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dan1

Best time of year to start pig rearing

As prev posted, planning to get some weaners in spring to clear veg patch over next year. It's occurred to me that getting them in March/Apri at 8w old would mean they'd be ready (7m baconers) by aug/sept. I'd anticipated slaughter/processing them in the cooler winter. Should I get some now + aim to finish them by the spring, thus freeing up my newly turned over veg plot a year early. Or would they not do well over a cold winter + thrive better outside in summer (as orig plan)? Question
Bebo

Pigs do fine outside over winter providing there arc is relatively draft free and you give them plenty of bedding. How well drained is you land? Whilst they don't mind a bit of mud, spending all winter up to their knees in it isn't an ideal way to keep them.
Gervase

One thing to bear in mind is that a proportion of the food you give them will go to laying down fat and keeping them warm. Spring weaners will get through less than autumn weaners per pound of kill-out weight.
Mrs R

wintertime stock duties can be a bit of a bore with all that darkness and chilly mud Sad
MoJo

We had our first weaners this year. Got them in spring and they will go on their last journey next week.
I'd recommend it for the first time. We've not had to get much straw in and they've spent a lot of nights sleeping outside the pen.
Seeing the quagmire after recent rains we now have some idea of the muddy mess there would be over autumn/winter.
It's been a pleasure to feed them in the long daylight hours and we often bide a while with some 'light refreshment' in the evenings.
We've been able to feed them lots of stuff from the veg garden and they've benefitted from our early apples.
As a first time venture we have been able to see a lot more of them than we would over winter, and therefore got to know a lot of things about pigs.
judith

I would endorse everything that Mojo says. I once kept pigs over winter and will NEVER do it again (or at least not without some form of concrete hard-standing for them and more shelter). The mud was horrible for them and me, it cost a fortune in straw to keep them warm and dry and there weren't the surplus harvests to supplement their feed.

My current pair will have been with me from June to October when they go - they have had sun on their backs for most of their time with me and a lovely variety of food, from weeds through to windfall apples. It costs me less to feed them and they are happy porkers. I wouldn't do it any other way.
woodsprite

Wot Judith said!
gythagirl

As EXACTLY per the last 3 posters! Our first 2 go in under 3 weeks. I now know our paddock would be too heavy for pigs and winter rain, and give or take a month or 2 will be doing the same time frame next year as this.
mochyn

Yup. Summer = good.
dan1

Thanks for the advice. The land is heavy clay + does get pretty sticky even without pigs in so sounds like waiting till next tear would make sense
Stonehead

We usually recommend first-time pig keepers get their weaners from around the end of March/early April through to early July.

Assuming the pigs are being fattened over 18-20 weeks, this gives slaughter dates ranging from the end of August through to mid-November. (Many butchers are booked up from late November into December doing the Christmas orders. If you have children, remember to allow for school holidays in your plans.)

We make that recommendation for a number of reasons.

First, if people are just starting with pigs then it's not worth investing in all-season housing, fencing and troughs until they're certain they want to fatten pigs year in, year out. Improvised housing—even built of straw bales, temporary electric or pallet fences, bucket feeders/troughs are all fine for use in good weather. In winter, especially in areas where the weather is challenging, then good quality, insulated housing with floors, strong fencing and frost-proof troughs are a must. These can cost quite a bit and only make sense if you're using them regularly over five years or more.

Spring and summer pig keeping means there's little or no need for additional, fenced areas to rotate the pigs into if conditions deteriorate too much in their initial enclosure. As a result, the fencing requirements are much lower. In winter, having a couple of spare areas available for immediate use is a very wise precaution.

Winter pig keeping is much more labour intensive, especially when the water troughs are frozen solid and remain that way for weeks. The ice needs to be removed several times a day and fresh water taken out regularly—pigs dehydrate fast in freezing, dry weather. The pigs also need more frequent checking. (Although they also need more frequent checking in the summer when the temperature goes above 22-24C.)

Mud need not be as much a problem as some people think. Areas of an enclosure can be belly deep in mud, but the pigs won't care provided they have a warm, dry bed and dry areas to stand when they're eating. In our case, we work on a 50:50 basis—moving the pigs to new enclosures when their old one is more than 50% deep mud (more than two inches deep).

Frozen mud is much more of a problem, especially in a heavily churned enclosure. Pigs find it extremely difficult to move around on that sort of surface and can suffer strained leg muscles. I either move them to a fresh enclosure or smash the ground level with a heavy hoe/mattock, then spread straw and wood shavings. (I've broken a couple of hoes doing this!)

On the food side, it seems to depend on the breed and their housing. We've found Berkshires and Saddlebacks would continue to put on condition down to -10C (still air or light winds) if they're kept in insulated huts, with deep straw bedding, warm food, warm water, and a couple of other pigs for warm snuggles. Very Happy Below -10C, the Berkshires won't lose condition with that sort of management but they won't put it on either. They do need extra feed when there's significant windchill—and they should also be fed in sheltered locations when that's the case.

However, we found Tamworth finishers struggled with really cold weather—probably because they're leaner pigs at that age than the Berkshires. Even with extra feed they started losing weight below about -5C or so.

To make winter meals for our pigs, we boil up potatoes, barley and sow rolls, allow it cool to blood temperature, and then dish it out immediately. The exact mix and weight of feed depends on breed, age, purpose (finishers, in-pig sows, dry sows, boars etc) and weather. While the pigs are eating, I clear the troughs of ice and pour in water at blood temperature.

We have insulated huts with floors and have found that even at -15C outside, the inside temperature with three or four pigs in residence can be higher than our kitchen! It's quite common to go out and see steam coming from the doors and ventilation slots. In more exposed locations, it's worth putting heavy rubber or PVC curtains across the doorways to stop the wind entering.

Floors need not be necessary if you can ensure water doesn't flow under the huts. We're on a slope so we have run-off to deal with, plus the pigs like to excavate holes inside their huts when it's too cold to go out. Without floors, the huts soon become indoor swimming pools.

In cold weather, ie down to about -10C with little or no wind, I check the pigs every 3-4 hours. More often if we have piglets, although they're usually in the byre with a heated creep. If the wind gets up or the temperature drops lower, then it's every two hours. And that includes blizzards with wind speeds of 40mph plus. It's not pleasant.

The pigs are usually settled for the night by about 2300 and I can usually leave them until 0530-0600. The exception being severe blizzards when wind gusts in excess of 60mph can, occasionally, shift the huts. Then I have very long nights, wading through chest deep snow to do my rounds.

Having said all that, it is entirely possible to finish pigs outside over the winter and give yourself a year-round supply of good pork. But bear in mind that it is very hard work, there are absolutely no days off and it helps immeasurably to already have a good knowledge of pigs and their needs. It can also be extremely dangerous—I've been blown headfirst into a strainer post and knocked out, blown off the roof of a hut that I was lying on as I fixed the roof, and fallen on slick ice more times than I can remember. You don't want to be knocked out and lying in the snow for any length of time without someone knowing where you are and coming to check.

If you're a full-time smallholder or crofter with a lot of winter livestock experience under your belt, eg with sheep and cattle, then you should be able to manage although summer experience of pigs would help. For anyone else, though, we'd suggest keeping pigs through spring, summer and autumn for a couple of years before trying the winter experience.


Oh, and there a few winter pics on my flicker photostream to give some idea of our winter conditions...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stonehead/sets/72157623555373842/
MoJo

Good grief! What a lot to think about. Excellent post, by the way Smile
dan1

Many thanks for that Stonehead. Summer it is, then
Stonehead

I've talked three novices out of buying weaners from me in the past fortnight. Sigh. I really should keep my mouth shut if I want to sell weaners in autumn! Either that, or tell everyone how cute pigs are in the snow.
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