Monday, November 23, 2009

Small-Scale Pig Farming...

As with any beginning operation I knew there would be a fairly steep learning curve associated to adding pigs to our farm. But, I also knew that pig farming was something that everyone in my family (dad and uncles) had experience with so there would be help when it was needed. I have relied on them greatly many times and I thinking I'm beginning to learn along the way in little bits and with baby steps. But, one difficulty that I didn't anticipate was how hard it would be to get feed!

I will readily admit that I'm not one of the biggest feed purchasers in the county and I'm actually probably in the minority when I purchase pig feed, but it has been trying at times to get the attention of the mills and get the feed I wanted. One thing that most people probably don't think about with the loss of diversified farms is the loss of feed mills. There was a time that practically every local co-op or feed store had a mill. That is no longer the case now.

In our area one cooperative has purchased many of the local co-ops and then consolidated their services. Where at one time there was a working feed mill in town the closest one is now over 20 miles away. And, at that feed mill I have had a problem getting them to work with me on a ration that I like (basically a vegetarian Niman Ranch style feed). There is another locally owned mill about 30 miles away and they have been helpful, but distance is a factor.

Both feed mills deliver to our town on a fairly regular basis, so I have been taking advantage of that. But, with the increase of our swine herd and the addition of the bulk bin I was hoping to get feed delivered to the farm in bulk. That would cut down on the handling (I filled the feeder this weekend with 80 bags of feed and that took awhile). But, since the mills are so far away they would rather not deliver.

Maybe it's time I begin to think outside of the normal box. We will begin running pigs in the woods next year and that will cut down on their feed intake a little bit, but I think I also need to be looking at different feed sources so I can make sure we are getting the rations we need.

10 comments:

Rough Rider said...

Great idea to forage them. Another thought...I've read about sheep and goat herders who've sold the services of their flocks to "cut down" other properties. The concept (and you may know this) is that they hire the herd out, drop them in the pasture or agreed upon land for X number of weeks, and let them forage. They cut down on feed cost and have additional revenue. Can that work for swine? I'll let you, the expert, figure that out. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

At one time I raised a small amount of pigs and the local mill was reluctant to grind for me till I had my numbers sorted out. Rather easy with hogs in calculating what feed they need, when they need certain feeds and how much, once I figured it out I gave the elevator the one time order and we were set. I personally should thank the propietars for setting me straight instead of me flailing around wasting our time. As for running your hogs in the woods, me thinks you take too much to heart from the contrarians who have to have something to say in their paid for commentary. I doubt you will realize any savings on feed by having your hogs chase butterflies, you might end up with different muscle tone which in itself might be worth it.

Rich said...

How much difference is there between the 'typical' feed and the Niman Ranch style feed you would like to have?

Is it possible that you are having trouble because of the different type of ration rather than the delivery itself? Or, could your delivery problems be solved by setting up an account at the co-op? Once you have a account established with a business, sometimes they are much more accommodating.

On the idea of grazing pigs, I found some on-farm research results at:

http://www.awionline.org/www.awionline.org/farm/sloan.html

Summarizing one on-farm researcher's observations,

"...In early April, Bennett broadcast and disked in...red clover seed... In mid-May, he started turning six bred sows into a grassy area of the pasture...By mid-June they were grazing the 50-50 clover-grass mix in the rest of the pasture...Bennett normally feeds 6 pounds of 14-percent protein gestation feed, but cut that back to just 2.5 pounds for the pastured sows. June grass samples were as high as l7.4-percent protein on a dry matter basis, and July clover samples were more than 25 percent protein..."

There is also some interesting information about including alfalfa in a corn-soybean rotation to provide both fertilizer for the crops and forage for pigs.

I am starting to think that grazing pigs might be a chicken or the egg type of puzzle. Pigs need a high protein high quality pasture, but a high quality pasture could be created with a carefully managed pig grazing system. In the first years, pigs would need more supplemental feed, but after the pasture was improved the amount of supplemental feed needed would start to decrease.

Ethan Book said...

Rich ... it mostly is a delivery issue at this point. There is nothing special about the Niman style ration ... no meds and no animal byproducts is the basic thing. I have them making it for me now (from one place), but the rub is in the delivery ... it can be tiring and time consuming loading 80 fifty pound bags into the trailer (when I pick them up) and then at home unloading them about 12 at a time onto the loader, climbing up the feeder, then dumping them in one at a time (repeat process)

I too tend to agree with your thoughts on pigs on pasture ... as with everything it takes time!

Anonymous said...

Could you put a gravity tank on your trailer and have them bulk load it? Then you could run it out into an auger to fill your feed bin. We had a gravity bin we loaded on a trailer when we cut grain when I was a boy. It was made from a old oil tank with longer legs under one end and a spout weld into the low end. A "funnel" was welded into the top for filling. We ran it out into a wheel barrow and used an auger to run it in the granary.

John said...

Keep your eye out for a 150 bushel John Deere 2 wheel grain cart. Saw one here recently that looks perfect for small grain loads. Had a auger on it also. Was priced at $550 - probably because farmers want much larger grain hauling capacity. Would tow just fine behind a truck and be perfect to use to unload into your grain silo.

Ryan said...

You could also look for an old grinder mixer that has the hammers worn out but still has a working auger. We are are also feeding a "Niman Ranch" diet and I drive to town with a small hoist wagon and get at least 1/2 a ton of feed at a time.. I then have to scoop this out by hand so we too will probably have to update this plan when, Lord willing, we have more pigs on the ground this spring.

We've actually been feeding our laying hens the same ration for the past 9 months and that about cut our feed cost in half for them and we haven't noticed any difference in the chickens or eggs...however we will have to change this when the sows farrow but I think I will then just continue to buy this feed ration for the chickens in bulk to keep things the same.

marriedtothefarm said...

We're planning to grind our own feed at some point. We buy our chicken feed in bags by the pallet and are lucky enough to have a forklift to unload it with. They should at least be able to sit a pallet in your truck for you so you don't have to load it by hand! I've done the math and considering that we grow our own corn and soybeans I know we could cut our feed costs considerably by grinding our own. As it is they discount our feed and take the needed amount of corn off of our account when we bring it in. Still, at $9+/50# we're taking a big hit.

Walter Jeffries said...

We feed about 90% pasture/hay and about 7% dairy with the remaining 3% being a wide variety of other things like pumpkins, apples, turnips, beets, etc. Look around and see if there is a local dairy or cheese maker who needs to get rid of their whey, etc. The dairy contains lysine, a limiting protein, and calories.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you have any Amish living near you, but if you do, you may be able to work out having them grow the feed you need. We have done that with chicken feed. It's organic and often less expensive.

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