When I was a kid growing up on a hog farm I'd never heard of Dwarf Essex Rape let alone knew hogs absolutely love it!
Dwarf Essex Rape is a cool season forage we use a good bit to run hogs on especially in the late fall, early winter and spring .
If not grazed down too much it will grow back for several rotations. I have used it to reclaim old over-grown pastures by sowing a pasture mix with it.
sows have been on it for several weeks and have pretty much grazed it
down to nothing. Time to move them soon! Besides the Rape they have been
getting ear corn from our open pollinated corn. They have put on weight
since being in this particular patch which is evidence that it is good
also planted winter peas in with it. Since we broadcast them verses
planting in rows they were way too thick and the rape quickly out grew
them. I think next time we'll plant the peas much thinner and see how
I planted at the end of August which was about thirty days later than I wanted. However it was very dry and no rain forecast so I waited until we had rain coming.
Dwarf Essex Rape
It ended up doing very well and has provided some really good forage for the pigs. I only wish I would have planted more!
The deer and turkeys love it too! They have devastated the end of the field near the woods.
I reckon the first Monday after Thanksgiving I better break out the ol'
rifle and see if I can get one of those rascals for the freezer seeing
as how I'm feeding them!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or just don’t pay attention to
the media, you know much of the United States is suffering from a
drought. The experts say this dry weather rivals any we have had in at
least fifty years.
There will be far reaching effects for the
next few years. I Googled up some headlines to see what I could find in
the news and it seems agriculture is front and center.
Probably fitting because for many folks the extremely dry weather has
only meant a welcome break from cutting the grass and no rain dates for
sporting events or that trip to the lake.
For farmers it could mean the end of their operation.
I consider myself a small farmer so I speak from experience in that realm. To be more specific I raise livestock.
When I went back to farming in about 1998, corn was $1.98 a bushel.
This morning I saw the USDA is talking $8.20 a bushel as a high this
Let’s look at some headlines I pulled up:
The dramatic effects of a small corn crop.
Corn futures could be headed for an explosive run up.
U.S. drought drives up food prices worldwide – CNNMoney
Drought Impacting Livestock, Effects on Food Prices Still to Come —Accuweather
When I looked for pigs to start out with in the early days I decided on Tamworth pigs as they were an old breed and they were known to “do well on pasture.”
I had two foundational goals for all my livestock:
1) Cut out as much off farm inputs as possible (grain etc).
2) Develop our livestock to align with that goal. (minimal grain consumption)
Things have come a long way since those early years but I still find
myself wishing we were farther down the road toward these goals when I
see the grain prices.
I expect meat prices to go up across
the board in the U.S. I also expect to see many small livestock farms
fold their tents and quit trying to raise livestock while simultaneously
handing the local feed mill all of the small profit they might have
made if corn was cheap.
"These prices ought to scare the
blazes out of ethanol and livestock producers. It appears that the
biggest bulk of this cutback will fall on the backs of the livestock,
poultry and hog industry. They have some serious decisions to make. And,
once you write it on the wall in blood by USDA, I’d say you have a
tendency to believe it." - Jerry Gulke, president of the Gulke Group.
If you’re a consumer of farm products direct from the farm it’s inevitable to see prices rise…possibly dramatically.
If you’re a customer of Spring Hill Farms
know that we are doing everything in our power to keep clean, healthy,
grass based, food on your table regardless of the grain prices. That’s
been our goal from the beginning.
often asked: "What makes a great pig?" It could be many things
depending on what your goals are, but for us at Spring Hill Farms it
1) It should be a true heritage breed.
2) Posses a strong, healthy immune system.
3) Excellent maternal instinct.
4) Prolific – large litter size.
5) Forage ability – How much grain?
6) Good temperament – Be good or be food
7) Excellent table qualities – Fabulous pork
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of desirable traits for good
pork it is some of the traits that enable us to produce our quality pastured pork products.
Let’s look at these traits a bit closer.
– I’m a huge believer in using heritage genetics whenever possible on
the farm. Many of the methods used on the small and/or sustainable farm
are pretty much pre-1950’s farming techniques with some modern day tools
and technology thrown in.
It only stands to reason genetics
that are the least developed towards new, big, modern agriculture would
be best suited to these types of farms.
Strong healthy immunity – Because our methods here at Spring Hill
focus on not using any modern or chemical crutches to keep our hogs
healthy; we must constantly develop and refine our genetics so our hogs
will thrive under good management without antibiotics, chemical wormers,
or any other type of chemical or pharmaceutical designed to keep them
healthy, grow faster, etc.
Maternal instinct and Large Litters –
Every sow on the farm costs the same to keep regardless of whether she
raises one pig or ten. To operate a viable business model we need sows
to raise at least eight pigs for us to consider keeping her.
We take that one step farther by insisting they raise that many pigs
without assistance. If sows are unable to build a nest, have her pigs,
and raise them without assistance I know right away she doesn’t have the
maternal instinct I need on my farm, This doesn’t mean we don’t give
them the best environment to succeed in and intervene if necessary, but
that sow will be culled from the herd.
- This is the most under utilized and under developed trait I see.
First, what am I talking about “forage ability”? To me it means the
ability, the willingness, and the functionality of the pig to forage for
a large percent of its diet. The pig must be able to eat a limited
grain feed diet, still gain weight, and stay healthy. Many of our
heritage breed hogs have been on full feeders for far too many years.
This has produced an animal with a voracious appetite for grain and
diminished what I call the forage ability trait.
– This is fairly self explanatory although fairly subjective. I expect
my sows to protect their young. Therefore we don’t mind a sow that will
not allow us into the pen with her when she has piglets. Other than
that, if you’re a grouch, abusive, bully, or otherwise can’t figure out
I’m the boss…well you’re sausage.
Excellent table qualities
– It would be kinda silly to go through all the work we do to develop
these traits and have a pig that we couldn’t say produced some of the
best pork available today. Our Tamworth pigs will stand on their own for
exceptional pork. Our Large Black pigs are no different; They stand out
from the crowd when it comes to eating experience.
When we started crossing the two it was like taking the two best, mixing them together, and ending up with something better than the best!
That's how we can say:
Our heritage pork is unlike any other a taste so deep and rich it
echoes the flavor of pork from a bygone era. The meat is flavorful and,
whether grilled, smoked, roasted, sauted, stewed or braised, yields the
most exquisite juiciness and tender texture. Satisfaction guaranteed or
your money back.
If you’re a farmer who is looking for some
of the best pigs suited to small and sustainable farms that won’t make
you a hostage to the feed mill. Look no further I have what you need.
You can read more of my breeding philosophy here.
If you’re simply looking for some of the cleanest, best tasting pork you’ve had in your life. I invite to try us out!
My breakfast consists of pasture raised chicken eggs cooked in lard or just four or five raw eggs.
of which have been touted as foods which will give you a heart attack
and raise your cholesterol by many mainstream medical and nutritional
The last time I had blood work done Doc told me my cholesterol was a tiny bit high.
I asked if she was using the numbers that were pushed lower by statin
drug companies just a few weeks before as the "ideal numbers" she
admitted she was using the latest numbers.
If we went by the old numbers my cholesterol was fine.
than go through the entire history of how we have been tricked into
believing that lard, butter, and other animal fats are going to kill you
next week, I would rather point you in the right direction to see what I
have learned over the years and then ask you to consider the factor I
see missing from most research.
How was the animal raised and what was it fed?
I'll get to this in a few but first some links to different articles on lard. Obviously you can Google this on your own but I included a few I found informative or even entertaining.
If you are already convinced lard an other animal fats are good for you, scroll down below the video and resume reading!
Here we go:
Startled by news about the dangers of trans fats, writer Pete Wells happily contemplates the return of good old-fashioned lard.
Lard & schmaltz.
The prime example of fats we all thought were bad for us, lard and
schmaltz (rendered chicken, pork, or goose fat) may have been wrongly
demonized for years. The main fat in lard—oleic acid—is a
monounsaturated fat linked to decreased risk of depression, says Drew Ramsey, MD, coauthor of The Happiness Diet
(Rodale, 2010). Those same monounsaturated fats, which make up 45
percent of the fat in lard, are responsible for lowering LDL levels
while leaving HDL ("good") cholesterol levels alone. Lard and schmaltz
also tolerate high cooking temperatures—they're often recommended for
frying—and have long shelf lives.
Dr Mercola - Why I believe over half your diet should be made up of this.
Is there Good and Bad Lard?
think the answer is yes! One glaringly obvious missing piece of data in
all the praise of lard and animal fats is how was the animal raised?
What was it fed?
If you were able to find lard at
your grocery store it is either polluted with preservatives or mixed
with hydrogenated fats...neither of which you want in your lard.
If it passes the test of no additives or mixtures then we must ask the question: What was the animals diet?
has been a good bit of research done on beef to show that cows fed a
strictly grain diet have fats that are less healthy than 100% grass fed
can find no studies on pastured pork v.s. strictly grain fed but it
stands to reason the same would be true. Our hogs are constantly
consuming grass and legumes which should make for better fat.
thing to consider is has the pig been on sub therapeutic antibiotics?
Ask your local grocer these questions and watch the glazed look come
over their eyes.
If you think about it, many toxins accumulate in fat according to experts. If we purposely feed toxins to our swine where does some of it end up? Think antibiotics, chemical wormers, etc.
the other hand, if we feed our hogs good things it should be present in
the fat. Think grass, minerals, omega 3's. I'm only thinking aloud here
as I'm no expert on this. Draw your own conclusions.
Maybe sometime soon I'll tell you how I make my own lard from the fat trimmings from our pigs.
The Large Black and Tamworth pig crossing is still underway here at Spring Hill Farms.
We had our first litters in March and so far have been happy with the results.
They have been healthy and exhibited strong immunity which is the first test here on this farm.
weak pigs are usually a sign of something amiss on your farm but it can
also be the result of pigs catching anything that comes along. Which points to a weak immune system.
litters have been strong and growing from day one. They were quick to
get up and get moving after birth and have been strong eaters.
The one difference it seems to me over a purebred Tamworth thus far, is they take a bit longer to show an interest in mom's feed.
pigs didn't seem to get after the sow's feed when we fed her ground
feed as fast as Tam's do. Maybe a good sign I don't know.
Large Black cross pigs
The carcass is leaning more to the Large Black side but I'm thinking they will get some width as they get closer to finishing.
We will be monitoring these pigs very closely to see just how well they grow as compared to our Tamworth pigs on pasture.
In theory they should do as well or better due to the heterosis or hybrid vigor.
If you're not familiar with the Large Black here's an excerpt from the okistate website: "In
the early part of this century the Large Black were used for the
production of pork in outdoor operations. Its coat color makes it
tolerant of many sun born illnesses and its hardiness and grazing
ability make it an efficient meat producer. Large Blacks are also
known for their mothering ability, milk capacity and prolificacy."
These pigs are listed as critically endangered on ALBC website.
will be offering F-1 cross gilts in the Spring of 2013. These will be
excellent pigs to inject some heritage breed traits as well as strong
grazing genetics Spring Hill is known for into your pigs.
A question I always get from farmers who are considering raising hogs on pasture is, "how much will they root?"
What they are really asking is how much damage are they going to inflict on my pastures?
That's a good question with no correct answer "except that depends."
depends on how wet or dry the ground might be. What type of soil you're
dealing with is another factor. The type and quality of forage
available, coupled with how much or how little grain you are
supplementing the pigs.
And last but not least, is the breed and age of hog you have running on the pasture.
have read and spoke to farmers who say Tamworth hogs root more than
other hogs they have had in the past. Sometimes they have other heritage
breed pigs along with Tamworth and they say they root more. Tamworth
pigs are very active compared to other breeds of swine I have raised.
That probably has something to do with it. A hog laying around more
probably won't root as much.
I'm not completely convinced they root more but one thing I am convinced of...all hogs root to some degree.
add to it that as they increase in weight they are walking around on
four pretty small feet! If it's wet they are going to tear up your
My experience is they root more when it's
wet so you're getting a double whammy! Walking around cuts up the sod
and then they all have their noses buried about six inches deep!
One conclusion I've come to is you will be reseeding some parts of your pasture from time to time.
best way to minimize pasture damage is to have a lot or two that you
can move them to if it begins to rain long enough to saturate the
pasture for a period of time.
Another thing to
remember is that you must keep an eye on forage conditions in the
pasture. Move them to new grass before they decide there is more to eat
below the ground than above it!
group of pigs on limited feed can take down a significant amount of
forage in just a few days so it's critical to be ready to move when
necessary. Don't wait to build more fence when they need moved. By the time you get it completed your pigs may have plowed the pasture they are in.
key to successful pig pasturing is not to run more pigs on your farm
than the grass can handle. How many pigs can an acre handle? Well that
Here at Spring Hill Farms we don't like buying $4 a gallon gas anymore than you do.
We don't like buying gasoline
or diesel at any price as far as that goes. That's one of the main
reasons we employed Tamworth pigs to renovate our 25 year old over grown
land back in 2004.
I had been trying to figure out how we
were going to bring the briar infested land back to producing something
more than multi-flora rose, rabbits and deer.
raised on a farm I knew pigs had a bull dozer/industrial roto-tiller on
the front and a manure spreader on the back. Of course in between is a
whole bunch of good eatin'.
So why spend hundreds of
dollars per hour to hire a dozer to clear the land? The only reason I
could come up with was it would be faster and admittedly easier. Hire
the dozer, go in afterwards and broadcast seed.
Tamworth Swine Dozer
But I wasn't in a hurry and it looked like there was a good bit of vegetation the pigs could utilize.
Now for the part the dozer and equipment couldn't accomplish.
pigs would add fertility to the soil as they cleared it. The pigs would
also root the soil and loosen it up verses pack it down like the
equipment would tend to do.
And finally, I've have never had bacon from a
So after I considered both options, I decided pigs were the way to clear land here at Spring Hill Farms.
If you think about it, it's much like farmers would have done before heavy equipment and cheap fuel.
As farmers we are going to have to look at how things were done in the
past and leverage them with the knowledge and some of the equipment we
have now. (Like electric fence.)
We try to find ways
to incorporate our animals natural behaviors into working for us. That
philosophy is the exact opposite of the farmer who puts his hogs on
concrete so they don't root.
The closer we can mimic natural patterns, the better it is for us, and the animals.
Pigs eat a lot of grass. Especially a bunch of Tamworth pigs that get fed limited amounts of grain.
In order to keep our pastures full of good grass we sometimes over seed with different types of grasses.
I ascribe to the saying "manage fescue and encourage clover."
that means is some grasses such as fescue, are pretty aggressive when
it comes to taking over a stand of grass. Clover on the other hand will
normally die out after several years due to the fescue and other grasses
crowding it out. Even if that's not the case clover still dies out
after several years and needs replanting.
This particular pasture we are working on is really what most people would call their back yard.
I want to utilize all the land I own. So I ask myself "why mow all this
every week when I could ease some pigs up in here for a few days of
I then posed the same question
to my wife! After all, it's gonna take some talking to get pigs within
twenty feet of the back of her house.
Which brings up another point...Do you think I'd have a chance if she thought she was gonna smell pig manure?
you look at pictures of our farm you notice we have neighbors on top of
us. Our property is narrow and deep. Minimum amount of road frontage
and goes back forever. There have been something like 18 houses built
within the last five years around us.
Tearing up the sod.
If you look in this picture we are actually going behind my father-in-laws house because he likes to mow about as much as I do!
It is critical that we manage these lots so as to not offend anyone with sites or smells.
Most people who drive by our farm have no idea the number of pigs running around. Many don't know we even have pigs!
Compare that the old pre-1950's model of running pigs outside where
everyone knew it because they could smell them a mile away. People are
amazed when they come to visit at how they can't smell the pigs.
How do you accomplish this?
1) Move your pigs often to new grass.
2) Don't try to raise more pigs than your land can support.
I'll be talking about this more in future blogs. I have a lot of people who want to see how we manage these pigs here at the farm. I plan to video and blog some of this through the summer.
ground was horrible when we first started running hogs and poultry over
it. Slow but sure it just keeps getting better as we allow the pigs and
chickens to fertilize it.
Tamworth pigs are the breed I decided to raise for several reasons. One, they have big litters.
They also are typically good mothers.
We farrow our sows outside in the warm months and many times the sow just goes into the brush and builds a nest.
the winter we use huts or bring them into the barn and put them into a
12 x 12 stall. Contrary to what you may have heard or read, not all
Tamworth swine are great mothers. Most of them are, but we breed for
sows that will farrow outside with out assistance.
had a few since we started breeding Tamworth's that weren't very good
mothers. I like a sow that takes her time laying down and "talks" to her
pigs as she does to let them know "get out of the way."
If they hear a pig squeal they move or jump up whichever the situation calls for.
need low maintenance hogs. The Tamworth sows we have are very capable
of having their babies and caring for them just like nature intended!
have been under attack for centuries. Farmers and breeders have been
doing everything in their power to convert them to grain.
result, we have made the majority of our cattle and goats dependent on a
high grain diet in order to perform at the levels demanded.
the case of commercial type cows, they finish in half the time and are
ready for slaughter. Of course it comes with a price. Out of balance
omega -3 and omega-6 ratios in the meat, and little if any CLA's in the
Just as costly is the fact that good grass-fed genetics are almost non-existent as compared to commercial grade cattle.
to add insult to injury, along comes a farmer and hears all about 100
percent grass-fed, grass-finished beef. "This is the ticket!" he
Off he goes to raise 100% grass-fed and finished beef.
The only problem he discovers; it's one thing to throw some cattle out
on grass, but a whole different deal to get them to finish on grass.
Many times he discovers this once his cows are hanging at the slaughter house on the rail.
Or worse yet when customers start calling and saying it's tough, or dry, or tastes funny etc.
farmer has some choices at this point, upgrade his herd, go back to
grain, or educate his customer about why his beef is different.
seems many farmers are opting to educate the customer. I suppose some
education is good seeing as how many people are not the best cooks I've
ever seen. Over cooked beef of any kind is dry.
But the truth is
as I have talked to farmers all over the country....much of the beef
out there is not genetically capable of finishing on grass.
might not be exactly how they say it, but from what I can tell, that's
the translation. Farmers usually say things like "well it's grass fed so
it going to be dry." or very lean, or chewy.
Sometimes they say things like "the ground beef is out of this world." So I asked about steaks and then we're back to "well now it's grass-fed...."
Come to think of it, I'm not sure who is actually having a dilemma:
The herbivores - can't get along without grain.
The Farmers - can't produce a good product on grass.
The Consumers - can't figure out how you eat grass-fed beef.
Let me clear up the dilemma. Spring Hill Farms has
100 % grass-fed and finished beef that you can eat and enjoy it! For
those of you who want data, our beef consistently grades choice to high
choice and a yield grade of #1 or #2.
Cows can thrive on a 100%
grass diet. Farmers can find genetics that will help them upgrade their
herd. And consumers can find beef that is out of this world good tasting
and tender with marbling. To top it off it's also loaded with all the
health benefits of omega 3's, CLA's and all the other things yet to be
In the building up of fertility, especially on the poor
light-land farm, there is no animal more effective than the pig. Though
I would not suggest that the pig is an essential part of fertility building, there is no quicker or more economical contributor to soil fertility - Newman Turner.
I first read this a light bulb came on! I could use pigs to increase
the fertility of my soil. I was already pasturing pigs when I came
across the writings of Newman Turner.
I regard him as one of the pioneers of organic farming and low input farming methods.
land is all part of a dairy farm that was abandoned nearly forty years
ago. This left our part of the farm basically multi-flora rose and 30+
year old trees.
As we began clearing off trees and brush, it was
amazing the pasture grasses that begin to appear. Dormant for probably
thirty years and the sun brings them to the surface.
electric fencing and kept the pigs in small enough lots that they would
first eat down anything they wanted and then they began to root up the
soil while fertilizing it as well.
As someone said (maybe Joel Salatin) pigs have a plow on one end and a manure spreader on the other.
In the last several years we have succeeded in restoring a lot of pasture using only pigs as fertility.
have used the tractor and brush hog to take out some of the larger
multi-flora rose and brush that the pigs didn't root out. We are now
getting ready to selectively remove some of our wild cherry and
Since we are going to plant some open pollinated corn this Spring for the pigs to "hog down",
I am going to have the soil tested. It will be interesting to see what
the pigs and chickens have been able to accomplish as far as soil
80% of our immune system resides in our gastrointestinal tract, which houses 100 trillion bacteria—about two to three pounds worth of bacteria!
Expert natural health folks will tell you optimum levels of bacteria would 85% good bacteria and 15% bad.
about pigs? Pigs are very similar to humans in there digestive system.
It stands to reason if good bacteria is needed for optimum human health
than it's needed for optimum pig health.
Good bacterial inputs are typically called probiotics. They are the opposite of antibiotics.
The big guys regularly dose their hogs with sub-therapeutic antibiotics to virtually kill all types of bacteria good and bad.
keeps the animal healthier (supposedly) and optimizes growth. The major
problem of course is the over use of them is resulting in resistance to
antibiotics when we need them.
You can read some very solid research here on the resistant pathogens that are direct result of factory farms.
So....let's just say that we at Spring Hill Farms do not want to use sub-therapeutic antibiotics for our livestock.
We want to use probiotics to build up the good bacteria to the point that it holds in check, or even stamps out bad bacteria in the animals system.
Probiotics are great for:
The proper development of your immune system
Protection against over-growth of other microorganisms that could cause disease
Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients
One of the ways we build up good bacteria in our pigs and chickens is by feeding them clabbered milk.
Traditionally, clabbered milk is made by allowing raw milk to stand until it has thickened, a process which takes 24-48 hours. The milk is also typically kept warm, encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria. As it thickens, the acidity of the milk increases, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria and creating a very distinctive tang which many people greatly enjoy. Pigs practically kill for it!
That was one of the plans when we bought our Oberhasli
goats. Make clabbered milk to feed the pigs and chickens to keep them
healthy and vigorous so we don't need antibiotics or other
pharmaceuticals to keep them healthy.
It works great and the pigs and chickens both really enjoy it!
This is just another way we are striving to work with the animals immune system, not prop it up with outside inputs.
I'm a collector of old agriculture books. I find so many of the old methods to be just what is needed for the sustainable farmer of today.
The following passage has always made me smile.
Our pigs, when old enough, are allowed to run out everyday, into the barn yard, in winter, and the pasture in summer; and we find this arrangement convenient for letting them in and out of the pens, as each pen opens directly into the barnyard.
If well bred and properly treated, the pigs will go to their pens as readily as cows or horses will go to their own stalls.
This may be doubted by those who ill treat their pigs - or in other words, by those who treat their pigs in the common way. But it is nevertheless, a fact, that there is no more docile or tractable animal on the farm than a well-bred pig. There is a good deal of human nature about him. He can be lead where he cannot be driven. A cross grained man will soon spoil a lot of well-bred pigs. They know the tone of his voice, and it is amusing to see what tricks they will play on him.
We have seen such a man trying to get the pigs into their respective pens, and it would seem as though he had brought with him a legion of imps and seven of them had entered into each pig. No sow would would go with her own pigs, and no pigs would go with their own mother; the store pigs would go into the fattening pen, and the fattening pigs would go where the stores were wanted. Should he get mad, and use a stick, some active porker would lead him in many a chase around the barn-yard; and when one was tired, another pig, with brotherly affection, would take up the quarrel, and the old sows would stand by enjoying the fun.
Let no such man have charge of any domestic animal. He is a born hewer of wood, and the drawer of water, and should be sent to dig canals, or do night-work for the poudrette manufacturers.
At their regular feeding time, we can take twenty or thirty of our own pigs, and separate them into their respective pens in a few minutes. They inherit a quiet disposition, and would dismiss on the spot, any hired man who should kick one of them, or strike them with a stick, and we cannot bear to hear an angry word spoken near the pens. - Harris on the pig, 1883.
So true! With our pigs being on grass, we move pigs constantly from one pasture to the next. Never have a problem. I've had some people tell me they think I could lead them to town and back!
Notice the author says "at their regular feeding time". A huge key to pigs is they are very scheduled. Mine will be waiting at the gate about five to ten minutes before they are to be fed, moved, etc.
As one man said "pigs will do anything that is their idea!"