How to Raise Pigs on Pasture

Pasturing pigs isn’t a new idea. In fact, hogs have been raised in American meadows and woodlots since our country’s inception. Long before confinement barns, farrowing crates and manure lagoons became industry norms, pastured pigs were raised and finished on grass from coast to coast. From the A-frame pasture sleds of the Midwest to the oak-rich mountains of Appalachia, free-range pork has long been a brushstroke on our agricultural landscape. My own grandfather, who considered swine an afterthought to his primary orchard and cattle business, took time to turn hogs loose amongst his apple trees from fall to spring. They gleaned fallen fruit, rooted up mouse nests, and fertilized the soil, all for pennies on the dollar. On a diversified farm, raising free-range hogs makes sense and cents. Despite a rich tradition of pastured pig husbandry, a generation of experience and know-how was lost during the second half of the 20th century. As producers abandoned traditional outdoor systems and embraced confinement hog buildings, decades of hard-won wisdom quietly slipped through our fingers. When I began farming full-time in the mid 1990s, information about free-range pig systems at that time amounted to a few paragraphs in How To livestock books, or imaginative applications such as Polyface’s now famous Pi

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10 thoughts on “How to Raise Pigs on Pasture

  1. Thank you very much for your article. My son is actively involved in the 4-H Market Hog project, and he has been interested in starting a small pasture based operation to meet the demand in our area for pasture pork. I look forward to checking out your web site. If you’re on twitter you can follow us at @4HMan

  2. What a pleasant surprise on Sunday. I went into our church library,
    White Plains UMC in Cary, NC and was browsing the shelves..and there you were…was happy to see that someone had bought your book for our church. Don’t know who suggested it, but am anxious to find out.
    Steve and I have a copy, but I have yet to read it. It is definitely on my soon to read schedule.
    Wishing you and your family well.
    Connie Barron Washburn (from Shepherdstown)

  3. Hi Forrest,
    This was a very informative article, thank you. Am I understanding you correctly that you do not allow your pigs to dig wallows in your most recent iteration?

    I’m getting some pigs this year for the first time, and I’ve been led to beleive that they need to be able to get mud on their skin for heat/sun/insect protection. But it sounds like you take steps to prevent wallowing, and you’re in a hotter part of the country than I am (in NY).

    Thanks,
    Edmund

  4. We do something similar but with about a decade’s more refinement. We use managed rotational grazing with our pigs. We learned it on sheep decades ago and the same basic principles apply to pigs, chickens and other animals. The result is gradual improvement in our soils and our pigs get the vast majority of their feed from pasture – we buy no commercial hog feed or grains but are able to raise about 400 pigs this way, breeding through farrowing to finish delivering weekly to area stores and restaurants as well as individuals. Once you get the kinks worked out and things smooth it’s a matter of rinse and repeat with gradual refinements over the years.

    One other thing we do is our sacrificial area is our winter paddocks – for the months on end when we’re up high on snow pack. During the warm season we grow acres of pumpkins, sunflowers, beets, turnips and other crops there which become fall and winter food for our livestock. They do the fertilizing and weeding as well as harvesting. We just have to plant and fence.

    1. Walter, this sounds amazing, and exactly how I’d imagine a version 4.0 (or beyond) taking shape. Would love to know more. Where are you located, and do you have a website I can check out?

      1. Hi Forrest,

        We are up in the mountains of central Vermont. We don’t do physical visits for biosecurity reasons (read up on PEDv) since we have multiple genetic lines we need to protect. But the good news I have an extensive blog at http://SugarMtnFarm.com with about 2,000 articles on it that goes into quite a bit of detail about how we do things including pasturing pigs using managed rotational grazing, dealing with winter in our deep snow climate, support staff like chickens, etc. That virtual visitation is actually better than a physical visit because you can see our farm over a period of the past nine years through all five seasons of the year.

        On the wallows, they are important during hot weather, as is shade, of course. Mud helps with temperature regulation, skin protection from the sun, insects and is good for beauty makeovers – so say the pigs. Here in the winter the wallows aren’t used. Like with pastures, our wallows get rotation although not as much as pasture gets as there are some central wallows that get shared by several pastures. Due to our cold season though they get rotated off much of the year as they’re frozen solid and buried beneath deep snow in winter.

        Keep on fine tuning your systems, go for 4.0, 5.0, etc. Keep observing and incrementally improving things. What works for one person will give others ideas but often needs localization to adjust for differences in climate, genetics, forages, etc.

        Cheers,

        -Walter Jeffries
        Sugar Mountain Farm
        in the mountains of Vermont

    2. It would be great to get in touch with you
      We started heritage pasture pigs and do multy spices intensive rotational grazing to rehabilitate pasture and build soil.

  5. Thanks Bill. Indeed, we get our share of snow in the Shenandoah Valley, often arriving in the form of 8-12 inches a clip. Having the pigs trained to walk to the feeders is especially useful during snowstorms, as they can readily break a trail in snow as deep as 2 feet. The real benefit comes after the snow melt, as hoof traffic remains spread out during boggy, semi-frozen conditions. Every little trick helps, keeping that pasture robust for spring green up.

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