Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pasturing Pigs

Yorkshire on the move.

Now that spring is here and summer short to follow, my mind buzzes about pigs on pasture.  One of my newer duties here on the farm is to look after all the pigs... all 191 of them (this number is of course always changing).  For the most part we are currently on hold for turning pigs out on pasture.  Many of the hogs are currently pig-aerating and many of the young pigs are living in the barn and hoop-houses.  These groups are on deck and warming up, waiting for the the grass to get a head of steam before they're put to the plate and allowed to swing for the fence.  All the groups are waiting... all but one.

The Pine Glen Group

February 20th we took a group of 38 pigs out to a brand new pine glen.  I call it a pine glen instead of Joel's term "acorn glen" because this particular glen has very few oaks and lots of pines, so by overwhelming majority it becomes a pine glen.  Anyway... I have been keeping track of feed consumption since the 20th and I want to share with you what I have found.  Get excited... I know I am.

I want to compare with you two groups of pigs.  One group, which we shall call the "West" group is composed of 20 pigs and has been keep in the barn all winter.  They arrived in the fall and we're too small to go to pasture, then winter came and we brought all the pigs down, so...  The other group, which we shall call the "Pine Glen" group, is 38 strong, arrived in the fall also, were to small to put out to pasture, winter came, same story... until February 20th when they went to the new pine glen.

Except for the differences in living space, the groups have been treated almost the same.  Both have a waterer that allows free access to as much water as each pig wants, 24/7.  Both have a self-feeder that allows free access to as much of the pig feed ration as each pig wants, 24/7.  I give the West group about a bale of hay (small square) a day for eating and bedding, but I give no such amenity to the Pine Glen group.   

I went back to my data of feed and began counting how many days it took each group to empty a one ton pig feeder.  It took BOTH groups the SAME amount of time to finish the SAME amount of feed even though the Pine Glen group has TWICE as many pigs as the West Group!!!

Moral of the story...

Pigs are able to find at least half of their food when they are allowed to forage.  Even though the Pine Glen group had free access to the feeder, just like the West group, they chose to root up food, graze, scavenge, and forage for at least half their diet!!  This isn't really scientific data, but it is definitely eye opening data to say the least. 

When we let livestock express themselves fully, they thrive.  Pigs have a God given talent (or naturally selected variation for those evolutionists out there) for foraging and the moment we allow them to express it, they impress us.  
Doesn't look like there is much to eat... but then again I'm not a pig.


Anonymous said...

What you haven't mentioned is the comparative health of the two groups of pigs after the observed feeding pattern. While I can infer from your comments that they are equally healthy, failing to mention it could cause someone (a hater, no doubt) to doubt your conclusions.

Regardless, I love the blog, and look forward to following your Polyface adventures!

Country Girl said...

Thanks for your response. We grain our chickens both layers and meat birds but they also have lots of oppurtunity to graze as the weather permits. Our layers free range in the spring and fall and they go into chicken tractors as soon as the garden goes in. We raise pigs that we feed twice daily with a mix of grain, table/garden scraps, milk and bread but they do eat hay and certainly till up the earth for bugs and stuff. I am interested in getting a couple cows and attempting a rotational grazing system and supplementing they with grain and hay as needed.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Why Feb. 20? Could you have put the pigs out in the glen before that? I have a wooded area on my property and am wondering if I could have a couple of pigs there and if they could stay out all year. We are in Georgia - winters are not what they are in Virginia.

Grady Phelan said...


I must confess the health was a factor... but not like you would expect. Both group were equally healthy except 5 of the Pine Glen Group. On February 20th when we turned them out to pasture, we included 5 pigs that were ill (various sicknesses and poor-doers) with the Pine Glen Group. Right now I can NOT tell them apart from the others!! They have all healed so extensively that they are gaining weight at the same rate as others. One of these pigs was very near death, but today she looks as if we pumped her full of antibiotics and other medicine. But the fix was simply nature.

February 20...
We don't usually have pigs out in the winter here mainly because our water system freezes up everywhere but near the house and hauling water gets expensive and time consuming. But... the Pine Glen Group was out growing their space in the barn and we had a place with a pond which could be pumped for water, so... I would imagine you could keep pigs out on pasture/woods all year long. I would recommend using a land rotation system no matter what you do.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great post and helpful information. My mom feels I am starving our pigs because they are on pasture, so they get a smaller feed ration.

MojejiRanch said...

What kind of fencing specs do pigs require? Any good suggestions for more info on starting to raise pasture fed pork?