Spring Hill Farms

  (Newark, Ohio)
Heritage Breed Pastured Pork, Chickens, Grass Fed Beef
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Why Pigs Fall Apart on Pasture

 
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Tamworth Pigs on Pasture

Over 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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What's 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.

Pigs 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.


The 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

I've 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.

Some 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."

Spend 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.

With the term "heritage breed pig" being thrown around all over the internet many folks wrongly assume this is the holy grail of pastured pigs.

It 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.

If you 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 much success.

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 pasture hog.  

I've discussed this issue with the Tamworth breed before but it exists in some other heritage breeds as well.

Another 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.

Final Thoughts

Raising 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!

Until next time...

PS - Get my latest FREE Report: A Guide to Buying Pigs for Pasture click here.



 
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Are organic, natural and sustainable yesterday's food labels?

Picture If you're looking for portable netting for pigs, poultry or otherwise Premier is the place to go.

If you've never used portable netting you don't know what your missing! Since I bought my first roll I have wondered how I ever got along with out it.

Take a moment and check out there website at: http://www.premier1supplies.com

I 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 Stan.....



In 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 rest.

• Grew corn, wheat, hay, oats and soybeans, but not many acres of each.

• Heated our home with wood from trees on the farm.


In 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.

In 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 highly).

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).

In 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
 
 

Most Pork is Contaminated With Pathogens

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Health information floating around on the internet and every other form of media can boggle your mind at times.

Heck 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.

Dr Mercola posted a blog today titled: Why I Do Not Recommend Eating Pork.

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 health complications."

Perhaps Trichinella spiralis is one of the most widespread parasites in the world but according to the CDC:

Over 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]


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Cases Reported to the CDC
This 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.


If 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.

Until next time...


 

 

 

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Hog Farmers and Pork Lovers - Hang On!

The writing is on the wall. Meat prices in general will be trending up with pork and chicken leading the way.

The drought across the corn belt has raised grain prices to the point many farmers are unable to stay in business.

I recently saw an article on AgWeb titled Pork Producers Enter 'Survival Mode'.

The 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.

I realize 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 back...big time.

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.

I've 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.

At 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.

Until next time....


 

 

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Grain Prices - Will They Effect You?

Picture 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 winter.

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.

Terrifying Corn Supply/Demand Situation Unfolding.

High Corn, Soybean Prices to Slash Demand.

Say What? $55-Plus Soybeans and $17-Plus Corn!

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.

Until next time….
 
 

An Excellent Pig for the Smal Farm

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Tamworth Sows circa 1920
I'm 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 means:

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.

Heritage Breed – 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.

Forage Ability - 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.

Good temperament – 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!

Until next time…

David

Spring Hill Farms
 
 

If You Believe in the Right to Choose Your Food - Heritage Swine

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Tamworth Barrow circa 1920
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.

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Tamworth barrow 2012
The 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 confinement."

Send an online petition to Gov. Snyder urging him to rescind the Invasive Species Act.Click Here Now!
 
 

Are You My Mother?

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Are You My Mother?

On my rounds the other morning I glanced in one of the stalls and had to rub my eyes and look again!

There perched on top a baby Tamworth pig was one of our 4 day old Freedom Ranger chicks.

How on earth it got all the way from the brooder to the front of the barn where some of our gilts are with their babies is a mystery to me.


I wanted so bad to get the picture a bit later of the baby chick sitting on mommas side while the pigs nursed. But by the time I got the camera it had hopped off.


Just another day here at Spring Hill Farms!

Until next time...

 PS- To learn more about our pastured poultry go here 


 

 
 

We Don't Like How Your Pigs Look, We're Taking Them!

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Michigan 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.

I 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 picture! 

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 mandatory.

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.

 


 

 
 

Tamworth Pig or Funny Looking Chicken?

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Tamworth Gilt
I promised I would update you on the Little Tamworth Gilt who thinks she is a chicken.

A 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?



Over 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!

Since 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 ground.

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.

I 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.

Until next time...


 

 
 

Large Black Crossed with Tamworth Pigs Make Excellent Pork

PictureAfter 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.

I 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.

Several 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 pure breed.

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.

Until next time...



 
 

Pigs on Pasture - How Much Will They Root?

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Tamworth Pigs Rooting
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."

It 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.

I 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.

Then 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 pasture!

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.

The 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! 

A 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.

The 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 depends....

Maybe we'll talk about that sometime!

Until next time...


 

 
 

Over Seeding Pasture for Pigs and Poultry

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Tilling Pasture
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."


What 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 intensive grazing?"

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?

When 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. 


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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.

This 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.

Until next time...

 

Watch a video of this while I ramble.


 
 

How to Choose an Electric Fencer


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Electric Fence Energizer

One 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.

Growing 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.

This 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 etc.

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 grounded out.

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.

My 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.

With 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 their attention.

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 don't skimp!

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 belong.

Until next time...


 

 
 

Most Tamworth Sows are Great Mothers

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Tamworth Sow and Piglets
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.


In 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.

I've 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.

I need low maintenance hogs. The Tamworth sows we have are very capable of having their babies and caring for them just like nature intended!


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Training Pigs to Electric Fence

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Tamworth Gilt
Pigs are easily to keep in with electric fence. But training them to respect it is critical.

When we start new piglets out here on the farm. We always take them through a training process.

Without 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.

Every 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.

The 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 going!

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.

A 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 pigs.

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.

If 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 fence wire.

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!

Tie 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.

That 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.

Until next time....


 

 
 

Ever See a Tamworth Pig Like This One?

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Purebred Tamworth Barrow
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.



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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.

Another 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.

Whatever 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?

 

 

 
 

The Story of Junior: The Kidnapped Pig

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Junior cuddling his foster mom
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.

She 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.

In 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 the house.

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?

Anyway 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.

When 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!

The 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.

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Taking a nap
After 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.

Junior 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 her lap.

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.

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Favorite stuffed animal

Lucky 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.

Junior 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.

So 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.

Until next time...
 
 

Why Every Child Should Spend Time On a Farm

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Helping hold pigs
One 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...

Let's 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.

All 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.

The 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.

My 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.

This 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 possible.

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.

Since 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 team here.

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.

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Proud of the pumpkins
Visiting 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.

But one 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."

I 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.

When 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.

Same thing 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 get done.

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.

You 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. 

Visit 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 character.

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.

Until next time...
 
 
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