Pig Talk Episode 4, Containment, Lysine

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.

About efficiency…

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.

 

 

Pig Talk Episode 3, Pig Perception

Today, I want to lay the groundwork for bringing your first pigs to their new home. We’re going to talk about moving pigs. I also have some recommendations about when NOT to move a pig. We’re also going to talk about the way pigs perceive everything around them. Trust me, their perception is tied to how you successfully move them (or not).

Let’s talk about moving pigs.  There are three main types of pig moves.

The first is the piglet move.  This is easy.  You can bring a piglet home in a pet carrier in your Honda.  We’ve done it at least four times.  This method leads to some great anecdotes and your vehicle will never be the same.  I highly recommend driving a piglet six hours in a car with a pig.

You might be wondering how you get a piglet into a pet carrier. To maneuver the piglet, you must catch it. Ah, this can be very entertaining. It’s best not to wear clothes that you care about. Piglets are fast and squirmy and chances are you’re going to go to your knees a few times until you are proficient at catching them. Piglets are picked up by their hind legs, and the hind legs are a good place to try grabbing them. Hopefully your piglets are in a small area. If they aren’t, you’re going to have to try things like luring them close with treats. It’s to be noted that piglets don’t like being picked up, even if you cuddle them. Expect screaming and flailing. Feed them gently, head and front feet first into your pet carrier.

Piglets aren’t very good at keeping their body heat regulated. That’s one reason for the straw you’re going to include in the carrier. Moving them is stressful and an opportunity to catch pneumonia if it’s cool. Pigs, even big ones, have trouble keeping cool when the weather is warm. An 80 degree day can have them panting and seeking shade. A road trip in the heat can be a recipe for disaster. Part of the reason piglets get transported in our Honda is that we can run the heat or the air conditioner as needed.

Here’s a side note. Your footwear can carry disease. Think about wearing shoes/boots that are just for your pig area. Be religious about not wearing them anywhere else. There are some really bad bugs out there, like the Porcine Epidemic Diarhea virus.

At a certain age, a piglet gets too big to fit in the carrier that will fit in your car. Also, you have to haul more than one piglet.  This leads us to the second type of pig move. This is for moving several small piglets or a piglet that you can just barely pick up.  At this point, we use a wire dog crate that goes in the back of a pickup.  We put straw in the crate and make sure that the piglets aren’t exposed to wind.  Hopefully there’s a topper on the back of the pickup.  Otherwise, a tarp can be used as long as the weather isn’t too cold.   This is important because the straw can blow into their eyes and do some damage.  I don’t recommend letting piglets run around loose in the bed of a pickup, even if it has a topper. There’s a lot of room in the bed of a pickup and that means the pigs can slide around and get hurt.

The third method is a trailer. We use this once a pig is 3 months old or older.  I recommend a trailer that has windows or lots of slats to let in light.  More about this later.  An eight foot by six foot area is enough for a year old pig or bigger.  Choose your trailer accordingly. Our trailer can be pulled as a gooseneck or bumper pulled.  Its walls are slats and bars, letting in plenty of light.  The problem with our trailer is that it’s too small for more than one really big pig.  More would fit in, but it would be very hard to load them.

Remember that pigs are not good climbers when they are calm.  Your trailer needs to be easy for them to step into and out of.  Trailers that tilt are great.  Tilting the trailer lowers the back end and makes it easier for the pigs to enter. The problem with trailers that tilt is that they are usually small.

I do not recommend using trailers that have windows or large openings to move pigs. You’ve all probably seen the small two-horse trailers that have the back doors that come up about 4 feet high. A neighbor of mine bought a sow and took her home in a trailer like that. On the way to his place, she jumped over the top of the gate while they were on the highway, doing 60 miles per hour. This sow probably weighed about 400 lbs and she was able to get out of the back of that trailer. It’s good to know what pigs are capable of.

That brings me to the next point. Do your best not to transport bred pigs. A move is very stressful, especially if they’re within a month of farrowing. A bred pig does not want to leave her home. The sow that I mentioned earlier—the one that jumped out of the trailer? She was pregnant. She did survive, but the litter was lost. Moving bred pigs to a new location can cause problems even when they arrive safely. Often, they’ll break fences looking for places to nest, rather than settling where they should be.

It’s probably good to take a look at how pigs are different than us.  It’s true that biologically, we have many similarities to them.  On the other hand, we perceive and react very differently than pigs.

Our eyes are on the front of our faces.  This means we have stereoscopic vision.  VIsion is our main way of perceiving our environment.  You may not have thought about this, but most animals that have eyes that face to the front are predators.  Our eyes give us depth perception, which is important for catching prey with our hands, chucking spears, etc.  Our hearing helps us know where danger is so that we can turn and see it.

To pigs, what they see is less important than what they hear or smell.  Their eyes are on the sides of their heads.  Pig eyesight can see 330 degrees around, but at best, 50 degrees is seen with both eyes.  Pigs prioritize what they see to the side over what they see directly in front.

Pigs can see some color–most likely blues and greens. As far as I know, scientists haven’t figured what color does for pigs.

Why is understanding pig’s sight important? If you understand this, you can build better enclosures, load pigs into trailers more easily etc.  Pigs count on their side views to let them know if there is danger.  Since they can only see one side with one eye, they don’t have good depth perception.  This means that they’ll have a hard time going through narrow doors.  First, they’re not sure that they can fit.  Second, they have trouble seeing what’s past the door to know that it’s safe to go through.  For this reason, I recommend that doors and gates be at least 4 feet wide.

I firmly believe that a smart pig will trust his or nose if there’s nothing scary to hear or see. That’s my key to loading pigs in trailers. Use trailers that allow the pig to see inside. Throw something that smells good inside, preferably something that they know. I use baby carrots. And most of all, avoid loud sounds. Be patient and the pig will eventually figure things out.

Knowing how pigs see, you can move them easily even if they’re skittish, by coming up on them from the left rear or right rear into their vision.  This seems like a threat to them and they’ll move.  Don’t expect to be able to push pigs into what they may consider a dangerous place though.  New places may require short stops where they can sniff and look around.  Patience is the key.

It’s very important to understand your animal as you build fencing, gates, loading areas and feed areas.  Temple Grandin wrote a great book about this.  It’s called, “Humane Livestock Handling: Understanding livestock behavior and building facilities for healthier animals”.

Just a side note, Temple Grandin is a pretty amazing person. She’s autistic and that gives her a different perspective about her environment and the way animals perceive the things around them. A biographical movie was made about her. She’s famous for designing enclosures and systems for managing animals.

Let me give an example about pig behavior. I found that the pigs are beating up my fencing in one or two specific spots.  Imagine that you have two paddocks next to each other.  I’d better stop right here and give some word definitions.

A pasture is an area that is set aside for animals. It’s usually fenced. You probably know other forms of the word, “pasture”. The word, “pastor”, the person who works at a church, comes from the same place. A pastor is a shepherd, in this case, figuratively of their flock of churchgoers. Pasturized milk is a process for killing germs in milk and it was developed by Louis Pasteur, who probably got his last name from some ancestor that worked in a pasture. So a pasture is a field where animals live.

A paddock is a piece of a pasture. Not all pastures have paddocks. When you divide up a pasture into several sections by putting up fence, you’re making paddocks.

Ok, imagine that you have two paddocks next to each other. They’re both in a square shape, and being next to each other, they look like a sideways domino.  Imagine that your feed bin is in the bottom right corner of the paddock on the right side.  Your feed method is to throw feed to the pigs in the right paddock, get more feed from the bin, walk over to where the left paddock meets the right and throw feed to the pigs in the left paddock.

I would not be surprised if in a month or two, all the pigs are found in the right paddock.  The left-most pigs will want to get to the food.  They have no patience and they will work by hook or by crook to get into the right paddock. Extra diligence needs to be paid to the places where pigs wait for food.

Once pigs find a way through a fence, they will try and try again to get through, even after careful repairs. Once this happens, and it will happen, I recommend that you use other, visible barriers on the outside of the fence. I’ve used pine saplings for this purpose, laying them on top of each other outside the fence so that the pigs can’t see past them. You could use almost anything—pallets and tires have worked for me as well.

I promise that I’m going to talk about fencing in a future episode. There’s more to a fence than its materials and I want to make sure I talk about everything you’re going to need to have, to do and to know to put in a good enclosure.

 

 

Pig Talk Episode 2, General Pig Types to Consider

Hey, thanks for coming back for seconds! Welcome to the second episode of Pig Talk with Jeremey Weeks. That’s me by the way.

Before we begin, let’s knock out some administrative stuff. I’m sure that you have comments regarding the earlier podcast. I’ve put together a website that contains podcast notes. The notes aren’t anything different than what you’re listening to, but sometimes reading makes things clearer. I may refer to pictures or diagrams from time to time. You’ll find the notes, links, pictures etc, at pig talk with Jeremey dot com. My name, Jeremey is spelled differently than normal. It’s J E R E M E Y—there are three E’s in my name. Another way to reach me is on Facebook I’m in a group call PacificNW Pigs. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the Northwest or not, we’ll take you as long as you talk about pigs and you play nicely with others. You can also reach me by snail mail. Please address any correspondence to Jeremey Weeks, P.O. Box 22, Ford, WA 99013 (repeat)

I also want to take a second to mention the breeders map and list. I definitely want to hear from you if you sell pigs. I don’t care how big or small your operation is. I have a map of the United States that shows pig breeders and I want you on it. I don’t care if you live outside the U.S. by the way—I’ll put you on the map if I have to use GPS coordinates. I also have a list of breeders that goes by the breed of pig. I think the list is more valuable than the map, because people will travel a long way for a breed that they want.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that I want to hear from those of you that are selling pigs.

OK, time for the first part of the podcast. This is for those of you that are planning to have pigs.

I want to give a brief introduction to pigs. Hopefully you planners have your notepads ready because we’re going to look at what type of pigs will meet your goals. This isn’t going to be the definitive guide to pigs. I’m going to lay down some generalities about pigs that we can build on.

I’m also going to get into the planning that needs to be done before the first piglet arrives. There’s going to be some Do’s and Don’ts that will save you a lot of pain. I’ll put in some anecdotes–sometimes real world experience can put a principle in focus.

 

So, let’s talk about pigs!

The old school says that there are two kinds of pigs. There are bacon pigs and lard pigs. I’m going to tune those types a bit and then add another category. There are meat pigs, lard pigs and niche pigs.

I also divide meat pigs into two subcategories. The first are the bacon/pork chop pigs and the second are the ham pigs. More about them in a bit.

I also break the niche pigs into several groupings. The first group would be the pet breeds. The second group is a group of unrelated breeds that fulfill a special want, need or fad.

 

Pets Let’s talk about pet pigs first. We’re going to address two different goals with pet pigs. First, despite all the things I said in the last podcast, pigs can make good pets. You can also make a lot of money selling pet piglets. Aye . Lot . Of . Money . I’m thinking of Juliana pigs especially. These are miniature pigs and tend to be the ones you see in calendar pictures and memes. This is the only pig I would consider for indoor living.

Outdoor pets include breeds like Kunekunes and Potbellied pigs, though Potbellies don’t bring a commanding price. These pigs are relatively easy to sell in the spring as piglets, but not so easy at other times.

If your goal is to have a pet pig or to make money selling pigs, this might be your game. These pigs can be spendy. You might have to pay $3,000 for a breeding pair of Julianas.They also tend to have more health issues than mid-size and large pigs.

Other niche pigs. These pigs have some special characteristic or behavior that makes them desirable. Kunekunes are also an example of a niche pig. They have longer hair than most pigs, often with flashy colors. Red Wattles have little wattles that hang of their chins. Mulefoot pigs have a different foot than other pigs. Meishans are wrinkly. I’ll also mention Durocs, one of the most common breeds you can find. I bring them up because they turn the soil faster and more efficiently than the other breeds that I’ve observed. This behavior is great if you have poor soil or rocky soil. The niche might be filled by a common pig, but the market is special. You aren’t selling meat-you’re selling a breed.

The niche pigs are great and you need to be aware of the opportunities for profit. These opportunities can come and go quickly. You need to move quickly but don’t bet everything you have on them. The market will only support so much of one breed and you don’t want to be the last one holding the bag. Let’s talk about a safer investment…

Meat Pigs.

So meat pigs are for eating. That’s an obvious conclusion. But back in the day, pig breeds were specialized to meet specific needs.

One of those needs was lard. Lard was an ingredient that used to be found in at least one meal a day. Lard was used in baking (think biscuits), frying and as a flavoring. A couple things happened though. First, there was a consolidation in the pig market. CAFO style pig raising became the way to make money selling lots of pigs. It required a special kind of pig that could flourish indoors. Also, lard fell by the wayside when vegetable shortening came along. Butter also supplanted lard.

Let me tell you a secret. Lard pigs tend to be fat. Most of the flavor in meat comes from fat.

The lard pig is worthy of consideration if you want superior flavor.

The other parts of the meat pig group are the hams vs the porkchop/bacon group. I’ve made this distinction because it’s important to know what your end goal is. There are a lot of great pig breeds, but they don’t suit every market. You might have trouble selling hams or they might be your best seller. Why not choose breeds that give you more of what is profitable for the same cost in feed?

The Duroc is an example of a ham pig. The Duroc has a tall body, but it doesn’t get as long for its size as a Berkshire, a Hereford or a Gloucester Old Spots. The length of a pig seems to determine how big its hams are. A tall pig with a short length is going to have big hams. The longer the pig is, the more pork chops and more bacon you will get.

Just a note: ham is expensive. Let’s say you need to charge $10 a lb for ham to be profitable. The hams you sell are 16 to 18 lbs each. How many people do you know who will shell out $160 to $180 dollars for a ham? Not too many. This is part of why the Duroc is not a respected pig.

There are ways to make those big hams profitable, but that’s for a different discussion.

Starting out, it’s not vital that you choose between a porkchop pig and a ham pig. You’ll get good hams either way. It’s good to get into the right mindset from the beginning though.

So, to review. There are pet pigs, pigs that fill a niche, lard pigs, pork chop pigs and ham pigs. Do any of these types match your reasons for having pigs? I recommend that you go to your notepad and write down what type of pig you need next to each reason you wrote down last time.

Okay, it’s time to jump to the second topic for today. Planning for your pigs.

 

 

Planning: Containment, Water, Food, Shelter, Companionship

Let’s plan before purchasing a pig.

Planning: Lower your sights

I want you to focus on the basics. The time to worry about profit is after you have consistent results doing the basics.

To meet minimum expectations:

  • You need to contain the pig in a pasture, paddock or pen, ensuring that the pig doesn’t tear up its fencing and disappear.
  • You have to make sure the pig has a consistent supply of water to slake its thirst as well as to wallow in during the warm months. The water must not get too hot, must not freeze in the winter and should be fairly fresh.
  • You have to feed the pig consistently.
  • You have to either clean the pig’s pen, add straw or rotate the pig onto different ground.
  • The pig needs shade in the summer and shelter from the wind in the winter.
  • When the pig makes weight, you need to sell the pig or put it in the freezer.There’s so much to learn and do, so get good at the things you have to do and wait on the rest.Almost all of the pig problems I hear about are issues related to piglets and their moms. There’s an important lesson here. Do not breed pigs until you have to. Buy your weaners and raise them.I’ll go one step farther. Don’t buy boars. Just buy gilts or barrows.The second thing not to do is to play around with what you feed your pigs. It’s unlikely that you’re aware of all the nutritional needs of your pig. Buy packaged pig food or food from a mill. Don’t try to come up with your own recipe. You’ll most likely compromise your pig’s immune system or run into diseases like mulberry heart disease. You’re going to hear about a lot of ways to feed your pigs more cheaply. Take notes and wait until you have a nicely flowing operation.Speaking of feed, I’d like to discuss a couple minerals. Calcium and PhosphorusBoth Calcium and Phosphorus are important for teeth and bones. Without these minerals, pigs can develop osteoporosis and rickets-like symptoms. That’s no surprise. But you may not know that these minerals are needed for muscles as well. A deficiency of either can cause problems with metabolism, cause cramps and hamper blood clotting.I think that covers episode two of Pig Talk with Jeremey WeeksBest wishes for you and yours.
  • Pigs can pick up calcium naturally from plants like alfalfa—even in hay form. Phosphorus can also be gotten from plants, but it may be that you need to supplement one or both for your pig’s needs.
  • As usual, they’re great in the right dosage, but cause problems if pigs get too much. For example, too much calcium inhibits a pig’s ability to absorb zinc. So, be careful and get educated! I don’t bring up minerals because I’m an expert. I bring them up so you know what you should be researching.
  • Don’t feed pigs leftovers from restaurants, cafeterias, etc!!! I don’t even recommend giving them your leftovers, but I know you’re going to do it. Pigs can get diseases from humans. This is a very good way to get them sick. It’s also illegal to feed slops like that to pigs that are destined for other peoples’ dinner tables. You will hear people say that they’ve done it for years with no problems. Don’t take advice from people like that.
  • Some of you are getting cranky. You think that you’re losing profit by not breeding AND raising your pigs. It’s too early to worry about profit. If you haven’t raised pigs before, you need to get educated. Education costs money. A good education will actually cost you less money.
  • By the way, a weaner is a piglet that is weaned. It no longer needs milk.
  • The first thing not to do is to start out breeding pigs.
  • Most of the things I just mentioned have to be working at the same time all the time. Fencing AND feed AND water AND shelter AND a clean environment have to happen all the time for at least 150 days and probably more. There are no days off. All of this work gets you to the level where you can say you’re not a bad farmer. You aren’t good, merely adequate.

Pig Talk Episode 1 Intro, Reasons to have pigs or not, Selenium

This podcast is going to have two threads. One thread will be for people who are thinking about or planning on having pigs. The second thread is for the ones who already have pigs. I’m going to do my best to have something for everyone in each episode.

Episode I.I Methods

There’s going to be a lot of general information about pigs on this podcast. This is stuff that is true about pigs no matter where you live. Fencing options, nutrition, farrowing, diseases, all that good stuff.

I’m also going to be talking about the way I do things versus others’ methods. Rarely do we face the same challenges. Climate and weather are just a couple examples of why my system might be different than what works for someone else.

For example, I raise my pigs on a pasture model. This works well for me. It doesn’t work well for a Montana breeder who has to deal with grizzly bears, wolves and cougars.

Another example, Walter Jeffries, probably the most famous pig person on the Internet, lives in Vermont. His area gets about 35 inches of rain and over 66 inches of snow in a year. I receive about 17.6 inches of rain and 10.7 inches of snow. My July high temperature is in the 100+ degrees. Walter’s is about 80 degrees. Walter gets to do some things on pasture that I can’t unless I irrigate. On the other hand, I don’t have to deal with several feet of snow in the winter.

So, some of this stuff is going to be valuable. Sometimes you’re going to shake your head.

I’m going to talk about how to plan build your farm from an engineer’s perspective. We’re going to look at saving time versus saving money versus quality. This affects every part of your operation. The design or lack of planning you use will create the shape of your farm. Let’s say you wanted to build cars. You can build a lot really quickly, you can build high quality cars or you can build cars relatively cheaply. What you can’t do is build a lot of high quality cars really cheaply. At best, you are only going to get two out of three. To build high quality cars quickly, you’re going to have to spend a lot of money. If you don’t spend the money, you won’t get a lot built, or if you do, they’ll be shoddy. The same goes for farming and raising pigs. You’ll always fight money vs time vs quality.

A note of caution: There’s going to be some topics related to breeding, digestion, etc. that are going to get earthy. I don’t aim to be deliberately offensive. My speech regarding these topics may be a little cavalier for some. Something to keep in mind when speaking to other people about pigs is that most have a different perspective about things. Reproduction is a very important subject but at the same time there isn’t the shame/veneration when talking about it. This can be shocking.

Also, there are going to be opinions that you don’t agree with. I’m going to interview people that you may not like. I’m also going to say things that are critical. For example, I don’t like the traditional 4H model for raising pigs. I’m not sure if it’s different now, but the model I’ve seen is not pig friendly.

It’s going to take a few recordings for me to get comfortable and work out all the kinks. Please hang in there with me while I figure out what I’m doing.

I hope you keep listening.

Episode I.II To have pigs or not to have pigs, that is the question!

Why have pigs?

Why am I asking this question? Because it’s important. You have to identify your reasons for raising pigs. Your reasons will determine the breeds that you will buy. I recommend that you get out a notepad and write down your reasons for considering pigs.

Reason #1. You want a hobby. Maybe you’ve been raising chickens and you want to diversify, go to the next level. Pigs are a great choice. They are very hardy. They’re easier to keep alive than goats, sheep, horses or cattle. There are no hooves that need trimming and no fleece that needs to be shorn. Mastitis is rare. They don’t have multiple stomachs so they don’t bloat like other animals.

Another great thing about pigs is that they can change their behavior, even when they’re older. You can woo a stand-offish sow most times, in just two or three months.

If you can’t sustain your hobby, there’s good news. Pigs are worth money and they tend to be worth more the older they get to be, if nothing else because of the price per lb. It’s not as painful to sell pigs compared to beanie babies, bottle caps, stamps, etc. You might even make a profit…

Reason #2. You want some extra income. I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about how to raise pigs for profit. The good news is that it is easy to find several ways to make money with pigs. I’ll start out with the basics and expand from there. It’s important to accept that you might experience failure before success, but profit is possible. Just remember that you aren’t going to be able to produce great quality meat at the same price as the pork in the grocery store. The only way to do that is by producing pork using the CAFO method. CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. I pronounce it Kay-Foh, but I don’t know if that’s what everybody does. If you can run a CAFO style operation, you aren’t going to be using the pig breeds that I’ll be talking about. You also won’t find much of value in this podcast.

Reason #3. Land improvement. This is one of the reasons I wanted pigs on our land. Pigs can have both an immediate physical effect as well as a long term mark on your property. There’s a lot of good stuff that brings amazing things to even the poorest of land. You can enrich your soil with pigs, eliminate weeds, and seal the ground to create ponds. There are other uses for pigs as well.

Reason #4. Food quality. Raising your own pork means that you can ensure your food is raised in stress-free circumstances with healthy feed. You’ll know exactly what has gone into your food. Concerns with GMO grains? You can control your animals’ diet and make sure they don’t get corn or soy. If taste and texture are your goals, you’re going to be very picky about what type and breed of pig you raise. Feed them beer or coca-cola to produce the results you want.

Reason #5. Respecting your food. I’m not a vegetarian but I respect those who don’t eat meat because of the way that meat animals are raised. You might have issues with the feed that animals are given or their environment. This reason is going to affect how you raise your pigs. It’s going to cost more money than a purely profit driven enterprise. The good news is that you’re going to have the satisfaction of knowing that the meat that goes on the table had a good life and was managed humanely.

We’re going to cover these reasons more in depth later on. You may also have other reasons to raise pigs. I hope you’ve jotted down all the reasons that apply to your situation.

I need to bring up…

Reasons for not having pigs.

You want a pet. Unless you’re buying a Julianna, most pigs are not going to make the usual acceptable pet. Pigs (except for Juliannas) get big. The smaller breeds of pig tend to weigh in at 250 lbs when they reach adulthood. This is a lot of weight, being distributed on cloven hooves, so pigs don’t make good indoor pets. They destroy floors.

Pigs also don’t groom themselves. Plus, pigs tend to have pheromones. This means that pigs tend to have a smell. The boys like to pee on themselves. It’s their cologne for attracting the girls. Pigs like to wallow in the mud when it’s hot. The mud can have a really strong odor.

I know of a guy who lets his pigs run in and out of his house. He doesn’t have a lot of friends.

 

You live in the city or have really close neighbors.

Pigs tend to be noisy. The less space they have, the more they stink. Pigs aren’t dogs or cats and they behave differently than “normal” city animals when they get out. Pigs are strong. Pound for pound, they will win any tug of war if they’re determined to. They’ll break your fences, root up your lawn, eat your neighbor’s roses, make big mud holes and generally destroy most of the rules that city folk have to live by to get along with each other. Neighbors are a lot less understanding about pigs than they are about other pets. It might be World War III if your gilt eats everything in their flowerbed or plows up all the decorative bark that they’ve laid down.

Just a bit of an anecdote… I bought Charlotte, our Duroc in eastern Oregon near my hometown. I stopped by my mom’s place to give Charlotte a bath. I had a collar and leash on her while she was out. Feel free to laugh at that picture. I put her back in the pet carrier. What I didn’t know was that she could flex the carrier by putting her snout under the door and lifting. The next thing I knew, she was running down the street, in town. I finally caught her two blocks away.

That’s not the adventure you want to have. Now imagine that happening while you’re at work or the grocery store. Your pig has been out for hours, damaging property, running in front of cars. Not good.

 

You can’t pay your bills.

Pigs cost money. Most of the time, you’re going to have a 5 or 6 month wait before you can think of selling a pig for profit. During that time, they’ll eat about $200 worth of feed in addition to the fencing, the troughs, hoses, etc. that you’ll need to buy. Don’t be surprised if you spend $300 on fencing for 2 or 3 pigs. Some of what you buy ends up getting trashed and you get to buy it again and again.

It’s a serious responsibility to take a living creature into your care. Be sure you can afford your pig or else don’t purchase.

 

Your relationship with your significant other is not the best.

You both need to have the same dream, or at least willing to aim for the same goal. Extra work is only going to cause more problems. I’ve seen plenty of last minute pig sales due to broken relationships. I’ve also seen plenty of arguments over pig purchases, fencing, etc.

If you haven’t purchased a pig yet, I urge you to hold off until all your figurative ducks are in a row.

All is not lost if you aren’t ready for pigs. You can get some valuable experience and profit by raising chickens or rabbits. You can always move to pigs later. It’s a truism that you get more profit per acre from smaller animals than large. So, don’t be discouraged if you have to wait. Better to pause and be successful later than to waste time and money now for no result.

Ok, hopefully you’re still planning to raise pigs. Hopefully you also scribbled down your reasons for having them. You now have answered one of the three big questions concerning raising pigs. You’ve answered “Why”. Now all you have to do is figure out questions 2 and 3. They are “What kind of pig shall I raise?” and “Where shall I raise my pigs?”.

More about those two questions later.

Right now, let’s get to…

Episode 1.3 Nutrition

I want to get in a few words about nutrition for pigs. Before I do, I need to caution you that I am not an expert. Part of the reason that I pay for feed rather than grinding my own is that I’m NOT an expert and the people at my feed mill know what they’re doing.

Another caution: A certain amount of nutrient or mineral might be good, but too much might be deadly. Get knowledge before you experiment.

Selenium is a mineral that you really need to know about. Find out if it’s in your soil. My understanding is that it is often found in land near the ocean but I haven’t verified that.

Selenium is poisonous. Too much will kill your pig, cause abortion, etc.

But, selenium, in very small amounts, is needed by pigs. Some signs of selenium deficiency is hair loss and hooves falling off. No, I’m not kidding. Also, muscle disease can occur. This might be weakness, cramps or other issues. Next, the liver and kidneys fail and a disease affecting the heart (Mulberry heart disease) can also occur.

I don’t know if it’s true with pigs, but cattle that get a bit of selenium have more calves than cattle that don’t. Feel free to check me on this.

 

Best wishes for you and yours.