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Pastured Pigs

 
Alison Thomas
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Location: France
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We have 3 pigs - one Large Black x British Lop (not a BIG digger) and 2 GOS (BIG BIG diggers) and they are out in the open air.  They have half an acre now but as soon as they get more *pasture* they turn it into mud within days.  Now I know that's what they're supposed to do but when do 'Pastured' pigs become mud pigs or does the term just mean they have access to lots of nice earth for digging/rooting. 

If 'Pastured' really means what I think it means - grassland - then I'll have to change what we call ours because we don't have enough land for them to be on grass all the time at the rate they dig. We have 17 acres - but half of that needs to stay grassland for sheep and, hopefully, cow.
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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We pasture pigs.
We have about 300 of them.
We do managed intensive rotational grazing with them, just like sheep, goats, cattle, etc.
Our pigs graze and do not root very much.
When a pasture is brushy and new they may root more because there are interesting tubers, grubs and such they're getting. Once the pasture is good grazing they graze more and root little.
Factors that may increase rooting are:
Lack of forage;
Brush;
Tubers;
Grubs;
Wet soil;
Clay soil;
Over grazing.

You may need to use smaller paddocks and rotate more frequently. This is the same as with sheep and other grazing animals. If they're mobbing and area it gets mucky, compacts the soil, over grazes the forage, etc.

In the cold months we feed hay to replace the pasture.

In addition to the pasture/hay we also feed unlimited dairy which is primarily whey. This provides lysine, a limiting protein, and some additional calories. We also seasonally have pumpkins, apples, nuts, kale, beets, etc as well as a little spent barley from a local brew pub and dated bread for training treats to help with weekly loading of pigs to market.

Seventeen acres should be plenty of land properly managed. We have about 300 pigs grazing on about 70 to 60 acres which is more than they actually need - I just recently made a large bump up in our pasture area. We graze our sheep, pigs, ducks and geese together - they are excellent co-grazers.

These posts might help you:
http://flashweb.com/animals/pigs
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/2007/10/how-much-land-per-pig.html
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/2009/09/happy-as-pigs-in-clover.html

Good luck with your pigs. They're hardy and versatile animals that are an excellent part of a farmstead.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
                    
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I'm curious to know what kind of pigs you raise, pubwvj.  Your system sounds wonderful and is what we're working towards.  (We need fences to make rotational grazing work.....)

We have a breeding pair of american guinea hogs (free range) and they don't root very much at all.  Not in the pasture anyway.  If there is grass they eat it.  They ruffle thru fallen leaves and such trying to find acorns, but they do not create acres of mud. 

I was told by a man who raises guinea hogs that he tried another hog breed at first and they rooted his nice pasture to mud.  He switched to guineas and has not had the problem since.  Instincts may have something to do with behavior as far as the rooting thing goes. 

BUT, we first got our guineas (from a different farm than the guy I just mentioned), the female, who was a little older than the male, DID root around.  They came from an environment where there was no pasture, they were contained in small muddy pens, so she didn't know she could eat grass.  Once she figured that out she stopped rooting.  So maybe it IS the environment you give them?! 

It seems like rooting stems from a combination of boredom, curiosity, and lack of things to eat above ground.  But this is all speculation; I'm no pig expert, only a pig observer.  Our pigs consistently root up wood chip covered paths after it rains, I have a feeling this is for grubs, but I can't tell what they're eating when they do it. 
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Our pigs are a mix of breeds: primarily Yorkshire plus Large Black, Berkshire, Glouster Old Spot, Tamworth and probably some Hampshire. In other words good old American Hogs. Not quite mutts though as we've been selectively breeding them for generations for the characteristics we need including the pasturability, mothering, temperament, marbling, growth rate, etc. See photos of them here:

http://images.google.com/images?q=site:sugarmtnfarm.com+pigs&biw=1007&bih=824

Fencing is key to doing the managed rotational grazing, same as with sheep, cattle, goats, etc. The same basic technique works with many species. Pigs are easy to fence once they are trained to the electric. It is key to train them. Ours get it from birth but if one were going to get new pigs be sure to home them and train them.

You're lucky to have acorns. I wish we did. I'm planting oaks but it will be a while before we have much in the way of acorns. We do have other nuts such as beech, chestnut(?), walnut, etc as well as apples.

I was told by a man who raises guinea hogs that he tried another hog breed at first and they rooted his nice pasture to mud.  He switched to guineas and has not had the problem since.  Instincts may have something to do with behavior as far as the rooting thing goes.


Possible although I think soil conditions, wetness, management, experience and what is down below the soil also play a large role. Ours may not root as we've selected for grazing for so long, it is possible that is part of it, but I can make them root with management (mob grazing).

It seems like rooting stems from a combination of boredom, curiosity, and lack of things to eat above ground.


Good possibilities.

Cheers,

-Walter
 
                    
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My folks did hogs for years- Tams, yorks and hamps. we did durocs a few times as well. typically about 6-8 breeder sows, a boar and the litters. reared a thousand or more over about 15 years, and probably took 600-800 hogs to market, the rest went to friends lockers and luau. that was my thing- still is, really, pit roasting for parties. dad got sick when I went to college, and sold everything, except the junk. to pay medical bills. So the farm went away. im slowly eeking my way back to getting it going again, but with a much more studied design.

now and then, on account hogs are smart and hungry, they'd get out of the paddocks. sometimes we let a few out for a few days to bring a thicket down to manageable size. we did this on 16 ac. The way we did it then was a loud, messy affair. now Ive learned a few things and im ready to do it again.

rooting. one of our tam boars - boris ( being a 1100# boar)- had a bowling ball for a toy, and he would toss it about. one day when boris was playing the ball rolled under  a friends crummy. Boris snouted under, and before we knew it, had pushed the truck over far enough to retrieve his ball.

for a good time get a log thats set full of mice and grubs into a paddock; hogs will turn it into sawdust. when I was a kid we used to have this gum with a sweet cream inside; youd chew it and this goop would come out. I figure thats about what a vole is to a hog. nom nom.

Anyhow, they always had sweet spots in the feilds and woods. My folks didnt rotate the hogs, something I intend to do, and the hogs would dig in just like you say, alison, theyre big diggers.  sepp holzer says they are more valuable than interns if you manage them right.

most american breeds and certainly wild hogs dig. in hawaii, you can see this all over in the forests, where wild hogs have wallowed. its not just cooling mud, its all the promise of the juicy yum. ground rodents, grubs, anything that has worms in it will get a hogs snout to shovelling as far as I can tell. Ive seen them destroy 16"d  logs filled mycellium (trichometes, and pleurotus in particular) and ive watched them sort toothpicks and onion skins from restaraunt slop while thrashing each other at the trough. the sensitivity of that nose and mouth is remarkable- its also thier only 'hand'. ...sorting the toothpicks out delicately, with precision.   Id assume others hogs are the same. Hogs are made to move earth. and I ve read that they actually eat alot of soil on purpose. theyre eating bacteria and nematodes, etc, and thats simply part of thier diet- not hunger, just what they do....nutritional needs,  ergonomics and habit. when piglets get white scours, the best cure is to feed them clean forest soils. Even after feeding, except perhaps when sunbathing or asleep, most of our hogs just dug and dug and dug. they didnt need more food (not that they were always ready for it) it was just what they did. Id wager, after rearing a thousand or more, that  digging is something that would have to be bred out of a hog...so rotating them (which my folks didnt do well or with intention) to mitigate the impact of rooting is really key. using that awesome power to clear fields and brush, and rototil.

I wont runs hogs over and over- just now and then when I need some work done. and when its done, the intern goes in the locker. or an imu. you cant beat that.  there are smaller specialty breeds that grow slow, im considering this as a longer term lower intensity option. small means less mud. and meat. and slower growing means longer times between takes. and lower mangement and feeding levels.

 
Alison Thomas
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Location: France
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What a wonderful picture you paint, Deston.  And Walter, thanks for all your info too.  Maybe it is indeed those yummy grubs that they're rooting out as it's pasture that has had nothing done to it in at least 10 years.

What do you think they'd make of a rabbit warren under some brambles?  I was going to get the goats to browse it down first, then get in my ferret friend but the blasted bunnies are eating up my new wheat seedlings faster than they can grow.  This is a bummer not just because we might not get wheat but also because my conventional-farming-friend is watching my no-till experiement and doesn't think it will work.  I'm hoping to prove him wrong!
 
Alison Thomas
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Location: France
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OK whilst I'm on the subject of outdoor pigs, there's a couple of other questions running round my mind.

We currently have one sow and two boars - one castrated, the other not.  We got the two boys when they were 10 weeks old and our (then) two girls were 9 months old so we were advised to have a 'friend' (the castrated one) for our breeding boar until they were big enough to go in with the girls.  After a couple of months they got amalgamated.  Now one of the sows has been processed and the other lovely good-natured one we hope will be pregnant soon.  So the question(s)...

When the sow farrows, do the boars need to be kept separate?
If so, for how long?
We were going to process little castrated boar around March time but do we need to keep him for longer to be company for Mr Boar if he needs to be kept separate?
We're only doing this to be self-sufficient, not for commercial reasons so I'm guessing that Mr Boar needs to be kept separate anyway from Mrs Boar at some point after having the piglets?
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Alison Freeth-Thomas "heninfrance" wrote:When the sow farrows, do the boars need to be kept separate?


During the warm months our sows go off into the margins of the pasture to farrow in privacy. In the winter we give them a separate area from the rest of the herd to mimic this. So yes.

If so, for how long?


Long enough for the piglets to be big enough to not get crushed by the larger animals who will want to pile together in the cold weather.

We were going to process little castrated boar around March time but do we need to keep him for longer to be company for Mr Boar if he needs to be kept separate?


It will make "Mr. Boar" happier to have company but he can also do fine without.

Keeping a boar for servicing just one sow is rather expensive. AI, renting or borrowing might be a better strategy. Keeping a boar plus a companion barrow would be especially expensive. The general rule is one boar per 15 sows with a minimum of six sows to be economical. If you're raising them on pasture the minimum can drop lower to say three sows economically since the feed costs can be reduced with the pasture.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
                    
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wow, walter, ive got some reading to do. thats quite an inspiring thing you have going on. I really like your web site header, that family farmer thing is really comeing thru there. thanks for representing!

my folks pig farm was a dirt farm, really, they never put much thought into systems, just ground themself out on getting a product. its a hard hill to do much on, steep slopes and easy slides.  and they spent more time trying to stop mudslides and fixing leaks than anything else, really.

it will be good to get familiar with your farm mind, read thru your blogs.

Alison, Thanks. IM more of a poet than a farmer, and since I dont pay much attention to spelling, im sorta laughable as a poet even... just a dirt farmer in paradise

re: "What do you think they'd make of a rabbit warren under some brambles?"

im pretty sure they would get rid of them. adult rabbits will run off, babies in tow of does when possible. if not the hogs will eat them. and collapse the warren. I dont mind if rabbits get in my garden. I shoot them and they go to chooks ala maggot feeder. since rabbits got habbits, one can watch a bunny for 2-3 days and pretty much know everwhere its gonna be an what time of day. if you have chickens, it a 'cheep' way to feed them. paul posted that vid- I used to hang them in a gunny sack until the flies started in, then let the chooks tear it up. that is, if the dogs didnt beg it away first. they were always like "Really? come on. really? serious, Id eat that if you wanted me too... happy to help..." I never did it with carbon to mitigate smell. I figure the setup in that vid is a better fix than the one I had. now I know

we just had the cascadia permaculture teachers convergence. it got mentioned that there were bunny lovers and bunny hunters in the permie scene. I guess i am a bunny hunter. But I do love animals. critter rearing is where I feel most... at home.
 
Alison Thomas
pollinator
Posts: 933
Location: France
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I have another outdoor-natural-pig question please...

What do you guys do about pig lice?  My lovely sow has them encrusted behind her ears and it's obviously horribly itchy for her.  A farmer friend (conventional) has twice injected them with vermifuge but I don't want to do this every 3 months.  There must be a more natural way - please.
 
Vickie Hinkley
Posts: 52
Location: Toledo, WA
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Tamworth Pastured pigs.  Strip grazing - not much but enough to give them forage and something to keep them busy.  Obviously this breed roots!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eguGJrqkO8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyhqTc2ZbHs

{{{Don't worry about my breathing - it's my aerobic exercise - smile}}}
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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