Of all the new additions to the farm this spring in terms of animals: laying chicks, meat chicks, goslings, and ducklings, I have to say I was most excited about adding a pair of piglets to raise. I am a very big meat eater, but I also care about how the animal that I consume was raised, fed, and processed . Pork is my favorite type of meat (dare I say more than beef?) so I could not wait to bring my own piglets home to raise for myself. This is my first time raising pigs, and even though I have researched the bejeezus out of raising them with rotational grazing, different types of land, diet, etc nothing compares to real life experience no matter how much you read. What I am doing now this first year will surely not be what I am doing in five years, but farming is all about learning from past experiences and adapting. At this point, there are a few key factors that I am focusing on that to me are the most important:
Implementing rotational grazing is not something I was willing to compromise on when it came to raising pigs. It is a way for me to supplement their diet naturally, while saving me money, as well as using the pig's natural behaviors to my advantage. Pigs get a bad rap for destroying land, leaving it void of any vegetation or nutrients. This most certainly can and does happen, if a pig is left in one particular area for too long. Snouts repeatedly turning over soil with pointy hooves isn't exactly a recipe for soil success. Pigs are natural rooters, aka rototillers that turn soil over with their snout while eating grubs, bugs, seeds, nuts, and anything else in the soil that peaks their interest. This can promote new growth, as well as enrich the soil. If they stay on a particular area for too long, it has the complete opposite effect and it turns into a barren lot. The key is to find the sweet spot and let them stay on the land long enough to stimulate growth, but remove them before causing any irreparable damage, allow the land to heal, and add a cover crop.
The list of potential cover crops whether it be for pasture grazing, overwintering the garden, etc is a mile long. There are so many different types and varieties, all of which do well in different climates and soils. They all also provide different benefits to the soil, have different germination rates, and most importantly come with different price tags. I have narrowed down the list to three potential options: winter rye, barley, and buckwheat. I plan on mainly using barley due its low price per pound, quick germination of rate 2-3 days, and fast growth rate. I also plan on experimenting a little with the winter rye and buckwheat to see how that goes as well.
Even though implementing rotational grazing and feeding scraps from the kitchen is a great way to naturally feed your pig and save on some feed costs, it isn't enough to properly get a feeder pig to market weight. Their diet needs to be supplemented with feed/grain to make sure all nutritional needs and calories are met. Just like with any other animal, there is high quality commercial feed and "junk" feed. I am not working so hard to implement rotational grazing just to turn around and feed my hogs a cheap commercial feed full of GMO soy, corn, and bone meal. My local co-op sells organic/non-gmo feed from Vermont that sources its ingredients from North American farms. They also sell other organic/non-gmo grains such as cracked corn, peas, and oats that I mixed together with the feed in a large trash can. Mixing it this way helps cut some costs as the feed is quite expensive, and "cutting" it with raw grains lets me stretch it further while still making sure they're meeting their nutritional needs.
As they grow, their protein requirements change the closer they get to market weight, so I will have to adjust the proportion of the ingredients in what I mix as well as the quantity that I feed them. I may experiment with other ingredients as well, to see what works, it's all about trial and error!
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