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.
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.