Annual Pollinator Mix, 8 Week Update, Spring Farrowing

June 12, 2015

DSCF2213

 

“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.

DSCF2179


Annual Pollinator Mix, Planned Pig Pasture

April 23, 2015

DSCF2176

 

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

DSCF2133

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.

 

DSCF2135

 

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

shadesofred

 

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!


Electric Fence for Piglets

October 24, 2014

 

 

 

 

DSCF1993

 

 

My goal is to have more animals on pasture, more of the time.  This was supposed to be a celebratory post about how I am accomplishing this, but now it’s the middle of October with cold rains and mud, and I’m starting to appreciate the concept of confinement.

The piglets are four to ten weeks old.  Old enough to wean, but I didn’t need to rebreed the sows yet, waiting until November in order to have March litters.  So I wanted to wait, but the piglets were starting to turn into gremlins.

Hence, the low electric fence you see in the photo.  It runs along my driveway keeping the piglets “confined” to sixty acres or so on the south side of my farm.  In reality, they probably only use about six acres surrounding the two acres which their moms are confined in.  I’m taking advantage of the piglets’ natural inclination to stray only so far from their moms.

I gave the piglets their own shelter in the sweet corn patch and their own feed and water.  They really started eating grain, but continued to nurse and graze and eat other stuff like pumpkins.  They were doing very well, with the biggest ones weighing over fifty pounds.  They were so big in fact, a litter of ten was unable to all fit around their mom’s udder.

But I started having some problems.   The sows began to come into heat, (they were cycling to breed), at about eight to ten weeks into their lactations.  Interestingly this is about when our cows return to heat after calving.

A single electric fence separated the sows and litters from the gestating sows and Taiphan, the boar.  Until they came into heat, the single electric fence had  been enough to keep them apart.  But the desire to mate must have caused one sow to go through the fence.  The boar was too rough with her, and I found her the next morning barely able to walk.  So I put the sow into a recovery pen, essentially weaning her litter.

That litter, and the other big piglets found a way to go through the cattle lot and into the barnyard where they started desodding the yard very quickly.  The cold rains made mud, which they tracked into their feeder.  It started to look a lot less like piglet nirvana, so I made the decision to wean and house the piglets in a hoop barn.

 

DSCF2034

 

After bedding the hoop barn with straw and hay, I made a run from the lactating sows pen to the hoop barn, and in 24 hours had all the sows locked into the hoop barn.  I put an electric fence across the gate opening at sow height, allowing the piglets to come and go as they pleased.

The next morning I shut the gates and all but three piglets were in the hoop building.  I caught the three piglets with my hydraulic trailer and then sorted the sows out of the hoop barn and they were weaned.  Below you can see a photo of a sow and different ages of piglets in the hoop barn.

The piglets are doing very well in the hoop barn.  They are warm and dry.  They have food and water.  They have straw and hay to manipulate as they please.

But I’m conflicted because they are no longer able to run where they please, dig, graze.  It’s a tradeoff and balancing act, something I’ll have to continue to work on as I strive toward my goal of more animals on pasture, more of the time.

DSCF2052


Herd Boars

August 16, 2014

DSCF1618

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.

DSCF1625

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.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 90 other followers