Monday, June 16, 2008

Small-Scale Pig Raising :: Chapter 3 & 4 Book Report

I have pigs on the brain recently! Mostly because I hope to have some pigs on the farm within the week and have been getting things ready for that. Hopefully I will soon be able to tell you about our new Hampshire x Tamworth pigs, but for now I will just report on this great book by Dirk Van Loon which came highly recommended by Walter of Sugar Mountain Farm. I would say he is a very innovative pig farmer, so I was really looking forward to getting into this book. And, I must say it has been worth it so far.

One thing about this book is that it is very practical. It does not spend a lot of time talking about the "evolution" (not a big fan of that word) of the pig or the social/political reasons to raise pigs on a small-scale. Mr. Van Loon just gives plenty of great how-to advice for the complete beginner. While chapter three is about the history of pigs (from the standpoint of domestication), it is told in such a way that it gives great working knowledge to the beginning pig raiser.

A couple of the most interesting things I found in the third chapter were the discussion of pigs as land clearers and the historical information on swineherding. Pigs have natural plows attached to their head, and because of they they are naturals at clearing the forest. One great quote from the book comes from Mr. Zeuner (an expert on domestication). He said, "Pigs prepare the way for man, both in regard to pasturing - for the pig can be followed by sheep as happened in the Bronze Age in Northern Europe - and in regard to agriculture." We plan on allowing our pigs into the forest, not so that we can wipe out the woods, but so that we can clear some of the thick undergrowth. I am looking forward to seeing what they can do.

The other interesting section was a short couple of paragraphs on swineherding. In days gone by each household would have a few pigs in a yard pen. Then each morning a swineherder would go through town and herd all of these pigs to the woods for feeding ... bringing them back in the morning. Can you imagine each house in town having that now? Well, not in Knoxville because we can't even have chickens!

Chapter four is the essence of the practical knowledge in this book and I couldn't even begin to share all I like about it without rambling on for quite awhile. But, there is tons of great "how-to"/"this is what you need to know" in this chapter titled, "Behavior and Form".

I have only read five or six chapters so far, but I think I'm beginning to agree with Walter of Sugar Mountain ... this is the book you need to check out if you want to have pigs on a small-scale.


Rich said...

I've been interested in pigs (on both a small scale and a large scale) since I came across an excerpt of "Fertility Farming" dealing with building soil fertility with pigs in an old issue of Small Farmer's Journal a few years ago. An online version of the building fertility with pigs portion (in addition to the entire writing) is available at:

The Ley pasture rotational method seems particularity attractive for a smaller diversified farm. A system of 3-4 (or more) small paddocks could be established and rotated with a wide variety of livestock and crops, each complementing the other.

Overall soil fertility could be built and improved with a rotation system that included something like pigs, a cover crop and/or forage crop suitable for direct harvest by pigs, a cereal crop like winter wheat (combined with cattle grazing, haying and/or grain production), another pig rotation, a crop like corn (for grazing or for grain), then a temporary (2-3 year) pasture rotation (for grazing and/or haying), and then the rotation would be started again. A variety of crops would be suitable and adaptable like spring oats, clovers, sorghum, root crops, vegetable crops, chickens, sheep, etc.

In addition to the increased soil fertility associated with pastured pork aspect, after seeing a segment on RFD-TV about Jennifer Greene’s Windborne Farm that operates as a grain CSA, it peaked my interest about the possibility of combining both pastured pork and heirloom grains in a modified Ley pasture system.

More information about the Windborne Farm show is at:

The pigs would easily provide the fertility needed to grow a variety of grains, and the surplus grain and forage associated with the rotations could easily feed the pigs. It seems to me that anybody with an interest in pastured pork, heirloom grains, increasing soil fertility, value added products, and CSA’s could easily adapt a Ley rotational system to suit their needs.

Ethan Book said...

Rich - I have read a little bit about the Ley rotational system and know that quite a few farmers in Iowa have worked the system quite profitably in the past ... of course it has kind of gone by the wayside a little lately, but I think now would be the perfect time to start!

Steven said...

Has anyone had any experience feeding hogs wet spent grains from a brewery? I got some from a local restraunt that brews it's own beer. The 3 hogs we got don't like it but will eat it if it's mixed with other stuff. The horses don't really like it, but the chickens must not be able to smell because the attack it. :-)

The stuff really smells bad like a sour wet rag in the sink... but with a beer smell on top of that.
Since it's FREE I'd like to find a good way to use it but it's looking pretty poor right now.

Rich said...

Spent grains shouldn't have a distinct "beer" smell, because inj the beer brewing process, water and malted grain are heated and the wort is then drawn off. The hops (which produce the "beer" aroma) are then added after the wort is extracted from the grain.

After the hopped wort cools, the hops are strained out and the yeast is added. After the hops were strained out, they were probably pitched into the spent grains, and your hogs are finding the hop residue objectionable rather than the spent grains.

Walter Jeffries said...

We get a little spent grain from a local brewery and the pigs love it. It is boiled barley, as in soup. What the brewery is doing is boiling the barley to get the sugars. This leaves behind the protein, fiber and minerals - great stuff for the pigs. It should smell delicious - just like barley soup makings (which I love). If it smells sour then it has sat and that may be why your pigs don't want it. Feed it fresher and they should gobble it down.


Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont

Steven said...

At lunch time last Wed. I saw the grains draining in the big stainless steel tank (they were still steaming). I then picked them up at lunch on Thursday and they already smelled a little sour. He told me that they were 80-90% Barley, Wheat, and Hops. Do you think I should ask him to leave the hops separate and see if that helps?

Rich said...

"...Do you think I should ask him to leave the hops separate..."

I would just explain that you are feeding the spent grains to pigs, they won't eat it if it is spoiled or contains the hops, and ask if it is possible to segregate the hop residue from the grain or pick it up when it is fresher.

I assume you are doing them a small favor by reducing the amount of material that they are required to dispose of, so they should be willing to accommodate a simple request.

Was it possible to pick it up on Wednesday when it was fresher? (and probably didn't contain the hops)

Steven said...

I talked to the brewer and he said that there were no hops in it but it had sat out for probably 18 hours (overnight) when I picked it up and it was already sour smelling. Then it was in the back of my truck for another 5 hours at least. I decided to only get one barrel about 1/3 full / week until we can make better use for it.

What we didn't use in a week we dumped on the edge of our manure pile and the next day 90% of it was gone. I hope this stuff is good for chickens. :-)

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