Fall Calving, Fall Farrowing

November 15, 2015



100% or above calving percentage through four fall calving seasons, but it has not been without some work on my part.   I don’t want to overstate my contribution, as a good herd of cows will wean 90% without any effort from their farmer, but that last 10% usually requires some effort.  100% calving percentage means every cow has a live calf and raises it to weaning.  90% means 9 out of 10 cows wean a calf, etc.

The first two fall calving seasons I did absolutely nothing and the cows weaned 100%, but I had a feeling I was using up my luck. The most recent two have had problems, including death loss, but twins have made up for the losses.

This season started with a small calf born dead out of my oldest cow, 465, who has been in photos on my blog.  It was most likely born early, but it looked fully developed.  I’m going to sell the cow, because she doesn’t have a chance to contribute anything until next fall, and she’s eleven years old.

Had a few live calves and then one morning I checked and a cow, 612, was with two calves, but as the sun rose she started walking away from where she spent the night and calling to her calves.  They both tried to follow, but I could see she was only concerned with one of them, and that has been our experience in the past.

So I called my Dad to come with his ATV and help me get the cow into the pen by the barn.  I picked up the calf that was being abandoned and carried it in on the ATV.  With patience we were able to walk the cow and calf into the pen also.

Something didn’t look quite right, as there was a large difference in size between the two calves.  I checked the other cows and 8110 had a small new calf with her.  I conferred with my Dad and realized what had happened, something out of the ordinary, but something we had seen before.

8110 had twin calves in the night.  612 was in labor and her maternal hormones were kicking in.  She “claimed” one of the twins as her own and probably let it nurse.  She then had her own calf.  8110 walked off with one calf by the time I checked them and found 612 with one of the twins and her own, larger calf.  It also helped my diagnosis that I knew 8110 had twins the year before.  There is a genetic component to twinning.

At this point, it had been enough trouble getting 612 into the pen that I was willing to let her nurse both calves if she would let them.  The larger calf was strong enough, and 612 was calm enough, that I was able to push the calf in the right direction and he started nursing.  612 quickly began to claim both calves, so I decided she would get to nurse two calves and kept them isolated for a few weeks so that there was no chance of one of the calves being separated.


I have nine fall litters doing very well.  The weather has cooperated for the most part.  There is no sign of the piglet scours which plagued my herd last summer.  As I hoped, I believe my herd has developed immunity to the disease.

Annual Pollinator Mix Conclusion, Summer Farrowing

October 18, 2015


In conclusion, the Annual Pollinator Mix from Lacrosse Seeds made fine pig pasture, but the flowers were not that impressive and I didn’t see an abundance of insects.  To be fair, it was competing with my wife’s flowers and the Native Pollinator Garden I planted last year, plus acres of clover, alfalfa, and the occasional weed.

My summer farrowing group didn’t do very well.  Some of the litters of piglets had diarrhea and quite a few died, leaving an average of just over five piglets per litter weaned.

Either I am a lucky person, or I choose to frame it that way, but weaning less per litter won’t hurt much economically because I had kept more gilts to farrow than I usually needed.  The gilts were AI sired and I just couldn’t bring myself to sell them for meat.  As the boars bred them I kept asking myself what I was going to do with all the extra piglets.  I try not to raise extra hogs for the commodity market, preferring all my pork is sold direct.  So the extra death loss is keeping my numbers down, but farrowing more gilts will give me enough hogs to satisfy my direct market.



Annual Pollinator Mix, 8 Week Update, Spring Farrowing

June 12, 2015



“Sleep, creep, and leap,” is a common saying about growing things, and it really seems to be true.  The annual pollinator/ oat mix is leaping now, 8 weeks after planting.  I’ve started grazing it with the feeder cattle and the sows with spring litters.  All are loving it, but the cattle really seem to be blooming on this mixture.  The sows are eating so much their manure could pass for cow pies.

I’m not really sure which components are contributing the most to the mixture, but I’m assuming the oats, which is probably near its nutritional peak, and the rape, which there seems to be a lot of and is reputed to be high in protein.  The sunflower is not being eaten by either species and as of 9 weeks has started to outgrow everything else.  The oats are starting to head out.  The Buckwheat is the only plant that is flowering at 9 weeks.

Below is a photo of a sow farrowing in one of the “hillbilly” farrowing caves I made using old round bales of hay and some used tin for a roof.  They really like farrowing in these spots, but it doesn’t offer enough protection from the elements.  I had to move a two-day-old litter into one of the farrowing huts I’ve written of previously as they were getting wet from rain.  Remarkably I’ve farrowed 13 sows in the spring group and the last time I counted they had an average of 10 pigs per litter.  I’m amazed at how well they are doing.  It seems they continue to improve with each succeeding generation farrowed on pasture.


Annual Pollinator Mix, Planned Pig Pasture

April 23, 2015



I was wondering what to plant for my annual pig pasture when I stumbled across an Annual Pollinator Mix on the Lacrosse Forages blog.  I ordered it from my local supplier, and with some delays, finally planted it April 16th.

The Annual Pollinator Mix contains eight different flowering plants with many of them legumes.  Its supposed to improve the soil and benefit pollinators.  My thought is it would make a decent pig pasture as well.  I also planted two bushels of Jerry oats per acre.

The Jerry oats cost $8.20 per bushel, so at two bushels per acre the cost for the oats is $16.40 per acre.  The Annual Pollinator Mix cost $181 per 50 lb bag.  I planted 18 lbs per acre so the cost for the Annual Pollinator Mix is $65 per acre.  I actually hadn’t figured out the cost until now, and its pricier than I expected.  It better be pretty!

I came across a short Ted talk and video by Louie Schwartzberg about pollinators.  Its really good, and did I mention its short?

I’ll keep you updated as the pasture progresses.

Farrowing in Huts in Hoop Barn: Update

March 31, 2015

I started farrowing my spring group in early March.  I’m using the same farrowing setup in the same hoop barn which I wrote about in my previous post.  All I did was clean the manure out of the middle of the hoop barn, leaving the huts where they sat.  As pigs generally don’t manure where they sleep, there was only bedding inside the huts and that is working fine.

It doesn’t look like this group will average quite as well though, and I’ll tell you why.  It’s gotten too warm.  Today was in the 60s F.  Instead of cold air keeping each litter in its own hut for a week to 10 days, the mama sows are calling their piglets out of the huts at just a few days old.  The older litters are then robbing some of the milk from the younger litters and I fear it may starve some of the younger piglets.

I had debated about whether I wanted to farrow in a hoop again, or place the huts out in the field.  Well I’m glad I’ve kept them in the hut because we have still been having snowstorms and been dealing with mud. This group is almost finished.  The May group will farrow out on pasture for sure.

Late Fall Farrowing in Hoop Barn

February 26, 2015


A farming couple from Wisconsin has been emailing questions about farrowing in hoop barns. I’ve been answering their questions, but I realized I haven’t posted a summary of my latest farrowing iteration.
These photos show the way the hoop barn was set up for the late November, early December litters. They did very well. Almost all of them chose a hut to farrow in, and with no outstandingly bad litters, they managed to wean a 9 average, which I am very happy with.

The 18 feet at the south end of my hoop barns is concrete on which the waterer and feeders are situated.  The remaining 66 feet is bare dirt, covered with sand, then deep straw bedding.  I positioned 6 farrowing huts along each side and probably could have fit 7, but I took up some space with large straw bales positioned on each side so that I would have slices I could use to add a little fresh bedding as needed.  You can see some of the slices positioned on top of some of the huts.

I split the south end with wire panels at the waterer, so that my gestating sows could come into the building to drink, but would be separated from the lactating sows and piglets.  Thawed water is a problem in a Wisconsin winter, so any place that has a heated waterer is valuable.  Click on the photo above to see more detail.  The girl in the photos is a friend of the family.  We were walking the goats, hence the funny looking animal in the background.




I had a couple of problems, but was very lucky as one problem ended up solving the other.  You can see the piglets are very similar in size.  This is because the sows were artificially inseminated with semen back in July.  I had a very high success rate, but didn’t want to rebreed the sows with artificial insemination in January, as I don’t have a heated barn to work in, and fear the cold would kill the semen before it even had a chance.

I am a little short on boar power, having only Taiphan, the Duroc.  If I weaned all the sows at once, which is what I planned to do, most of the sows would come into heat at about the same time and Taiphan would be overworked, probably not settling even half of the sows.

But as the sows were six weeks or so into their lactations, some of them started to return to estrus.  Taiphan could smell that, and wasn’t about to let a little wire panel stop him from doing his job.  So somehow he pushed and bent and jumped over the wire panel, breeding the sow in heat.  You can see Taiphan in the right of the photo.

At first I put my mind to figuring out how to take him back out of the hoop and beef up the wire panel enough to keep him out.  But then I realized that the lactating sows would probably come back to estrus at a rate that Taiphan may be able to keep up with.  All I had to do was be lazy and leave Taiphan in with the lactating sows.

That is just what I did, and for the next couple of weeks he bred the sows as they came back to estrus.  At about eight weeks, I weaned all the piglets, moving them to another hoop building, and Taiphan finished breeding the few sows that had yet to return to estrus.  And I haven’t seen any sows returning to estrus, so he may have all of them bred for spring litters.  As they say, “It’s better to be lucky than good!”

Shades of Red Livestock

December 27, 2014



I’ve often thought we need to expand our color vocabulary in the livestock world.  Each of the animals in this photo is red, except maybe the lone piglet which I would non-creatively call tan and white.  The breeds in this photo are predominantly Red Angus for the cattle, and Duroc for the swine.  Each of these breeds can vary from tan to dark red.  But we cattle and swine farmers just stick to “red” when describing all of them.

Horse people are a little more creative: Chestnut, which includes Liver, Sorrel, and Blond;  Bay, which includes Dark Bay, Blood Bay, and Brown;  Champagne; and others I’m sure.  But I’ve always considered Horse people crazy, surpassed only by Dog people.

But writing this has made me realize I’m probably missing out on a marketing opportunity by not creatively describing my animals.  Some Shorthorn breeders have done this by crossing Red Angus with Shorthorn and marketing the resulting crossbred bull as a Durham Red.  When I used to sell a lot of boars, I sold two crossbred lines called the Oak Grove Red and Oak Grove Blue.  That worked really well for me as farmers would alternate Red and Blue boars annually, and it was easy for them to remember.

So I’ve thought myself into a circle.  Livestock farmers, we need more colors for our livestock.  Horse people, I still think you are crazy, but you are right on the money describing the color of your horses!


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