the years I've had pigs fall apart on pasture. By "fall apart" I mean
everything from not gain weight nearly as fast as others in the same
pasture to the whole lot of them were having trouble thriving.
In some cases they have had to be rescued from the pasture and propped up with crutches in order to thrive.
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the cause of this? It would be nice if I could narrow it down to one
particular reason but many times it's a combination of things that are
contributing. Let's look at a few of them.
Overly Optimistic about Your Pasture Quality.
need high quality pasture in order for it to be anything other than a
supplement to grain. Think clover, or other legumes as a good percentage
of the field. Running Young Pigs on Pasture with too Little Feed.
general rule is the younger the pig, the less he is able to utilize
roughage from the pasture. You can not take pigs that are just weaned
and turn them out on grass without plenty of feed supplementation and
expect them to thrive. They'll fall apart.
Relying on Alternative Feeds as a Main Feed Source
seen small farmers attempt to feed hogs everything you can think of
from stale bread to produce items, to distiller grains and everything in
between. Hogs are pretty good at eating what they are given but it will usually show up in health and weight gain.
alternative feeds are fine but learn some nutritional facts about swine
before attempting to launch out into something that could cost you tons
of time and pork in the end.
Not Catching the Clues of Pigs Starting to Fall Apart.
As an old farmer used to tell me "You need to know if an animal isn't doing well before it does."
time observing your pigs on a daily basis. Learn what pigs look like
and how they behave when they're healthy and thriving. When something
seems different it usually means trouble. Get on top of it before it
ship wrecks your pigs health.
Choosing the Wrong Pig for Pasture.
the term "heritage breed pig" being thrown around all over the internet
many folks wrongly assume this is the holy grail of pastured pigs.
should be a head start in the right direction but it's simply not a
guarantee that pigs will do well on grass. Many of the heritage breed
pigs are being moved away from what made them great by breeding for
different goals then the small farmer would have.
see a certain heritage breed showing up at all the fairs and in show pig
magazines you can bet the breeder of those pigs has a different set of
goals in his breeding program than will fit into your small farm with
That doesn't mean there aren't lines within
those breeds that are being developed for pasture and old time hog
raising. Just don't assume that heritage breed automatically means good
I've discussed this issue with the Tamworth breed before but it exists in some other heritage breeds as well.
issue is we have is the many small farmers who are breeding pigs with
little or no experience in putting together a breeding program that will
move them forward in their goals...assuming they have clear goals.
pigs on pasture successfully is both an art and science. Study, plan
carefully, and observe others. But most importantly get some pigs and
learn as you go!
recently received Premiers newsletter and loved the article so much I
shot Stan a note and asked if I could re-publish it for you. His
thoughts on "labels" echo my own. So without further ado Here's
Premier's previous newsletter my comments about the future merits of
the organic, sustainable and natural labels surprised and offended some
readers. Therefore, a little personal background and an expanded
explanation of my views about the future may be in order. My father
switched from "chemical" to "organic" farming on our 160-acre Iowa farm
in 1955, when I was 9 years old. This change was encouraged in part by
reading J.I. Rodale's monthly magazine, Organic Gardening and Farming, which we studied at length.
My folks had a true family (8 children) farm for decades:
• Milked up to 5 cows by hand and sold the cream.
• Raised chickens (hundreds) and sold the eggs.
• Had a large vegetable and fruit garden for our personal needs, weeded, mulched and harvested by hand labor.
• Raised a limited number of sheep, pigs and beef cattle. We
butchered and processed meat from them for the family and sold the
• Grew corn, wheat, hay, oats and soybeans, but not many acres of each.
• Heated our home with wood from trees on the farm.
short, it was the complete opposite of modern specialized farms. The
most important product wasn't the food. Instead it was the education
and development of the 8 children and our city cousins who visited us
each summer. We learned how to think, accomplish, suffer and sweat.
1964, I went to Iowa State University and used its excellent library
to read every organic/natural farming author on hand, including Howard,
Faulkner and Bromfield. In 1965 I switched to Ambassador College, a
small, conservative religious college that actively supported and
practiced organic farming and gardening.
Two years later I
transferred to Ambassador's British campus north of London. Its farm
and gardens produced organic milk, meat (chickens and beef), eggs,
vegetables and fruit for the student and faculty kitchens. In my senior
year I was paid (even now I marvel at this!) to read extensively about
organic food and food production for the college's Agricultural
Department and prepare summary reports therefrom.
I stayed on
after graduation to manage the college's farm and vegetable gardens. By
the time the college closed (1974), the farm operation had grown to
300 acres, 1000 chickens, 5 acres of fruit/vegetable gardens and 150
dairy and beef cattle.
During my 6 years as the head of
Ambassador's Agricultural Department, I visited research farms and
agricultural shows all across Britain, Europe and the USA. We listened
and talked with folks like E.F. Schumacher, whose book Small Is
Beautiful — Economics As If People Mattered, is probably even more
applicable now than it was in the early 1970s. In 1973 I had the
privilege to share a lunch in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, with Robert Rodale
(now deceased) and Wendell Berry (alive, and a thought-leader I respect
So I have roots developed over 6 decades in organic farming and ecologically sound land utilization.
Why therefore did I suggest that producers might consider supplemental
labels to organic, natural and sustainable in my previous newsletter?
1. Because the astute marketing minds of the big "industrial" food
producers have already spotted the $$ potential of these labels.
Therefore, "organic" labels will soon be commonplace (and may be often
attached to food whose production systems may be questionable).
turn, the smaller producers who began it all will feel pushed out.
That's why it's sensible, in my view, to anticipate this — and also
attach supporting labels like "no antibiotics, local and/or
hormone-free." The nature of large-scale food production makes it more
difficult to honestly replicate the extra labels (particularly local
and no antibiotics).
2. Because, and this is an opinion
developed over 6 decades, I think there is a second, and larger, group
of valuable food consumers who are not overly concerned whether their
food comes from an organic source. Nor do they care whether the source
is a large operation or a small one.
Instead, they want the
food source to be one that practices stewardship, that demonstrates
integrity (honest, genuine, reliable) and proactively cares for land,
animals, employees — and their customers. If they find that the source
is too focused on profit as opposed to these things, they will seek an
alternative. And they want to buy from people who — to paraphrase E.F
Schumacher — "view food production as if people/soil/animals/plants
matter, not just for profit and efficiency." Best wishes to you all
through the holiday season and beyond. Stan Potratz, Owner
Health information floating around on the internet and every other form of media can boggle your mind at times.
you can have a conversation with a friend at the water cooler and end
up wondering if we're all going to die of some horrid disease from
eating wrong. It's all around us - This is bad for you, this is good for
you. Eat this, don't eat that.
If you've ever looked at indoor air quality you can be afraid to take a breath inside your own home. How do can you know what 's the truth?
Unfortunately I don't have a definitive answer for that!
What I can tell you is the rule I live by:
Have the sense of an old cow - Eat the hay and spit out the sticks.
Those of you who follow my blog know I'm a big proponent of Dr Mercola. I still am.
However on this particular point, I don't agree with some of his views or conclusions, particularly about pastured pork.
He has softened his stance some over time. At one time he did not recommend eating pork of any kind.
He now states in his most recent post: "Pork
is an arguably "healthy" meat from a biochemical perspective, and if
consumed from a humanely raised pastured hog like those on Joel
Salatins' farm and prepared properly, there is likely minimal risk of
infection. However, virtually all of the pork you're likely to consume
do not fit these criteria."
However in the side bar of this post, he has the following:"If
you choose to eat pork, I recommend seeking a naturally raised,
pastured source, although this is no guarantee of safety. Pastured pigs
are vulnerable to Trichinella spiralis infection—aka “pork worm”—due to
their exposure to wild hosts. Trichinella is one of the most
widespread parasites in the world, and can cause potentially serious
Perhaps Trichinella spiralis is one of the most widespread parasites in the world but according to the CDC:
the past 40 years, few cases of trichinellosis have been reported in
the United States, and the risk of trichinellosis from commercially
raised and properly prepared pork is very low. However, eating
undercooked wild game, particularly bear meat, puts one at risk for
acquiring this disease.[More here]
Cases Reported to the CDC
is one of the favorite arguments big-ag uses to make us think animals
raised outside the way nature intended is actually risky to our health.
We must keep animals inside in an environmentally controlled setting lest they get contaminated and harm us...Rubbish.
we mimic nature, feed a proper diet, and let the animals have
sufficient room, they will be healthier themselves and impart that
health to us when consumed.
A historical research into
trichinellosis in swine shows us that it was linked to feeding pigs
swill or garbage. This practice today is banned in many states. Most
that allow it require a license to feed it to pigs.
I've blogged about alternative feeds before and I personally would not eat pork that has lived on garbage.
Overall I think Dr Mercola did a good job of showing that pastured pork done right is your only option for pork. But
when it comes to trumping up the dangers of trichinellosis in hogs that
roam outside...this old cow is spitting out that stick.
article cited a loss of $57 per pig. While many of these large farms
will ride out the bad market with operating loans etc, the small farmer
is going to have to make some decisions.
most small, sustainable type farms don't necessarily sell at commodity
prices, however the feed cost is normally higher and they are working
with smaller numbers of animals.
Another article sent to me titled bacon, pork shortage 'Unavoidable'
points out that as hog herds shrink across the world prices will have
to go up. They went as far as saying it was possible that shelves would
be bare of certain pork products and prices could double.
What does this mean to you?
If you currently buy your meat products from a small farm, prices will have to increase. I
predict many small farms that have been filling hog feeders with feed
from the local mill with little or no thought to the financial situation
currently in play will be out of business or at the least scaling
I have been watching the sale barns
here in Ohio and it's staggering the amount of "small farm hogs" that
are going through. These aren't pigs from confinement operations, these
are one and two sows, half grown market hogs, feeder pigs, you name it they are leaving the farm.
That tells me pigs are going to be in short supply for the Spring of 2013.
said for years that the time to get better is when things are good.
That's why way back when corn was under $2 a bushel here at Spring Hill Farms we were busy developing a line of pigs that weren't dependent on a feeder full of feed.
the same time we were looking at ways to minimize our dependence on
outside inputs. I'm glad we did it then and not now. For some farms, it
may be too late.
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!
Heritage breed hogs are under attack by the Michigan Department of Natural resources.
This is a picture of a Tamworth barrow that was a prize winning pig in 1920. Below is a picture of a Tamworth barrow today.
To me this is proof that the breed has been dramatically improved
structurally. They haven't went wild in the last 100 years they have
actually become more domesticated. The Invasive Species Act being rammed
through in Michigan is the wrong solution to a questionable problem.
Tamworth barrow 2012
Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund has posted a blog asking for our
help in stopping this and helping small farmers in Michigan as they
lose their livelihood.
From the FTCLDF site:
"The Michigan DNR has defined "invasive species swine" (in a December 2011 declaratory ruling),
as any pig that exhibits certain characteristics. Many of the
characteristics listed describe just about any heritage breed of swine.
Even more troubling, the DNR characteristics are often displayed in
swine that are raised outside, not in confinement. The DNR order not
only threatens the livelihoods of heritage breed hog farmers across the
State of Michigan but it also sets a very dangerous precedent across
the United States for those choosing not to raise animals in
Send an online petition to Gov. Snyder urging him to rescind the Invasive Species Act.Click Here Now!
is pushing a new act to allow the government to decide by simply
looking at your stock and decide if it is a prohibited species.
know that sounds crazy but small farmers are being told they need to be
sure they are compliant before the law is passed. When asked how to
know if their pigs are prohibited they are being told to send in a
The Invasive Species Act gives
DNR the discretion to add or delete from a list of species whose
possession is prohibited. In addition, if either DNR or the Michigan
Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDA) determines that
certain requirements are met for a particular species, then it is
mandatory that an ISO be issued prohibiting that species. DNR has not
made it clear whether the ISO for swine was discretionary or
In my opinion, this another move to use gestapo like tactics all in the name of protecting Big Ag. The Farm to Consumer Legal Fund (FTCLDF) has reported recently on what is going on in Michigan. If you are not a member of the FTCLDF
you should consider it. They are the organization that is out front in
the battle to save small farm's rights to produce and market wholesome
foods and milk.
While this issue deals with swine, it's
possibly the seeds of regulating small farms out of business. What if
some type of government official could come to your farm and tell you
your produce doesn't look good enough to sell. Or impose mandatory
testing for e coli or other contamination.
You may think it sounds crazy but who would have thought fifty years ago you could go to jail for selling raw milk.
To read the full story as told by the Farm to Consumer Legal defense Fund click here.
I promised I would update you on the Little Tamworth Gilt who thinks she is a chicken.
few weeks ago I noticed a pig running through the yard. I watched as
she zipped down past the house and disappeared. I was sure she belonged
to our oldest sow Droopy. But how did she get out?
the next few days I noticed as soon as we were all in the house she
would sneak out and head for the laying hens which were being fed
outside. She would charge right up and take her place at the trough!
the troughs have a bar that runs through the middle it was hard for her
to get feed so she began upsetting it and eating the feed off the
This became her daily ritual. Watch us feed
the chickens and then run over and start eating. As with any bad habit
(or so I'm told) it kept getting worse. Pretty soon she was waiting with
the chickens when we went to feed them.
The boys would chase her back to the pasture and she would squeal as loud as she could to let them know she was not happy.
A few days of that and I caught her sneaking out of the hen house! Turns out she wasn't laying eggs she was climbing into the bottom box and eating eggs.
resolved to fix the fence the next day and put a stop to her antics. I
got up the next morning and went to the garden to check things out to
find little pig had beat me to it and rooted out a bunch of sweet
potatoes for her breakfast.
My next stop was the
barn for some fence wire and thus ended the pig who only wanted to be a
chicken because they roam around and get all kinds of goodies.
After several years of contemplating and researching old heritage breed pigs I have purchased a Large Black boar piglet to cross breed with some of our Tamworth pigs.
first became interested in these pigs after hearing several farmers
experiences with the meat quality of this particular cross.
The Tamworth is a very good heritage breed for meat taste and quality. The Large Black is also known for its delicious pork.
producers are crossing Large Black boars with Tamworth sows and they
all say the meat is better than either the Tamworth or Large Black as a
Large Black can get a bit fat and Tamworth pigs lack marbling in the meat.
By crossing the two you get a leaner hog than the Large Black with the excellent marbling qualities lacking in the Tamworth.
The Large Black is listed as "critical" on the ALBC list. This means there are fewer
than 200 annual registrations in the United States and
estimated global population less than 2,000. registered each year.
We will have piglets in the Spring of 2012.
I'll keep you updated on how things are going with this great addition to Spring Hill Farms.
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
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.
of the most important pieces of equipment for the hog farmer who wants
to raise pigs on pasture is an electric fence charger. Sometimes called a
fencer or energizer.
I have had several energizers over the years some good and some not so good.
up on the farm was in the day before low impedance energizers. These
chargers would shock you very good but they also "ground out" very easy.
Some of the very earliest chargers were also continuous output. That
means they didn't pulse on and off like most of the new ones do. Pulse
is good as this gives the animal (or you) a chance to escape.
Fi-Shock still carries a continuous output charger. The only reason I can
think of to have one is to re-train a particularly stubborn animal.
However, I think the best way to train livestock to electric fence is covered here.
For most applications you want a "low impedance" fencer. The
term may seem to be a little misleading, but in actuality,
low-impedance means that there is less resistance (or impedance) in the
charger so more power can be pushed through the wire.
type of charger is able to power through weed pressure and worse if
needed. It's a must if you're fencing through areas where you have a
high probability of deer tearing down your wire or tree limbs falling
I recently went around checking fence on an
area that hadn't anything in it since last summer. I hooked the section
of fence and tested the voltage. It was reading 4 kv on my tester. It
usually runs around 9 kv so I knew it had some areas that were partially
I walked around the perimeter and
found tons of sticks laying on it and two places where the wire was
completely buried under the wet leaves for probably 25 feet!
That's the power of low impedance! 4 kv on my charger will keep a trained pig in where he belongs forever.
current charger which is pictured above is from Fi Shock. It is rated
at 15 joules. There is a technical definition for joules, but to keep it
simple it's the amount zap the fencer will push out.
The higher the joules the more power to keep your stock in over long runs of wire.
The biggest mistake you can make when buying an electric fence energizer
is to not go big enough. Pigs can take a shock. I've had 3 joule
chargers before and they will hold pigs in just fine provided you're not
running too many feet/miles of wire on it.
But I noticed
with those chargers the pigs have a habit of getting their nose in the
fence more at feeding time. All it takes for a pig to get out is to
figure out the wire is off and they are out and running.
this 15 joule charger they don't have any interest in getting their
nose on it! They do from time to time, but instead of a short squeal and
a jerk, they scream and then woof two or three times after that! It get
Finally, although I'm not going
into installation here, the one area that needs the closet attention is
grounding your energizer. The biggest, most powerful charger is worthless
without being grounded properly. Follow the manufactures directions and
Pigs and other livestock are
wonderful if they stay where you put them. With a good electric fencer
energizer and some training, they will stay in the pasture where they
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!
training them you will end up with pigs that get out constantly. That's
never a good way to keep your neighbors happy about you having pigs.
Electric fence is a mental barrier verses a physical barrier. A physical barrier is something like a hog panel. They physically can't get through it.
Two little wires would never keep a pig in, but once they fear and respect it they will stay right where you want them.
once in a great while you get a pig who runs through the fence and then
figures out how to slip the wire. If you don't put a stop to it immediately they will get out anytime they want.
only choice is to re-train them or they will teach the rest and then
you're in for a long chase and possibly upset neighbors. Not to mention
they could get out and get onto a road or tear the heck out of someone's
yard or flower beds.
By slipping the wire I mean
putting their head down and slipping under the wire. They usually get
right up to the fence and drop down and squeal as they keep right on
These are the pigs you hope you never get. But usually they learn this by not having a good fence charger or the fence wire isn't positioned properly e.g. not enough strands or too high off the ground.
I would never keep a pig that slips the wire for breeding stock. Around here
if you don't stay where you belong, you become food! That's the main
reason my boys always tell me before they go anywhere. (just kiddin)
So how do you train a pig to electric fence?
You fix a pen for them in the barn or outside and have it so there is plenty of chances for them to get into the hot wire.
The critical part is have the pig get into the wire but never be able to get past or go through the wire.
good example would be a a pen made out of hog panels with a couple hot
wires around the inside at the proper height, which is nose height for
If a pig get shocked in front of the eyes, 99
times out of 100 he'll back up. But if he gets "hit" behind the eyes,
say top of the ears, he will lounge forward.
all you had was a wire with no physical barrier behind it, he is out
the first time he gets shocked and your fence is torn down. If he
repeats that a few times forget ever keeping him in with just electric
But if you train in the pen with a hot wire and a physical barrier even if he lounges forward all he gets is more shock!
I've had some pigs
that weren't too smart and they would get into the wire and run down
the fence for 15 or 20 feet determined to get through it. It didn't take
them too long to figure out they were in a losing battle!
flags on the fence every three feet or so. Pigs will learn to associate
the flags with the shock and avoid them. That way when you put them out
on pasture and use the same flags they won't even try the fence because
they "know" they can't get past it.
I have found a
good flagging material is the tape that surveyors use. It's bright
orange or pink and you can get it by the roll at most any home
improvement store. It lasts for a long time and the colorful tape keeps you from running into it with equipment or your bare leg!
The only time I have pigs get out of a new pasture is not enough flags and they can't see it.
When visitors come you can quickly point out to the little kids that the flags will bite and do not get near them.
I love using fiberglass post with insulators that you can slide up or down to adjust the height as the pigs grow.
way you can keep it at nose height no matter what size they are. The
bigger they get the easier it is to hold them in. Little pigs can slip
through a wire very easily.
There are a million
chargers on the market but a good rule of thumb is use one at least
twice as big as what you think you'll need. You usually end up
running way more fence than you ever planned to in the beginning anyway
so get a charger once and be done with it.
Look for a charger that is low impedance and at least 3 joules.
I currently use a 15 joule charger and even my old sows do not fool with the fence. It can stand heavy weed pressure or even have a deer run through it and be on the ground and pigs stay put.
We use two strands for almost everything and with sows many times only a single strand.
It comes down to training them right the first time and and having the right equipment and no worries.
Several years ago I was surprised to have a pig that looked more like a Oxford Sandy & Black pig from England. I was surprised because it was the offspring of a registered pair of Tamworth!
It was my when I first started breeding Tamworth Swine so I thought "wow you mean a breed this old doesn't always breed true?"
According to what I had read and in talking to other breeders they had all said Tamworth pigs always breed true.
The Oklahoma State University website says: "It is one of the most prepotent of the breeds in fixing its type of offspring."
I inquired around to some other breeders online and showed them picture and not a one had seen a Tamworth pig like this.
Spot with some of his littermates
I suppose there are all kinds of theories that could be discussed such as perhaps maybe some Gloucestershire Old Spot blood was mixed in long, long, ago while improving the breed and it surfaced by breeding this pair.
theory, which is the one I ascribe to, is this is what some Tamworth
looked like (as far as coloring) when the breed was first improved.
I have read some old texts indicated some very early Tamworth swine had a sandy color with black spots.
the case we bred that particular pair of Tamworth five times and every
time she had one and only one that looked like that.
Anybody else ever see a Tamworth pig with this coloring?
I was digging through some photos today and came across Junior. Junior was orphaned in the winter of 2006. Actually my wife was outside and heard a piglet squealing as if in distress.
went to investigate and discovered this little guy had somehow climbed
out of the farrowing hut. He couldn't get back in to join all his
brothers and sisters not to mention mama who had his food!
Of course the sow was distraught because he was screaming so the Mrs. was afraid to get in the pen and help the poor chap.
the midst of all the commotion, the sow came tearing out and stepped
on Junior's head as he was attempting to climb back in the hut. The
only thing that saved him was the ground was soft enough to cushion the
weight of the sow.
Now we had two mom's worked up into a
frenzy. The Mrs. weighs a buck ten soaking wet but you get her wound up
like that and she is fearless. She sprang into action and attacked the
mama sow and grabbed the pig, jumped out of the pen, and dashed for
I wasn't here but it had to look like a UFC heavy weight verses light weight match.
So I guess that means Junior was kidnapped technically. Or would it be pignapped?
the rescuer, or pignapper however you see it, takes Junior inside to
examine his wound. The situation looked grave. He had a huge lump on
the top of his head and was having trouble with his motor functions.
New mama finds a baby bottle and tries to feed him. She finally lays him in a box wrapped in a warm towel.
I arrive home of course mom and both boys are trying to tell the story
all at once. I look at the piglet and after careful study announce that
he "wouldn't make it through the night."
We went to bed that night with the somber feeling of having to deal with a dead Junior in the morning.
I was up first the next morning and to my surprise not only was Junior alive he was attempting to climb out of the box!
moment he realized I was there he started squealing. I grabbed a baby
bottle as the rest of the family piled out of bed to see Junior.
Taking a nap
a while with everyone of us trying to get him to take the bottle, mom
got him settled in with at least a half full tummy. I was off to work
and mom was in charge.
Over the next few days Junior became
pretty lively and mom was making comments about how cute he was and how
could we ever let him outside at that young of an age. This was coming
from someone who lets no animals in her house PERIOD.
seemed to figure out mom had a soft spot for him because he was doing
his best to be her favorite child. He began following her around the
house and begging her to sit down on the floor so he could climb into
He would lay on a stuffed animal and sleep by the wood stove til it was time to eat.
I reminded the Mrs. he could not stay in the house and she knew it was true so she began bracing herself for the inevitable.
Favorite stuffed animal
for her Junior was becoming a spoiled brat. He was demanding full time
attention and rooting his feed pan from one corner of the back porch
to the other. Of course this meant feed was getting everywhere and I
admit I didn't do much to remedy the situation.
My wife has booted humans from her house for failing to take their shoes off so I knew Junior was on thin ice!
Finally he was eating feed like mad and definitely well enough to head back out to the barn. I slipped him out when the Mrs. was gone for a few hours and even though she was sad she new it was for the best.
never forgot his foster mother. Anytime she would get near the pasture
he would come a running. He knew her voice the moment he heard it.
Junior had a destiny though and it wasn't to be in the pasture indefinitely.
one fine day in June of that year Junior was the guest of honor at a
hog roast. And so it is... the life of a pig and a farmer's wife.
of the reasons I started farming again was I wanted my kids to
experience the life I had as a child. I believe there are many reasons
why kids should spend time on a small farm. Heck they should visit a
giant factory farm also. Matter of fact I think everyone should visit a
factory farm. It would change the way you buy your food.
But lest I digress...
just zero in on kids for now. Children need to know where their food
comes from. They need to understand that farm animals have a noble
calling of supplying the human race with meat, eggs, dairy, and fiber.
that aside, there are so many things children can learn from farming.
Take for instance, my two boys. Early into our farming adventure I began
to share with them that not only did we supply other families with food
but they paid us to do that.
Then I showed them a batch of gilts
(young female pigs) and asked if they wanted to pick one to have babies
and they could raise them, care for them, and be responsible for them.
If did that they would get a cut of the profits when we sold them.
oldest was quick to ask "how much money?" My youngest was thrilled to
have a pig he could name and call his own. They both did pretty well at
taking responsibility according to their age and knowledge.
oldest son had figured up how much each pig might make him. After
several discussions about how I had to purchase the pig, supply the feed
and do all the marketing, we struck up a deal that I would gift them
the pig but feed would have to be paid for out of the proceeds.
gave me a great platform to show them the importance of controlling
your costs and looking for ways and methods to reduce inputs while still
producing a good, quality product.
They now had a vested
interest in working the farm and caring for animals. I had to remind
them many, many, times they would get paid for their hard work. It was
teaching them patience, delayed gratification, and responsibility. I
think these are all excellent traits kids should learn as soon as
Contrast this with many of the kids today who demand
material things and act like the world owes them. I strive to teach my
boys the world owes them nothing and will pay them only based on the
value they provide others.
I was tempted to over pay them for
their hard work or give in and front them some money when they really
wanted a new game or gadget.
But the truth is that wouldn't be
helping them, it would only make me feel better. That is until it was
time to pay them and I had to deduct the money or worse yet they didn't
have any left.
When it came time for the pigs to have piggies, my
oldest son's pig was a horrible mother and lost all her pigs in the
first twenty four hours. He was crushed. I explained to him that it
was a risk that we take as farmers and I know it stinks but that was
life...not always fair. I used it to teach him things happen in life
that we can't always control.
I made him a deal, since this was
his first time, I would trade him for another pig and he could continue
on and I would take the loss.
When it came time to sell the pigs
we sat down and had a short lesson in math and paid them both what was
due them. We also explained they needed to open a savings account and
deposit half of the money to start a savings.
They didn't care for that but agreed. We then helped them decide how the money would be spent.
then both of my boys are actively involved in the farm. Some work they
get paid for and some things are just a requirement of being part of the
We remind them no one pays us for cutting the grass
or doing laundry etc. Those are just part of life. Part of being a
family and caring for one another.
Proud of the pumpkins
a farm and spending time there gives kids all kinds of opportunities
to learn how life really is. If things don't go well you can't just
re-boot the game and start over.
On the other hand when the boys
have had friends over they are always required to help with chores.
Some of them are glad to help and others not so much.
thing I have noticed from every single boy who comes here and helps on
the farm. When we are done and I have encouraged them to do something
they might be a bit uneasy with such as wading into a pasture full of
hungry pigs and dumping feed in the feeder, they strut to the house
like they just won a medal. To quote Joel Salatin in his latest book,
THE SHEER ECSTASY OF BEING A LUNATIC FARMER, "one of the reasons our
young people have such a poor self-image is because we aren't letting
them receive adult praise for worthy work accomplished well."
guarantee you the next school day they are bragging to their buddies
that were feeding pigs on the farm and telling every other adventure
they encountered while here.
The farm is a great place for kids to learn new skills and feel like they accomplished something worthwhile.
I first started insisting the boys help on the farm it took longer to
get things done than if I just did myself. But little by little, they
began to catch on to what I call basic life skills. I see so many kids
today who don't have a clue how to do anything with their hands. They
cry and whine about having to be outside because it's hot or cold or
they are hungry.
When the boys would complain about being hungry I
told them I was hungry too but we would stop when we are at a place
that made sense to stop not because we were hungry.
with being hot or cold or whatever they were complaining about. I stress
to them stop listening to your body cry and whine and set your mind to
This past year many things "gelled" around here at
chore time. What used to take hours now takes minutes. Many things I had
to tell them over and over they do without even thinking. They chide
me for standing around when something needs done. I hear them repeat
back to me things I thought they would never learn.
They think ahead and work smart not wasting time or energy.
may be getting the idea I run a boot camp here at Spring Hill Farms.
But don't be alarmed. My boys have all the games and gadgets and time to
play and be crazy as most other kids their age.
But the older
they get the more of a blessing they become. They are generous, caring,
responsible, and have a strong work ethic for their age.
Children will be a blessing or a curse. Parents are the key ingredient in determining which they will be.
a farm, offer to help, let them get dirty. Start a small garden at
home and give your children a part to play in it. Not just the work,
but the reward as well. Use it to teach them basic life skills and
Don't make the mistake of thinking someone will
influence your kids more than you will. You hold the key to your
child's future use it while they are still young and willing. What you
teach them now will be part of their legacy, and yours.