Monday, December 17, 2012

Winter Farrowing :: Huts and Hay

Winter farrowing has been on the forefront of my mind lately (in case you haven't noticed), and as I look at the 8-day forecast and see highs around 30ºF the many ideas I have keep tumbling around in my mind. So far I've talked about traditional hoop buildings ... greenhouse type hoop buildings ... and of course using a deep bedding system in either option. If you read my post last Friday you were introduced to Becker Lane Organic Farm and the report he did on his greenhouse farrowing building (with in-floor heat). But, as I made my way over to his website and Facebook page I saw the picture above (here is a link to the description of that picture from the Becker Lane Organic Farm Facebook Page). A quick e-mail to Mr. Becker led me to the knowledge that they now farrow outside year-round in insulated huts either made by, or similar to, Booth Pig Equipment huts.

Which all led me to thinking ... maybe a building of any type isn't my solution ... maybe I just need some big straw bales, a wind break, and some insulated huts. In fact Mr. Becker's farm does not even use heat lamps in his huts so he is only using the work of the insulation, bedding, and the sow's body heat. I don't know why I haven't thought about this more since I have known that Mr. Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm has been writing about outdoor winter farrowing since at least 2006. You can read about his experience here ... and here! The great thing about Mr. Jeffries posts is that at the bottom of the posts he gives you the outdoor temperature, so you can tell that it is working in cold conditions.

There are multiple things running through my mind as I think more about outdoor winter farrowing. I worry about mud because as you can see in the picture above those sows only have a little area in front of the hut and in the freeze and thaws of our winters in Southern Iowa that space could become very muddy. I can also see that protection from wind and precipitation would be very important to weaning a good number of pigs from each litter. But, in my mind one of the most important things would be good mothering sows. I think it would be important to have sows that were very careful and caring with their pigs in order to protect them from crushing.

Pretty much all that I have decided after a few weeks of obsession over winter farrowing is that I just need to get out there and explore different options that farmers are using in my state. So, after the holidays I hope to do a little "tour" of some different winter farrowing set-ups. If you happen to be in my area and are willing to let me stop by I'd love to hear from you. Or if you wouldn't mind doing a "virtual tour" and sharing it with others on the blog I'd love to hear from you!

For now though ... does anyone have any thoughts on or experiences with outdoor winter farrowing?


Rich said...

I've got my hay stacked in long rows running north-south spaced about 4-5 feet apart.

One year, I had a calf that would crawl through the fence every time it got cold so he could lay down in between the rows of hay where it was nice and warm. Every morning that it was extra cold, I'd have a cow standing by the fence bawling for her calf which meant I'd have to walk up and down the rows of hay looking for that calf.

And, it always amazed me how hard it could be to see a black calf laying next to a bale of hay, and how warm and toasty it was in between those bales of hay.

Because of that calf, I always had the idea that I could build a simple and relatively inexpensive shelter by building a simple roof in between two rows of round bales. The roof could be something simple like hoops of PVC or conduit covered with plastic. Or, some sort of lean-to roof so that I had a loafing shed type of building.

If you have enough extra hay, it should be easy to experiment with building something similar. Since you have a roof, if you throw down some bedding once in awhile you might even be able to control the mud.

Bruce King said...

His operation uses big square bales of straw as fencing. My experience has been that the sows will tear those apart over time. They cost $40 each around here (800lb big squares of wheat straw), plus bedding costs. I couldn't do that on my land because the area directly in front of the huts would be mud in a day or two. Our ground doesn't really freeze solid most of the year; probably 1 week a year it's frozen down 4 inches, the rest of the time it's frosty but not frozen.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

We have followed Walters methods for some time but not exactly as we have no woods. But we farrow outdoors year round using large bales of hay for wind protection. I think I will blog about that tomorrow and show our huts we use. Great idea. And you are always welcome to visit this Illnois farm.!

rr said...

Really enjoying reading about the challenges and joys.
Recalling -40F and 4ft snows in central Alberta in years past and hog shelters built out small wheat straw bale walls set in cheapest sawmill slabs or/and plywood with small diameter pole roof and a foot of straw on top.More straw inside for a deep bed.Poly over poles and more poly over straw would form a cheap lasting roof.
Similar idea was used for a much larger shed roof loafing barn for cattle The south side was open to the warm winter sun.Bedding was added every few days and cows slept on a warm compost pile
Might be of value nowadays with some mods

Happy New Year

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