This is Botany Bay Farms third year raising pigs and so far we’ve been growing steadily with our hog production, our first, second and third years we have raised out, 10, 25, and 33 hogs respectively. As some may know our hog raising season is from approximately mid March to early November. Those acquainted with Northwest weather know that our weather can take a turn for the worst and put down a couple inches of rain in a day or two. If we were to put our pigs out on pasture at the early stage of about March to late April they would damage the ground almost irrecoverably and while not only being vulnerable to issues like pneumonia would pug up the ground (compacting the top soil so that it does not allow rain to drain further into the ground). Because of these eventualities we need to keep them somewhere warm and healthy for around 2 months. We have tried different methods for housing them but the current model seems to work best for us. During last December we built 2 hoop houses (metal hoops covered in greenhouse plastic) one of which housed the chickens for the colder part of winter and after we cleared out the chickens residual bedding it now houses our pigs in their formative days. The reason for having them in a hoop house vs. what seems to be standard in pig farming i.e. a dark barn, the clear plastic not only allows heat to be trapped in the greenhouse but also lets in UV rays which actually break down and kill the DNA and RNA of pathogens which might be in some manures.
In some ways we treat our hoop house setup as a training ground for what the pig’s future holds. First of all, when they go out on pasture they will need to be managed with the aid of electric fence. So to make sure that our pigs have respect for this wire before they leave we set up a 6 ft strip of electrified wire in their pen. After a few questioning touches with their noses the pig develops a healthy respect for the wire at a very young age. It’s interesting to note that many people who raise pigs rotationally on pasture complain about their pigs not respecting the fence and it is usually because they miss this vital step.
Also because our pigs will be expected to root and forage when they’re on pasture we train them by sprouting grain a few inches under their bedding. Before we bring the piglets into the hoop house we laid down a mix of barley, wheat, oats and peas and then lightly douse them with water. Then over that we put down a couple inches of semi damp wood chips. When this was finished we made sure both hoop house doors were shut, ensuring the most effective growing conditions (high temperatures and high humidity). Five days after this we brought the pigs into the hoop house and almost immediately they showed interest in digging and rooting for the now sprouted grain which while not only tasting sweeter to the pig is higher in fiber, protein, ash, and lipids (fat soluble vitamins). The only thing we would change in the future would be avoiding smaller grains like barley, wheat and oats, as they are easier to be ignored by the pigs and are a smaller grain over all.