PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
I live on a small farm which practices rotational grazing with our small-scale herd of livestock. We raise 7 Alpine and Saanen goat does and their kids, 10 Katahdin ewes and their lambs, and 2 Dexter steer cattle. We also raise poultry: chickens, Muscovy ducks, heritage geese, guineas, and heritage turkeys. We sell a large amount of our poultry live to ethnic customers.
1. I wanted to raise pigs. I had never done so before and had no idea how to go about it.
2. I wanted to save up a college fund.
3. I wanted to learn how to use an electric fence.
4. I wanted to find out if pigs could follow ruminants in rotational grazing without damaging the pasture.
The project started in September 2010 when I went to a farm auction and saw a whole herd of darling little piglets. (: On the way home I was still thinking about them and asked my mother if I could raise a pig. She agreed that I could get two feeder piglets the next spring.
Then, in November, I attended the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference in Columbia, Missouri and listened to Kelly Klober’s pig speech. I also listened to a few NCR-SARE Farmers’ Forum presentations and was inspired to apply for a youth SARE grant. I sent in the application in January 2011. As a part of my application, I had to make a budget. This required researching the equipment I needed, so I did. I looked at electric fencing and posts, feeding troughs, nose ringing pliers and rings (to prevent rooting), and buying the pigs themselves. I decided to use the large electrical equine rope, since a friend had told me that pigs have poor eyesight, and I wanted it to be thick enough to be visible to them. I chose to use small metal posts with plastic insulators to thread the rope through. I decided to use small rubber pans that we had on hand for their food, and a larger one for water. An older friend gave me some ringing pliers that he hadn’t used for a long time, and we bought three boxes of inexpensive rings at Rural King. Then I called the University of Illinois Swine Research Center and made reservations to get two pigs in May. Also around this time I signed up for the 4-H Swine project.
I got my just-weaned pigs on May 17, 2011. They weighed 43 pounds together, and I named them Algeria and Bolivia. I considered calling them Ham and Bacon, but then what would I do for the next pigs? This way, the 2012 pigs will be called Canada and Denmark. ?
I kept them in the barn for about a month to prevent sunburn and to monitor them while switching feed. Then I put them into a large dog run until we set up the pasture for them. While they were in the dog run, before we rung their noses, they spilled their water onto the dirt and started rooting. Within 2 hours they became the blackest pigs I have ever seen! The next day we put five rings in each nose, and put them out on the pasture. They never rooted like that again.
As the summer grew hotter, I gave them a large kiddie pool to cool off in. They loved it! However, as their hams grew fatter, they smashed down the sides of the pool and let the water drain out. Eventually we ended up throwing away one pool and buying a new one for them. By the time the pigs went to market, that pool was trashed also!
The pigs were very healthy with fresh air, sunshine, and pasture. Each day I fed them a swine ration, and whatever skim milk, whey, or veggie scraps we had in the kitchen.
My pigs went to the meat locker on October 18, 2011. They were six months old and weighed about #283 and #269 live. Their hanging weights were #204 and #194. I sold three halves for $2/lb and kept the fourth for my family. The meat that I sold brought in $860. After adding the grant money and deducting the expenses, I came out with $780 net income! However, next year I will not have the $400 grant and should come out closer to $380.
We are still now getting reports on how good the meat tasted. One customer wrote to us:
“The pork chops were a revelation! Wow! Pork that actually tastes like something. The factory farmed stuff is so insipid in comparison. We loved it!”
1. My mother was the primary helper in this project. She kept me working and helped me make a lot of the decisions. She also allowed me to use her precious pasture with risky animals.
2. My father helped with the dirty work- ringing noses. But it was also dirty in another way, since the pigs had recently been rooting.
3. Mr. Kelly Klober encouraged me to do the project. His book Dirt Hog was good, too. He was the only one who told me that it was possible to raise pigs on pasture.
4. Mr. Bob Gilbert gave me the opinions of a retired commercial confinement swine grower. He also helped ring their noses and kept an overall watchful eye on the pigs and their health.
5. My brother Elijah helped me a lot with the heavy work-particularly moving their pasture setup every three days and taking over when I was gone.
6. Many more people helped me with the little things. I don’t think I can count them all.
The results were that we ended up with bacon on the table for breakfast, sausage for lunch, and ham for supper! ? I also made a good sum of money to put into my bank account for college. I learned how to raise pigs, make a budget, and set up electric fencing. The fencing was totally effective–after the first day they never challenged the fence again. I found that young pigs with rings in their noses won’t damage a pasture.
On a side note, I also learned how to back up a livestock trailer when Mom and I arrived at the meat locker and found that she cannot back any trailer!
I would improve the project by getting a reel with a crank to wind up the electric rope. Another big improvement would be a pool with stiff sides which is still light enough for me to carry from one paddock to the next.
I learned how to set up rotational grazing. Before raising swine, my mother had always done it, but now I do. I also learned how to raise pigs on a small scale.
I gave a 45 minute PowerPoint presentation at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference in the NCR-SARE Farmer’s Forum (November 2011). About 50 people attended. I gave the same speech later at the Small Farmer Wannabe class at Parkland College on March 27, 2012, with about 15 people present. I also presented it to my 12-member 4-H club (Champaign Shamrocks 4-H Club) on October 14, 2011.
It was awesome! The grant gave me the initial money I needed to start the project. Without it, I couldn’t have had this experience. Thank you!