Late Fall Farrowing in Hoop Barn

February 26, 2015

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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.

 

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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

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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

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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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