Here we are at episode 4 of Pig Talk.
Today I’m going to continue talking about the preparation that might help you be successful with pigs.
If you’ve been following along, you probably have a piece of paper that lists all the reasons that you have for wanting pigs. Next to each reason, you ought to have what type or types of pig can meet your need. It’s time to take a look at how many pigs you can support on your land.
To figure out how much land you need, you need to look at the reasons you’ve listed in your notebook. Reasons, 3, 4 and 5 (land improvement, food quality and respecting your food) affect how much land you are going to use. It’s also possible that reason #2 (extra income) is going to influence your land use.
I’m going to start out with the smallest land usable. Just so you know ahead of time, I don’t like this method if there’s any other choice. I’m going to call this the 4H method because I’ve seen this in their curriculum. 4H may have changed their curriculum since I’ve seen it. BTW, I think 4H is an amazing organization—I took part as a kid, though not with animals—cooking. So, even though I don’t favor this method, I love 4H.
So, the 4H method. Basically, your pig pen can be 6 feet by 12 feet. The pen should be out of the wind. There should be a shelter of some kind. You need a feeder or trough because you won’t want the pig’s feed hitting the ground (in this method). You’ll also need a water trough or a waterer. It’s most common to use hog or cattle panels for the fence. You can secure them to t-posts. You may or may not need an electrical wire to keep your pig in place.
Free range. This method is the easiest. You don’t need a food trough. You’ll need a water trough or pig waterer. The pigs roam around with no fences. They find shelter wherever.
The pasture method. You pick a fairly big area and you fence it in. You add a pig waterer. You don’t necessarily need a food trough. You can make paddocks if you like, so you can rotate your pig to different areas. I’ll get into this more in a bit.
There might be other ways of managing your pig space, but these three are the most common. Let’s get into the pros and cons of each method.
I’ll pick on the free range method first. Frankly, I’m jealous of those who can use this method. It means that they either have their whole property fenced or a lot of property or no neighbors to offend. The only time I would not use this method even if I could would be reason 3, land improvement. In that case, I would want to focus the pigs in specific areas. This method is great if you have a lot of land. You probably won’t have to worry about issues like worms, except for when you bring new animals in. Your infrastructure cost will be low, because there’s no fencing or little fencing cost. You’ll probably want to keep a piglet penned up for a week until it knows where home is. After that, no pen required. Your pig gets to roam around. Exercise is good for pork. It gives texture to the meat, which is very much lacking in store pork. It may take a little more effort to finish your pig—that extra bit of fat takes longer to happen since your pig is walking around so much.
If you’re keeping notes, you might want to mark down whether or not free range is for you.
Let’s look at the 4H method. You’re probably considering this if you don’t have a lot of land (less than an acre) or you have a lot of predators. By the way, I have predators in my area—cougar, coyote and even wolf. I don’t have a lot of pressure from predators though. I have yet to have my pigs bothered by anything other than the neighbor’s dog.
A friend of mine lives in Montana. She has issues with bears and wolves coming on her property. In her case, the animals need to stay close where they can be monitored and protected.
The good news about the 4H method is that your pig will get to weight the fastest this way. The bad news is that close confinement can cause issues. The first is boredom. A bored pig can lead to damaged fencing and possibly a hurt pig. Also, you have to keep the pen clean. This may mean shoveling or adding straw. You need to use a food trough to try to avoid excessive worm load. (more about this when we talk about pasture method). You do need to have a schedule for worming. Expect a few more medical issues.
On to the pasture method. You have a fair amount of land but need to keep your pigs out of the neighbors’ property or you want to use pigs to work the land for a purpose.
If you want your pigs to work the land, you’ll need to use small paddocks to get even results. Pigs tend to have favorite hangouts, so the land will get used unevenly if they have a lot of room.
A quick note: I’m going to talk about pigs’ effect on the land in a later podcast.
The bad about pasture and paddocks is that it costs the most. You’ll spend more on fencing, gates, etc. than you will using the other methods. It’s possible to build as you go, but be careful—you don’t want to be short of fencing when your pigs get big.
With the pasture and paddocks, you can avoid heavy parasite loads by cycling your pigs to the next paddock before the parasites go all the way through their life cycle. Some parasites can survive in wet soil for a long time, so it’s good to have more than a couple paddocks. This way, you can leave the first paddock alone for many weeks. This gives any grass or other plants a chance to recover as well.
There are three main ways to get rid of parasites in pastures. The first way is to have the ground dry out. The second is to expose the eggs to air. The third is to break the chain of the parasite life cycle.
I recommend having chickens in your paddocks. They are death on worms and the parasite eggs that they can see. Chickens will also shred pig poop looking for food. This has a several benefits. The first is that the chickens will eat any parasites that they find. The second is that in breaking up the poop, they expose the contents to the air, which is deadly for many types of parasite eggs. The third benefit is that they spread out the poop, which helps fertilize the land.
If you choose to pasture your pigs, be sure to put thought into where they’ll be for the winter. You don’t want long icy treks, carrying water and food. You’ll also want a way to keep the pigs’ water unfrozen.
I want to switch gears and talk about pig health. Let’s take a look at an amino acid called Lysine. It’s one of many amino acids that help animals build protein.
Lysine is called an indispensable or essential amino acid because pigs aren’t able to synthesize it on their own. Some leafy plants and bacteria can synthesize lysine. Animals eating the plants can get lysine.
Lysine isn’t just a building block for protein. It also helps your pig get more value out of its feed. Lysine equals growth. Lack of lysine can mean stunted pigs, with defects that may appear to be genetic.
You’re probably wondering how much lysine you should be giving your pigs. There isn’t one answer. It depends on gender, age, weight, lactation and other factors. The highest recommended daily dose that I’ve been able to find is 70 grams a day. The University of Minnesota recommends this for lactating sows who are 500 lbs or bigger.
The good news is that your pigs can receive more lysine than they need without hurting them. Supplementing lysine is an easy fix if you aren’t seeing the growth you expect from your pigs.
I’m going to pull back for a second and look at the bigger picture of your farm. It may seem off-topic, but it addresses lysine and other issues. So, hold on to thought that you want plenty of lysine for your pigs.
I want to go back to discussing the pasture/paddock model. Let’s say you have put up your paddocks and you’re rotating your pigs to a new paddock a minimum of every three weeks. You’re also rotating chickens behind the pigs. The chickens work at destroying parasites and spreading out the pig manure. The land benefits by the attention from the pigs and the chickens and is ready for the pigs on the next rotation.
You should still be giving the chickens some feed to ensure they’re getting all the minerals, etc. that they need. The chickens are pooping in the pasture. The chicken poop is richer because it has minerals that the chickens got from the feed. The land improves.
You’re also giving the pigs some feed for the same reasons. Selenium is a good example. Not all of it is used up and that mineral and others make it into the soil through manure or spillage. Your pasture improves as long as you don’t over-utilize it. The ground improves not just in nutrients, but in holding water at the top 8 inches where most grasses and plants have the majority of their roots.
As the ground improves, the pasture improves. As the pasture improves, your animals improve. Now your pigs take less time to hit butcher weight. You’re spending less on irrigation. You spend less on worming.
You’ll find that you’re avoiding a dozen or more different troubles managing your land with the chickens and pigs. One of these troubles is lack of lysine. See? I do have a point in this long ramble.
There is a great food source for pigs. It is chock full of amino acids, including an average of 100 grams of lysine. It’s the chicken egg.
One egg for one pig a day exceeds a pig’s daily requirement. If you’re already rotating chickens, the eggs are free byproduct that you can plug back into the system.
Now you have another powerful reason for chickens. You might look into a chicken tractor or an egg-mobile to pull around your paddocks.
I hesitated to bring up chickens in this episode. They sound wonderful and they are. The problem is that they add more work to your day. If you’re new to livestock, you probably don’t have a very efficient setup. Adding chickens to your workload may not be wise.
I suggest that you start counting and logging your steps every time you do a chore. Here’s an example.
Right now, I handle feeding the animals at the top of the property. Charity feeds the animals below. I feed 7 pigs, a calf, a sheep and some chickens. First, I walk to the chickens and feed them. Their bin is next to the coop. The hay for the calf and sheep are nearby. There are 46 steps getting the chickens fed and picking up a couple flakes of hay. There’s more if I need to get water to the chickens. I carry the hay to the pig feed bins. This is 40 steps. I grab the pig feed and the hay and walk to the pasture. 60 steps. 40 more steps if the water hose is running. 60 if it isn’t. 70 steps back to the house.
That’s a minimum of 256 steps. Let’s say I’m taking small strides because I’m carrying hay or feed. A long stride for me is a yard. A small is half of that. So if my 256 steps are small, I’m walking a minimum of 128 yards to do my morning feed. In reality, my strides are a bit bigger and I’m covering more distance.
Keeping a log as you add tasks will show you where your wasted time is. If you waste too much time doing daily chores, you won’t get the big stuff done. You’ll also burn out.
All of this just to say that you need to be careful before adding chickens to your paddock rotation. They provide so many benefits, but they require time and money as well.
That’s it for today’s podcast.
Please let me know if you have any pig questions or topics for the podcast.
Best wishes for you and yours.