First Litter, 2019

February 22, 2019

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2019 farrowing started well as Susie Q gave birth to 16 piglets yesterday, and after a cold night that dipped into the teens F, she still had 15 alive and nursing this morning.

I could see she was going to farrow yesterday morning so I put 2 straw bales and 1 hay bale loose where she could get to them and she spent a few hours building the giant nest you can see in the photo below.  It works better if you let the sow build her own nest for some reason.  All the women reading this are probably like, duh!

I wish all my sows were as good of mothers as she.  And humbly, I tell you she wasn’t even chosen as a breeder.  She was a runt that got accidentally bred, and after a first litter of only 4 piglets born, she’s had big litters since.  I think this is her 4th litter.

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2019 Herd Boars

February 12, 2019

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The best two herd boars I think I’ve ever had are Father and Son.  Zone, pictured above is out of an AI mating, Waldo Duroc, Red Zone.  I had been having trouble with my boars not having much mating desire, but Zone is excellent.  The only problem is he is also people aggressive, but I think I can continue to work with him if I’m careful.

He is being mated to Chester White sows out of an AI mating, Longevity.  They will farrow this spring and I’ll evaluate them again.  The Chester White gilts definitely had less piglets born and saved than my Landrace gilts in the past.

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End Zone is pictured above.  He is a son of Zone.  He is being mated to Rising Sun Duroc gilts for early summer litters.  The Rising Sun gilts have very friendly personalities, but we’ll see how they do as mothers.

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Another photo of Zone.  He has a lot of length.  He is also getting tall as you can see he has to duck to get out of his shelter, pictured below.

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Chester White Litter 2.0

November 8, 2018

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November, the last litter of 2018.  Cold as heck outside.  Warmer next to your momma.

This gilt was featured in one of my farm videos last year.  She is one of the piglets in the video.  I made the video because I was excited for new genetics.  This gilt and her siblings, were sired by Chester White semen I purchased from a boar stud in Iowa.

I wanted to try the Chester White breed because it is know for mothering ability and meat quality, two of the traits most important in my swine herd.  Also, Chester White is an American Heritage breed.

I love eating “General Tso’s Chicken” at the Chinese restaurant in town.  And I’m sure “General Tso’s Chicken” is heritage food to someone, but its not my heritage.  Farmers, let’s make our own heritage!

Back to this Chester White experiment.  I kept all five of the gilts from that litter and bred them to my Duroc boar.  They have done well, good mothers.  Interestingly, they don’t have as many piglets born as my Landrace genetics.  They seem to be very similar to my Duroc genetics, as I always select for mothering ability and meat quality when I purchase Duroc semen as well.

What’s nice is that I was able to conduct this experiment in a relatively short amount of time as the generation interval in swine is about a year.  The generation interval is the amount of time it takes for any species to reproduce itself.  In cattle its about two years.

The generation interval is important to geneticists and animal breeders because it adds a time element to any “progress” that can be made in a species.  I put “progress” in quotes because geneticists and animal breeders are people like you and me.  And like you and me, its way easier to make change for change’s sake, than to stop and figure out where exactly you want to go and why, and if its going to be a good when you get there.

Okay, if you’ve made it this far, comment and let me know what you think about “heritage” and “progress”.  And check out my youtube channel if you want to see more of our farm.  Thanks!


Spring 2018: Farm Update

May 1, 2018

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Braden finished his movable chicken pens and I helped him move his broiler chickens out to pasture.  We have had the coldest April on record, so there isn’t much pasture, but the chickens seem happy in their new home.

Braden put his own spin on a Salatin style, movable chicken pen.  I hope to post with more detail in the future.  The pens are moved daily to fresh pasture.  The pen is keeping the predators away from the chickens, and the chickens are really thriving.  He is still planning on having freshly frozen chickens for the May 26th market.

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I helped Daniel rototill the garden and she has started moving her indoor started vegetables outdoors, and also started direct seeding some of her crops.

I rototilled the sweet corn plot and plan to plant next week if the soil continues to warm. We should have delicious sweet corn around the first of August.

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Winter/Spring farrowing has gone well, and I have lots of healthy feeder pigs.  My fall-calving herd has wintered well on our home-raised hay, and are chomping at the bit to get on fresh pasture.

Cattle aren’t particularly smart, but they are masters at body language.  They know exactly what it means when they see me repairing electric fence.  I’m sure they are salivating as much as when Pavlov’s dogs hear a bell.

 


Winter 2018

February 4, 2018

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Winter 2018, mild, mostly frozen, animals and people doing well.  Above is one of the hogs exploring, and below are some of the cattle resting on their bedding pack, with hogs exploring at the left of the frame.

I wrote that last week.  Winter has decided to come back hard in February, with below zero wind chills and several inches of snow last night, February 3rd.

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Thank you to everyone who has purchased meat, or boxes, or halves, this winter.  Your business is appreciated.

I added several new products, (Brats-links and patties, Breakfast sausage patties, Cottage Bacon, Canadian Bacon, Ham Hocks).

I also tweaked the Classic Pork boxes.  Check them out and let me know if something interests you.

 

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I am farrowing several litters in one of the hoop barns with farrowing huts.  The sows get to choose which hut to farrow in, and also make their own nest inside the huts.

When it is this cold, I never have any trouble with a sow choosing to farrow outside of a hut, which can be a problem in the warmer months of the year.

I haven’t lost many piglets, even though its been colder than I would prefer, (below 20 F).

Except for one very big Landrace sow who chose to carry way too much bedding into her hut and farrowed on a very cold night.  All her piglets died.  My theory is whereas the other sows made a nest with at least a little room for the piglets to nurse, see photo below, this sow was so big with so much bedding, the piglets were simply unable to start nursing due to lack of room.

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Outdoor Swine Genetics, Part 2

July 19, 2017

 

My livestock breeding philosophy is simple in theory and difficult in practice.  It can be summed up in two words: Problem-Free.  Problem-free livestock are under-appreciated and difficult to observe.  It often requires a problem to present itself before you can fully appreciate the absence of the problem.

The good thing about my 40 plus years experience in the livestock industry is the amount of problems I have observed and worked through.  And I always choose to work through problems as that is the way I was taught by my parents and makes the most sense.  I’ve never succumbed to the siren call of all-new breeding stock as common sense tells me I’ll just be trading known problems in my own stock for the unknown and possibly worse problems in the new stock.  Because all stock has problems, its just that very few problems are visible with one viewing.

I have had very good luck with herd health by practicing a modified closed system with breeding stock.  Meaning I never bring in animals from an outside herd, but I get new genetics through purchased boar semen.  There are some diseases that can be transmitted through semen, but the reputable boar studs regularly test the studs for those diseases.

I would practice a completely closed system if I could figure out a way I wouldn’t be losing too much efficiency from inbreeding depression.  Inbreeding depression is the tendency for animals that are inbred to perform worse than the average of their parents.  Conversely, crossbreeding results in hybrid vigor, which is the tendency for crossbred animals to perform better than the average of their parents.

However, I’m not afraid of linebreeding.  A fun definition for linebreeding is that it is successful inbreeding.  Practical examples of inbreeding and linebreeding in my mind are: a brother/sister mating is inbreeding, a first cousin mating is linebreeding.  This is just my own way of looking at it.  A geneticist will tell you that all linebreeding is technically inbreeding.

A geneticist can analyze the full pedigree of an animal and calculate the inbreeding coefficient, which is the probability that any one pair of genes is identical.  So it is expressed from 0 to 1.  For example, a full brother/sister mating if the parents of the siblings were completely unrelated, would have an inbreeding coefficient of .5, meaning there is a 50% likelihood that any pair of genes is identical.

So along with a modified closed herd, I practice my own unusual combination of crossbreeding and linebreeding.  I guess my curiosity makes me want to sample different genetics to see what I may be missing, but my practical side makes me want to not change my herd too rapidly, especially if I have no perceived problems.

What does this look like in practice?  The boar in the top photo is Drew, his paternal grandsire was Dru, terminal line semen from SGI.  Everyone knows what maternal is, but in livestock breeding we use the phrase terminal when we want to ignore the maternal side and concentrate on the meat traits.  Obviously no line is completely terminal or their would be no reproduction.

So I kept no gilts from the offspring of the Dru semen.  I did however keep a few boars.  The litters were born in the blizzard of March, 2013 when I was having a difficult time keeping the piglets from freezing.  Drew’s sire was one of three piglets which survived out of a litter of 12.  He looked good and I figured I had inadvertently selected for piglet survivability.  So I kept him as a boar and he turned out to be a great sire of robust, meaty piglets.

Drew’s maternal grandsire was the Landrace, True Blue semen I wrote about in my last post.  True Blue sired two litters, 30 and 31.  I kept about four gilts out of each litter and they’ve been excellent mothers, with the 31 litter gilts a little more to my liking phenotypically.

So I planned and kept four boars out of one of the 31 litter sows.  I sold a couple of boars to a local producer and I kept a couple and they were breeding fine.  A competitor at my farmers’ market called and said he really needed a working  boar.  Some people are very competitive at farmers markets, but I prefer to be collaborative as I feel our real competition is Walmart and the whole idea that cheap food is good.  So I sold him one of the boars.  I guess those genetics will be well represented in the pork at the Madison farmers markets.

How I linebreed:  I really like the 31 litter sows.  I have a planned mating with my favorite with Duroc semen, a Waldo boar called Red Zone.  I asked SGI for their most maternal Duroc and he’s what they gave me.  I plan on keeping all the boars from that litter and possibly adding a couple as sires.

I have another mating with various sows, some of which are the 31 litter sows, AId to a Chester White boar, Mr. Longevity.  I wanted to sample the Chester White as it is an American heritage breed.  I plan to keep gilts out of these litters if they meet my standards.

If all goes as planned I will be mating the Red Zone sons with the Mr. Longevity daughters, some of which will be a first cousin mating if each of their respective moms is a 31 litter sow as the 31 litter sows are full sisters of course.  This is as tight of linebreeding as I like to practice.

And while I will be evaluating the new genetics, which could still become a terminal line in my herd if I don’t like their performance, I’m also evaluating and looking for any genetic problems which are more likely to show up in the offspring of this first cousin mating.  Because even at this point I can choose to make the 31 litter a terminal line.

Larry, the boar in the photo below, represents my established genetics.  I am really happy with how these hogs perform, mostly because they are problem-free.  I have to keep reminding myself of this, though.  Because as geneticists we are taught to always be selecting and moving the genotype in some direction.

Well, I gave myself permission to stop thinking like a geneticist, and start thinking like a busy farmer who direct-markets meat on Saturdays and plays disc golf on Sundays.  I select animals for breeding within this herd based on what I like to look at, mostly interesting color patterns.  This has been one of the most difficult admissions I’ve made on this blog as my old geneticist buddies would be laughing or crying if they read this, but they know me, so they probably wouldn’t be surprised!

For a good example, Larry was selected because I missed a boar piglet when I was castrating litters.  I usually castrate at a couple days of age.  By the time I saw him, he was weaning age, and he looked pretty good, and he has this interesting brindle color pattern, and I realized I could use a boar about the time he would come of age…   Well Larry has been terrific, a good breeder, sires great pigs, and I’ll be keeping his first daughters back as breeders soon.

This concludes my two parter on Swine Genetics.  I hope its comprehensible for any of you who made it all they way through.  Any questions or comments as always welcome.

 

 


Outdoor Swine Genetics, Part 1

July 3, 2017

 

Kevin, a reader of this blog from Missouri, asked me for some pointers on outdoor hog genetics.  His son has been raising hogs and plans to expand his breeding stock herd to meet a new marketing opportunity.  Since he wants to expand quickly, he’s going to need to purchase females, either gilts or sows.

I recommended he find one herd to purchase from for health reasons instead of purchasing from several different herds.  For outdoor swine genetics in Missouri I recommended contacting Kelly Klober ,as he is the expert down there.  If he wanted to try conventional genetics, I’ve been pleased with the offspring from AI from Waldo Genetics in Nebraska.

I’m a believer in keeping your females from within your herd, usually out of your best sows.  I guess I’m also a believer in keeping your boars from within your herd, as the last time I brought in live breeding stock was August of 1994.  To get new genetics, I’ve purchased fresh boar semen, almost exclusively from SGI in Iowa.

I used to pick my AI boars based on figures and phenotype.  This is the more expensive option as SGI charges more if you pick the boar.  The last few years I’ve had the salesman pick the boar as I realized they know the boars better than I.  I almost always ask for mothering ability and meat quality.  A couple times ago I asked for an aggressive natural breeder and they selected a boar called Wonka, and sure enough, his sons were excellent breeders.

I’ve never had any problem with any line of hogs not wanting to graze, especially if they are limit fed.  If they are on full feed of grain, they will spend more time rooting out of boredom and less time eating forages.

The sows and gilts in these two photos are receiving three pounds of grain each.  This is roughly half of what they would need if they had no access to forage, and only a quarter of what they would eat if they were on full feed of grain.  So these hogs take grazing seriously and don’t spend much time rooting except for in their wallow.

I have however experienced gilts and sows who had poor instincts for outdoor farrowing.  Even with many generations farrowing outdoors on the mother’s side, the wrong AI boar can sire nervous, poor instinct, mothers.

The sow in the top photo is out of an AI Landrace boar called True Blue.  All the sows out of True Blue are excellent outdoor mothers, farrowing and raising large litters.  Samsung is an AI Landrace sire I used at the same time and added several of his offspring to my herd.  These sows however, farrowed large litters, but were nervous and crushed up to half of their offspring.  They also showed very little instinct for nest building.

That’s the problem with using AI from conventional producers.  It’s hit and miss.  There are so few producers farrowing and raising outdoor hogs, there is really no knowledge of these instincts.  I’m sure the daughters of Samsung would have worked fine in confinement.  Much better probably than my red sows which grow to over 600 lbs and would not even fit properly in the gestation and farrowing crates that most of the industry uses.

Maybe some sort of organization for outdoor swine breeders would be nice.  But I’m not much of an organizer.  I guess the best I can do right now is share my experiences and read about others’ experiences on their blogs.  My next post is going to go into more detail about my breeding philosophy.