Our farm consists of 350 acres. We grow corn, oats, hay and pasture in rotation. We have an 80 cow beef herd and fatten our calves. We also have a 50 sow farrow to finish enterprise that utilizes pasture farrowing and straw based growing and finishing. We also have a flock of 20 sheep and raise broilers for our use and a few of our neighbors. My daughter has a small rabbit business.
Our family consists of Dave (40) and Diane (41) with our two children Hannah (14) and Ethan (9). My father passed away on December 16, 1999. He had been a very important part of the farm. Me mother Lottie (74) continues to help. We also hire high school kids for part time help.
Before receiving this grant we had been pasture farrowing for 25 years. We also had been using straw based finishing for 40 years. We practice conservation tillage and used a complex crop rotation that includes a planned rotational grazing system for our beef herd. We have been working on our grazing system for 19 years.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
We wanted to demonstrate how to convert an old farm building into a deep straw, naturally ventilated wean to finish facility.
We began the planning of the remodeling in the summer of 1998. The remodeling actually began in October of 1998. The first pigs were placed in the facility on November 15, 1998. These were sows and litters from a late pasture farrowing. They were there for 3 to 4 weeks. It worked so well to have mothers with their pigs that we decided to call our remodeled hog house a pre-wean to finish facility. We moved those out and moved in our early winter farrowing with 16 mothers and 165 little pigs less than 3 weeks old. These litters were not weaned until they were nine weeks old. We only lost 1 pig from crushing and used no supplemental heat. We did use lot of straw. The pigs were marketed in April and May. They grew extremely well. In the summer of 1998 we began marketing some pigs to an antibiotic free pork market. These first pigs in our remodeled barn were raised without antibiotics. Unfortunately they didn’t buy this group. The market is expanding and they are currently buying all of our pigs.
The second set of pigs moved into our remodeled barn on June 1, 1999 from our first pasture farrowing. These 170 pigs were 3 to 4 weeks old and were left with their mothers for another 3 weeds before weaning. These pigs were marketed in October and November. 21 tail ender pigs were moved out of the building no November 22 for further finishing in another barn. On November 24th we moved in 15 liters with 162 pigs (2 to 3 weeks old). Our field day was held on November 26th with approximately 30 farmers attending.
The three main people besides myself involved in the planning included Larry Jacobson from the University of Minnesota, St, Paul, Joe Hahn from Hahn Lumber Co. Harmony, MN and Dave Munkel, carpenter from Lime Springs, IA. Larry worked on the ventilation; Joe primarily helped with the floor plan and lay out. Dave worked the actual blending of the old with the new construction.
Tait and Jeremy Larson, Preston, MN helped with tearing out some of the old and general operation of the facility.
Although we did not measure feed efficiency or rate of gain, we did observe almost all pigs making 240 lbs by six months of age. Death loss was less than 1%. These were both achieved without the aid of antibiotics. The second set of pigs were all marketed to the antibiotic free market and received $2,700 in premiums over the local market.
We love our remodeled building. It is now our favorite hog barn. We have eliminated so much labor in the moving of pigs from stage to stage. We are able to raise pigs to meet the criteria of our new market. The combination of straw, fresh air, and sunshine make raising pigs without antibiotics and with tails feasible and profitable.
Some changes from our grant application include replacing curtains with insulated or solar doors. We also ended up rewiring the whole building.
We were successful at designing a fence line feeder with a trough that serves pigs from 3 weeks old to 500 lb sows. We also were successful at combining straw insulation in the attic with chimney ventilation.
I think with some creativity any old sturdy barn could be converted to deep bedded system. This is a production practice that allows the small producer to compete. It is also a way to repopulate livestock on our abandoned farmsteads. It is an environmentally sound practice as I had no trouble in obtaining a permit.
We publicized our field days through the local papers, county extension agent, Land Stewardship Project, Sustainable Farming Association and the Alternative Swine Task Force. The Alternative Swine Task Force of Minnesota had materials available and asked us to recruit more names for their mailing list.
We also publicized our antibiotic free humanely raised market as a reason to attend our field day. We have approximately 30 farm families attend our field day. We ended up giving the tour twice to accommodate the late comers. Unfortunately we didn’t get the late comers to sign the attendance sheet. It was a very positive day. I have also received numerous questions since the field day from people who were unable to attend. I have had summer field days in the past, but this was definitely our largest ever.