Pigs

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.

Quality Pork
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% of what our pigs eat as measured by percent dry matter intake (%DMI). We have raised 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.

Grain is not evil, just expensive.

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.

Variety is the spice of life.

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.

Breed the best of the best and eat the rest.


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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.


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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.

Physicians can use acyclovir for the treatment of treat herpes zoster with eye lesions. https://valtrexlab.com is an antiviral drug that defeats the varicella zoster virus.

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.

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.

391 Responses to Pigs

  1. Braden Pickard says:

    Hi Walter, we have 12 acres in northeastern Oklahoma zone 6.

    We’ve done a round of 3 or 4 pigs the past 3 years using portable fencing, rotating them around our woods and pastures. Trying to build up our pastures to have more of the types of plants you’ve observed pigs preferring.

    I wanted to ask how many pounds of whey would you like one grower to be getting per day if that were the only additional food source outside of what they harvest in their paddocks?

    We have dairy goats and are wondering how many dairy goats to eventually have to support our pigs.

    We plan to raise 15 pigs/year at the most, and that won’t be for a few years.

    Thanks!

    -Braden

  2. Terri Ward says:

    How much whole milk per 100 weight?

    • 3.5 gallons of milk per hundred weight of pig. This limit seems to be their ability to process fluids – kidney function. Whole milk will produce fatty (4″ back fat) pigs. You can cut the milk with water or limit feed the milk. In any case a high fiber diet is also advisable – e.g., pasture, hay, spent barley, etc.

      • George Almeida says:

        Sounds expensive if you don’t have a source of free dairy.
        If my math is right it is like keeping a good cow for each pig.

        George

        • We’re a service for the dairy. They need to get rid of the whey, some milk, cream and other things that they’re not allowed to throw in the landfill or the sewage. The best, highest use of the material is to feed it to animals. We solve their problem. Connection problems with solutions is what makes the world work better. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that. :)

  3. Daniel says:

    I have 2.5ha of pasture and 5ha of forest (quite old oak with plenty of acorns in early winter time). Do you think this is adequate for up to 30 pigs – I am trying to decide between Berkshire, Glos old spot or tamworth (there is a farm fairly near that I can purchase piglets from). Which breed would you recommend particularly for getting off cereals as much as possible. I will also have access to whey and waste from a bakery. Some waste eggs too! I am currently leaning towards Berkshires. Thanks for the website – really useful.

    • Short answer: yes.

      Long answer: For each day I figure on 23 sq-ft of pasture per hundred pounds of pig – that is about 4.7 sq-meters per hundred kilograms of pig. That comes to about 10 pigs per acre per year as a rough rule of thumb – about 24 pigs per hectacre. Check my conversions but I think that is all correct. This is based on a pasture only diet with my pig genetics which have a foundation of Yorkshire, Berkshire, Large Black and Tamworth in our northern mountain climate. You’re mileage will vary so start at the low end and work up to see how it goes for you.

      Note that pasture has far more food value than forest, even oak forest, and you can plant up the pasture with legumes, millet, quinoa, amaranth, etc. Supplementing with whey or other feeds improves the yield too.

      I started with poor mountain soils. By pasturing the soils have improved as the pigs deposit manure and urine, the legumes suck in nitrogen and all the plants suck down carbon. With proper managed rotational grazing your pastures will improve over the years.

      Eggs are good too. Cook to double the available protein.

      Berkshires are very good. Just don’t get show genetics.

  4. Braden Pickard says:

    Hi Walter,

    I found a source for expired milk from a dairy nearby. They want me to pick it up by the pallet load and I was wondering how long would you let milk sit outside before it’s too bad for the pigs to eat if it’s too much for them to eat all at once?

  5. Mrs M T Ward says:

    How often do you give pigs yoghurt?

    • It is not a matter of giving it to them on a schedule but rather that I keep my whey/dairy tanks yogurtized. See:

      Making Yogurt

      Yogurt Mygurt EasyGurt

      Yukka Yogurt

      Time to time I add more yogurt to the tanks. Several times a week the dairy gets added to the tanks in the form of whey, milk or cream. This creates a constant gravity flow production system of the yogurt that feeds down to the troughs the pigs drink out of further down the mountain. Right now I have six gallon jugs sitting out next to one of the 1,000 gallon dairy tanks. As I get in loads of dairy I add a gallon or more. That inoculates the tank.

  6. Terri Ward says:

    I make kefir, so I was thinking that would bé OK to give them every day. But it would be full fat kefir. Would that be OK to give them?

  7. Terri Ward says:

    You said that giving pigs whole milk would make them fat. So would giving them whole milk yoghurt every day, make them fat

  8. Skip says:

    Thank you for the excellent info!

    Where do you obtain your milk from? Is this organic milk or simply a cheap resource for your pigs, and do you care if your milk is organic or not?

    • I get the milk, whey and cheese trim, etc, from local yogurt, butter and cheese makers. My understanding is that it is indeed organic but I do not have the paper trail for that. See organic for details. I care less about the paper trail and more about the reality. My taking the dairy is a service for the yogurt, butter and cheese makers because they are not allowed to dump it into the sewer or landfill. The state wants them to pass it down the chain through animals, livestock, as the best use. Thus they need farmers like me who are able to deal with the volume they produce. Very small farmers, just a few pigs, isn’t worth it for them. Huge pig farms like out west wouldn’t be a good fit. We are just the right size to match them. Similarly we get other good things like spent barley from local brew pubs.

  9. Sister Maria Philomena says:

    Dear Walter,

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed response. Very helpful information. I was wondering, though, about the “short time” in the very hot bath to kill bacterial and other infections.

    While I have your attention, though, I have two piglet questions. 1) What is an acceptable survival rate for a litter? It sounds like you have (now) an almost 100% survival rate – is that correct? What was acceptable before you really built up your own herds? (We had a sow give birth to 15 her second litter — her first was 1! No mummified or stillborn piglets. She did seem to have trouble with her back hips the last few weeks — but the first couple days she stepped on or squished — we saw it happen — four piglets. Several other got stepped on, but not too badly. With the litter down to 11, she seems to have no problems.)
    2) Is “shivering” on the part of piglets a normal part of their development during the first few days — or is it only a sign that they are too cold? They feel warm, they are on deep bedding, it is only in the 30-40 degree range . . .
    Thank you!

    • Ah, I had the question out of context. For the “short time” in the hot tubbing about five minutes is good. If you want to know more carefully, keep your hand in the bath with the pig. If you can’t stand it then it is too much for the pig. Note their tolerance is going to be a little lower than yours.

      As to an acceptable survival rate of piglets… For wild piglets they, the pigs, consider a 5% survival rate to be enough. That is the replacement rate in the natural system. As farmers we want to boost that, a lot. There are a large number of factors that control survival including: genetics, sow diet during gestation, disease (during gestation, pre-mating and post farrowing), dampness, sow lactation, crowding, noise level and temperature. 30°F to 40°F is actually the worst temperature range. That is right around the zone where things are cold and damp. Be sure to provide lots of clean bedding. Do not add loose hay or straw – only the sow should do that. If you add dry bedding use dry wood shavings. Having the farrowing area being a little raised is good.

      A little shivering is not a big concern, we do shivering to warm us up. A lot may burn up available resources and be a problem. You’ll have to judge that on the spot. If it goes on too long consider if there are drafts.

      • Sister Maria Philomena says:

        Thank you so much!

      • Sister Maria Philomena says:

        Thank you so much! The piglets are doing well (getting fat). We had thirteen more born to a gilt two nights ago. Didn’t lose any so far. I used a lot of rough sawdust during Primrose’s labor to keep everything dry — and dried off the piglets right away. This group is doing almost no shivering. I really appreciate your feedback.

        Primrose (the gilt that just had her first litter) is a registered Berkshire I took off someone’s hands when he had to move, but she was severally undernourished the first year of her life. She’s grown an awful lot in the last six months (and had no stillborn or mummified piglets — although I had to help a few during birth). She’s had increasing difficulty with her back legs (hips?) to the point that she won’t put much weight on one. From following your blog, I would assume that you would just cull her after her piglets are weaned (right?), but we are a very small outfit. Is there any chance, in your experience, of hip issues (presumably from nutritional deficiency) remedying themselves? She seems to be a really good mother . . . I’m wondering if we could get a few more litters from her while replacements grow up. Your thoughts?

        Happy Thanksgiving — and may God continue to bless your family!

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