Editors Note: This piece comes to us from David Fogle of Spring Hill Farms in Newark, Ohio. David grew up raising hogs and began raising them on pasture in 1999. He primarily works with Tamworths, selling them director customers and as breeding stock and feeder pigs. You can learn more by downloading his free pig buyer’s guide.
Over the years I’ve had pigs fall apart on pasture. By “fall apart” I mean everything from not gain weight nearly as fast as others in the same pasture to the whole lot of them were having trouble thriving.
In some cases they have had to be rescued from the pasture and propped up with crutches in order to thrive.
What’s the cause of this? It would be nice if I could narrow it down to one particular reason but many times it’s a combination of things that are contributing. Let’s look at a few of them.
Overly Optimistic about Your Pasture Quality.
Pigs need high quality pasture in order for it to be anything other than a supplement to grain. Think clover, or other legumes as a good percentage of the field.
Running Young Pigs on Pasture with too Little Feed.
The general rule is the younger the pig, the less he is able to utilize roughage from the pasture. You can not take pigs that are just weaned and turn them out on grass without plenty of feed supplementation and expect them to thrive. They’ll fall apart.
Relying on Alternative Feeds as a Main Feed Source
I’ve seen small farmers attempt to feed hogs everything you can think of from stale bread to produce items, to distiller grains and everything in between. Hogs are pretty good at eating what they are given but it will usually show up in health and weight gain.
Some alternative feeds are fine but learn some nutritional facts about swine before attempting to launch out into something that could cost you tons of time and pork in the end.
Not Catching the Clues of Pigs Starting to Fall Apart.
As an old farmer used to tell me “You need to know if an animal isn’t doing well before it does.”
Spend time observing your pigs on a daily basis. Learn what pigs look like and how they behave when they’re healthy and thriving. When something seems different it usually means trouble. Get on top of it before it ship wrecks your pigs health.
Choosing the Wrong Pig for Pasture.
With the term “heritage breed pig” being thrown around all over the internet many folks wrongly assume this is the holy grail of pastured pigs.
It should be a head start in the right direction but it’s simply not a guarantee that pigs will do well on grass. Many of the heritage breed pigs are being moved away from what made them great by breeding for different goals then the small farmer would have.
If you see a certain heritage breed showing up at all the fairs and in show pig magazines you can bet the breeder of those pigs has a different set of goals in his breeding program than will fit into your small farm with much success.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t lines within those breeds that are being developed for pasture and old time hog raising. Just don’t assume that heritage breed automatically means good pasture hog. This issue exists in Tamworths, but it exists in some other heritage breeds as well.
Another issue is we have is the many small farmers who are breeding pigs with little or no experience in putting together a breeding program that will move them forward in their goals…assuming they have clear goals.
Raising pigs on pasture successfully is both an art and science. Study, plan carefully, and observe others. But most importantly get some pigs and learn as you go!