MAE Farm Hog Production Workshop held October 3, 2011
Written by Aimee Schmidt, Silver Lining Institute
The workshop was held on a beautiful, yet chilly morning at Mike and Suzanne Jones' 75-acre farm near Louisburg, NC. Twenty-four people, including a couple from Georgia, came prepared to learn about winter farrowing, castration of baby pigs, sow movement and loading hogs for delivery to market. Attendees included farmers running active hog operations, extension agents, CEFS researchers looking for ways to reduce environmental damage caused by pigs on pasture, and farmers just beginning a pasture operation.
Mike took us through his morning chores, which included tending to the 6 sows and 60 piglets in the farrowing huts and gently separating mother from piglet
before removing the males for castration, roughly 50% of most litters. Mike took advantage of this process to identify piglets for possible breeding stock. Both
sexes need 12-14 pair of uniformly spaced teats for nursing and passage of this inherited trait from the boars. Species uniformity is reduced in hogs born and
raised outside of confinement and signs of physical abnormalities (lameness, etc.) are less pronounced in the absence of the rigid flooring found in confinement operations.
Taking advantage of natural behavior, Mike fed the sows later than usual to intensify hunger, which would distract them enough to make removing their piglets less stressful. Performing the castrations out of sight and hearing range also reduces the sow's stress level and any resentment she may harbor for causing her piglets to squeal.
Mike is a skilled teacher. He demonstrated three castration techniques, pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of each. He helped those who were
interested in a hands-on experience, giving encouragement and direction as they rounded the learning curve. Mike chose to castrate all the piglets, ranging in age from 1-3 weeks, to illustrate the rate of rapid organ development, which should dictate the castration method chosen for each stage of development. Mike prefers to castrate at 3 weeks because it allows time for essential bonding and nurturing that can minimize stress and promote rapid healing.
Once the piglets were reunited with the sows, we were invited to watch several market weight hogs guided onto a trailer, then into a covered carrier for the ride to the slaughterhouse. Taking advantage of natural and anticipated behavior, the hogs were taken from their wooded home to the back of a waiting truck before we could even get our cameras ready for the photo shoot! Patience and a calm demeanor reward Mike with the pride that comes from knowing these hogs lived a full, low stress life from birth to market weight.
Questions elicited a great deal of discussion on a wide range of subjects, from production costs to marketing strategies, summarized below. Mike is also available to small scale, independent growers for farm assessment and other private consultation services. He can be reached at 252-204-2766 and email@example.com.
Purchasing a new tractor every two years reduces down time and is cost effective when one lacks mechanical ability. Feed is made to order, blending corn and soy to ensure rapid, lean growth and can be altered to meet changing dietary needs. Feed conversion ratio is roughly 3.5-5# of feed per 1# of weight gain. An overall cost: income ratio is roughly $550:$900, providing a $250 profit per hog, and it is far less expensive to raise lean hogs than fat ones.
Vaccinations are only administered as needed; however, treatment for parasites is required to maintain healthy animals. Common ailments and the handful of acceptable treatments were discussed.
Breeds and Gestation Cycle
Mike works with a number of breeds and crosses. Berkshires are known for efficiency in gaining weight and greater proportion of lean meat. The Chester White is known for mothering ability, durability, and structural soundness. The Duroc breed is noted for prolific egg production, good longevity and outstanding terminal siring ability. Tamworth is a bacon type hog and females make good mothers in spite of the fact that they lack body depth. All breeding stock is born on MAE farm and detailed records are kept of sow/boar pairings. Gestation has been narrowed to 114 days. Sows give birth twice a year, averaging 10.5 piglets per litter comparable to the annual 22-23 piglets produced through artificial insemination in confinement operations. Egg production (22-40) in a sow increases with age.
These North Carolina processors are all USDA inspected. Acre Station and Bailey Foods offer both slaughter and processing while Weeping Radish provides after-slaughter processing only.
Acre Station Foods Pinetown (Beaufort) - acrestationmeatfarm.com
Bailey Foods Bailey (Nash) (252) 235-3558
Weeping Radish Jarvisburg (Currituck) - weepingradish.com
Paddocks, Rotation Schedule and Stocking Strategy
Acre-sized paddocks were initially planted to fescue, rye and clover but natural fertilization has produced native grasses including Sicklepod and Pigweed, which pigs love. Once compacted, paddocks are left fallow for one year to allow soil and groundcover to regenerate. Hogs are rotated among paddocks before the soil becomes so compacted it will not allow regeneration.
Barrows and gilts are ready for market at 250#. Mike no longer works with processors that require an exact weight, reducing the need to physically weigh animals and bring out of spec hogs back to the farm.
Sales and Marketing Strategy
Success is achieved by providing the consumer a wide variety of products with consistently high quality.
Additional photos from this workshop may be viewed here.