I’d like to share with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers a few comments on Jack Widmer’s September/October 1973 article about breeding pigs and homestead hog production. In that excerpt the author recommended breeding a sow twice a year. From the standpoint of economy, which is not necessarily “automated farming,” it’s better to do so three times a year (ideally so you’ll have farrowing sows in December, April and August). A female hog is quite capable of producing three litters annually if the pigs are pre-started and weaned at 10-20 days. Also, as the sow matures, she gets fatter and fatter until she’s eating more than she returns. If full use is made of her reproductive life, expenses stay down, profit from the sale of weanlings rises and the homesteader can afford to buy gilts when his brood animals get too heavy.
Although Widmer is correct in saying that one breeding is usually enough, the chances of a larger litter are increased if you allow two services within 24 hours. Never hurry your boar; some need 15 minutes for complete ejaculation. (Young males, by the way, should be started on gilts. A first encounter with a mature, aggressive sow can result in low libido and hurt the boar’s reproductive efficiency.)
The gestation period for swine is 112-115 days. If the homesteader will memorize the phrase “three months, three weeks and three days”, he won’t need that chart to check his sows’ farrowing dates. I don’t mean to suggest, however, that record keeping (heat periods, breeding dates, birth dates and weights, etc.) isn’t important. It is, unless you’re just raising a barrow or two for meat.
Because sow milk is low in iron, just-farrowed pigs have a propensity toward anemia. To avoid this the mother’s teats can be painted with an iron solution, or the litter injected with a compound of that metal, or iron-bearing soil can be out in the farrowing pen for the young to root through. No, you won’t be “pumping ’em full of chemicals”! Iron is a necessary trace mineral.
If you have no electricity for heat lamps in the winter, be sure to keep your new pigs warm and out of drafts.
During their first week, young boars should have their canine or needle teeth clipped off with wire-cutting pliers (to prevent the males from later injuring your other swine as they grow older). Be sure to cut cleanly and leave no splinters. Ear notching for record purposes should be done at the same time, if you’re going to do it at all.
Whatever the age of your hogs, you’ll get better daily gains and feed conversions if the animals always have cool, clean water to drink. The troughs that hold the supply should be cleaned at least twice a week. Don’t force your stock to survive on old mud puddles!
Let me repeat, finally, that the production of fast-growng pigs which make the best gain on the least feed isn’t “automated farming” at all. To get the most of an animal resource by using the least of a plant resource is an ecologically sound principle.