While we started farming with poultry, it didn't take long for the hogs to
become the real star of our farm. Originally, I purchased two pigs to
fatten and put in our freezer. I fed them on table scraps, garden waste,
and by-products of our poultry farm such as infertile eggs from the
incubator and offal from processing. These two grew fast and were super
easy keepers. I was hooked on hogs.
I went back to where I purchased the pair and asked more questions. As it
turns out, none of the hogs in his breeding program had a single ancester
raised in a commercial confinement house. Mostly they were bred from
Durocs and Poland China's with a touch of Danish Landrace in there
somewhere. They didn't medicate or otherwise baby their hogs. They did
separate the sows for farrowing, so that was one thing I wanted to change.
I purchased the next two entire litters born on their farm in advance.
I raised 20 of those pigs in a wooded lot on my farm, never giving them any
medications or wormers. Two of them had problems with worms and stayed
thin. The other 18 looked great. I choose two boars and cut the rest of
the males. I let the 12 gilts farrow once, then I culled based on the
results. I culled in favor of low aggression, good mothering, parasite
resistance of offspring, and higher weaned piglet numbers. Lucky for me,
the two best gilts were from one littler and the best boar was from the
other. These 3 formed the core of my breeding program. Years later, I
still have those same three and they are still going strong.
I brought in outside bloodlines to supplement the genetics in the herd:
Guinea Hog, Ossabaw, Tamworth, Hampshire, and Large Black. I wanted to add
foraging and grazing ability, better mothering, and improved carcass
quality. Some expensive heritage hogs I brought in just could not perform
in this environment. I actually had three just flat out die! Ossabaw
Island Hogs and Tamworths proved to be beneficial while the rest were
eventually culled. I have culled hogs for many reasons: too aggressive
towards me or towards piglets, accidentally crushing piglets in the nest,
too much white (sunburn), and even for letting a dog kill three of her
piglets. If they don't perform, then they have to go.
My hogs run as a single herd on about 6 acres of pasture and woods. The
sows farrow outdoors and are never separated from the herd. My boar has
never shown a single sign of aggression towards any piglets, I've even
seen them snuggle up to him for warmth.
I manage them almost like you might think ranches manage their cattle. I
just let them do their own thing, make sure they always have fresh water
and some feed to supplement the pasture, and I occasionally round them up
into a corral to ear-tag the new piglets, castrate as needed, or load some
up for sale or processing.
I don't know of anyone who raises hogs like this. I feel that it really
replicates their natural life and makes for healthy, happy animals.
It only works if you have the right sows. I am fairly confident that there
isn't a heritage hog out there that could outperform my cross-bred sows in
this environment with this style of management.
I was lucky in that the land I now farm was once my great-grandfathers
farm. Some of my earliest memories are of riding with him to sell some of
his pigs at the livestock market. There is a reason he raised pigs here.
The pastures are surrounded by oaks and mulberries. I realized how great
this environment was after reading J. Russel Smith's Tree
Crops. Based on what I learned in that book, I planted over five
hundred trees: persimmon, crabapple, wild plum, willow oak, honey locust,
paw paw, american chestnut, and Virginia pine Christmas trees. What was
once acres of monocropped GMO corn and soybeans will one day be a
savannah. This is silvapasture.
I primarily sell feeder pigs, but I hold the best two gilts from every
litter and one boar per year. I put more weight on these and record
observations. Those with a fault wind up as BBQ pigs. The others either
are retained as replacements or sold as breeders.
This year I grew out eleven gilts and a boar. Only three of those gilts
were judged as faults and eight were marked as breeders. I decided to
retain one, a half Ossabaw gilt with coloring and head shape of an Ossabaw
hog and the size and body confirmation of my boar. Hopefully she will have
the foraging and mothering ability of an Ossabaw but the large litter size
of my other sows. The other gilts and the boar are on sale via Craigslist.
If you are interested in buying meat for your freezer, feeders pigs to
raise yourself, or breeding stock, please contact me for availability.