Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Time Has Come ...

Working on my Uncle's new
Pro-Tec hoop building
A very quick search of my blog posts showed me that back on November 7, 2008 I first mentioned a hoop house structure for livestock/storage. Then again on March 4, 2009 I wrote an entire post dedicated to hoop buildings and hogs. There were other mentions along the way, but in my Annual Mud Post on April 21, 2011 they were the topic of discussion once again. As you can tell from my writings and ramblings they have been on my mind for over four years now! I think it is safe to say that now is the time that they have most consumed my farm thoughts.

In case you missed it, I wrote last Wednesday about the "Tipping Point" that the farm was at and whether it was time to scale up or scale back. My gut is telling me to press forward, but from the past four years of experience I know there are some areas that I need to greatly improve if I want to scale up. One of the most glaring is my winter livestock handling and more precisely the winter pig farrowing. In a perfect world I just wouldn't farrow in the middle of the winter, but I need finished pigs ready for processing throughout the year so winter farrowing is always going to be part of the farm.

So ... for my needs and uses I believe it is time for me to put up a hoop building to use in the winter months. My plan is to continue things as normal in the spring, summer, and fall with the pigs out on the pasture and woodlot. When things turn cold, muddy, and frozen I will bring the pigs up near the house so that I can ensure they have fresh water and plenty of feed at all times ... along with a place to get out of the weather. That is where the hoop house comes into play, and I plan on my building doing double duty.

The buildings that I have been looking at so far are from Pro-Tec and Silver Stream. If I went with a Pro-Tec building it would either be 30' or 36' wide. The Silver Stream building would be 30' wide for sure. The idea that I have is to split the building down the middle length wise so that I either two 15' wide areas or two 18' wide areas. Then I can use one side of the building for farrowing in the winter and the other side for my grower pigs. With that set up in the hoop building I will then be able to use my portable sheds to hold the boar and gestating sows.

Right now I'm planning on four groups of four sows each next winter, so that will give me plenty of room for farrowing (depending on the overall length of the building). One of the great benefits of the hoop house when it comes to farrowing is that I will be able to bring my huts inside and use them for farrowing just as I would in the summer. I believe a set-up like this will help me get the most use out of a building for an operation my size and then allow me room for growth.

The biggest downside that I have been struggling with is that the building will be sitting empty for a portion of the year and I hate the thought of that. So ... if anyone has any thoughts on a crop that I could raise in there during the summer months I would love to hear about it! Also, have any of you put up a hoop building ... any tips or thoughts?


Ans Farms said...

Have you considered growing out some broilers in there during the summer months? They grow fast, so you could have a mature crop of birds done before you needed the space for the pigs. Of coarse, in a hoop they won't be able to forage and be grassfed since you aren't mobile with them, but just a thought. If you have produce scraps, grass clippings, etc. you could supplement much of their diet.

Anonymous said...

Use it to store hay in the summer, keeping it out of the rain for a portion of the year. Split in half, 15' sounds pretty narrow.

Shari Thomas said...

I would think you could plant a quick cover crop like hairy vetch, buckwheat, or even alfalfa. That way you could plant when you remove the hogs, and a couple months later allow grazing for a week or two. Then consider raising broilers on the cover crop.

We are currently installing a couple of hoop houses for vegetables, and every third year, will be putting down a cover crop to help replenish the soil. In the past, we have turned our chickens loose in our garden, however, we'll be doing this only with strict supervision. That should help us keep the birds away from the cover.

Hope this gives you some ideas,
Shari at Four Country Gals

Anthony Cipolone said...

Seems like some folks have recommended broilers, but what about using it for brooding turkeys? Start them in the summer and by Thanksgiving you'd have some good sized birds.

Also, you had the width, but how long are those hoop houses? (Or did I miss that?)

Ethan Book said...

Thanks for the comments everyone ... and keep them coming ;)

As far as length goes, it will depend on how much money I can spend. The building will be at least 50 feet long though.

Rich said...

Unless you use clear plastic (like a greenhouse) would there be enough light coming through the tarp to grow anything?

I would think that one of the most valuable "crops" you could grow along with the pigs would be compost.

Use the building to store your bedding over the summer so that it's mold free for the pigs, over-winter the pigs, then pile the bedding up and start the composting process under cover in the building.

Clean out the compost and spread it in late summer so you can start the process all over again.

Ideally, you could set up a system where you produce enough compost to cover about a quarter of your pasture with about 1000 lbs./acre (so you are spreading compost every 4th year), and over time you are capturing all the fertility from the wintering pigs and spreading it evenly over the farm.

Ethan Book said...

Rich ... you are very correct about the compost. That combined with our rotational grazing would really help the soil. But, I will be writing about clear plastic tomorrow.

Walter Jeffries said...

We too have been thinking about winter accommodations. Like you we've concluded that one of the areas we want to improve is our winter setup. Just as you must we need to farrow year round to server our market of stores and restaurants which require weekly deliveries. Pigs have to be born every month so they can go to market weekly. Here in the mountains of northern Vermont six months of the winter can be pretty harsh and four months are guaranteed to be tough winter conditions. We would like to make those winter months feel more like September and October.

Over the years we've experimented with a variety of open sheds, small greenhouses and huts.

The huts work fairly well for individual sows to farrow in and are good for weaning too but not so good for any larger groups of pigs of any size.

The open sheds work but are too dark. Bedding gets to wet. The pigs don't like the dark. Bacteria thrive more without the UV.

The greenhouses are the best. The pigs prefer them over the dark sheds and the greenhouses can be spacious enough to house larger groups. The sun's warmth helps keep the hay drier. Just as importantly the greenhouses can be used in the moderate and warm months for growing food when the pigs are out on pasture thus greatly extending our garden growing season from a mere two months to six months for heat loving plants. This means the greenhouses serve double duty. I'm not interested in heating greenhouses with bought fuel during the winter so that is a good time to use them for the livestock.

Next year we are thinking of setting up a 100' by 30' to 40' greenhouse which we will divide into eight winter paddocks. This will be open on three sides - at one end and along the kneewalls. On either side the eight paddocks will extend outdoors by another 30' or so such that each paddock is about 90' x 12' in size with the central portion covered by the greenhouse. This would even let us do rotational grazing by shutting off one or the other of the outside paddocks at a time. In this central area we'll put the deep pack of hay which the pigs eat down over the winter. Each pig eats about 400 lbs of hay a winter.

We've experimented this over the years with small versions and it works pretty well. These greenhouses gives us the feeling of it being fall weather inside the greenhouse even with the sides open. In fact, it is quite important to keep it open for ventilation and to reduce humidity since the bedding pack composts generating heat and the pigs generate a lot of heat.

One key thing we've discovered is that it is critical to build the greenhouse on a slope. Pigs pee in their bedding. It if one builds on a flat this can pool. Better to have it drain sideways and out into the field where the nutrients are utilized.

The greenhouses also must be built pig tough since pigs are very rough on structures, chewing, rubbing and slamming into walls when they play. Things must be built pig tough.

During the six warm months of the year we will let these areas rest, the bedding compost and grow heat loving crops which become food for the animals the following winter.

On the turkeys, be careful about erysipelas which they can give to pigs.


-Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs in the Mountains of Vermont

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