Hog Raising Must Dooz and Hard Lessons

  1. Never run out of food.  We use these feeders from Brower.  We’ve tried several other options, but these are the only trouble free feeders we’ve used.
  2. Never run out of water.  We use the P-80 Waterers from Franklin.  Still need to figure out how to set these up with a float valve for auto-filling. 
  3. Don’t scrimp on fencing.  Must have electric with strong perimeter.  Check the fence often as the pigs will if you don’t.  We have hog and combo panels from TSC.  We have had electric off and on, and are currently learning our lesson with the electric fence. 
  4. Keep them stupid.  This one is related to #3.  If the pigs ever get out, they will continue trying to get out again unless you can make them stupid again…which takes time and strong electric fencing.

Right now, I’m out of town, and the some of the pigs have gotten out.  They got out earlier this week when we were getting some timber cut in their area.  So…we’re learning #4 again the hard way.

Persimmon Yield Update #2

From Chestnut Hill Tree Farm:  “Kaki Persimmons are a profitable orchard crop.  Grown commercially in California (primarily the variety Jiro, but sold as Fuyu), orchards of non-astringent varieties can produce yields of up to 10,000 lbs/acre and bring prices of $1.00/lb or more wholesale.  Persimmons are fairly easy to grow, with few major pests.  Non-astringent cultivars can be harvested while just showing color and shipped readily in standard fruit packing boxes.  Even astringent varieties, when picked still hard, will ripen completely on the shelf over several weeks, making it an easy crop to bring to market.”

From an Indian newspape article:  “…On an average, a fully-grown tree yields up to 200 kilograms of the fruit in a year,” Mahajan said.  At 2.2 pounds per kilo, that is 440 pounds a tree…at 50 trees to the acre, that works out to 22,000 pounds per acre.

From a European Study:  “The productivity of the ‘Rojo Brillante’ is higher than that of varieties grown in Italy. Pirazzoli(1998) pointed out an average yield of 17 t/ha and 26 t/ha in Emilia Romagna and Campania respectively. Although most optimists pointed to an average yield of ‘Rojo Brillante’ in the Ribera del Xúquer of 60 t/ha, we admit that it may be half (i.e. 30 t/ha).”  At 2.47 Hectare to the Acre, 17-30 Tons per hectare equals 13,600 to 24,000 pounds per acre.

Green Oats – the anchor crop for the Winter Forage Trilogy

When we plant oats in the fall, they quickly germinate and cover the soil with a beautiful green carpet.  The 1920 book by Charles Dawson, Success with Hogs, states that “while these plants are not over 6 or 8 inches high, they contain a higher per cent of protein than do alfalfa or clover.”    Alfalfa in the ground has between 13 and 22% crude protein, so that is some healthy protein in the green oats.  This spreadsheet shows 16% for an Oat and Pea mixture.  A great book written in 1940 by 3 University of Georgia professors, Swine Production in the South, states “On good land Oats can be grazed from November to May.  Experiments show that pigs grazing on green oats gain much more rapidly than those fed the same ration without grazing.”  Concentrates can be reduced 30 percent when pigs are afforded good oat pasture.  “An acre of oats will furnish green grazing for from 8 to 16 pigs.”  A word of caution, “In the piedmont and mountain areas of the South…oats often freeze during the winter”.  Rye and Wheat can be used instead.  Adding AWPs or Vetch to the Oat pasture will “give much better grazing and legumes are very valuable in soil building.” 

A study done by the 3 UGA professors showed that 3.9 acres of Oats and Winter Legumes in combination with self fed concentrates led to a daily gain of 1.8 pounds/day and 4787 pounds of pork from a herd of 39 fall litter pigs.  In contrast, the pigs only given the concentrates gained 1.5 pounds per day and about a 1000 pounds less pork.  Clearly the forage is not only significantly adding to the health of the pigs (and most importantly, the health of the meat), but also makes great economic sense.  The question I have is how much weight will the pigs gain per day on just the pasture with a mineral supplement?  Or will they gain?  Something for us to experiment with…and blog about in the future.

Honey Locust as Livestock Feed

Ever heard of a Honey Locust Tree?  Not sure that I had prior to reading Tree Crops.  Most of the quotes that you will see in this blog entry are from J. Russell Smith’s book or from this Winrock Factsheet.  I had heard of Black Locust (used for fence posts in Georgia), so if you are familiar with Black Locust, understand that they are related.  Both trees are native to the US…and the State of Georgia as well. 

Honey Locust is interesting  because of its seed pods of up to 18 inches in length.  The beans contain up to 13% protein, and the pods contain up to 42% carbohydrates.  Preliminary testing in the early 1940′s at Auburn “have shown that ground honey locust pods are equivelant in feed value to oats, pound for pound…”  5 year old trees at an Alabama Experiment Station yielded 58.3 pounds of pods per tree.  At 48 trees per acre, that’s almost 2800 pounds per acre…for five year old trees!

Another intriguing fact about the Honey Locust is that it is a Legume tree…though the Winrock article says that the roots do not fix nitrogen from the air.  It is also noted that the Honey Locust is a great tree for Silvopasture due to a canopy that permits the infiltration of light.

The planting at Auburn was planted with Sericea Lespedeza (a perennial forage we can write about in a future blog), and the following was noted…”Having a combination of honey locust and Lespedeza Sericea, the following benefits are derived over a period of years:

  1. Soil is completely protected.
  2. A concentrate and hay can be produced on the same area.
  3. A good grazing and feeding-out program can be maintained.
  4. Low seed and management costs over a period of years.
  5. Weed control.
  6. Low Labor requirement.
  7. Maximum production from the soil.

That’s enough convincing for me…I’m going to add some of these to our Hog feeding forest of Oak, Persimmon, Crabapple, and now Honey Locust.  Next step is to draw out a plan for where to plant everything we will plant this winter.

Persimmon Update – Yield Information?

Update – On vacation this week, so am having alot more time than usual to research obscure historical Hog feeding facts.  Did find a little more information on Persimmons though…Yield data is difficult to find on American Persimmons, but this link did list the yield at 35-75 pounds per tree.  With a planting of 100 trees to the acre, that works out to 3500 to 7500 pounds of persimmons to the acre.  Whew…seems like alot.  Another link lists the yield at 5-7 Tons/Acre.  Tree Crops lists some nutrition for Persimmons in its appendix.  The Persimmon is listed as having 35.17% Total Solids, .78 % Ash, .88% Protein, 31.74% Sugars, and 1.43% Crude Fiber.

Also found the following that was quoted out of a USDA Farmers Bulletin #686 written in 1915, “The Native Persimmon”:

“The planting plan varies with the type of tree desired.  If it seems desirable to grow low-headed trees with the expectation of producing large fruit that can be readily picked by hand, the permanent trees should be placed at least 16 or, better still, 20 feet apart each way. If, however, a large bulk of fruit is desired as stock feed to be scraped from the ground or picked up by animals, a fair degree of success may be expected if the trees are planted 10 feet apart each way.”

“Probably the persimmon can be more successfully intercropped than any other fruit tree, owing to the depth of its root system.  Blackberries, dewberries, strawberries, and vegetables thrive very well among persimmons until the shade becomes too dense. When the trees shade the ground, it is best to seed down the orchard if it is to be used as a run for chickens, calves, pigs, or other animals and the fruit used as stock feed.”

“Probably the most common use of the fruit is as feed for hogs. As a rule, the hogs are merely turned loose in lots where persimmon trees have come up naturally. Some, however, who appreciate the value of this fruit as stock feed have set out orchards in order to provide a definite supply for this purpose. If varieties are selected which ripen in a continuous sequence, the fruit will, in some sections, furnish forage for hogs from the last of August until early winter. A small area devoted to persimmons can thus be made a valuable asset for any general farm located in a persimmon district which includes hogs among its stock.”

Still need to understand how many Hogs can feed from an acre of Persimmons…have found a few clues, but nothing definitive.  Maybe can research the above nutrition information and convert to Hog feed…

Converting Cutover Land to Perennial Pasture and Cropland with Hogs

When Karla and I were looking for land, we had narrowed down our purchase to two choices.  The first choice was a small parcel of Pasture land with a few Pecan trees on the edge.  This land was productive at that moment (used for hay), but being sprayed with conventional chemicals.  The biggest drawback to us though was the scalability.  The land was priced high (this was back in 2006 or 2007 prior to the drop in the market)…I think 6 or 8 thousand per acre.  We could not see our way to this land ever supporting much income, so we eliminated this property from consideration and made an offer on our farm in Twiggs County, GA.  The benefits to our farm are size/scalability, (a short) distance from our current home, no chemicals for as long as anyone can remember (it was in timber with plenty of “weed” trees),  no covenents or other restrictions, and the opportunity to craft it into the farm we wanted. 

The drawback to our farm is that when we purchased it, most of it was covered in low grade pines.  We have since had about half of the pines harvested, and have a contract to remove another section of pines this year.  We will end the year with about 1/3 of the property wooded…both along the two wet-weather streams or in our recently created 10 acre Silvopasture area.  This means of the other 2/3, about 80% of it is cutover land.  Cutover land is the generally the cheapest land on the market for a good reason…it requires alot of work to do anything with it but reforest the land.  The only thing worse than cutover land is 10 year old cutover land – this land will be covered in unmarketable trees and bushes, and will really take alot of work to get back into production.

Cutover land is almost impossible to work with a tractor.  The stumps are not all equal height, the “weed” trees were simply knocked down (so they’re still attached to their roots), and what wasn’t knocked down in some cases is too big for the bush hog.  The quick way to convert this land into pasture is to hire a dozer and track hoe to lift the trees up by their roots, pile them up, and rootrake/smooth the ground to get rid of large holes and roots.  This can cost $1250/acre to hire out though.  Another way is to hire a mulcher to mulch all of the remaining material.  But then, unless the mulch contractor has a track hoe or stumpcutter, you still will have to deal with the stumps.  And the mulch will be a little too large to allow grass to grow without quite a bit of raking work to move it out of the way….and the cost will be not much less than the dozer/hoe.

So, enter our Livestock Clearing Land Plan.  We have begun putting this plan into practice, but have made a few mistakes.  We’ll share those mistakes and then how we will move forward with leveraging the livestock (primarily the hogs) to convert the cutover land into pasture or cropland.  Just to be clear, we didn’t make this up.  There is an online book written in 1951 (isn’t that what mcmli means) called Fertility Farming that in a few paragraphs covered the technique of improving poor land with Hogs very well.  Joel Salatin has also started using a variation of this method as shown on his most recent video Polyface Revisited and as described in this Stockman Grass Farmer article.

So far we have learned that you cannot feed the hogs too much and expect them to do an effective job clearing land – the hogs must be at least a little hungry to get them active.  We have also learned that it takes more than a few Hogs to get the competition up to a level that will encourage grazing and rooting.  So, stocking rate is important.  We will attempt this again this Fall with a small paddock of about an 1/8 of an acre enclosing our 16 Feeder Pigs.  I will move them either when 1000 lbs of feed is consumed or the paddock appears sufficienty cleared.  Moving forward into 2010, our feeder pig numbers should be closer to 20, and we’ll try that group on a 1/4 acre and a ton of feed.  Then rotate to the next 1/4 acre.  The time between rotations will be about 20 days assuming a 5lb a day feed appetite. 

As the pigs rotate to the next 1/4 acre, we will plant a Protein source on the land just vacated.  To accomplish this, we will lightly prepare the ground (very lightly until the stumps are soft enough for a light spading).  For preparation, we will smooth the land, knock down any large weed trees that the pigs didn’t get, and expose enough soil so that a crop can be broadcast.  Then we will broadcast either Oats, Canola, or Peas as the appropriate crop from our Year Round Hog Feeding System.  Using this process we will touch about 2 acres every six months with each 20 feeder pigs.  So, for the 75 pigs we will produce in 2011, the pigs will help us clear about 8 acres.  

This 8 acres of clearing will not meet our goals for land conversion in 2011, so we’ll need to consider other options as well.  The primary other option we’re already doing, but can certainly be improved upon…rotating our Pineywoods and Katahdin Sheep through the cutover.  They are eating everything green and having a great impact on the land.  We’re also supplementing their foraging with imported hay which is increasing the fertility level of the soil.  Another option that will only be used as last resort is prescribed burning the cutover.  I would much rather convert the green matter in the cutover into poop…I mean fertilizer…than convert it into ash.  Though ash does have fertilizer value…these two options will be the subject of future blog posts.

Notes on Hog Raising from the 2010 Georgia Organics Conference

During February 2010, Karla and I attended the Georgia Organics conference in Athens.  Again, I attended every topic related to Hog raising, and went on a tour of Nature’s Harmony Farm of Elberton, GA who has some great practices for raising pigs.  Here are my marginally coherent notes related to raising Hogs:

  • The Swancy Family of Riverview Farms in Ranger, GA had a discussion of their CSA and Hogs.  Riverview has a 75 person Meat CSA (same size as Nature’s Harmony).  They also sell to restaurants, but describe it as a difficult experience.  Grows Barley to mix with the Soybeans for the pig feed.  Has on farm Soybean roaster, and cleans the soybeans prior to roasting to limit the smell.  Has done field peas in the past, but quit using them due to taking twice the acreage for 1/2 the feed.  Riverview gets their processing done 12 miles up the road and does 12 pigs per week, does paperwrap meat and finishes pigs at 190-240 pounds.  Doesn’t have a worm problem, reports that pigs don’t like summer squash, but do like tomatoes and melons.  Uses permanent hog wire with hot wire along bottom.  Runs about 50 Sows, All Berkshires, and averages 8 piglets.
  • Jason Mann of Full Moon Farms and Moonshine Meats uses two wires 6″ and 18″ to confine pigs, and spends alot of time training the pigs to the wire.  They finish 75-100 hogs/year.  Uses a circular paddock system with 2 acre paddocks and concrete under water and feed.  Uses Berkshire and Tamwork.  Berkshire is great eating hog with good temperaments, and teh Tamworths are sturdy, red, leaner, and have great bacon. 
  • Nature’s Harmony has a 75 person Meat CSA with a waitlist of 150.  Ossabaws take 15 months to market, Berkshires 7-8 months.  Uses Stafix x3 Battery Chargers.  Sows Turnips on the ground that the pigs left.  Feeds less than a gallon per day of whey/hog…also supplements with peanuts.  Was raising the Ossabaws and Berkshires in the woods, but had Large Black out on pasture (and they were eating the pasture as opposed to rooting the pasture).

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. 

Organic Soil Amendments

To improve our soil organically, we amend with naturally occurring substances that are proven to slowly and thoroughly alter the productivity and release their benefit over an extended period of time.  Our primary amendment so far has been lime.  Our soils in the Coastal Plain area of the country are natuarally acidic and require periodic applications o lime.  We have applied between one and two tons/acre to several areas of the farm.  Don’t think we’ll do the two tons again, but we did not see any negative impacts from that application.

For Nitrogen, we primarily utilize the benefits of legumes and the nutrient cycling of the livestock.  We are not fans of conventional chicken litter, so do not leverage this organic source. 

For Phosphorus, we amend with Rock Phosphate.  Recommendations of from 500 to 2000 pounds per acre can be found for Rock Phosphate.  Do to the cost, we apply about 500lb/acre annually on a portion of our land..  Countryside Natural Products sells this for $400/ton.

For Potassium, we amend with Greensand.  500 to 4000 pounds per acre is the recommended application rate.  Due to the cost, we apply about 500 lbs/acre annually of Greensand as well on a portion of our land.  7SpringsFarm sells this for about $500/ton.

We have been getting our soil tested through UGA and our local extension agent.  The tests have been thorough and well put together.  An additional bonus is that they will email them to you so you can save a digital copy.

My next step with soil productivity is to send our soil samples to a Organic Soil Consultant, and get their feedback.  The July 2010 issue of Acres USA had a great article comparing the philosophies of a few different soil consultants.  These experts extol the benefits of calcium, boron, sulfur, and zinc.  We need to learn about these benefits.  Up to this point, our knowledge is limited to NPK and lime.

We will get quotes from Crop Services International (Dr. Phil Wheeler), Kinsey Agricultural Services, Inc. (Neal Kinsey), and Midwestern Bio-Ag (Gary Zimmer).

How much capital is needed to raise 150 hogs sustainably?

To raise hogs using the sustainable system we have outlined in this blog will require an investment of capital.  We are leveraging a Holistic Management philosophy to run this farm business, so these Holistic practices guide our decisions.  To start, expenses are organized into Wealth Generating, Inescapable, and Maintenance. 

Wealth Generating  – Expenses that produce profit this year.   
Inescapable - Must be paid regardless (tractor payments, taxes).   
Maintenance - Essential to the business, but do not produce profit this year.   

Our current documented plan (documented prior to developing the year round feeding system)  outlines a cost of  $170,000 to run our Meat CSA for 225 customers.  This cost includes a  budget of $15,000 for feeding the hogs for our CSA each year via purchased and planted feeds.  We will evaluate this budget against our new Sustainable Hog Feeding plan that utilizes the fruits and greens of 40 acres to feed the hogs. 

The budget will only include the Cost to produce the crops that is not included in the Inescapable and Maintenance budget sections.  For example, the cost of the tractor, truck, building, tools, taxes, etc. are not included.

So, let’s get started.  We’ll plan fuel costs in total since we have already determined that we will run the tractor for about 255 hours per year and our tractor uses a little less than a gallon per hour.  At $3 gallon, this will cost us about $750.

For the difference between the summer 40 acres and winter 24 acres, we will plant 16 acres of either crimson clover or sub clover.  These crops do not need nitrogen, but do need organic P and K so we will use about $150/acre for soil amendments.  Additionally, the 2010 costs for the seed are $70/50lb bag of crimson or $200/50lb bag of sub.  The clovers are planted at 20lb per acre, so the crimson will cost $28/acre for seed and the sub will cost $80/acre.  The Clover planting of 16 acres total will cost $864 in seed and $2400 in fertilizer for a Total Cost for the 16 Acres of Clovers of $3264.

For the Wealth Generating expenses related to raising the Oats, $40 Acre will purchase two 50lb bags of seed and another $100 acre of organic fertilizer will result in a cost of $1120 for the 8 acres of Oats.

For the four acres of forage canola, we will seed 6 pounds per acre, and the seed costs about $3/lb.  We will spend $96 on seed and another $800 on organic fertilizers for a total cost of $896 for the four acres of Canola

For the 12 Acres of AWPs, we will seed 60lbs/acre or 720 lbs of seed at $1/lb.  We will also use $100/acre of organic soil amendments ($1800) for a total cost of $1920 for the 12 acres of AWPs.

Six acres of Pearl Millet at $1/lb and 15 lbs/acre will total $90 in seed cost for the Pearl Millet.  We will also input $200/acre of organic soil amendments for a total cost of $1290 for the 6 acres of Pearl Millet.

18 Acres of ICPs at $1/lb and 70lbs/acre will total $1260 in seed cost for the ICPs.  We will also input $100/acre for amendments for a total cost of $3060 for the 18 acres of ICPs.

Now, for Wealth Generating expenses related to raising 13 acres of corn, we will only include seed and fertilizer cost.  In the future we will investigate irrigation to determine if irrigating our crop will reduce cost.  Seed costs as of 2010 are $53/acre, and I’m going to estimate fertilizer costs at $200/acre for organic amendments.  This results in a total cost of $3289 for the 13 acres of Corn.  At a 3360/acre yield (60 bushels/acre) this works out to 43,680 lbs of corn.  That’s a cost of about $4.21/bushel for organic corn.

Total cost of Seed, Fertilizer, and Fuel for the 40 acres of plantings will be $15,589.  This also doesn’t take into account that we will have to purchase a grain drill and cultivator.  Definitely more than our budget of $15,000 for purchasing feed, but worthwhile for several reasons.  This expense will ensure our customers receive a pork product that is certified organic.  Our customer will be able to see the feed given to the hogs, and just as important, the hogs will be able to see the feed given to them as it grows.