowing or right after due to confusion of pheromones but if that has not happened then things should be fine.
She does go through a swelling and a pinkening of the vulva and goes off her feed for a couple days. I have marked it on the calender and it is running 17 to 21 days. If she has gone sterile do I have an immediate time line I need to get another Gilt or Sow for the Boar?
No rush, other than this is the ideal time to breed for summer piglets.
how many sows with piglets can we put in 1 hectare?
Check out the article “How much land per pig“. This is with managed rotational grazing. The general rule of thumb is 10 pigs per acre max. A hectacre is about 2.5 acres so about 25 pigs. However, there are many variables such as climate, soil, pasture quality, management, etc. Check out that article and it will give you some insights.
are your boars mix together with the sows in your farm? do you isolate the sows when they are pregnant? or they are still free range ? where do they give birth ?
We keep our boars and sows together in a mixed sex breeding herd. The boars are very good at detecting heat, when a sow is ready to breed. If we kept them apart it would be far more difficult – they would challenge the fences to get together. We do not isolate, crate or cage them. During the warm months, the golden months from about May through October, the sows find a private place out in the margins of the pastures, build a nest and farrow their litter’s of piglets there. In a week or so they return to the herd with piglets trailing behind them. During the depth of winter we use sow huts, greenhouses, winter dens, nurseries and other things to give the sows privacy that they can more easily protect yet still socialize with the other pigs. This is an evolving thing on our farm. Winter is by far the hardest time of the year. I recommend farrowing only in the golden months if you can.
Your doing a great job. This is how pigs should be ethically raised.
Hi Walter, Great website! Just a quick question, we have a female tamworth that is do to farrow (crossed with large black/berkshire) in a few weeks with her first litter, she currently is in part of our cow barn sectioned off with round pen panels. The inside portion is fairly small, maybe 6 ft by 20 feet and has a dirt floor, where she sleeps and has a nest of hay. Just wondering if that would be ok for her to give birth in there or should i make some sort of platform out of plywood inside the barn? Its fairly rough inside since she has been rooting up the dirt floor. Thanks ryan
During the golden months, the warm months, they require nothing of us for farrowing. Here are some articles about farrowing, piglets, sows, etc.
Also look in the right sidebar in the tag cloud for piglets.
There is little to nothing that you need to do. If the pigs are penned like in your barn then she needs privacy from other pigs. All alone there she should be fine. Out on pasture our sows seek out the margins of the fields, build nests and farrow all without assistance. In the winter we provide nurseries they can get the privacy they need but go in and out of. With this warm weather she should be fine if she has plenty of space in the barn or outdoors.
Critically Important: Do not add hay or straw to her nest. Let her do it. People don’t chew the straw or hay up properly or pack it right. She should know how to do it by instinct. If you add loose bedding to the nest piglets may get embedded and crushed.
Hi, Walter – What do you do for parasites? Have you found the right mineral and herbal solutions to avoid using meds, or do you need to use things like Safeguard and Ivermectin?
Our primary management of parasites is managed rotational grazing. Winter also helps greatly. We also keep a lot of free ranging chickens who are a natural organic pest and parasite control. See this article about Worms Au Natural.
Hi walter, just a quick question, I have a little of tamworth/berk/large black piglets that are pushing 5 weeks old, is it ok to feed them whey being so young? not sure if this would cause GI issues? The sow has been almost exclusivley drinking whey since the piglets were born, she turned her nose up at grain after farrowing (eats very little grain) but drinks gallons of whey and looks great. The piglets are eating and drinking on there own, but wasn’t sure if I could start them on some whey?
Yes, mix in some yogurt and let the whey sit a day or two. Put it in a very shallow dish. Avoid drowning.
I like that you don’t use antibiotic feed or hormones, but how do you handle therapeutic antibiotics? I know that in a good stress-free environment like you have therapeutic antibiotics will not be needed much, but what do you do when you have a sick pig that needs medication?
It’s a good question and one that deserves a lengthy response but I don’t have the time with our upcoming concrete pour. In the future I’ll reply to this in detail in a post. There are many issues that revolve around this complex issue. Some people feel antibiotics should never be used. Others feel that it is inhumane to withhold antibiotics from the sick. Then that raises the discussion of what alternatives there are to antibiotics as well. All good topics for a full post of their own.
I look forward to your thoughts on this one. I’m personally of opinion that if a simple antibiotic can be used to cure a sick pig that it’s improper not to help them, but the strongest thing I’ve ever used is the rather common penicillin. My few pigs are runts from a commercial herd, so I do occasionally need to give them that bit of help. My laying hens are former battery cage residents who are living out their life with me and due to their low monetary value they don’t warrant healthcare, but I do my best to provide them with a quiet place to pass, or if the situation warrants will quickly dispatch a distressed bird. I’m curious to know the alternatives to therapeutic antibiotics.
One little trick that we use, both with ourselves and with animals including piglets, is a hot bath. 112°F for a short period brings the body temperature up to a fever level. This kills off bacteria throughout the animals (pig, human, etc). The danger is too long at this high temperature can kill. The trick is a couple of short hot baths a day.
I had a bad cut on my hand recently which had gotten dirty. A prime infection site. I don’t like using antibiotics for myself as they mess up my digestion killing off the good bacteria. Several hot soaks a day do the trick.
We just had a piglet that we did the same for except she got full body soaks instead of just one limb. She had been stepped on by her mother and had a bad cut on her head that got infected. After several days of soaking she’s doing well, lively and eating whereas before I was almost certain she was going to die when I found her. Credit to Ben for having the patience to nurse her through this.
There is, of course, a place for bacteria and I’m not about to give medical advice or compete with the AMA in that regard. :} Just my experience.
What is a “short time”? Thank you, Walter.
Moving pigs, or any grazer, onto pigs for a “short on time” is about the length of time it takes them to eat down the pasture to the goal forage height. Usually you’re aiming to have the pasture crown and a couple of inches of leaf still available to regrow. e.g., lawn like.
The maximum times are set by parasite management goals. Fourteen days is a good maximum with an absolute max less than twenty days. This has to do with the infestation, growth, egg shedding, hatching and reinfection cycle times of the relevant gastrointestinal parasites of the grazing species.
If the time required to get to the desired forage height is greater than the maximum time allowed by the parasite cycle limit then the pastures are too big for the numbers of animals grazing. One of several solutions can be implemented:
1) more animals;
2) bigger animals;
3) different animals who are more aggressive grazers;
4) reducing supplemental feed to force animals to eat more pasture; or
5) smaller paddocks.
An ideal “short time” of rotation on a pasture is around one day to a week. The shorter the time the more work for you. The longer the time the more soil compaction. It is important that the animals graze the pasture hard to eliminate cherry picking of forages which can lead to a transition to weed species like goldenrod that the animals may not like or might be poisonous. Mob grazing with large animal densities can knock back weed species. Broadcast seed with the desirable species on the morning before moving the animals out to mob seed. In an ideal world you combine mob, frost and storm seeding. Another option is mowing after the grazing to knock down weeds. I don’t like mowing and I live a stoney, stumpy, sloped mountains which make mowing dangerous and difficult.
Here are some additional reeding:
Pasture Post Pig Grazing
One Day of Rotational Grazing
South Weaner Paddock
Note that there are more articles linked to at the bottom of those articles.
The other question is the “off time” which should be long enough to allow the desireable forages to regrow, the parasites to die off and the weed species not to grow. Off times should be a bare minimum of 21 days but preferably longer. Pastures might be grazed a single time or several times a year.
I have another question for you Walter. Is it common for a gilt who is approximately 5-6 months old, to get aggressive or pushy with a barrow who she has been living with all of that time, and who is most likely a sibling? She seems to be in heat, and is possibly frustrated that he is not interested in breeding her. He seems to be a bit sore from her abuse, but is not interested in fighting back. We don’t have a way to separate them, and if he continues to decline he may be headed to the freezer a bit earlier than we planned.
Also wanted to thank you for your tips on weighing a pig with a piece of string. It was very interesting to see how much they weighed!
She may be coming into heat and trying to solicit him. He is less likely to be interested since he is not undergoing the hormonal changes because he has been castrated. This should pass after a few days as her hormones settle down and then repeat on a 21 day cycle. You could separate them but it may be better not to separate them because then you’ll have to reintroduce them.
It is so good to see people farming in the more traditional ways, keeping animals out on pasture. I find your farm and what you do truely remarkable. Please keep up your good work.
I really like how your doing things at your farm your respect for the animals and how they get to live their lives naturally out in the fields. Do you sell at the Hanover Coop or the Lebanon Coop?
We don’t currently sell at the Hanover Coop stores (Hanover, Lebanon, WRJ) but hope to in the future once the butcher shop is done and we increase our weekly supply a bit more.
I am interested in changing the way we raise pigs for our CSA program by integrating them into our garden rather than being relegated to the pig pen area. We had no problem selling the pigs by the half to our members this year and are looking to increase the number we have to 10 or 12 pigs.
We own 20 acres of prime farmland in Washington State and 7 of those acres are in vegetable production. I have read what you have posted about the different types of plants that you would plant on the pasture for the pigs to eat, but if we were to move the pigs from section to section of our garden we wouldn’t always want the area to be pasture. Can you recommend a process for rotating pigs and chickens through 1/4 acre sections of our farm, then what should follow them (we do have a lot of chickens), and what we should plant ahead so that they have something to graze on.
I figure on about 10 pigs per acre for a sustainable rotational grazing system. That is based on the average market pig size – With smaller pigs more, larger pigs fewer. This will also change with the soil and not all seasons allow the same instant density. e.g., clay soil gets muddy, especially in mud season. Poorer pastures support fewer animals than rich pastures. Pastures improve over time with proper management and can even rise from acidic, thin gravel mountain soil to rich garden. Smaller rotational grazing paddocks moved through more quickly are generally better than larger paddocks slowly. It takes a lot of animal mass to graze down acres. See this article about How Much Land per Pig, Keeping a Pig for Meat and Turnip Patch Turned Out about turning the pigs in to self-harvest from gardens as well as today’s post Perfect Pearabout similarly doing fruit trees.
I love how you raise your animals. It is the old way. The right way. Keep up the good work you do.
Your website is great. I have been looking online for help, and glad I found you. We have a duroc gilt that we have AI’d two cycles…this last one seemed to ‘take’ as she had absolutely no signs of heat…since this is our first go around with this, we asked our kids’ 4-H Swine leader to come see if she was pg, which he thought she absolutely was starting to get a belly….then about a week later she started getting what looked like pus or white discharge expelling from her vulva….he gave her some medicine, which helped a bit, but it is back and ongoing. I have looked everywhere online and can’t find any information on this, and he worked at a huge swine farm and doesn’t know what it is…have you ever come across this? I am now worried the pregnancy is no longer viable- her teats had started swelling and now that is gone, and with less than 30 days to go, i would think she would be bigger. if this is an infection you have come across, do you have a suggestion how to finally rid her of it?
I’m not sure what is happening with her. She might have lost the litter. I would suggest following the 4-H Swine leader’s recommendations. If you try AIing her again and she doesn’t farrow then I would cull her.
I am so impressed with how you raise your pigs. How you a compassionate. I eat meat but I don’t think I could kill animals that I had raised but I respect you for doing it so that people like me can be insulated from the necessity of life of taking life. Your pigs live a good life and then server a good purpose.
Hi Walter, We raise pigs that are fed whey, pasture and some grain. I haven’t been able to get whey for a month do to the factory being closed for a period. I have a farmer who has milking cows and sell raw milk, he has an excess of milk and said i could take it. Went over and got the first batch and it was spoiled, solid at top of milk can and smelling very strong. Is that still ok to feed to pigs? I thought maybe should dilute it with water and ask him to keep it outside in the future so its not so sour. Any thoughts? thanks
Spoiled is a relative term. What some culture’s think of as spoiled milk others consider to be fine cheeses, yogurt, etc. I suspect it is fine and I personally would feed it to the pigs. In the future, provide him with some live yogurt and have him throw about 1 cup of yogurt in each pail of milk. See yogurt making for pigs.
Walter will my sows produce enough milk for my piglets without a supplement? I feed free choice hayledge and 10 gallons of chinese scrapes per day along with houehold scraps and will be on grass after farrowing.
Yes, we have had sows just on pasture with nothing supplemental and they have raised up large litters. The sows do end up very peaked – nursed down, losing their back fat. Wean at six weeks. The 10 gallons a day of scraps is enough for probably four or five sows to supplement.
Walter I should have mentioned that the 10 gallons is for 3 sows
So three gallons each on top of the hay. Watch their condition and it will tell you if it is enough.
I posted with some questions in another are on your site… and am having trouble finding my original post now. So hopefully, your response is emailed since I chose to track responses. :) I had another quick question. In choosing a pig to raise for slaughter, is one sex better than another. If male, should it be cut or uncut? Thanks so much! Again, your post has been so helpful!!
Intact males (boars) grow about 10% faster than castrated males (barrows) which grow about 10% faster than gilts (females). Boars are generally more efficient at turning food into meat. Gilts have the most fat as a rule. All of this can be influenced significantly by diet and genetics and even temperature – pigs grow about a month slower in the winter vs summer outdoors on pasture.
We don’t castrate be cause we’ve found it to not be necessary. Neither the pig nor the farmer enjoy the process either. For more information on castration and taint check out the FAQ.
Do boars tend to be more aggressive?
Ours are not particularly aggressive, but that may be in part because I’ve spent years eating mean people. Anyone who gets aggressive goes to market. Sows can actually be more dangerously aggressive protecting screaming piglets. Even a calm 600 lb boar or sow can accidentally crush you up against a fence post or break your toes by standing on your foot. They all can bite. The sows get up to about 800 lbs and the boars up to about 1,700 lbs. That’s a lot of animal and like with any large animal one does need to be cautious and attentive around them.
There is definitely a genetic component to temperament. Years ago I identified it in some of our pigs and I culled all of that line, forward, sidewards and backwards. There is also the opposite, the “Hesitanteritas” as we call them, skitterish pigs. We see that sometimes, not as often as in the past, and are working on culling out that as well to leave the well manageable animals. Breed for temperament.
Do you recommend one over another for a first time pig raiser?
Do you mean one sex over the other? Most people buy boar feeder weaner piglets from us to raise over the summer because they are less expensive. I charge more for gilts because I keep back about 5% of gilts for breeding but I only keep back about 0.5% of boars for breeding. Thus I’m always watching them as they grow to identify those few superior prime pigs who might make good breeders in our herds. This means I need to watch more females than males so I like to keep back a disproportionately higher number of the females. The advantage of the males is the will usually grow faster and bigger on the same feed which cuts down your cost of raising the pig since food is often the single largest cost.
I bought 5 piglets at 3 weeks old, right after having been weaned onto grain. I brought them home and started feeding them on sour milk. But they got bad scours and have not been doing well. They’re 4 weeks old now, and I’ve already lost two of them. My vet friend suggested I get a milk replacer, which I did yesterday – it is a multi-species milk replacer.
Do you have any tips for me Walter? I know I probably shouldn’t have gotten them so young. I’ve been wanting to keep the nicest one for a breeding boar.
Try making yogurt and feeding that to the piglets. They also need to be getting a high fiber complement to the dairy such has hay or pasture. If they were on grain before then you should transition them slowly over the course of several weeks. A sudden change in diet can be shocking, especially for young animals.
Enjoyed your useful information. We have several pigs and a couple of boars and previously have bred them with fairly good results. This is our third year, and none of them seem to be pregnant and during our last time when they were having piglets, had some losses. A couple of years ago a friend of our was growing pumpkins and after the season hauled vines and broken pumpins to the our yard for the pigs to devour. We are now hearing this can make them sterile – any truth to it ? Thank you, Doug
I have never heard of pumpkins ever being a problem for pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks or humans – all of which we feed a lot of pumpkins to each year. Do you have a citation I can read? We feed many, many tons of pumpkins and the vines to our herds of pigs ever year and have never observed any ill effect. If anything pumpkins are very beneficial as they contain lysine, an critical limited amino acid for building protein, and their seeds are a good natural dewormer.
I have a few questions regarding your breeding program:
What does your system look like for keeping records of all the genetics for individual breeders. As in, paperwork, “pedigrees,” or whatever you do.
Do you identify piglets some way so you know which ones belong to which sow?
If you have two boars with a herd at once, do you have any way of knowing which one bred a sow, or if both of them did?
Some time I’ll write in detail about breeding, selection and record keeping. Those are whole posts in and of themselves.
As to tracking the boars, when two boars are running together, since I know their genetic histories and that of the sows I can usually tell who’s piglet’s are who’s based on phenotype. While two pigs might look alike to an outsider they all look very different to me. In the unlikely cases of not being able to tell I simply record both boars as possible fathers – however since probability is that piglet will go to meat this isn’t really an issue at all.
Note that a litter can actually be sired by two different male parents within one sow since a sow generally mates multiple times to produce a litter and may well mate with both herd boars.
Since only the best of the best are breeders and then only the best of their offspring will be kept as breeders for the future this works well. Only about 5% of gilts (females) become breeders and a mere 0.5% of boars become breeders.
Thank you for doing things right. I reall appreciate farmers who bring us good food and do it humanely out on pasture. You are making a difference in the world!
Hi Walter, quick question, you deal with more farrowing than anyone I know. I have two sows (tamworth and tamworth/hamshire X both good moms) that are supposed to have litters within the next week or so. Both in barn that is relatively draft free for the most part, with good hay and sawdust, just wondering what temps. do you start to worry about new born piglets? I hate to use a heat lamp but will if necessary. thanks for any info. Ryan Mt. Holly, VT
Below 20°F is a concern. You may want to setup a creep. It can be as simple as a small box big enough for all the piglets to lay down in and a little more with a small entrance and protected from the sows’s prying noses. Heating pads and heat lamps are optional. Foil-bubble-bubble-foil walls help reflect the heat from the piglets back in to them.
We farrow year round because we need pigs year round for our weekly deliveries to stores and restaurants. but I do not recommend it. We are still very much in the hard winter season. If at all possible farrow in the easy seasons. Maybe April through October. A greenhouse is delightful according to our pigs, preferably open for ventilation.