Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pig Update

When I was a small child I asked my father one day, "Dad, can I have a pig?"  

He questioned, "Son, you can barely wake up in time to get ready for school, how would you ever be able to wake up early enough to take care of the pig before school?"

To which I retorted, "I don't wake up early because I don't have a pig."

The logic was simple enough for me, but needless to say, I never got my pig.  Well Dad, I've got more pigs than I ever dreamed and I am able to wake up early to care for them.  If you haven't ever experienced caring for a pig, I highly recommend getting one (or 10) and find the joy I have in them.  Here on Polyface I have become the "Pigboy" (much like a cowboy... no horse).

Anyway, here is a little update on the pigs and Lunch Box, the lead pig.

Currently on the farm we have ~155 pigs.  They range in size from 30 lbs to 300 lbs and are mostly out on pasture or in the woods (save for the little new pigs and the "about-to-be-butchered" pigs).  We run males and females together (males are castrated) and keep them in bunches of 15-50.  

Pigs in the Beaver Pond Pasture.  Notice the grazing?

Polyface is doing something this year that is Brand new with the pig enterprise.  We have put 100 pigs on actual pasture.  I say "actual pasture" because it isn't grass in the woods like the beaver pond pigs above, but rather grass in an open field that, until this summer, was grazed by the cattle.  We have two herds of 50 on 1/2 acre paddocks and we move them about once every 5-10 days.  Movement depends on the age of the pig and amount of feed consumption.  They have all-you-can-eat access to the normal Polyface pig ration (Corn, Soy beans, Oats, Diatomaceous Earth, and Fertril Nutri-Balancers swine mix) and large quantities of lush, tall, jungle-like pasture.  The clover is thick the fescue is tall and the alfalfa is blooming.  When we move them they don't head to the newly filled feeder.  Instead the put their heads to the ground like cattle and graze their way to the feeder.  It's UNREAL and BREATHTAKING.  Probably should be on the 1000 things to see before you die... maybe.

Pasture difference on day of move.  WOW.  Fencing is only a single strand of 12 1/2 gauge  Aluminum electric fence.

Same pasture after a few days.

Lunch Box is part of one of these 2 herds on pasture.  We put her with the newest/smallest pigs to act as a mother with good habits.  When I enter their pasture I usually began calling for her.  In no time she finds me for a good rub down and scratch.  Then something unbelievable happens.  Once I start scratching her, all the other little pigs lose their fear for me and allow me to pet them.  Its unreal.  The day I turned them in with her they had a huge flight zone, but now they aren't afraid and usually like to nibble on my feet.  Displacement in pigs has risen to the top on my list of desired qualities.

By the way...

Pork is the most consumed meat in the world.  Believe it or not.

Here is a link to a video Nightline did with Joel and Steve Ellis (founder of Chipotle).



Jessica said...

Videos? I'd love to see them moving about.

brad A said...


How did feed consumption drop? Also, how hard has it been to "train" the hogs to eat grass rather than a grain ration?

One More: please post more on rabbit production and turkeys!

Grady Phelan said...

I'll see what I can do for videos.

You don't have to train pigs to graze... they are omnivores and love greens as much as we do.

I don't think I said anything about feed consumption dropping? I just meant that the older they get the move they eat and the faster they get moved. Pasture does reduce feed ration by at least half though.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Thanks Grady, great post and great link to the news story!

By The Way Farm said...

Awesome update! Aren't pigs great?!! Thank you for the link. I'm sharing it with everyone. I hope to see Joel this August at the Afton Farm Field Day in Oregon.

Country Girl said...

Good post. We are so getting set up with electric fencing soon. What we are doing stinks. We just moved our pigs the other night and feed them thereafter. They could care less about the feed, right to work rooting. I will show my hubby this post. Thanks for sharing your info! I would be interested in seeing the feeders and water set ups they have for so many pigs.

Anonymous said...

You know, I've got Cornish Cross chickens who won't eat the grain I give them; instead they literally run for the pasture when I let them out in the morning! From my reading, I know that Joel says CCs are 'lazy' and won't free range far from their feeder. My experience is completely different! I'm sitting here with skinny cornish crosses that should have been butchered a few weeks ago. I'm going to have to take them to at least 16 weeks to get them to 4 lbs. They run all over my place.

Incidentally, I've just added your site to my blog roll. I'm enjoying it immensely.



Walter Jeffries said...

We pasture pigs (~300) here in the mountains of Vermont. Ours is a farrow to finish farm with about 40 breeding sows. The pigs graze great. We don't feed any corn/soy/commercial hog feed. Rather their diet consists of about 90% pasture/hay, 7% left over dairy and 3% pumpkins, turnips, beets, apples, sunchokes and other excess crops. We do intensive rotational grazing of the pigs right along side our sheep, ducks, chickens and geese.

This diet brings them to market weight in about six months. This produces a well marbled meat which is in high demand with local stores & restaurants to which we make weekly deliveries of fresh pork.

If you are going to feed any grain, I would suggest offering it in the evening so the animals fill themselves up on pasture first before they get their candy.


-Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont