I have lurked for a while but it is time to make my first post. I am in need of everyone's help to figure out how to put together a managed intensive grazing pig program that relies strictly on pasture/hay from my farm.
A little back story:
My wife and daughter and I live on 120 acres (consisting of five hills/ridges, 30 acres of fields and 90 acres of woods) in Northern Kentucky. We purchased the farm in 2013 and have built a house in which we live. Before moving to the property we did not have any farming experience. At the beginning of this year we dove right into getting any and all animals that interested us. We tried our hands at chickens, ducks, rabbits, pigs, and goats. As those of you with experience can imagine, we bit off way more than we could chew and given our lack of experience we were not successful with the chickens and ducks; predators took their toll. As for the pig portion, we purchased a pregnant sow (Yorkshire mix bred to a large black) this February. She gave birth to 14 piglets in the spring on the farm. We lost two of the smallest runts but have raised the remaining ones with her, rotating through paddocks in our fields and wooded areas. We mainly utilized 2 acres divided into 4 paddocks that I have been rotating them through 1 paddock each week. We raised them on a combination of forage, earlier in the year before the paddocks became too abused, and a Non-GMO commercial feed mix. This has resulted in pigs that are now 175-200 pounds and are of better quality than an industry animal but I would like to do even better next year. My ultimate goal is to have any animals that we bring onto the farm be supported solely by foraging from the farm. Our land is in ok shape. I have found a seed company in my state that has a good selection of native grasses that I would like to over seed our fields with to increase our forage quality and diversity.
My question is:
What breed of pig and what amount of land do I need to plan on using for next year (and beyond) in order to have a program that in supported strictly by the pigs foraging or being fed hay during the winter? I have heard good things about American Guinea Hogs and Kune Kune breeds. Are these the only two breeds that are suited for strictly pastured systems or are there others? Down the road (5-10 years) we will have a better area of hickory, walnut, and some oaks that will provide forage possibiliteis for finishing but as of right now the overwhelming bulk will be grasses.
My understanding from all the reading I've done is that pigs pretty much always need some supplemental feed. Even Mark Shepherd, whose pigs range over a huge area and forage almost all of their food, still feeds them some corn (I think his words were "enough to keep them alive"). Walter Jeffries has pigs on pasture and supplements them with whey and vegetables I believe. I think because pigs are omnivores and not ruminants they need a bit more protein than they can get from only pasture, but as I say this is all based on reading and not first hand experience! Our pigs are moved around various pastured areas and woods and we still feed them, though I would imagine they eat less feed than if they were kept in one smaller area.
I too live on exactly 120 acres, a mix of pasture and woods.
As already mentioned, Walter Jeffries is a great resource (Sugar Mountain Farm), check out his blog.
Additionally, Grant Schultz is raising Kune Kune pigs on his farm, Versaland, on primarily hay, forage, wild meats, etc. Worth exploring his videos as well.
The amount of land needed to truly sustain a domestic hog in a wild setting is a lot. You'd probably raise just a few on your entire 120 acres, and they'd do a lot of potential damage unless you managed them quite intensively.
The hogs will require more lysine in their diet than they will likely find. This is why Walter Jeffries supplements with Whey from a localdairy.
Additionally, the hogs will take a lot longer to reach slaughter weight.
I cannot yet manage my hogs over my entire 120 acres (due to lack of fencing) so I have to settle with raising them on 1.5-2 acres, in a rotational paddock system. They eat a ton of acorns, grasses, frogs, mice and worms, but I still supplement their feed with local Non-GMO corn/soy.
Until we all have 25-year established systems like Mark Shepard's, it would be wise to consider supplementing with high quality feed and then also growing a lot of feed yourself.
My hogs have been eating squash, pumpkins, beets and potatoes for the last 2 months- all surplus from what I grew in my market garden this year.
Additionally, I have a cluster of Jerusalem Artichokes that they haven't even been introduced to yet.
So, my opinion, if you want to raise the hogs in a decent timeframe 6-8 months, and can't manage them across your entire 120 acres, then build a system something like:
1) Supplement with high quality non-GMO or Organic feed.
2) Rotate the pigs and monitor their rooting so that you don't destroy the soil profile.
3) Grow a much bigger garden than normal and feed them the surplus and use them to "till" the garden for you. They will root out every last piece of remaining vegetation for you.
Andre- In your opinion is the ability to raise pigs strictly on pasture a matter of having the right stocking density and knowing that it will take longer for the pigs to reach a market weight?
I was initially inspired to attempt exclusively pasture feed hogs after seeing how the Spanish raise their Iberian pigs. In the segment that I saw it mentioned that they use a stocking density of roughly 5 acres per pig and it took roughly 14-16 months to reach weight. It did not seem that they were utilizing managed intensive grazing so I hoped it would be possible to bring that land requirement per pig down considerably by greatly increasing the number of paddocks and frequency of moves. I am considering trying a 2.4 acre setup consisting of 28 paddocks where a group of 20 pigs would be rotated through a new paddock roughly every two days. The forage is well established and quite dense. My hope was to have the pigs in that area until the fall when I would move them into another multi paddock system in our woods for the pigs to graze on hickory nuts.
The breed is less important than the line of the pig. That is to say, with in many breeds there are good pigs for pasturing, the trick is getting pigs from someone who is already pasturing them the way you want to do it. Pig genetics are very plastic and they adapt to the management and available resources. This means that over generations pigs who are raised in confinement get adapted to do better in confinement and pigs who are raised on pasture get better at utilizing pasture. It's both a matter of genetic and of culture. See this article:
and also read the articles linked to at the end of that article for more information about pigs, pasture and genetic lines.
I have raised pigs purely on pasture. They grow more slowly and are leaner even with my best genetics than if I also supplement with dairy. The purpose of the dairy is primarily to boost the growth rate. I use the resources available to me which in my case includes about 80%DMI pasture/hay, 7%DMI dairy (mostly whey), 2%DMI spent barley from a local brew pub, apples, pumpkins, pears, sunflowers, nuts etc as available. %DMI = Percent of Dry Matter Intake. If you know that for the items in the diet you know the diet. See the feed section and linked articles here: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/pigs
Not all pigs are created equal, to misquote a certain pig, and not all pastures are equal either. Plant up your pasture with legumes, soft grasses, chicory, amaranth and other things to fit your climate and soils.
Learning to do managed rotational grazing is key. It's much like with other animals with some little variations. See the above pigs link and read the grazing section and linked articles.
He plants a lot of sunchokes. Also he let's them roam between his fruittrees. He said that he always leaves extra fruit on the floor for them. So you should look into planting from fruit trees for your pigs.
I don"t know if pigs are as picky with apples, like humans. Otherwise you could as well plant them from seed and not have to buy, save money. Holzer puts the left overs from pressing apple juice into where the pigs have dug up the ground.
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