Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Have I Learned

In the comment section of my "Dirt Hog :: Chapter 2 Book Report" post Mike and Rich asked similar questions about what I have learned by just jumping out and raising pigs and what was different than I expected from when I was planning it out in my mind and on paper. I thought those we such great questions and important things for me to think about, so here is a whole post dedicated to just those thoughts!

So, since it is always better to finish on a good note I thought I would start out with the bad. Here are some of the surprises and difficulties we faced raising our first batch of pigs:
  1. We had everything ready. A spot for the sow and the piggies and a spot for the big 'ol boar to hang out until he was needed. Even though we didn't have running water on the farm yet we had it covered with our 300 gallon water tank that we pulled out from town. Despite all of our planning we lost our boar just a couple days after getting him home. He got out and I'm still not sure what led to the death ... it was pretty sad that it happened literally about a day and a half after he arrived. That was difficulty/bad thing number one.

  2. Feed cost wise the timing wasn't perfect and we bought our pigs just as commodity prices started to skyrocket. This really wasn't a huge difficulty because the same thing was happening for everyone, but it did make things different than what I had imagined "on paper". Also, I don't think we switched the ration to a lower protein content early enough. Not a huge deal, but it may have saved us a few bucks in the end. That was difficulty/bad thing number two.

  3. Pigs are ornery! I can't say that I didn't know that going in because I had experienced it on the farm as a child, but I do think I had forgotten how ornery they were. When the water tank got low enough the liked to knock it around like a toy, when the were done eating they liked to flip around the trough like a toy, when I went in to fix something they liked to rub their beautifully muddy noses all over me! That was not really difficulty/bad thing number three ... and now that I think about it... it kind of is funny :)

  4. They get big quick and lift gets busy. This problem is really a problem that came about because of all that we were trying to do. Our pigs really were ready around November and we should have and could have sold them then. It would have saved feed money and been a good deal all around. But, because of how crazy our life was with the move and the construction it just didn't happen. We knew we had customers interested, but we just didn't make the time to get everything lined up and by the time we did it was deer season.

    Deer season in Iowa means some lockers shut down all processing except for deer. That meant we weren't able to secure our processing slot until this past week. Like I said, this was really poor planning, but we have been able to work through it with a great batch of customers ... That was difficulty/bad thing number four.
Other than that there were a lot of things that we learned and some great things that came out of our first batch of hogs. But, I think that really should be a post unto itself. Check back tomorrow for the good of what we learned and experienced with the first Stoneyfield Farm pigs.


Rich said...

Does your current setup differ significantly from how your family raised them in the past?

If it does differ, have you asked your father to give you some "brutally honest" observations about how he would improve, change, or slightly alter your system?

I am really interested in hearing the unexpected good things you experienced in raising your first pigs. Recently, I been getting more interested in pigs, my basic thought process is that I could include pigs in a rotation of something like OP corn, followed with a small grain/clover mix, then pastured pigs. Hopefully, the pigs and clover would supply the fertility needed to grow the grain needed to feed the pigs, the corn stubble would provide feed and cover, etc.

In an ideal world, an almost self sustaining system of grain and pork production could be established, with each step of the rotation complementing and building onto the next.

Ethan Book said...

Rich - Our current setup does differ from what my dad had when I was growing up. In that case we had an old farmstead with a couple big barns and some big chicken buildings. In that case every building had pigs in it and all of the concrete was covered with pigs. I even remember building wooden feeding floors in front of the biggest chicken house. On the flip side I have talked a lot with my dad about a hog farmer he used to work for that raised hogs out on range from farrow to finish.

My dad and I have talked a lot about the way we have things set up here and to be honest he feels like it is fine for the number of pigs we had (remember we are only talking 9). But, we did talk about how I should have made some sort of feeding platform so that the ground didn't become a sinkhole around the feeder.

All in all the experience was pretty good (check out tomorrows post for details). I think your idea of including pigs in a rotation is GREAT! In fact this year I want to experiment with a small plot of OP corn to feed to the pigs.

Rich said...

I originally read about a pastured pig and crop rotation at:


Expanding on that rotation idea, I had the thought that if it was simplified to a rotation of OP corn and oats/red clover (from Gene Logsden’s blog and books) it might be possible to balance the corn, oats, pasture, and hay to the right number of pigs (and compost production) so that everything would be “balanced” (or as close as possible).

On the same thought, I’ve also been reading about direct grazing corn and have read about a semi-dwarf variety of corn that matures in 65 days called CanaMaize


Supposedly it can be planted on 15” rows with a drill (or broadcast planted), has an ear about 12”-18” off the ground (easier for pigs to direct harvest?), and will yield about 80% of a conventional hybrid corn. Since it has a 65-day maturity, I was thinking that it might be possible to get a grain harvest and then replant for some grazing (or some winter stockpiled forage for cattle).

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