Wednesday, May 22, 2013

TBF 011 :: Selecting Breeding Stock, Woodlot Pigs, and Wayward Hogs

Today's topic for The Beginning Farmer Show is one of those subjects that is way over my head, but it is something that all beginning livestock farmers will have to deal with much sooner rather than later! I hope that there is something that you can take away from my thoughts, but more importantly I hope you join in the discussion and share your experience.

Whether you are raising cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, rabbits, or any other livestock on your farm the breeding animals you keep and choose will have a huge impact on your business. They are the foundation of what you produce and they can have an impact (good or bad) that lasts for generations. So, it is very important that you select the right replacement heifers, gilts, ewes, hens, does, and so on and so forth! On this episode of The Beginning Farmer Show I will talk about how I go about selecting replacement animals from and for my farm in a very unscientific manner, and I will also share a few tips from people that really know what they are doing.

When it comes to selecting replacement breeding stock (heifers, gilts, bulls, boars, etc.) my biggest and first piece of advice is to consult someone with experience, knowledge, and results. I have none of those things (remember I'm a beginning farmer), but I have tried to learn as much as I can in a short while. Way back in 2008 I attended a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day feature Gearld Fry ... a very well known and respected cattleman. Obviously he speaks specifically to cattle, but I think the importance he placed on selecting breeding stock has helped me with all of the different animals we have. You can learn more about Mr. Fry and his thoughts on cattle (including linebreeding) by checking out Bovine Engineering. If you'd like to read about the bullet point take-aways from a beginning farmer listening to Mr. Fry speak you can check out my blog post about the field day.

There are a few things that I look for though when selecting replacement gilts for the Hereford pig herd ...
  • Priority number one is that I select gilts from sows that are good mothers who protect and take care of the litters.
  • I like to choose gilts that grow faster than the other gilts in their litter, and that have nice muscling and no physical deformities.
  • The bigger the litter the better! Ideally we keep back gilts from sows that consistently have larger litters.
  • Finally, it is important to me that the gilts are from sows that do a good job with the farrowing process (they go into a hut or build a great nest for farrowing).
All of that selection criteria though can be summed up in two points that I learned from a farmer that has been farrowing out on pasture for years ...
  • Select gilts with down ears (floppy) as opposed to up ears (ears that stand up). I realize this won't be true in all cases because there are some great heritage breeds out there with "up ears", but it worked for him and I saw the success he was having!
  • Select gilts that lay down slowly. He said he watched his potential replacement gilts lay down and that he liked to see them get down on their front knees first, before settling down their backside. His reasoning is that if they lay down slowly the won't just flop down on their litter of pigs and crush them.
That seems like very simple advice, but I saw the results of those two pieces of selection criteria and it was a sow herd that I would be more than proud to have on my farm. Also, it illustrates the most important thing that I can say on this subject ... find people that raise livestock like you raise them or raise the same breeds you raise and pick their brain on the subject.

There is more to this show though than Farmer Ethan's ramblings on subjects that he knows nothing about! As you can see from the picture on the right the pigs are loving their new woodlot paddock, and this image is exactly why I love raising pigs so much. Most of the time they get a bad rap for being dirty and stinky, but our woodlot raised pigs are just a joy to raise and be around. All is not always well though when it comes to pastured pigs ... at least when they don't know about electric fence yet. If you want to know what not to do with pigs and electric fencing then you need to listen to the "Hard Lesson Learned" this week!

The Beginning Farmer Show
As always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn. If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five start rating and review (by clicking the link or the image on the right). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App. It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show! 

I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with The Beginning Farmer and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ... 

(if you are interested in the music in this episode check out my brother's record label, Historic Records) 


FarmerShawn said...

GREAT show with real world advice as always. I am just in the early phase of selecting stock so the show was perfect! Thanks

Ethan Book said...

FarmerShawn -- Thank you for listening and thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement!

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