May 13, 2013
I weaned the piglets last Thursday. The oldest litters had a nine week lactation, which is the longest ever for my farm.
Something I learned was the time it takes for sows to return to estrus while lactating, eight weeks. That’s the same as our beef cows when on good pasture.
Now the sows are my genetics and were ad libitum, (free access), fed a corn-soy diet. Different genetics and/or a different environment may lengthen the return to estrus. I’m betting it won’t be less, short of weaning, which is the typical stimulus for sows to return to estrus.
Most sows will show estrus five to seven days after weaning, which makes it fairly easy to plan breeding, even with artificial insemination using live boar semen which only lives for about a week.
I used Dru terminal boar semen from SGI to produce most of these piglets. I’m very happy with the vigor and muscling of the piglets. I’m hoping for excellent growth and meat quality as well. Click on the photo below and click again to enlarge and you’ll see the excellent muscling of the piglets.
April 1, 2013
Three-week-old piglet biting my pant-leg. We have probably all heard stories about people being fed to hogs. I don’t doubt the veracity of the stories as hogs are omnivores and will eat just about anything.
Piglets are also natural fighters. Below you can see two piglets fighting over a scrap of plastic. Imagine how viciously they would fight over something valuable.
And that must be how the cruel sport of Piglet Fighting started. Two piglets fighting until exhaustion, the winner receiving warm milk. Contact your representatives in Washington and urge them to enact legislation to ban Piglet Fighting now.
March 19, 2013
Spring starts at 7:02 AM tomorrow and 10 F is predicted with 16 MPH winds putting the wind chill below zero. Last year it was 80 F. With so much of my life revolving around it, the Weather is never boring.
The litters are doing well. Less than a handful of piglets have died after the first trouble. I’m using more straw now instead of wood shavings for warmth and adding a couple of slices daily.
In the photo below you can see scabbing on some of the piglets faces. This is caused by fighting among the littermates. Piglets are born with eight very sharp “needle” teeth. It’s common in the industry to clip the tip of each tooth off with a sidecut pliers. Sometimes the open wounds can lead to an infection. I don’t clip the teeth and it doesn’t seem to be a problem other than the scabbing.
March 10, 2013
17 of the first 22 piglets born to my spring litters. I guess labeling them as spring litters alludes you to my delusions, which the past six days have exposed.
I thought farrowing in a hoop building in January would be the most difficult farrowing I would ever experience. Farrowing in huts in 30ish F weather in a blizzard followed by over an inch of rain has proven more difficult. I guess Jude Becker purchased insulated farrowing huts for a reason.
I put one bag of wood shavings in each shelter along with a couple slices of straw. I thought I could add straw for warmth as needed. What I didn’t think about was the frozen ground underneath. Last year farrowing in the hoop building I had the advantage of a bedding pack for warmth, not frozen ground.
On Tuesday a couple of sows acted like they were ready to farrow. A blizzard was forecast for that night. I locked one sow up in a shelter and for some reason I can’t remember did not lock up the other one. At first light I checked on the sows. The sow who was locked up had four out of twelve piglets alive. The other sow had one out of ten alive. The problem was moisture along with cold. Snow had blown into the shelters, especially the open-door one. I transferred the lone piglet to the litter with four. All five piglets are still alive.
I realized I needed more bedding and it needed to be absorbent. So I started buying wood shavings and have probably put at least four bags of wood shavings in each shelter over the past five days. I knew the piglets needed to get dry if they were going to resist the cold.
It has been raining the past two days. Below is a picture of a shelter I abandoned because I didn’t need it. The rain is not soaking into the frozen ground so instead is pooling.
So I keep adding wood shavings trying to build a little dry hill for the sow and piglets. It seems to be working. If a piglet lives the first day, really the first couple of hours, it is staying alive.
This has been another learning experience for me. Yesterday as the rain fell I despaired, but today I’m back to my optimistic self. Below is probably the best litter so far. I’ll let you know how many piglets are weaned from this difficult farrowing group.
January 10, 2013
My fear at switching from a heated barn with crates/pens to outdoor farrowing was unfounded. The first full year of outdoor farrowing averaged 7.8 piglets weaned per litter. The heated farrowing barn typically weaned 8.5 to 9 piglets per litter. So it appears I lost about a piglet per litter, but that’s not the full story. I’ll list the farrowing groups below.
Month Ave. Weaned
Look at how most of the months were in that 8 range. If I take out the two litters which froze in January, the average weaned for the year is bumped up to 8.1. If I take out all the January litters, the average weaned moves to 8.4. Now we’re getting close to my indoor numbers.
And I think I can do better this year. The first thing I’m doing different is I’m not farrowing during the worst winter months. My first group will farrow the beginning of March. The other thing is I experimented with sows making their own farrowing sites. Some chose the farrowing huts I provided, some chose their own spots in the woods or pasture. All of the sows did ok, and I don’t have data, but I’m pretty sure the sows in the huts weaned an extra piglet or so compared to the independent-minded sows. I’m going to encourage more hut farrowing this year, but will try to keep data on each.
All in all, it has been an interesting and enjoyable transition to outdoor farrowing. I would have a difficult time going back to indoor farrowing as the work environment is much nicer for me and the pigs seem happier.
September 21, 2012
I’m kind of sad. I sold Bewilder today, (pictured). He was one of the first two herdboars used on my new farm, (Able, the other boar, died). He weighed 680 lbs. and I received 14 cents per pound for a grand total of 95 dollars.
If he would have been doing his job better I would have kept him longer, but he was no longer consistently settling sows. It’s amazing how much he grew. Look at him in this post from last year. He gained over a pound per day since then, and I’m feeding less grain than I ever have.
Alas, I run a business and I can’t keep any dead weight around even though I would like to. This is something that is giving Shepherd some distress. He just can’t continue to butcher his showpigs. I thought we had reached a fine compromise by designating some species as pets, (goats, alpacas), and other species as business, (cattle, hogs), but this doesn’t work for him. He gave it a fair shake, showing and butchering hogs at the fair twice, but he doesn’t want to anymore and I’m not going to push him.
We want him to stay in 4-H because we think it’s valuable and he likes it. I asked him what he thought he could show at the fair. He said crops, so I’m going to help him grow and sell sweet corn next year. I’ll let you know how it goes.
August 24, 2012
I needed the space, so I ended my Buckwheat experiment by grazing it with the hogs. They liked it. In the photo above, the plant with smaller leaves and white flowers is the Buckwheat. The plant to the right with the larger, darker green leaves is Rape. Even though I disced after grazing the Rape, some of it still survived. By the way it grew in the drought, I wish I would have just let the Rape regrow and grazed that.
I apologize to those of you who wanted me to harvest the Buckwheat. I enjoy planting and watching plants grow, but I don’t believe I have the patience to hand harvest.
July 21, 2012
Sow 62-3 farrowed 19 live piglets and one small dead one for a total of 20. This is the new record for our farm.
It’s too many. She only has 14 teats, and the piglets are smaller than I like. I won’t keep any of her offspring for breeding, as I would much rather have 10 to 12 larger piglets born per litter. But it’s still nice to note a record.
I went to an informational meeting on how crops are being affected by the drought, and how we can use the stressed crops. The University of Wisconsin Agriculture agents lead the meeting. It was well attended with many interested farmers. The meeting was a little depressing, but my troubles were put into perspective as I drove home.
When I drove to the meeting I noticed a line of people on the sidewalk near the Catholic Church. I wasn’t sure why they were lining up. When I drove home, the line was huge and leading to a semi trailer which read something like “Catholic Mission” on the side. The people were lined up to get food.
July 19, 2012
My white herd boar, Able, was dead this morning. He’s the one pictured breeding, above.
I don’t know for sure why he died, but it was probably heat related. It reached 100 degrees here yesterday. I had a sprinkler going for him and the sows, but there was a sow in heat. I think he probably tried to breed and just got himself to worked up and was unable to cool down. Once hogs get over-stressed in this kind of heat, it’s trouble.
The only good news is I kept a son of his this spring. He’s looking pretty good. He’s the white spotted one in the photo below. I’m thinking of naming him Domino.