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Training pigs to eat hay

 
Wes Hunter
Posts: 108
Location: Seymour, MO
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I've recently been inspired by Walter Jeffries' posts as well as his blog, and am looking for any experience/information regarding training pigs to eat hay, namely pigs that have never eaten hay before (but have been pastured).

A little background:
I'm raising mulefoot hogs for their purported ability to thrive on forage alone. When we bought our first batch of three one-year-old pigs last spring, I put them on a chunk of land with about 1/3 acre in fairly tall grass and a few trees (eastern red cedar, honey locust, smallish mulberries, and a few others), and I noticed that they grazed the grass but rooted minimally, but I still gave them each a couple pounds of grain daily. Long story short, we had some breeding problems, and those three are now in the freezer. Now I have six 8-month-old pigs tilling our garden spot. I've been feeding them about 4 pounds of grain (corn and oats, sometimes with some alfalfa pellets thrown in) each per day, but am trying to cut that amount back and hopefully eliminate it entirely.

First attempt, I threw them a square bale of hay and sprinkled about 12 lb. corn on top (2 lb. per pig, half what I was feeding). They ate the corn and, best I can tell, did nothing with the hay but bed down in it.
Second attempt, I threw down another 12-ish lb. of corn and dropped a chunk of a bale on top. They spread the hay and ate the corn.
Repeated second attempt, same result.
Fourth attempt, the pigs were squealing at me (like they do, since being hand-fed they associate me with food -- that's another issue I'd appreciate feedback on), so I thought I'd try to capitalize on that and only take them hay, figuring since they associate me with bringing them food, if I brought them only hay they would automatically assume it's food. Didn't work. They looked at it, sniffed it, found no grain and as such wanted nothing to do with it. So they followed me back to the barn, and out of pity I threw out some grain.

So I'm at a loss as to how to train them to eat the hay, to learn that the hay is indeed food. They seem to graze just fine in the growing season, but they're used to grain and so that's what they apparently expect it will take to fill their bellies. Any advice on how I can train them? My hope was that by feeding them grain in/on the hay they would incidentally consume some hay and realize that it, too, was good to eat, but so far no apparent luck.
 
Jeremy Hutchins
Posts: 27
Location: Northern Virginia (zone 6b/7a)
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I don't have personal experience there, but have you seen this? http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2009/03/06/feeding-hay/
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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YouTube has vidio of Austrian Black Boars eating hay. It may contain something tasty. I've heard of it being ground and then cooked in swill as a sort of base for their starch and protein diet. If you had fish waste or other slaughterhouse type fare, some ground hay would provide bulk and digestive fiber.
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Coppied from wiki answers --- Normally pigs are not fed hay because they cannot digest it properly like cows and horses can. They are mostly fed grain and protein supplements instead. Hay acts more of a gut-filler than a nutritional source for pigs because their digestive systems are not designed to break down tough fibrous material which is very high in hay. Horse-quality hay however can be and sometimes is fed to pigs to aid in healthy bowel movements and add to some nutrients that they wouldn't be able to get from their grain-protein diet.

Here's a little jingle or poem to tell you who hay is really for:

Hay is for horses,
Better for cows.
Pigs don't eat it,
'Cause they don't know how.
 
Wes Hunter
Posts: 108
Location: Seymour, MO
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Jeremy Hutchins wrote:I don't have personal experience there, but have you seen this? http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2009/03/06/feeding-hay/


I had not seen that yet, but it looks like the ticket. Thanks!
 
mike clark
Posts: 43
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molasses on hay works.seems like they eat more hay in the cold.but lots of people feed hay as a filler,but I would think they will always prefer grain.i have been feeding lots of veggies,but as its been cold here in Vermont they really have been eating more hay lately.
 
Matt van Ankum
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I have a mix of Berkshire and Tamworth pigs, they do some pasturing in May - July. Right now they are in the barn with the cows . The pigs are exposed to nice 1rst cut T/A hay and oatlage. The older pigs seem to go for the oatlage to a decent extent, it has a good strong smell to it which may be part of the appeal.
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Unfortunately that rhyme and wiki entry perpetuate a myth. The fact is pigs can eat grass, hay and other forages and do digest it quite well. I've raised several groups of pigs purely on pasture. It is also important to realize that:

1) Good pasture is not just a mono-crop of grass - there are legumes like alfalfa, clovers, trefoil, brassicas, chicory and other things.

2) Not all grasses and hays are equality digestible - some are far more palatable than others and some are more palatable at different stages of growth.

3) Hay is not nearly as good as fresh pasture - it's like canned goods that we put up for winter. I would much rather eat fresh but winter doesn't allow that. Same for the livestock.

4) Not all pigs are created equal - there is a theory that the heavily confinement bred lines have shorter digestive tracts that don't digest forages as well. We have been selecting for pasture-ability for many pig generations. The ones that thrive on pasture in the warm months and hay in our winters are what become our breeders and produce the next generation. This is a strong effect. Select for good pasture genetics and get your starter stock from people already raising pigs on pasture where the pigs actually eat the pasture as opposed to getting fed candy on pasture (corn/soy).

5) We also feed whey which provides lysine, a limiting amino-acid that is low in pasture. I've raised pigs on just pasture and it takes about two months extra to get them to market size and they are leaner. Based on over a decade of observation I theorize that pigs eating hay plus whey have a synergistic effect that perhaps the bacteria or the acid in the whey helps them digest the hay. What comes out the back end looks just like cow manure. The hay is not just gut filler. It's been digested. The pigs thrive.

So, how to get the pigs to eat hay?

1) Our sheep taught our original pigs to eat pasture and hay. They see someone else do it and try it. Our sows now teach their piglets. It has become enculturated.

2) You could try putting something sticky and tasty on the hay like suggested above. That may help jump start them.

3) Feed any supplements later and later in the day and then reduce the amount so they have to eat the pasture/hay.

Be prepared for this to take time. Weeks. It won't happen over night.

Not all hay is created equal.

1) Our pigs are not overly fond of the very wet balage. We get ours to about 20% to 25% moisture (800 to 1,000 lb 4x4 wrapped). It has a sweet alcohol smell.

2) Straw is boring and has little feed value for pigs.

3) Leafy hay with some seed heads is very interesting for pigs.

These posts may help:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2009/03/06/feeding-hay/

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2011/11/17/hays-here-2011-pigs-eat-grass/

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/03/23/hay-consumption/

Cheers,

-Walter
 
Steve Hoskins
Posts: 65
Location: NW lower Michigan
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Just to back up Walter's post, I have seen lots of grain pass through my pigs undigested this winter, while hay and pasture come out black and solid. Fully digested.
Granted, there is a lot of weight gain when over feeding grain like that, but having raised purely pastured pigs last year, I agree with Walter; slow and tasty wins the race. That being said, I've been graining them since fall, hoping to find (a semi load of) organic hay for next year. And again, not all hay is equal. Pigs know the difference between first and second cut.

The chickens eat the undigested grains out of the poo, yuck. They think its miso or something "oooh, ooooo, ooooh" I don't mind though, because they still look very healthy, and the poo is scratched around.

Also, the pigs are like kids. If every time they cry you feed them grain, then they will cry until you feed them grain, every time.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
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Location: zone 6b
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Our pigs really relished the year-old round bales of rotting hay we got for the garden. They did actual happy dances when we started giving them the mucky wet stuff. I think it was the fungus growing in it that they liked. If you think about it, as woodland rooters, they probably do eat a lot of mucky rotting leaves that have been colonized by fungal mycelium. I know chickens relish the same type of stuff and live in the same type of native environment!

They also eat a fair amount of regular grass hay. We give it to them for bedding and the leafier stuff is what they seem to like best - they get really happy to get fresh flakes of it. They don't eat the stemmy part as much but will eat it also when they're bored.

When we butchered a pig in the winter I was surprised to see her stomach was FULL of hay. I was even more surprised that the dogs ate up the stomach contents, first, before they ate the other goodies.

If corn is passing through undigested, try fermenting it a few days like they do for chickens. It makes it sweeter and the pigs REALLY like it. You can pour the fermentation "juice" over the hay to make it smell like yummy fermented corn.

My pigs like clover best of about anything - if your pigs aren't eating the hay, maybe get a couple bales of clover hay to get them interested then once they're eating that you can start giving them other kinds.

If you see that you keep needing to add more and more bedding so they can have enough to keep warm in, they're probably eating it when you're not looking.
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Another thing I have noticed is that the pigs eat down the composting hay. We build up deep bedding packs for winter which start with a foot thick layer of large wood chips and then get hay. As winter progresses there is some build up of the hay in the bedding pack. There the hay, and wood, are breaking down, composting. The pigs dig through that and eat it up. Most of that is gone by spring. If we get low on hay, they'll eat up all the composting materials. As Renate suggests, it is much like what they're rooting around in out in the woods. The composting action is making it more digestible. Pre-cooked.
 
Steve Hoskins
Posts: 65
Location: NW lower Michigan
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Actually, I have been fermenting the grains lately, and they do love it. Everything smells better and their coats are looking great.
I think I have been over feeding them, and they are competitive with each other, so whatever I present gets eaten. I'm guessing they get about 3lbs (dry) a day each total in two feedings. As soon as I can get to the ground, I'm planning to skip the morning feeding and cut the ration in half (gradually). Most of our pastures need the input for this season anyway.

I've been backing off a bit, but they look so good, and I don't want to be on a maintenance diet. I can get hay, and would rather, but have to drive far or commit to a large delivery, and it is sight unseen.

Walter, roughly how much hay does a pig need to eat when winter is in full effect? Would you Reccomend feeding hay (as opposed to grain) in the summer to supplement the fertility of poor pastures? I may have to buy 25 round bales to get delivery. I will only have 6-10 pigs and 2 goats and a few rabbits. (5 does, 2 bucks and raising most of their offspring to fryer size or better)

12 tons sounds like a lot for a small farm, but is it?
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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If you're careful you can stack 22 - 25 square (50 lb) bales in a 6-foot pickup bed. I'd do that. They don't eat that much hay, well, depending on size - are you going to overwinter that many adults or will they be in various sizes?

Another thing to think about is the order in which you feed them. Our goats are very picky and we can feed the rabbits off what the goats waste. The rabbits eat only the leaves from the hay, dropping all the stems and a lot of the leaves as well. Chickens then dig through the stuff under the rabbit cages, eating out dropped rabbit pellets, and "rabbit pellets". LOL! All this time there is urea being added to the hay. What's under the rabbit cages could be given to the pigs, maybe in a different corner than the "fresh" hay to see if they would want to make use of what the chickens missed. I bet they'd eat a fair amount of it, especially once it gets wet and starts growing stuff.

Or you could use any of that in your garden!
 
Walter Jeffries
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Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Steve Hoskins wrote:Walter, roughly how much hay does a pig need to eat when winter is in full effect? Would you Reccomend feeding hay (as opposed to grain) in the summer to supplement the fertility of poor pastures?


I find that our feeder pigs eat about 400 lbs of hay per winter, about 0.8 to 1.6 lbs / hundred weight of pig / day

Pasture is far better than hay. Hay is what gets us through the winter, what sustains the animals. They grow on it but between the poor quality of hay vs fresh pasture and the cold their growth slows down. In the spring when it warms up we see an increase in the growth rate. Then when we get onto pasture we see a further explosion in growth rate.

Steve Hoskins wrote:12 tons sounds like a lot for a small farm, but is it?


12 tons x 2000 lbsperton / 400 lbsperpig = 60 pigs. Roughly... Nothing is exact. Your weather, genetics, pig sizes, etc are different but that gives you a thumb to rule with.
 
Steve Hoskins
Posts: 65
Location: NW lower Michigan
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Very helpful numbers, thank you!
 
Matt van Ankum
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Over the past winter I supplemented the pigs soaked corn with white clover hay. They were very interested in the clover. It is a difficult hay to get dry, the small square bales went in with some moisture but cured well enough and still had some sweet smell when feeding. Compared to 1rst cut timothy alfalfa the pigs definitely enjoyed and ate the clover more readily . Red clover would likely work as well .
 
Jeff Hodgins
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I feed grass to my pigs its their main fodder but its fresh. You could feed silage but dry hay in my pigs' oppinion is not palatable. Think about it when you dry it you lose protein and vitamins.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
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We've had some problems with prolapsed bowel when feeding only roughage to pigs, make sure they have plenty to drink at all times. We've gotten our best results with a soaked/soured feed, small amount of grains/veggie scraps/or other food greens, then a small amount of hay (usually alfalfa).
 
Walter Jeffries
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Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Prolapses can be genetic. Cull hard against it.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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