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The Ultimate Permaculture Pig

 
Posts: 2
Location: Central Minnesota
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Hello Permies!

This is my first post and I'm sad to say that my actual experience in practicing permaculture is fairly low but I would love to hear more from you people with actual experience. I think that pigs are a fantastic animal that has many great uses in a permaculture system but I also feel as though there is also a potential for destruction.  Taking ideas Salatin, Mark Shepard, and Sepp Holzer, I would love to find a pig that could turn compost piles like Salatin's do (pigerators), graze brush in the summer (Shepard's pigs with nose rings), fatten up on woodlots, and keep outside in the winter (Holzer) and feed a steady stream of food leftovers from the local high school.  However, at the same time, I do not want a pig that would destroy the landscape with rooting or escape and make a feral population that would destroy the landscape.  A lot of these traits contradict each other...if one were to put nose rings in, it would prevent rooting and encourage grazing but at the same time it would not allow them to turn up compost.  I'd love to have a hardy pig that would require minimal care in the winter, but I do not want them to escape and create a problem for neighboring farms and forests.

I guess my question is, is there a perfect pig breed or way of training pigs to achieve all of these goals? How difficult/expensive is castration to prevent feral communities? Can you take out and put back in nose rings? What is the best type of mobile fencing? What are some inexpensive ways to keep pigs over the winter?

Any input you have would have be thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.

Thank you!

Oh and the climate I am working from is Central Minnesota where temperatures drop to below -20 degrees Fahrenheit and rise to up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
 
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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If you are wanting to keep these animals outdoors in Minnesota winters, you need to look into lard hogs, AGH, KK, Old Spot are going to be about the only ones that would have a chance at surviving those winter temps outdoors.
As a plus, if you keep any hog with enough to eat, they aren't going to root much, all will root up a wallow for mud baths and keeping cool in the summer heat.

Buzzard's Roost Farm is a Registered breeder of AGH (American guinea hogs)

I do not believe in nose rings, for some folks I suppose they need them, but I use our hogs to "mess things up", when I don't need them to do the plowing for me, they have plenty of pasture to eat and don't root much at all.

If you provide a place for Lard hogs to get out of the wind you would be surprised at how well they can tolerate cold.

Redhawk

Perhaps Walter will chime in here at some point, he is the "go to guy" in my book.
 
pollinator
Posts: 62
Location: Alekovo near Svishtov, Bulgaria
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Ben Heller wrote:This is my first post and I'm sad to say that my actual experience in practicing permaculture is fairly low but I would love to hear more from you people with actual experience.



Welcome Ben, we are relatively new (i.e. active) participants in the forums although they have been a fantastic resource for knowledge and experience from many kind hearted fellow members over the past 3+ years.  It's a great place to ask questions and (in the main haha) people respond kindly even to the daftest of questions.  I should preface all my remarks/comments below by saying that we are not "purist" or "100% committed" or "evangelical" permiculturalists (is that a word?) and we are located not in the US of A but on a tiny smallholding (8,000 sq metres / 2 acres) in rural North Central Bulgaria.

A little panorama of our place in Bulgaria, looking South from the main gate

We have only been doing livestock and cultivation for 3 years since we moved here permanently and the guiding principles we work the hardest to keep to are...

  • All our critters should be treated/encouraged/raised to behave/act/live as "naturally" as possible within the constraints of our property, location and financial resources... skills we have been learning along the way :-)
  • All critters we have have a purpose, one of which is feeding us, but can also include cultivating, weeding, ploughing, pulling, guarding, etc.
  • We do not anthropomorphize our critters, but they are highly respected and treated humanely. In many cases they get a lot of human contact primarily to make it easier to handle them for checking, when feeding, when they are mating, in emergencies, and even more fundamentally getting them to follow us to where we want them to be.
  • Except in the most extreme of circumstances we do not use chemical or pharmaceutical products on our critters, or poisons or chemical fertilisers on our land/property.

  • We try to learn as much as possible from the local Bulgarian community we live in - and to contribute what we can to that community while sharing what we are doing (by example, not by preaching).

    Ben Heller wrote:I think that pigs are a fantastic animal that has many great uses in a permaculture system but I also feel as though there is also a potential for destruction.  Taking ideas Salatin, Mark Shepard, and Sepp Holzer, I would love to find a pig that could turn compost piles like Salatin's do (pigerators), graze brush in the summer (Shepard's pigs with nose rings), fatten up on woodlots, and keep outside in the winter (Holzer) and feed a steady stream of food leftovers from the local high school.



    Pigs are indeed an invaluable asset to people who have the space to keep them and use them.  They can be destructive if not managed... but destruction is relative depending on what you want achieved by the pigs and what you cultivate/provide for them to thrive on.

    Our pigs grazing in one of the paddocks

    Ben Heller wrote:However, at the same time, I do not want a pig that would destroy the landscape with rooting or escape and make a feral population that would destroy the landscape.



    We have learned (through our mistakes and ignorance) that destruction of landscaping occurs when we don't manage the pigs to put them on land where they can be useful instead of destructive. Our first 4 pigs (sows) were used to plough about 7,000 square metres of land that had not been cultivated for at least 10 years.  We trained them to electric fencing when they were little and then used electric fence to move them around the property.  At that time we allowed them to graze off all the top growth and then start on the underground stuff - finding and lifting rocks, concrete, bricks, etc. that were buried and we picked them out and moved them every day.  Eventually we used them to dig out tree stumps after we felled/logged the main trees.

    Our first piglets learning about electric fencing

    You mentioned escaping pigs a couple of times - that is definitely NOT down to the pigs.  I would suggest that if you cannot make a safe and secure external (main) boundary to your property - don't have any critters/livestock at all.  60% of our property has a 1.8m high concrete/brick wall, 30% has 2m chainlink fence with a single strand of barbed wire against foxes and cats, and 10% is a 2.5m high concrete, stone and steel panel wall of one of our neighbours.  Without a secure and well maintained external boundary we couldn't realistically have any livestock, poultry or dogs.  BTW internally our paddocks are fenced to 1.25m using concreted in posts but, remember that a 250kg pig can walk through a wooden railing if ever they really want to :-)

    Ben Heller wrote:A lot of these traits contradict each other...if one were to put nose rings in, it would prevent rooting and encourage grazing but at the same time it would not allow them to turn up compost.  I'd love to have a hardy pig that would require minimal care in the winter, but I do not want them to escape and create a problem for neighboring farms and forests.



  • Pigs don't grow nose rings naturally - they don't need them and so they were not built-in.
  • If you want your pigs to work for you then you should try to allow them to do what they do best, naturally
  • Pigs definitely graze anything that is green - and they will eat anything above ground that is palatable for them.
  • When that top green is gone, they will start digging, looking for roots and tubers, bugs and grubs.
  • When that has all gone they will then dig deeper in search of food if there is none.
  • AND they will dig wallows because they need them to protect their skin (and maybe even because they just like it)


  • Momma pig enjoying a wallow

    In winter weather our pigs have exhibited "pig behaviours".  They eat snow instead of drinking water; they like hay/straw nests to sunbathe on winter sun days; they make nests in their houses/shelters if they have enough straw or hay or other bedding that they can gather from their location

    Ben Heller wrote:Is there a perfect ... way of training pigs to achieve all of these goals?


    I personally don't believe that you need to train a pig "to achieve all of these goals".  A pig will do what it does naturally in most cases if it is allowed to. You need to decide what you want them to do and then enable and manage it.  We have only ever "trained" our breeding pigs to:
  • Come to our call
  • Come to a feed bucket/treat
  • Stand or lay down for checking their bodies


  • Training piglets to hand feed

    And as for discipline, if they nip our fingers when hand feeding they get a smack; a 200+kg pig can still break your toe if they want a rub and a nuzzle (not their fault); our boar can tear through 3 layers of trousers and puncture our thighs with his tusks just because he is rubbing up on you for affection.  But we have slept with farrowing sows in -14C and with our juvenile boar in winter for a temperature test experiment.  They let us pull open their jaws, check their teeth, check/clean feet if necessary, take anal temperatures and stuff like that.  Our boar also allows us to be with him during mating, which allows us to intervene if the boar is too rough or the sow is not 100% receptive.



    Ben Heller wrote:Is there a perfect breed?


    I'm sure that there are many US based experts in the forum with various opinions who can recommend breeds to you.  Our boar is an East Balkan Black x Landrace, our remaining breeding sow is a bog standard commercial grade Bulgarian White (even though she is black).  

    Ben Heller wrote:What is the best type of mobile fencing?


    We used electric tape on a battery powered energiser, one low tape about 15cm off of the ground and another about 40cm off of the ground.  Depending on the power of your energiser you may have to brushcut under the bottom tape to avoid shorting out the power.

    Ben Heller wrote:What are some inexpensive ways to keep pigs over the winter?


    I can't imagine what you think is expensive and how that compares to what I think is expensive :-). Our juveniles - 2 years old, 250kg - get:
  • 2.5kg of hard feed every day from first frost to last frost (mid November to late March).  That hard feed costs me 6 euros for 20kg.
  • We have a pregnant sow at the moment - she gets 5kg of hard feed per day and that will go up depending on how many piglets she is feeding.
  • AND/OR whatever free/cheap veg I can get from a market gardener we know.
  • AND/OR boiled veg and potatoes at night (we grow/harvest/store fodder beets, sugar beet, radish, jerusalem artichokes, field peas and white beans for over winter feed for pigs and poultry).
  • PLUS half a bale of lucerne/alfalfa or hay each a few times a week
  • PLUS at least a dozen boiled eggs each per week - we keep chickens and ducks primarily to provide regular supply of eggs for us, our dogs and our pigs
  • PLUS meat scraps, offal and bones from household consumption or on-site slaughters
  • We try to rotational graze our pigs through about 4,000 square meters (one acre) during the year and also re-green their paddocks during the year and especially before winter sets in.


  • Some of our pigs eating lucerne/alfalfa in snowy weather

    Ben Heller wrote:The climate I am working from is Central Minnesota where temperatures drop to below -20F and rise to up to 90F.


    Our annual temperature range is from -20C to +40C. Our pigs live in 3 sided open shelters in all weathers and when left to their own devices prefer to sleep outside in straw/hay/leaf/branch/weed nests unless it is very high winds or in the height of summer when they need some shade.

    Our juvenile boar, BlackJack, in the snow

    A final recommendation is to visit and spend as much time as you can reading on Walter Jefferies website: Sugar Mountain Farm.  Walter has many years of experience that he shares very freely - and I have found that a great deal of his practical advice can easily be applied even to a very small pig enterprise like ours.  And his insights into pig behaviour have been incredibly helpful to me.  He is a regular here in the forums too.

    Ben, I don't know if any of the above is useful to you or informative for your situation, but I am very happy to share it with you.  I am sure that there are many other US based pig keepers who's experiences match your situation and I sincerely hope that they join the conversation.

    I wish you the very best of luck with your pigs!!

     
    Posts: 947
    Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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    Bryant RedHawk wrote:If you are wanting to keep these animals outdoors in Minnesota winters, you need to look into lard hogs, AGH, KK, Old Spot are going to be about the only ones that would have a chance at surviving those winter temps outdoors.


    I would like to add the suggestion of Haired pigs [like the AGH.] Every extra layer of insulation is an asset.

    My AGH sow successfully farrowed outdoors in stormy April with zero issues.
     
    Nick Truscott
    pollinator
    Posts: 62
    Location: Alekovo near Svishtov, Bulgaria
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    Kyrt Ryder wrote: If you are wanting to keep these animals outdoors in Minnesota winters, you need to look into lard hogs, AGH, KK, Old Spot are going to be about the only ones that would have a chance at surviving those winter temps outdoors. I would like to add the suggestion of Haired pigs [like the AGH.] Every extra layer of insulation is an asset.



    Bryant RedHawk wrote:My AGH sow successfully farrowed outdoors in stormy April with zero issues.



    I completely agree - our boar is super thick hairy and sleeps outside in all but the most extreme winds usually.  About half of his offspring have inherited the super-hairy coat.  I would love to get a Mangalitsa to breed into but - although being "one Europe" - it is incredibly costly for a single amateur breeder to import a pedigree Mangalitsa into Bulgaria.
     
    Posts: 1113
    Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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    I would love to find a pig that could turn compost piles like Salatin's do (pigerators), graze brush in the summer (Shepard's pigs with nose rings), fatten up on woodlots, and keep outside in the winter (Holzer) ... is there a perfect pig breed



    You're looking at the wrong end of the stick.

    There is no perfect pig and there is no best breed.

    Rather there are many excellent ones.

    The line within the breed can be far more important than the breed itself. Pigs have been selectively bred, within breeds, for basically three groups of traits: show, confinement and pasture. The best way to get a pig that does what you want is to get it from someone who has been raising pigs that way for the purpose you want for a while and it might be one of many breeds or a cross. See:
    http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2015/06/11/lard-vs-bacon-pigs/
    and from there also read the linked articles.

    We use Yorkshire, Berkshire, Large Black and Tamworth predominantly in our genetics. I have a total of nine genetic lines between about four hundred pigs out on our pastures. Pigs have wonderfully plastic genetics and reproduce quickly and in great numbers making them very easy to selectively breed to fit a situation. Have clear goals in mind and work towards them.

    It is not the pig but the management that makes the difference. If you want them to root then put them on an area longer. If you want them to graze then rotate them.  See:
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/rootless-in-vermont

    I have repeatedly measured grazing rates and find that our pigs graze 23 sq-ft per hundred weight of pig per day. This works out to be about 10 pigs per acre MAX for sustainable grazing based on no supplemental feeds and good pasture. Speaking of which - plant your pasture up with legumes, soft grasses, chicory, amaranth, brassicas, etc. These will work well in your climate too. I do mob, frost and storm seeding. See: http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2010/09/15/frost-seeding/

    and feed a steady stream of food leftovers from the local high school.



    Bad idea. You do not want to be feeding post-consumer wastes to pigs as that is an excellent way to give the pigs disease and get fined by the government. In some locals you are allowed to feed post-consumer wastes provided you render or boil it. That's a lot of work and energy. There is still the problem of forks, knives, razors, plastic gloves and other items in the waste stream that will kill some of your pigs. I recommend not doing it. Stick with pre-consumer wastes.

    We have an arrangement with a local butter and cheese maker - we handle the disposal of their liquid whey. They're small enough that it is not worth investing in the multi-million dollar equipment to dry the whey for sale so they deliver it to us and we feed it to our pigs, about 1,800 gallons a day or so. This makes up about 7%DMI of our pig's diet providing lysine. We have a similar arrangement with a local brewery for their spent barley which makes up about 2%DMI of our pig's diet. This keeps the materials out of the waste stream and saves them money. About 80%DMI of our pigs's diet is pasture/hay and then the rest is apples, pears, pumpkins, beets, turnips, eggs, etc. See:
    http://SugarMtnRarm.com/pigs

    feral population that would destroy the landscape.



    Good fences make good neighbors. -R. Frost

    if one were to put nose rings in



    Ringing is not necessary. See the above article about rotational grazing and rooting.

    I'd love to have a hardy pig that would require minimal care in the winter



    Selectively breed for it. It takes time. Get starting stock from someone already doing it. But your first year or two raise feeder pigs over the easy warm season. Don't start thinking about breeders yet. Ease your way into the mud.

    Our pigs are very hairy. Part of that is environmental. Part of that is genetic selection. This helps.

    A pig that can put weight on from a lean diet, like pasture, helps a lot. Lardier genetics help with this but too much can sacrifice speed of growth, which matters even more for those of us in the northern climates. I want pigs to get to slaughter weight within eight to nine months. Boars from our best line (Mainline) get to slaughter weight (250 lb LW) in about six months over the easy warm months of summer. Add a month for gilts. Add a month for slower breeds. Add two or three months for fall pigs going over the winter. Boost the calories if you can in the winter. We use hay to replace pasture over winter (see: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=site:sugarmtnfarm.com+hay&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF- but hay is not nearly as good as fresh pasture. Alfalfa is great stuff if you can get it.

    Our climate is similar to yours. We're in USDA Zone 3 in the central mountains of northern Vermont. We typically get about 14 to 20 feet of snow which packs to about 4' and it gets down to -45°F some years, -25°F or lower every year. Wind protection is key. A deep bedding pack that composts producing both food and heat is very helpful. Our Ark is helpful - an open ended hoop house building about 100'x40'. Selectively breeding for hardy winter pigs is key. That takes time, patience and persistence. It also takes numbers. I've raised and slaughtered many thousands of pigs over the decades. Breed the best of the best and eat the rest. I figure that 95% of females and 99.5% of males go to slaughter. Only the last small percentage, the top animals, get a chance to test breed and not all of those will get kept.

    Be sure to read the older articles in this form as lots of people have had questions before, questions you might not even thing to ask yet...

    Other valuable resources are:
    http://www.thepigsite.com/
    https://www.feedipedia.org

    Grow slow.

    Cheers,

    -Walter
     
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