Pasture Raising Heritage Hogs: The First Lessons

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Dear Patron Saint of Heritage Hogs, give me strength. Let me start off by saying that I love pigs, I love them very much. More so than I thought that I would. When we were first talking about getting into pigs I wasn’t so thrilled about it. In fact, I was a little scared, especially since our breed is half wild boar. Months and months ago, I had told myself (and Dave) that I would not get in the pens with the adults and instead would play with the babies. Fast forward to yesterday when I climbed into the pasture with all of the sows and barrows, hand fed them pumpkins and pet them on their big meat heads while they sniffed my pants. But it’s not all sunshine and lollipops with pigs… it’s more like mass pasture destruction and walking farts. We’ve made a lot of headway in our intensive rotational grazing pasture system and learned a lot along the way. Here’s some of our first lessons in pasture raising pigs.

We finished our farrowing pasture, complete with port-a-huts that finally arrived from our Iowa adventure! We moved Hamjelina Jolie and her babies over to the farrowing pasture and they are loving life! The babies are three weeks old and already they’re so independent! Exploring the big pasture, rooting around, eating pumpkins, chasing each other around, it’s so much fun to watch them grow up! But it’s unbelievable how much one pig and one litter can tear up a pasture. We still have some work to do to the farrowing pasture, like building a creep feeder and watering system but for our first unexpected litter, I think we’re doing ok. LESSON #1: They grow up so fast, I need to take more pictures of the baby babies.

These babies are 3 weeks old and loving life!
These babies are 3 weeks old and absolutely loving life right now.

In addition to the farrowing pasture, we have one other pasture piece totally fenced in and plugged into the solar electric fence system. And judging by how the temporary pasture is completely torn to shreds and now more mud than pasture, it was time to move them into the big girl pasture. Actually, this move was way overdue… way, way, way overdue. But we’ve had a lot of developments that made us re-evaluate our fencing/logging operation. I’ll get to that in a little bit. So it was time to take the big girls and our four young boars into the big open field. This was the moment we had been waiting for! I felt like those wildlife people in the youtube videos that take rehabilitated monkeys or lions into the wild for the first time. This is why we got our pigs, so they can live exactly like this. I felt like Julie Andrews a la Sound of Music. Except the hills were alive with the sound of pig grunts and farts.

This is the most beautiful view! This smaller paddock is strictly pasture, our other paddocks will be a pasture/woods combination. But it gives us a good idea of the scope of the entire system.
This is the most beautiful view! This smaller paddock is strictly pasture, our other paddocks will be a pasture/woods combination. But it gives us a good idea of the scope of the entire system.
First steps through the gate and into their new pasture!
First steps through the gate and into their new pasture!

So the first day was absolutely wonderful. And then came the second day. We went out to check on them and the pasture was already torn up in patches. Granted, they haven’t been on true pasture for a while but these guys were acting like me when I come back from the grocery store. I basically start ripping the cabinets off its hinges and tearing the fridge apart. LESSON #2: The pigs work really fast, so we’ll have to work faster. But I could tell the pigs were very happy in their new home. And I was very happy too, until we noticed that two of the young boars somehow got on the other side of the electric fence. Because that’s the thing with electric fence… it has to be hot for it to work well. Turns out that the solar charger that we had wasn’t really pulling the wattage that’s needed to keep pigs in. That was scary as all get out! After we wrangled the boys back in, we knew we had to do something. There’s no way we could risk that happening again. LESSON #3: Always, always, ALWAYS check the electric fence before moving pigs in.

The only other option was to move everyone (again) over to the farrowing pasture. Which made Hamjelina reeeaaalllly pissed. She did NOT like sharing her and her babies’ safe house with non-mommas. So we had to pen up momma and her babies into a smaller run. PLUS, the non-mommas and boys started tearing up the farrowing pasture like they did their own pasture. Meanwhile, we ran all over the state of Missouri (not really, it seemed like it though) to find a better solar charger. Suddenly, this Disney-like pastured pig thing we had going on seemed more like a Benny Hill episode. LESSON #4: Always have a backup pasture just in case.

Anyway, while all this was going on in the big pasture, we kept our three young barrows (castrated males) in the temporary barnyard pasture because they were about to have a very special guest.

DA DA DUUMMM!! Here comes Piggy Azalea!
DA DA DUUMMM!! Here comes Piggy Azalea!

Moving Piggy Azalea was a lot easier than the other pigs, I just opened up the door to the goat barn and she just followed me up to the barnyard. With a few detours of course. But once she got into the barnyard pasture and she met the other barrows (who, by the way, are a month older than her and aren’t much bigger than her. Just goes to show you how huge she’s going to be once she gets to be full size). Now, Piggy has been living as a single, independent lady all her life, with me as her #1 homegirl. At first she thought she was a dog, then she thought she was a goat, one day she thought she was a fairy princess rainbow. Needless to say, she didn’t adjust too well to the barrows. She’s much more interested in following me along the fence lines and proving that she’s one of those cool loner chicks that doesn’t need a man in her life. She’s a D-I-V-A. So that’s fun. LESSON #5: Even the most adorable bottle babies will have to grow up and learn how to be real pigs. And they need to do that on their own, without their human mommas to hold their hooves along the way.

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The barrows aren't too excited about their new house guests.
The barrows aren’t too excited about their new house guests. But seriously, how cute are they?

And beyond the pig pastures, we’ve been dealing with logistics of taking out our cedar trees in our wooded areas. We’ve actually gotten some great guidance from the wonderful folks at our local extension office and the local branch of the USDA. There’s so much more to it than just whacking down a bunch of cedars, stretching fence then letting the pigs go at it. The cedars need to be taken out carefully and methodically, the land needs to be properly graded to prevent erosion. Then we’ll need to balance out the soil’s pH and find a good pasture seed blend to put down. And then give it time to take root and grow before we can let anything graze on it. Basically, it’s going to be a good season or two until our entire pasture system will be in full force. Like… Spring 2016. Something we did not expect when we first dreamt up this grand plan. LESSON #6: Things worth having are worth waiting for. Farming takes time and planning and patience. I read a quote somewhere that said “A farmer must be an optomist. Otherwise (s)he wouldn’t be a farmer.”

On the brightside, we have a couple other gilts that are FINALLY starting to look like they’re pregnant. Looks like we’ll have more babies next month. Pasture raising pigs is turning out to be one adventure after another, always challenging but never disappointing. And lastly, LESSON #7: Pigs will surprise you. Not just when they decide to have babies in the middle of a community pen. Not just when they escape from hot wire. But they surprise you when you realize that you constantly have the smell of pig manure in your nose and you kinda like it. And they surprise you even when you’re in the grocery store and you realize that you’re THAT girl that’s trekking in clods of poop and dirt… and you don’t even care. Because you love what you do and you don’t care who knows it.

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One Response

  1. susan
    November 27, 2014
    Reply

    Love your writing style!!! Last year i raised one pig on her own because of an injury, she became my pal! Pigs are very intellegent. Keep up the great work & pass on your knowledge & stories. Farm girl at heart.

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