Our farm is an approximately 70 acre section in the middle of our valley consisting mainly of open fields with some shade trees and forest margins which the animals enjoy on hot summer days. We have about 900 acres of forest that we sustainably work in addition to our farming.
We began farming doing forestry and maple syrup back in the 1980’s and then raising animals to provide meat for our own family back in the very early 1990’s as well as vegetables and fruit from our land. Our desire grew out of concerns about hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides and humane handling issues related to factory farmed meat. We wanted to provide healthy food for our growing children and the best time to start that was prenatally. This was long before the government and Big Ag co-opted the word organic. For us, organic is not a marketing phrase but rather a way. A Tao. This is how we raise our food to feed our family. NoWeirdStuff
Our farm expanded gradually from the homesteading level to a family farm over the subsequent decades. During that time we explored rabbits, ducks, meat chickens, laying hens, sheep and pigs. We discovered that we’re really good at raising pastured pigs. We had a market in pastured pork that would earn us a livable wage and pay the mortgage. Pigs also grow fast (250 lbs in ~6 months), have short gestation cycles (~4 months) and more offspring per litter (>8 vs 1 or 2 for sheep). Pigs also have shorter generations at about 10 to 12 months. In the end, our pastured pigs bring home the bacon. They co-graze along side our sheep, chickens, ducks and geese. Together the animals and plants make for a diversified, sustainable permaculture farm that enhance our soils, habitat and lives. The whole menagerie is watched over and managed by our livestock guardian herding dogs.
So where can you get our pork you ask?!? You can purchase directly by the whole or half pig and we deliver to local stores, restaurants and individuals year round on a regular weekly delivery route. See the Retail section for details of our route and stores that carry our products. Check out the CSA for information on purchasing pork directly. We also sell roaster pigs for events and piglets for people who want to raise their own.
See these pages for more overhead arial photos of our farm:
“I write to thank you for the tremendous inspiration and help that you continue to provide to me and many others in the sustainable family farming kinship. Your Sugar Mountain Farm Blog with its explicit descriptions, pictures and graphics of how and why you manage the farm using deliberate sustainable strategies and techniques has been a treasure of information for me as I prepare to expand my operation from seasonal pastured hogs to year round pastured hogs.”
-Todd Turner, Humble Haven Farm, Fort Loudon, PA
We don’t do agritourism, classes, seminars or tours but you can visit our farm online through these pages and when you come to pickup your meat at the farm you can see the pigs from the driveway. Check out this video we made for our Kickstarter project for an eight minute virtual tour:
Vermont Fresh Network,
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT)
The Vermont Grass Farmers’ Association,
and a NoWeirdStuff.org farm.
Vermont Dept of Ag Wholesale & Retail Licenses
USDA Inspected slaughter & processing
Hi fOLKS If you don”t mind I have a quick question for you want is the most stressless way to move pigs into the barn from pasture?
Les & Deb
Lead them w/ food! We often treat our pigs to hard boiled eggs so when they see we have some for them they’ll do anything!!
Feed Time and patents
How do you capture a pastured pig?
I’ve got a whole post coming on this in my draft queue but here are some highlights:
1) Train the pigs to come – when you feed them anything call them. “Heeeerreee Peeeeeig Peeeig Pig!” we holler and they come a running down the mountain. They might be half a mile away in the far pastures but that will bring most of them in. Since we primarily feed pasture/hay and dairy the call in is for a treat of bread, some pumpkins, apples, etc.
2) If you are feeding grain or such then feed in the evening and do the call in then. Having a regular time of day they are called in helps. This also makes it so they eat more pasture and depend less on the grain or commercial feed.
3) Have a sorting area that you call them into for feeding the treat. This should have gates so you can sort pigs you want to the next pen for holding. From there they go up the chute to load in the truck.
4) Sorting boards make a world of difference. You can see our sorting boards in “Wee-Wee-Weaning All the Way Home”. The commercial sorting boards are expensive. We make our own out of plywood or better yet the plastic from 60 gallon drums. I’ll post more about those sometime.
5) Sorting flags are useful too although not as good as sorting boards.
6) A good herding dog can be worth five people.
All this makes for a minimum of stress for both the pigs and the handlers. We sort and load pigs each week – practice makes perfect. Check out Temple Grandin’s books and web sites[1, 2]. She does not have much experience with pastured pigs but a lot of what she says about pigs, sheep and cattle applies. Pigs are herd animals and handling them is much like handling other herd animals.
Ours are in one acre pastures so they always see us coming. I’ve found that carrying an orange bucket (which they associate with whey or acorns or other goodies) helps a lot . . . but carrying anything that looks interesting works almost as good to get them following me. Depending on the day, they seem to follow me wherever I go – I can usually get ours corralled into a smaller holding pen pretty easily. If a particular batch of pigs had to be coralled more than once or twice (for vaccines for example) they get nervous – leaving the door to the holding pen open and putting food in works if I’ve got time, otherwise I construct a run with cattle panels and walk them in from behind.
Getting them actually onto the truck seems to be a different game every time – sometimes they all go in on their own, sometimes we have to slowly push them in with a cattle panel making the holding pen smaller and smaller until they are all on.
I assume that if the baby pigs learn to be dog herded that they will still be able to be herded when they are moms? Right now our untrained sows just stand there and look at the dog like, you are kidding me…… Hoping to get the little girls herd trained before they get too big, but the dog needs some training. I have a border collie and don’t need a livestock gaurdian, so she is not in with the pigs all the time.
Also, a butcher friend of mine said I could feed too much whey. How mich is too much.
Yes, the dogs do train the pigs to be herded and ours will train even a new adult so an old pig can learn new tricks. We’ve observed this three times long ago when we borrowed boars for breeding.
I’m not sure what your butcher friend is thinking of in terms of feeding too much whey. Our pigs get all they want since we free feed the whey. It is available to them all the time. Perhaps if that was all they ate it might be a problem but the pigs are on pasture/hay and eat a lot more of that than the way. The pasture/hay is also freely availabe. Variety in their diet is good.
Did you name your farm after the song by Neil Diamond? I always loved that song.
Actually, no, but that is a great connection isn’t it. We named our farm Sugar Mountain Farm because we also have our maple sugar bush on the south eastern slope. I have been using a similar logo since the early 1980’s(?) for other work and it has evolved to Sugar Mountain Farm.
I have 2 questions that I need answers to in a hurry….can you deworm a sow thats nursing? OUR PIGLEST ARE 2 WKS OLD CAN THEY BE DEWORMED WITH INJECTABLE IVERMECTIN?
I haven’t used the injectable ivermectin so I can’t give you an answer on that. My understanding is that it is used with piglets but you should check the manufacturer’s fact sheet for details. Same for the question on a nursing sow. I would think it would be okay but check with the company.
On loading pigs. I do not have near as many as Walter. Just 5 sows, 1 boar and 10 younger ones. I have all of them trailer trained. My stock trailer spends a lot of time in pastures and pigs are fed in them often. Only problem is getting out the ones you do not want. If I move the trailer to a different group they get in before I can put feed in.
You are back up and running–good to see. I live in Alaska and I know a lady (the pig lady with affection) who raises numerous litters throughout the year in incredibly cold weather. The sows have sheds to go into that are not open except for the doorways. I was up at her place a few months ago in 20 below zero and the piglets were out cavorting; no problems.
The doorways being open are providing them with the much needed ventilation. People need to remember that the pigs, and dogs, run their bodies at a higher temperature set point so they can better handle cold. In fact, if you spend much time outdoors doing physical activity you too will raise your set point, burn more calories and be comfortable in cooler temperatures. Much of it is a matter of acclimation. It is important not to over empathize or anthropomorphize.
Great point, Walter! As a species, humans seem to think that the best way to treat any animal is as if it was a human. They mean well, but seem to think at that at least any mammal is basically a human in a fur suit. (This creates career opportunities: Cesar Millan, ‘The dog wants to be a dog. And go pee on a tree.’)
Even for this human, many people and businesses keep their places too warm in the winter. It’s not ideal for human health, either.
That’s the great thing about the way you keep and raise your swine – it’s a perfect fit for what is natural for that species. Thank you for your generosity in sharing your experiences and knowlege gained over the years of doing this. As you know, this info is hard to find, and most of the old-timers who raised hogs on pasture and/or in the woods are gone. And nearly all the information available is geared toward raising hogs in confinement – whether a pig pen in the backyard, or a commercial CAFO. THANK YOU!!!
I enjoy your site and love the fact that you’re building a butchering facility. We have a small 3 acre farm that I push to the limit where we are looking to develop our own breed of sheep (currently a mix of Icelandic, Jacobs, and Gulf Coast) and we have a few pigs.
I was hoping for some advise on my pigs. I have a 1 year old boar living with two 1.5 year old gilts and as far as I can tell neither gilt is pregnant. The last time the boar was caught doing his thing was a couple of months ago and thus I am hopeful that someone is pregnant but I’ve had these kind of breaks in action before w/o a pregnancy. It seems unlikely that two gilts are both incapable so I need to figure out how to determine if my stud is a dud. I suppose it could be his technique as opposed to his swimmers. Do you have a suggestion as to the best method for determining what is wrong? The critters are fed organic feed and as such cost a bunch to maintain. I would have some very expensive pork in the freezer if in fact my stud turns out to be a dud.
If none of them are demonstrating fertility by that age then someone(s) is a dud. Not all animals are fertile. Females tend to have more incidences of infertility than males because their reproductive system is so much more complex and must carry the young to term. On the other hand, in this case the two gilts are out voting the boar. Without any of them ever having been proven before it is very hard to say who’s responsible. I think I would suggest eat these and starting afresh with a guaranteed bred gilt. Learn about farrowing with her. Then next winter do AI or otherwise breed her. This way you know you have a fertile female.
I have an Amish neighbor that has offered his proven boar for some servicing. I will likely try him out before I butcher the lot as two of my pigs are registered Glouchester Old Spots and replacement is difficult. How difficult is AI?
I have never done AI but I researched it carefully and talked with people who do it. They said it is very easy. I found the cost to be about $150/sow back in 2003. You want to do two shots per sow spaced about 12 hours to a day apart right on her standing heat. Have fun! :)
You mentioned on permies.com that you heat your greenhouse with compost heat. I am just north of Spokane, WA and want to do the same in a 15 x 30 greenhouse. I am going to put a 270 IBC tote holding water as a thermal mass. I was thinking of eventually running 1/2 tubing under the growing beds circulating through the compost pile. What is your arrangement for the compost pile and location? Also if you do not know of him, search Jean Pain on Youtube. He generates methane and hot water from his huge pile. Thanks for your help.
It does work well. I’ve done that in the past and will in the future but currently we’re greenhouseless. In past ones we had the compost piles right in the greenhouses and warm frames. In a future version we’re planning we will also have it surrounding the greenhouse in a double bottle design to capture animal heat as well. I’ll look up Jean Pain. Thanks, -Walter
I like your website and the way you and your family run your farm.
I’m a 4H swine club leader, 4H parent, and small acreage landowner in the Pacific Northwest trying to learn more about the skills and techniques of raising high-quality animals, both for the market and our own consumption.
While my daughter’s 8 years of raising “fair pigs” comes to an end this August at the county fair, I’m thinking ahead to next year and raising our 2 or 3 hogs on a portion of our wooded and blackberry-brambled hillside, more or less free range, together with our annual boiler chicken flock (and maybe the layers) in kind of a mini-Polyface Farms rotation; and now maybe Sugar Mountain-style, too.
Anyway, I have much to look over and learn from on your site; thanks for posting!
(BTW, the “pig page” link (http://sugarmtnfarm.com/pig) on this page, http://sugarmtnfarm.com/products/pork/ is missing.)
Oops, thanks for catching that link problem. I have now fixed it.
Our pigs devore blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, thistle and burdock plants. If you have a blackberry covered hillside they will likely clear it of them. It does take many pigs to do a large area. If you don’t want them eating the berry plants then run parallel fences to protect the berry plants like hedge rows. This works well for us. Always remember that things have to be adapted to your local climate, style, soils, etc. There isn’t any magic to it, just taking time to figure out what works for you and that may be different than what works for us.
In some of your writing you mention that you use about 10 acres divided into paddocks for the pasture for your pigs. Up above on this page, you mention that your farm is about 70 acres. I wonder if you could clarify for me how many pigs you currently have and how many total acres they live on and are rotated on in your paddock system. Is each paddock 10 acres, or is 10 acres the combined size total of all the paddocks? Maybe if you explained the rough sizes of each paddock? Help! I don’t understand :)
I think you’re remembering the nine-square divisions or perhaps simply that one of our fields happens to be about 10 acres. Other fields are other sizes. Fields are sub-divided into paddocks for managed rotational grazing.
How we’ve divided up the fields has also evolved as we’ve learned. Originally we began managed rotational grazing with our sheep. What we learned with them we applied to the pigs, modifying it to adjust for differences as well as making it so it works for both types of animals co-grazing along with poultry.
The number of pigs varies greatly time to time since we might have 50 to 100 new pigs born in a single day. Around 300 pigs on farm at any time is typical right now. See this. However, that changes over the years.
How many animals per acre will vary with the size of the animals, season, forage quality and other factors. See this.
So, would I be correct to assume that you have your ~300 pigs on about 70 acres?
Correct. We have grazing space for about 700 pigs. Some areas are resting, others are in use. It isn’t efficient to increase the grazing area just a little bit as the pig count goes up so in 2009 we did a big bump up in pasture size and since then have been gradually increasing the herd sizes. Things happen in steps. Like we just had about 70 new piglets. Rather than happening evenly over the year they tend to cluster to a degree.
Great info, thanks! I know there’s no cookie-cutter formula for space per pig because of all the variables, but this helps me get a general starting point for my calculations.
Not sure you will remember me/us. Danny and Cindi Henshaw in Gladstone, VA. You were a lifeline to us in 2006-2007. Love your site and hope to learn much. We are now raising pigs again and have chickens.
I want to thank you for the kindnesses shown to us. Never forgotten. Just so you know.
I remember well. I’m glad to hear you are back to farming. May things be much smoother for you. Thank you for the update!
Danny or Cindy Henshaw, I have never forgotten you and often wondered how you all were. If you have a mind to, contact me. virginiafoodfreedom[at]gmail.com http://www.virginiafoodfreedom.org I would love to catch up. Blessings and Warmest Regards, Bernadette
hi my family and i are going to start pig farming not only for meat for us but to also sell of to the butcher how many pigs would you say you can keep in a 60’x30′ area and is there certain things i can grow in my garden to make it more cost effective also would you say veggies on the turn would also be ok from supermarkets and produce stand from the area along with corn feed and grain? on the pen size how many boar to sow ratio is it or is 1 boar sufficient until i swap out for a fresh one ? my parents use to breed pigs back when they was younger but i wanted to try to get as much info as possible so i can make sure im doing things the best i can to have healthy pigs and happy ones lol
Check out this reply for some of your question.
That size pen is small enough that it isn’t appropriate for a breeding set if you’re planning to do any sort of grazing. Rather that pen size will be for penned or confined. In that case I would suggest dividing it up into several smaller pens. One sow can easily produce ten to twenty piglets a year each growing to 250 lbs in six months. That’s about 3,000 to 6,000 lbs of pork on the hoof which is too much for that small space. If at all possible I would suggest a larger paddock space. An acre might be able to support that depending on quality of soils, supplemental feeds and other factors.
One boar services ten to fifteen sows. Economically I have heard it said that it takes six sows to justify the cost of maintaining a boar (e.g., feed). You might want to look into Artificial Insemination (AI) instead of keeping a boar as that will be cheaper and let you have more genetic diversity.
i figured it wouldn’t be enough room to do large scale breeding i was thinking more along the lines of keeping as many as i can at the time there is a butcher here paying 1$ per lb then selling any extra off as piglets to also help with feed bill i am out of work due to being ran over so was looking to increase cash flows of the house the best i can seeing as no one really wants to hire me since my accident a yr ago even if i only could keep 6-10pigs at a time then sell of all extra piglets i thought maybe i could atleast help out in some way and also bring extra bacon into the house
I urge you to make up a business plan before you move ahead. At $1/lb I fear you wont be able to come close to breaking even. That is competing with the commodities market, the large CAFOs which are highly government subsidized and run on high volume. They make or lose $5 per pig and it is only through doing lots of them with government assistance that they’re able to stay in business. Even then, many go bankrupt every year.
What you might be able to do instead is work to identify a local niche market for high quality pork and serve that. Customers who value humanely raised meat, quality and local will pay more than the $1/lb and make your time worth it. It may take years to develop but that will give you a long term business. In the process you can also sell roasters and piglets as well as producing the meat for your own family which is a considerable savings on the budget.
I have large blacks and the sows are about a year old and both have had a litter. They had milk at birth, but about a week later I have piglets dying and both mothers milk has dried up. What might have caused this and is there anything I can do to save the piglets besides bottle feeding (I can’t do that nor do I think I should). Is there anything I could or should have done to prevent this happening again? Thank you, I am very new to the hog raising business and need all the advise I can get.
I’m not sure. I haven’t seen this. There is a disease diagnosis web site which might help. It’s a bit slow to work through but may give you an idea of what is going on, generally it returns too many results. If it is genetics, that is to say the mother simply isn’t a good milker, doesn’t have good mothering instincts, then I would cull her. With a single sow having this problem I would not be incline to cull yet if I had no other stock. With two sows, if they are related, then I start to suspect that this is a heritable issue. Do you know much about their sire and dam? Talk with the breeder who you got the sows from and ask them how their mothers and how the mother of the boar were at milking.
hi im intrsted in bying a pig but i need a miniature do you have miniature piglets that i
could bye for a nice fradly pet in the house?
and i need a nice and fradly Mini pig
I’m sorry but we do not have pet pigs available. Our pigs are not miniatures. They are full sized farm pigs. They typically grow to 600 to 800 lbs and the big boars routinely get over 1,000 lbs. See these posts about pet pigs.
I have raised the berkshire crosses for meat for several years, I heard from a retired butcher that the best pig for meat is the breed with the longest snot. However he could not remember the breed. Do you know?
He might be thinking of Landrace. They have fairly long snouts. Follow that link and then look at the American and German Landrace. They are widely used as one of the foundation stocks for the big indoor commercial hog farms.
ok, I’m looking to feed my pigs right. no pasture, no milk. What whole grains feed them well? pig food (complete pig food) is expensive. Can you pass on a receipt? if i’m making 100 lbs of feed, what do I put in it???
please, please advise. you live zillions of miles away, I live in CA. Feed stores don’t help can you??
Since we don’t feed a grain based diet I don’t have a recipe to pass on. There is a book Small Scale Pig Raising which is very good an covers more of the conventional pen raised and grain diet. You may find that helpful. It is only a few dollars used on Amazon.
Please unsubscribe. less in my in box as I visit your site regularly and love ready it. Hunker down for a breezy , wet night.
thanks and keep up the great work !
To unsubscribe use the Subscribe/Unsubscribe buttons and your email address in the box near the top of the right column. I’ve done it by hand for you. Hope the storm doesn’t cause any harm over your way. We’re just getting a light rain right now. I sort of had my heart set on more rain to fill the water table since summer was rather dry.
I’ve been trying to find an unsubscribe button all over the web page, but I cannot find it. I have accidentally subscribed to your posts since I saw the posts about blacklisting IP addresses for spammers.
The unsubscribe is down at the bottom of the page on the right. I have done it for you. Let me know if you get more after today.
so your pigs and sheep live together?? for sure?? I want to do that next year….please advise.
Yes, we keep our pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks and geese all in the same fields at the same time. Currently we’re sheepless, as we ate the last few but we plan to get more. During lambing season the ewes need to be able to have a private space away from the pigs. The pigs tend to be inquisitive about something like a vulnerable lamb. They naturally take a bite to see if it might be good to eat. Once the lambs are up and running around, steady on their legs they’re fine with the pigs. Note that we have plenty of room. In a pen situation things may well be different. Pasture provides space.
SO your pigs and sheep live together? no issues with copper from the baby pigs?? YEA. I want to do that next year and have tons to roam!!!
please advise how well it works
Sheep vary in their sensitivity to copper. Ours may well not have much sensitivity since our soils contain a lot of copper. Baby pigs don’t contain any more copper than most animals.
This pig story reminds me of a small adventure I had with a small pig that one of my kids won in a pig scramble at the local fair about 20 years ago. After winning the small pig I had no clue about taking care of it.. Anyway I decided to built a small area to hold and feed the pig until it was about 250 lbs. Well before I had the chance to built the fenced in area. :} the little pig got away from me and decided to head south up the road in my small town.. Man that little piggy could run,, HAHA.
After about 3 hours and half of the people in my town running after this pig we captured it..
I’m starting pig farming on five acres and I’m thinking of pasture which is of course the cheaper option but I’m wondering how I can get the berries to plant as pasture.Respectively,
Try a Google search like for pasture seeds.
Love your site and all the chat. Grass farmer here. Love also Joe Saladin. Sepp Holzer is the man and I can’t get enough of any of you right now. Fill you in on why at some point but for now I am after three female piglets to raise as sows. Pasture raise, inground shelters, and planting a fair share of their feed. Great idea on the clamps for winter feed. I am a big fan of rotational pasturres and actually am counting on the pigs for their clearing brambles. My property is heavily wooded , most of it mixed hardwood and steep with the remainder primarily hemlock. (being logged and milled for shelters where I can’t use the banks) Anyway the pigs, thinking duroc, tamworth , old spot… I want something outdoor hardy, good maternal instincts, and workable. I’ll worry about breeding when they have had some time on the land. Should I be cautious about hemlock?
By hemlock do you mean the non-poisonous conifer tree or the poisonous plant family. If the former, the non-poisonous tree, then it is no issue. If the latter, the poisonous plant used to poison Socretes then you have problem. Use those links to identify which you have. Good luck!
soon to start a pastured pig farm. Any ideas on where or how to buy pregnant sows. I will be in MS. Been researching and you have the best site out there by far. I hope to learn a lot from your years of hard work.
I have a question about my two sows. One has 9 piglets that are two weeks old today, the other is due in a week. They are in the same pen, will the older piglets fight with the new ones, and will they take the other mothers milk?
Yes, the older piglets will steal milk and keep the younger ones from nursing. I would separate them. I aim for sow cohorts to farrow within the same week of each other, no more than two weeks apart. Piglets grow fast.
I have a source for free spent grain. I would like to know more about how I can safely add this to our pigs and chickens diet. I have had a hard time finding things information.
I don’t know of a maximum amount you can feed. We get spent barley from a local brew pub. We don’t get enough to get close to the maximum since we’re feeding four hundred pigs plus the chickens, etc. If I had unlimited spent grain I would run a Pierson’s Square which is described in the article above. Note that different grains will have different protein content.
Hi Walter, my four month old gilts have what appears to be flea bites under there legs,leg pits if you will. Red bumps. They also scratch occasionally with their hind legs. They are in a new hemlock building , milled and built this winter. They are bedded on good hay and toilet on shavings. Off the cuff?
Sounds like they might have a pest, perhaps lice, fleas, ticks, etc. We’ve never had these in our herd but that may be largely due to our cold climate and the chickens keeping the populations down. I have read of people smothering on vegetable oil to kill off the pests. Ivermec might also do it – something to try if the infestation is particularly bad. I would try the oil first. The problem is the stages that have dropped off and are in the bedding. If you can rotate them to a completely new area as well. Rotation helps a lot with this. Do you keep chickens with them? The poultry are of great assistance.
I love, love, love your website and blog. It is hard to find any info on the internet about pigs. You type in pigs you get either pot bellied or guinea pig results. I have your website bookmarked and check it all the time. My question is this…We had a sow that was a great mother, threw great litters and my family and I loved her very much. She had a great litter and a couple of days later she ran a temperature. We gave her antibiotics but she just couldn’t fight it off. While she was running a fever, she had some small siezures. She would refuse to get up. I think she couldn’t. We even shocked her on the butt with a jumper wire from our electric fence. That would make anybody jump up. I think something in her head switched off when she had her siezures. Any ideas on what could have happened? She was on good feed (ground peas, lentils, barley and the minerals pigs need), clean water, shelter, and lots of love. We took the piglets away from her right away in fear she would pass something to them. All 13 survived and were healthy. Just curious….
Glad to hear the piglets are doing well. I would no shock the sow. There are many different things that could cause what you’re describing so I’m not sure what it is. I would suggest trying to use the Disease Problem Solver on the ThePigSite. That tends to come back with a lot of false positives but it may help narrow down the diagnosis.
Pigs are doing great thanks! The only reason we tried shocking her was that it was winter and we wanted to get her inside out of the dirt/mud to warm her. We ended up putting her down. She was 6 years old and gave us lots of piglets. I was wondering, do you keep your smaller boars with smaller sows/guilts? Our boar is a “big boy” and the other two sows we have are smaller. I would hate for him to hurt them. He is a sweet guy and loves the ladies. The other boar we have is young. Thanks for your time!
Yes, a large boar can break the back of a sow or gilt. Most importantly is that they have good footing. Not ice nor slippery wooden floors. Out on the paddock soil should do well. Our biggest boars tend to stand on three legs when breeding small gilts. This makes it so they carry their own weight.
Our gilt is getting ready to farrow and she is out on pasture with another pregnant gilt. They sleep together in a. On crib with a roof and wrapped in tarps to keep wind off and works fairly well. I made her a place to farrow in the old chicken coop which has electric for heat lamps. There is no electric out in the field. It’s gonna be mid 40s for highs and lows in low 30s next week. Should I get another hut out in the field or try and coax here to the chicken coop? Not to many people here that I can ask questions to. Most say put her in a farrowing crate. I will not do that!!! Thanks for any help.
That’s warm weather. The issue at that temperature becomes dampness and precipitation. During this season we provide open sheds for the sows to farrow in with deep bed packs. I strongly recommend not farrowing in the cold months as it is much harder. We do it but would rather just farrow in the warm months. Perhaps global warming will help.
We need to have pigs in early march for 4h pigs. Our next one to farrow will be late April. I can put a bunch of wood chips and straw in the corn crib that’s outside but what about the other guilt that sleeps in there too.
Separate the other gilt from the farrowing gilt. During the warm seasons the sows naturally seek privacy for farrowing but they can’t do this in the cold months so you must give her the privacy she needs. Another gilt out of sync with her will lay too close and not be properly responsive to the piglets’s needs not to be crushed.
Hi folks…. We just found your blg/website….it is really great and very inspiring for all of us who are just getting going on our own small farms! I don’t know where you find the time you website up …..my hat is off to you all!. Your kids have some great parents.
We are in NB Canada and have just started an organic farmas of last year. Our 3 pigs 2 Berkshire sows and 1 Duroc boar are in a pature but have rooted it up unlike what I am seeing in your website. They also are fed a mix of grain (cooked oats, barley, corn, bran & soy plus some added resturant food mostly veggie peelings, bread etc to round it out. They get 2 meals a day morning and night. They are growing very well and are happy pigs. Our 2 Berkshire girls are soon to deliver and I am looking for good solid info on how much to up their food after the piglets arrive. Can you please help me? I am hoping to find more time to read your stories because they are really helpful. Thanks for putting this together …Love you farm and I look forward to hearing from you. Sandy
It might be that they’re on the sections too long or perhaps these are pastures that have a lot of tubers and insects in the ground that the pigs are rooting up. Once they’ve completed that, with proper managed rotational grazing, they should then focus on grazing the more easily accessible above ground foods. Check out the post Rootless in Vermont.
Once the piglets are born the sows need lots of water and more calories so that they can produce plenty of milk. Going into farrowing they should have nicely rounded backs which indicate they have good fat reserves. See pictures here and here. I do not limit the calories for sows other than the general diet that we feed which is based on pasture/hay and dairy with the addition of other good veggies and things we have. On the feed your giving you might increase the corn portion as that is the primary energy (calories) of your pigs’s diet. Both soaking and cooking it helps them digest it – good things to do with those feeds. The bread is often a high calorie element too which can help them produce more milk. The biggest thing is making sure they always have enough water.
Hi. I rarely comment or write on any blogs , posts etc but have just spent a wonderful hour reading through your blogs. I have marvelled at how patiently and freely you give help and advice to people. Obviously I love the whole concept of your livelihood/ life style too. All the best to you and your family and I will look forward to reading more from you . I also have followed you on twitter.
I used to be a factory pig farmer who is ashamed of the way pigs where raised. They are given so many shots it makes you sick to think that is what your family is eating. The fact they are put in crates is inhumane and they can’t do anything but stand up and lay down. I have done a lot of research on raising pigs the way you do and I can’t wait to get started. Thank you for all your information and may god bless your family sincerely Dale
I have been working with organic dairy cows for 25 years (as a naturopathic veterinarian for 18 of those years) and have just recently gotten into raising pastured pigs (certified organic). You are a wealth of information and obviously the go-to person for pastured pig management. Thank you for all your freely given advice. Not sure if you ever need advice on dairy cows, but my own website http://www.hubertkarreman.com has 13 years of free monthly newsletters that may be helpful to others. I look forward to visiting your farm someday as I get to Vermont usually once or twice a year for work with dairy farmers there.
May God bless you and your work,
Hubert Karreman, VMD
Thanks, I’ll have to check that out. We are quite interested in dairy, but solely for our own family and feeding our livestock. Production of milk for human consumption is too over regulated, a saturated market and price controlled for my tastes. I know many local dairy farmers so I’ve gotten to see the inside story a lot.
Does your piggers poop change much during the winter months? I ask this because My piggers poop is appearing more like clusters of large marbels while during the summer months more sausage like. They have access in the summer to a lot of applesd and i’m wondering if the change in poop appearance is just normal as they eat primarily hay in the winter. Thanks Walt.
We do see some changes over the seasons as their food changes (e.g., pasture vs hay in winter). I’m wondering if yours are getting enough water.
I keep warmed water in front of them with a tiny touch of molasses during winter months. This is the first winter that we are feeding strictly hay with smaller amounts of organic fruits and veg. Thanks for the info. I’ll continue to inspect pigger poop just because My personal panic button is never too far away.
You’re doing the right things. Continue to observe but if they are acting fine I suspect no ill.
I’ve got a question about lysine and cows. It’s my understanding that lysine isn’t synthesized in animals, the cows are just passing it on from what they eat. Is this right? If it is, why does it make sense to put a cow out on pasture to feed your pigs? Isn’t it just eating things they would’ve eaten?
My understanding is the cows are able to digest and concentrate it into their milk. However, I don’t know a lot about cows, yet. It’s on my list but not there yet.
If you’re already grazing your fields at capacity, wouldn’t all the available lysine be taken up by the hogs already? Even if it’s more concentrated, unless the grazing of cattle doesn’t completely preclude the grazing of hogs, it’s hard for me to imagine why you’d gain anything.
If we were at capacity… however we’re not anywhere close to the capacity of our fields. We currently have about 70 acres in pastures right now and only 400 pigs. 40 acres would be enough to easily sustainably graze that many so there is plenty of room on the existing fields.
We also have hundreds of acres more that we aren’t using at all for farming which we could convert back to fields. Some of this is open and hundreds more acres is in forest that used to be fields.
There is also the factor that one can graze more animal units mixed than apart. It isn’t simple addition. For example, on one acre where I could graze ten pigs and I could also simultaneously graze a cow fraction and several sheep plus dozens of chickens. This is because different species graze and digest differently utilizing different resources. The real world is more complex than just animal units.
Lastly, our pastures are gradually improving, largely because they are being grazed. So whereas one acre ten years ago was capable of sustainably feeding ten pigs it now might be able to feed a significantly higher number – I haven’t measured this recently. Our pastures will continue to improve so that would go up. But I don’t intend to hit those densities so it isn’t an issue.
That makes a lot of sense. What’s keeping your pig numbers at 400? The work? The demand? How would your fields change if you grazed them at capacity? Less brush, or just grazing on the steeper part of the grass’s growth curve? Do you think you could teach your pigs to nurse from cows? Haha, that’d save a lot of work.
I’ve heard of pigs nursing on cows. It is an interesting thought. Hopefully it doesn’t damage the cow’s teats.
The best way to provide milk is actually to have more sows and let the pigs nurse longer on the sows. We do this seasonally – that is some litters get to nurse longer than others with the seasons. Our sows produce huge amounts of milk and have udders far bigger than many cows. Realize that cows only have four teats vs 14 to 18 on our sows. Some of our sows (up to 900 lbs) are as big as many cows, just shorter legs. Our big boars Spot (>1,700 lbs), Big’ Un (1,477 lbs), Archimedes (1,157 lbs), Speckles (~1,200 lbs), Basa (~900 lbs) have been as big as many bulls. People tend to think of pigs as the typical finisher size of a mere 250 lbs but breeders get quite large. As they get larger they also become better grazers with bigger jaws, longer digestive tracts and more experience. This is why I keep breeder animals to an older age than you’ll see on most farms where they’re feeding grain which puts an economic limit on how long they can keep breeders since their feed costs go up faster than the litter sizes rise.
When we graze the fields at capacity there will be less brush. We can see that happening in the nearer fields which get more use. Some fields we only use alternate years or once per year.
We’re not ready to move beyond our current level, yet. Right now we have a bottleneck of how many animals we can transport to butcher each week. We don’t have time to make two trips and our van can only transport a maximum of six finishers plus a few roasters. Before you suggest a trailer realize that we live on steep, snowy, muddy mountain roads. Trailers are not an option. Not if we want to stay alive! When we have our slaughterhouse done that will remove that bottleneck. But first we need to finish the butcher shop portion.
We’ll never go beyond a certain point because there are more government regulations which we simply have no desire to deal with as you get bigger. With 520 finisher pigs a year we can pay our bills, have the resources to do interesting projects, save money and that is enough for us. Currently we are defined as a small farm and I like that. Beyond 749 pigs over 50 lbs we would be reclassified as a medium sized farm and with it have to deal with more government. Those rules are really oriented for barn / confinement operations and don’t fit us. Beyond $500,000 in sales the FDA becomes involved with the new FMSA regulations and I don’t want to deal with that. Getting big would involve employees and more government regulations – been there, done that, have the scars, no thanks.
So, we’ll stay small. It is enough. There’s a limit to how much work we want to do and how much money we need.
If you don’t add more pigs because that would wake up G’mnt, you could diversify with milk cows. Here in Europe, the French high mountain cheese (young grass sward of the high slopes) of Salers (central France) and Tomme (French alps) are delicate yet full of flavor without being fatty. My first taste of both cheeses lives with me vividly until I die. So, I started thinking, could a newcomer in a competitive milk marketspace of Vermont be successfull with a ‘you’ll remember your first tasting product’? It would involve adding yet another barrel vaulted or even more complex vaulted concrete thermal sink for to host a cheese cellar with adjoining cheese makery :-) And a apprenticeship in far away France (which a teenaged mother/daughter Holly/Hope combo must surely avoid at all cost). Hey, I’m just throwing an idea around, call it a brain fart if you like. No pun intended.
There have been thoughts on this. I think we would only go there if we had a problem with our whey supplier who is a butter and cheese maker. If we stopped getting whey we would probably setup our own dairy and if you give the Jeffries a Dairy they’ll want to make fancy cheeses to go with the prosciutto… Cascading… :)
This really is not an issue because there are lots of forages that provide lysine and cattle are even better at extracting the lysine, and other nutrients, than pigs. I suspect that because Walter is so successful with his pigs that they are already getting considerable lysine from his fields. Cattle would do this even better.
I was joking about the nursing, but I just found this video, interesting… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q9sZ-KnT0g
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I can’t wait to read more posts. We are trying our first attempt at pigs this year. Thank you for your insight. I look forward to exploring your blog and seeing how you rotate and the animals coexist.
Love reading all these posts; just a great resource from a very generous pig farmer! We are raising two gilts (Berkshire/guinea hog cross), 3 steers, one goat and 4 chickens on about 1.2 acres of irrigated pasture. I planted pumpkins, zucchini in the cattle catch pen and then planted green beans all around the inside fence line of the catch pen (all for animal feed). My hope is that the green beans will become a wall of extra forage since the animals cannot reach the roots of the beans, only the beans that “peak” through to the other side of the fence. We have a long growing season (here in Central California) with long hot summers. I’ll let you know how the green bean experiment goes but I’m hoping they produce all summer long like they do in my people vege garden.
An excellent idea. Now that you explain that I realize I’ve accidentally done that and it does work. A great thought for this year’s plantings. I’ve got some places to do that. Extended vertical pasture.
My “inside cow catch pen” beans are up and secure from chickens, hogs and cows. We have heat coming this week so I expect to be training beans up the fence soon; we just moved the pigs/cows to the west side (1/2 acre) pasture and irrigating the east side which was pretty dry. pigs were rooting but mostly near the wet fence line where the beans were planted. Pigs have their own pen (like a creep feeder) With the east pasture becoming depleted they were eating lots more hay (alfalfa and orchard grass); We live in citrus country so I gleen oranges that they just LOVE. Everything in moderation so I have to space out the oranges with other garden veges…. I am very interested in how citrus affects the mean flavor;;;;;;;;.My experiment continues….
hi Walter, thanks for all of the info you generously dole out to your readers. you really are helping to revolutionize pastured pork across the country and beyond.
here’s one for you. I have access to many lbs of “soft kraut” – sauerkraut from an organic shop that gives away the kraut when they’re working with a different type of cabbage that doesn’t meet quality control. it’s basically finished sauerkraut.
I don’t have a jar to be able to tell you what the exact amount of sodium is per jar, but googling for the general nutrition for sauerkraut yields 2,817 mgs per about 1 lb of sauerkraut (or 939 mgs per 1 cup’s worth, which is 142 grams).
not all of our pigs enjoy the kraut, but I have been feeding it to the younger batch of feeders who love it. they’re each consuming less than 1 lb at a time, but I have been told that excessive salt intake can be problematic for pigs, so I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this. thanks so much for the consideration.
Interesting question. That’s high in salt. I would feed it judiciously and watch them. Provide two sources of fresh water. Our pigs eat a lot of brassicas out in the fields: kale, rape, broccoli, etc which are related to cabbage which is used for sauerkraut. I have heard of some people feeding too much cabbage in the last month and getting an off taste to the pork so I would keep the sauerkraut to a minor portion for their last month or two of finishing.
will do. I’ll start feeding them less once they hit 4 months. thanks for the quick reply, Walter.
I’ve started feeding zucchini and green beans to my girls from the vegetable patch I planted just for them. They LOVE it! I can’t grow cabbage at this time of year because of the heat here but I’m glad to know too much cabbage isn’t great toward the end. In the winter I will have lots of cabbage so will go easy on it. Thanks you!
I’ve got a question …..my pigs are chewing on rocks ….dambdest thing …..must be deficient in minerals ??
Could be. Also could be boredom or just random. I would suggest, as a general thing, to get a soil test so you know if your soils are complete. Generally iron and selenium are the first issues. If you want you might feed kelp. See this article about Mineral Deficiencies.
What floor drain system is required & and how is waste water handled? Does it have to be treated or can it be washed down through floor drains to septic system? I know some of this May vary depending on municipality, however what are some of the things we should consider when designing floor drains & waste water systems? For meat processing plant?
Thank you! Enjoy your website!
We handle different types of wastes differently. e.g., welfare (toilet, shower), blood, brine, wash waters, etc. There are several articles that talk about how I setup separate plumbing systems for each of these. I view the blood, compostable guts and such as valuable resources to return to the land through composting. Also see the articles on composting which is the recommended way of handling organics and being used more and more by meat processing facilities as a low energy means to recapture these nutrients.
I don’t know how to post a pic here but I was hoping you could look at some and tell me if you thought she was pregnant.
If you email me a picture with a note that you would like me to post it to the comments section of Pregnancy Indicator I can do that and I’ll offer a thought on her – really a guess since it is a matter of knowing the lady to a degree as explained on Pregnancy Indicator.
Hello I just subscribed to your blog and want to thank you for all your information your site is great. I had a question regarding vaccinations I’m getting ready to breed my tamworth gilt this will be my first time breeding pigs and some information that I’ve found says to vacinate against erysipelas. Should I do this? How do you do it being that you are organic?
Certified organic system prohibits antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, herbicides and such however proper vaccination is allowed, I would even say encouraged, because vaccines are good preventative medicine that boost our immune systems through small safe exposures and thus help to prevent disease.
Erysipelas is very widespread and included in many of the vaccine combos. I would suggest looking at FarrowSure Gold B as a good starter reproductive vaccination schedule for your gilt. You will find instructions with the product. For a single gilt you may want to contact a vet to get two single doses.
Hi, I just have a question… Can you administer Liquamycin LA-200 to 4 day old piglets with scours?
I’m sorry but I have no idea. This sounds like a question for a vet or the manufacturer of the antibiotic. Not something I have any experience with. We use yogurt for scours (diarrhea).
When you add yogurt to milk to culture yogurt are you using a particular type or kind of yogurt from the store? Thank you so much for this blog it has helped us tremendously on our journey.
Cheap yogurt works. Some of the better yogurts have more diverse flora cultures.
Hello we’ve been following your blog for quite a while. I have a quick question for you we have a 8 week old newly weaned gilt and we want to start her off right. Would you recommend giving her yogurt here at the beginning to make sure she has the right kind of gut flora? And on the heels of that is there a store bought yogurt that I can buy to put in with whole milk to create more yogurt?
Thank you for all that you and your family does.
Yes, yogurt is an excellent early (and all life) food for pigs. Many of the store bought yogurts have live culture – check the label – and as such they make a good starter for doing your own yogurt. See these posts about making yogurt. My personal local preferences are Stonyfield and Butterworks yogurt