Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Hi everyone! After the +/- 30 inches of snow that our area received in the last week, I hope you all are doing well and are shoveled out, wherever you may be.
So, let's talk overwintering pigs, shall we? For our first porcine overwintering experience here at Sugar River Farm, Dan and I decided to start small with a herd of ten piglets. They are all currently spoken for (i.e. sold. Yay.), which gives us a pretty low risk way to chronicle the amount of care needed, their feed consumption over time and their weights as compared to a pig raised in a different season.
Some stats on the pigs : These pigs were born the end of September, 2014 and came to live with us in early December. Their projected market date is the middle of March, 2015.
Their fencing is currently a double strand of electric poly wire. (See image above.) Dan hooked up a special outlet in our barn just for the fence and water heater, just to protect the existing circuits from potentially getting overloaded. The power runs from the barn to the fence charger by way of extension cords with the connections taped and covered in spray foam insulation to keep the water out. We have neighbors who use our property for snowmobiling and Dan had the clever idea of running the cords that might go through that trail through a length of PVC pipe to protect them from any incident. We have found that we have had to raise the wire occasionally because of a snowfall, but for the most past, after snow, we walk the fence line and use a foot to push the snow out that may be touching the wire. Pretty simple! It usually takes about 20 minutes to do this. Moving the wire is always fun because you get to test the fence at the same time. I can feel the zing through my gloves... This may have something to do with why *knock on wood*, the pigs haven't left their corral for any self guided tours.
One of my first blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS was a tutorial on how to build a pig hut. Basically, these huts are small A-frame structures that are open on both ends. We have found that these work very well. We fill them with hay, which we replace as needed and the pigs like to pile inside to sleep. As a rule, we like to have one hut per five pigs, but we find that all ten still like to sleep together under one roof. The ensuing pig pile and pigs leaning against the walls has popped some of the screws holding down the roof and Dan has had to make small repairs a few times this season. At some point, all 10 pigs will not be able to fit in t he hut, no matter how hard they try, hence the second hut. I learned that pigs do better with more ventilation, which is why we keep both sides of the hut open, but we are not opposed to closing off one end in bad weather.
Food and Water
The pigs currently live in a forested part of our property near our house, which provides them with a sheltered area to root around in and provides us with the convenience of not having to carry bags of food and buckets of water long distances. Our systems are simple, simple, simple. For water, we have a water tub that we fill using five gallon buckets that we have filled with water from our kitchen sink. Like I said, simple. Low cost too. We have a water heater we use when it is really cold, but for most of December and the beginning of January, we could break the ice crust on top and everything was fine. The pigs have two grain tubs to minimize the competitive pressure and we feed them once a day from fifty pound bags of grower pellets. The pigs also receive food scraps from our own cooking, along with scraps from the neighbors and past prime fruit courtesy of Dan's sister's husband's office.
Challenges and Benefits
As we all know, getting work done in the winter is annoying. Things freeze, temperatures are not comfortable, walking is slippery and animals eat more than they normally need to in order to gain weight. I have definitely taken several spills out in the paddock when checking on the pigs, but they have been kind enough to pretend not to notice. The benefit, however, is that many farmers don't overwinter pigs, decreasing supply, which opens you up to additional markets. We are still in the process of determining the overall feed consumption ratio, but once the pigs head off to market, I will update everyone. I hope you all are enjoying your winter and I'll write again soon!
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.