Herd Boars

August 16, 2014

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Tater, the best boar I’ve ever raised, and the pinnacle of my attempts to create an Oxford Sandy and Black for the midwest.  Alas, Tater had one crucial problem.  He was sterile.  Or at least he was functionally sterile.  He would make a few feeble attempts, but quit before achieving the proper insertion.

When I told me son about Tater, he said, “If he’s so good, couldn’t you collect his semen and use it to artificially inseminate.”

“I think that’s what has contributed to this problem.  Twenty-plus years of artificial insemination has led to the rise of problem breeders,” I said.

My memory may be fooling me, but it seems like boars used to do a better job with natural service.  Part of the problem may be I don’t keep enough boars around.  You would think I would be smarter than this with close to forty years of experience.  We always said it starts with the boars.  If you don’t get the sows bred, you are out of the livestock business.

Fortuitously I had kept a backup boar, just in case Tater didn’t work.  Chris is pictured below, half Yorkshire, half Landrace.  He sired all the winter/spring litters.

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And then we come to Taiphan, pictured below.  Mean, ugly, difficult to be around, and he gets the job done.  I forgot what a truly aggressive breeding boar is like.

When a boar is sexually aggressive, you have to worry that he gets enough to eat.  I remember boars from years ago that we had to remove from the breeding herd to let them gain some weight.

Taiphan was in the first litter born in 2013 in a snowstorm.  Most of his littermates froze, so we know he’s tough as well as aggressive.  His dam was a Duroc sow and his sire was DRU semen from SGI.  So he’s 3/4 Duroc and 1/4 French Muscolor.  He sired the early summer litters.

DSCF1663I have some new litters out of Duroc and Landrace semen.  They look ok so far.  I kept quite a few boars, hoping I can keep from running short in the future.

It’s not easy.  You have to have some redundancy in case something goes wrong.  And if everything happens to be perfect, pour yourself a glass of lemonade and enjoy the two or three minutes while they last.

 


Contour Strip Cropping, Farm Update

July 19, 2014

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There must be some sort of dubious record I am setting this year.  The top photo was taken July 6th.  It shows the contour strips, which is how we farm the hillsides in Wisconsin to prevent soil erosion.

The green in the foreground is a little strip of hay next to the road which was cut and baled in June.  Next up in the photo is very mature, cut hay.  Yes, the last of first cutting was made in July.  The green strip in the middle of the photo is hay which was cut and baled in May, and is now ready to be cut for a second time.  The light colored strip above that is my oats and hay new seeding which is cut and drying, waiting to be baled.

So, yes, I made first cutting hay in May, June, and July.  I know of no other farmer who is as on the ball, and behind, as myself.  At least I’m still laughing.

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The bottom photo shows my sweet corn on June 26th.  Beyond the sweet corn are the farrowing huts.  I’ve had 14 beautiful June litters.  Beyond the farrowing huts are my grass-finished steers.  I started them grazing hay fields at the end of June.


Hummingbird Moth Caterpillar

June 30, 2014

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The forage peas continued to grow, reaching over four feet in height.  They are flowering now and producing pods.  I snapped these photos when I turned the sows into fresh pasture.  The caterpillar in the bottom photo is a big one, and the second one I’ve seen, so I decided to try and identify it.

It looks like its a White-lined sphinx caterpillar, (Hyles lineata), commonly known as the Hummingbird moth.  This is exciting to me because I’ve only seen a Hummingbird moth once in my life.  They’re really cool because they look like a hummingbird, until you watch their movements and realize they’re too slow to be a hummingbird.

I read a book this winter, “Attracting Native Pollinators,”  by the Xerces society.  It’s all about what we can do to improve the habitat for our native pollinators.  In a future post I plan to share some of the fun plantings I’ve done this spring.

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Sorghum/Sudangrass and Forage Peas for Pig Pasture

June 20, 2014

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I planted two forages for a pig pasture this spring which are new to me.  I’m very pleased with the forage peas.  I’m not happy with the sorghum-sudangrass, but don’t feel I utilized it correctly.

I no-till planted both into last year’s pig pasture on April 23rd.  I used my single-disc John Deere grain drill, which is not considered a no-till drill, but works great when the ground is mallow in the spring.  I planted about 25 lbs to the acre for each.

Above you can see what most of the pasture looks like.  Three-foot high forage peas growing thickly.  The warm-season sorghum-sudangrass has been overpowered by the cool-season peas.

Below you can see an open area where each plant is growing side by side.  The sorghum-sudangrass is thriving here.  It looks like corn.  The pea is the green and white leaf on the left.

The sorghum-sudangrass is called Surpass BMR 6, and is from Lacrosse Seeds.  I can’t even find the forage pea on their website.  It’s safe to say the pea did better, but I believe it’s all in how I used them.

Planting them together and early in the spring is an advantage for the peas, and the results bear witness.  I shouldn’t have planted them together, but I wanted to try both plants and wasn’t sure I would have another spot to plant in this year.  Waiting another year is just too much.

I also think the sorghum-sudangrass would have like to have been planted deeper, but no-till into mallow ground worked great for the pea.  On a side note, Buckwheat no-tills very well in the spring, although it is not supposed to tolerate frost.

 

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I couldn’t resist including the photo below with my model sow amongst the purple and red flowers of alfalfa and red clover.  The sow was pictured last September as a gilt with her beautiful litter.  She has large, erect ears, which make it seem as if everything is exciting to her.  Maybe everything is.

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2014 Winter/Spring Farrowing Update

March 11, 2014

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It was much colder than average for this time of year which made it difficult.  One morning was eleven degrees below zero F.  One snowstorm of several inches occurred.

I only opened the huts to let the sows go out to drink, eat, and urinate/defecate.  Keeping the huts closed help to keep some of the sows body heat in the hut.  Having the huts in the hoop barn kept the moisture from the snow from being a factor.  I used about one bag of wood shavings for each hut and gave a fresh slice of straw daily.  This was on top of a base of wood chips from Menard’s.

The sows all farrowed within a week of each other.  They averaged over 11 piglets born alive.  Now, about ten days later they have an average of 8 piglets nursing, so there was a good deal of loss.  When conditions are this difficult, it seems that piglet vitality plays a large part in survival as well as the mothering ability of the sow.

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As the temperature warmed into the 30s F, I left the doors open and put the rollers on to keep the piglets in but allow the sows to come and go as they please.  The piglets only stayed in for a few more days before they began to jump out.  So I’ve removed all the rollers now and the piglets are able to explore.

The piglets in these photos are only a week old.  It’s amazing how precocious they are.  Look at the open mouth on the black and white piglet below, trying to decide if my boot is worth eating.

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Winter/Spring Farrowing 2014

February 21, 2014

Farrowing Huts in Hoop Barn

This is my newest farrowing setup.  Last winter/spring when I had all that trouble in March with snow and cold, I decided I would try putting the farrowing huts inside a hoop barn.  You can see by the ice on the bottom of the closest hut that it’s still cold in there, but I shouldn’t have as much of a  moisture problem as I did outside in the snow and cold.

Since I stopped farrowing in my parents’ heated barn in 2011, I’ve tried four different ways of farrowing:

The warm, dry months of July, August , and September are ideal for farrowing outside.  I’m convinced that if sows had plenty of space and material to build their own nests, no predator problems, and feed and water, a farmer could do absolutely nothing and would average over 8 piglets weaned per litter during this perfect time.

Farrowing in huts on frozen ground with snow and ice surrounding is what I tried last winter/spring.  I managed to wean 7 piglets per litter,  but it took tons of bedding and manual work and was stressful.

Farrowing in huts in the warmer months is easier than when it’s cold.  I probably sleep the best with this method as I know if a sow and her litter is in a hut with a roller on the door to keep the piglets in, they are safe from predators and the elements.

Finally, farrowing in a hoop barn with homemade pens is the first method I tried in January of 2012.  This worked surprisingly well except for a couple of litters born when the temperature dipped to zero F.  I made temporary pens out of wire hog panels, giving the sows plenty of space, removing the panels when the piglets were a couple of weeks old.  It was quite a bit of work, letting the sows out of their pens for feed and water twice a day, but it was a nice environment for the pigs and the farmer.

So putting huts inside a hoop barn is my fifth iteration.  I plan to use this system only until mid-spring, then I will go to huts outside.  As always, I plan to keep statistics and share the results by the end of the year.


Outdoor Farrowing, 2013 Summary

December 4, 2013

I had great expectations to improve over 2012’s average weaned per litter of 7.8 piglets.  8 piglets weaned per litter isn’t much of an improvement, but I’ll take it, especially considering the way 2013 farrowing started in a blizzard.  But an average of 8 doesn’t tell the full story as this is a tale of two seasons, difficult spring and easy summer.

2012 was difficult because we started farrowing in January in a hoop barn and lost several piglets when the temperature dropped below zero F.  I thought I could avoid that problem in 2013 by waiting until March to start farrowing.  March 2012 was 80 F and dry, a bad precursor to the drought which would follow, but ideal weather for farrowing.  March 2013 was the opposite, cold and wet, snow, rain, plummeting temps.

I had an idea about how much bedding would be needed in each farrowing hut.  Boy was I wrong.  I didn’t think about the ground under the hut being frozen, so it was extremely cold for the pigs and when the body heat of the sow warmed the ground it became wet.  The first two sows farrowed and 17 of the first 22 piglets froze.  I felt desperate and depressed.

Well, I remembered what Professor Freeman taught me.  Environmental factors are greater for plants than animals for a simple reason: animals can move, animals can modify their environment.  I knew the sows’ instinct to save their piglets was strong, I just needed to give them a chance.

So I started buying truckloads of wood shavings.  I had them slide whole pallets of bagged wood shavings into the back of  my trailer.  I trudged through the snow with a bag on my shoulder and started with two bags for each hut to soak up the wet and cold.  And the sows responded, making dry nests for their piglets.

17 spring litters farrowed 193 live piglets for an average of 11.4 per litter.  They weaned 119 piglets, an average of 7 piglets per litter.  So the preweaning mortality was 38.3%.  Considering how badly they started, I considered it a success to save only 2 out of every 3 piglets born alive.

I let the sows have a long lactation and then weaned all the piglets at once.  Since I didn’t have enough boar power to breed 17 sows, I decided to artificially inseminate, AI.  I was successful the previous fall with AI, settling nearly all the sows, which resulted in these spring litters.  But the spring was a different story as  some of the sows had already started cycling and I was busy with spring work, spending not nearly enough time watching for signs of estrus.  I got exactly 0% of the sows settled with AI.

At this point, I think anyone would say I was in a major swine-farming slump.  A beginning farmer may be thinking swine-farming is not for them.  But my years of experience has taught me that perseverance is what is required, and since I’m my own boss no one gets to decide I fail except for me.

Luckily I had some young boars and gilts which could be used for breeding.  So I put the boars in with the gilts and sold the sows as culls.

The gilts farrowed in July, August, and September.  The first gilt had 14 weak piglets with all but 5 dying quickly and I thought, “oh no, my slump continues,” but thankfully, the next litters were strong and healthy.

The weather was warm and dry.  Many of the gilts farrowed in huts, but some picked their own spots in the woods.  I used very little bedding and did very little work.  It was a joy to experience.

15 gilts farrowed 158 live piglets for an average of 10.5 per litter.  They weaned 138 piglets for an average of 9.2 per litter.  The preweaning mortality on this group was only 12.7%.

The final statistics are 32 sows and gilts farrowed 351 live piglets for an average of 11 per litter.  They weaned 257 piglets for an average of 8 piglets per litter.  Preweaning mortality averaged 27%.

I’m modifying again for 2014.  Sows will start farrowing at the end of February.  I plan on putting huts into a bedded hoop barn and farrowing there for the spring litters.  For the summer litters I’ll continue to just stand back and let them do their thing.


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