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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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.


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