Notes on Hog Raising from the 2010 SSAWG Conference

Every year, the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) holds a conference during January.  This past year was our first, and Karla and I were able to take a few days vacation to attend the conference which was held in Chattanooga.  During this conference, I attended as many livestock raising topics as possible, and made sure to attend all the Hog raising topics.  Here’s a few notes from some of the Hog topics:

  • Kimberlie Cole of WestWind Farms had a topic on multispecies grazing.  She has a theory that grazing Hogs at 70 AU/Acre (70,000 lbs to the acre) will keep the hogs grazing uniformly with frequent rotations.  I say theory because after her presentation, I asked her of her experience with this, and she shared that they are just beginning to understand how to make this work.  Their goal is to limit damage to the pasture from the hogs.  She also notes that Cattle will only follow Hogs after a minimum 30 day pasture rest.  She uses a 2-3 year rotation with the pigs to reduce parasite susceptibility.  She finishes her hogs at 230-250 pounds in 9 months.  Also, they use field peas instead of soy for protein as we do. 
  • Chuck Talbott of Pig Perfect fame had a topic on finishing hogs on acorns and curing high end hams.  He is selling hams in Atlanta to discriminating consumers for $20/pound.  These hams are cured for 2 years.  To enable a 2 year cure, you must start with 2″ of backfat (or the ham will dry out).  Chuck is trying to develop a Ham consortium in the region.  Chuck is looking for the same kink of marbling as Angus Steak…the marbling is expensive to produce, and is the last segment of growth.  Chuck uses Farmers Hybrid Hogs and does AI with semen from IBS.  The Niche Market goal is 3.5% to 4% marbling, ultimate ph of 5.7 to 6.1, % dry loss 3-6, and must have a good kill at processor.  All your work can be ruined by adreneline at the processor.  Also, use tattoos on your pigs to ensure you get your hogs back from the processor.  Chuck feeds barley instead of corn during the last 6 weeks…the last 6 weeks is the most important for flavor.  “If you keep hogs too long on an area, they will create an undersirable moonscape, and will begin girdling trees.  Where you have leaves and mulch you do not get the smell.  Tamworths do not put on the fat – they are a very lean animal.  Went from 2% to 5% organic matter in 2 years with Sows and leaves.  Cows and hogs will reduce softwood trees by girdling…manage numbers to promote acorn and grass production in the wooded areas.  Chuck keeps them on Mast for 8 weeks from Sept to Oct in WV.  He recommends Sows that are good mothers and wean 8-10 piglets.  Observation – Rotation – Observation.  Plant as much protein as you can.  Puts red flagging on electrical wire so pigs can see.  Does a whoop to signify feeding time.  Acorns really come down after 1st freeze.  Chuck farrows in Jan/Feb and harvests in November.  Recommends to base your farrowing time on feed type during last six weeks of finishing.   During part 2 of Chuck’s presentation, he shared his experience traveling to Spain to research Iberian Hams.  Iberian hams are harvested at 18 months of age and about 360 pounds live weight.  They gain about 100 pounds on the acorns.  The shoulders and hams have enough fat available to cure for extended periods – 1 yr for shoulders and 2 yrs for Hams.  The Europeans exclusively use barley which gives a much better flavor than corn/soy.  Chuck thinks for US, we could use barley/rape for Spring finishing and Pumpkins/Acorns for Fall finishing. 

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