I love the smell of a good spring rain. We are on target to get a fair amount of rain in the next couple of weeks. It is welcomed and needed.
The farm relies on rain to refresh, clean, and feed the soil. The rain carries needed nutrients into the soil from the droppings of the pasture animals and from the added chicken litter that comes from the coop. It also washes away minerals or waste that have may built up over the winter.
I don’t look forward to doing chores in the rain, especially in the pig pens. Pigs love to dig and make holes that fill up with a good rain. With 12 pens to feed I don’t take the time to look at every step I take, and inevitably end up with a boot full of water. It is also great when a sow knocks your feet out from under you and you end up on your butt in one of those holes.
Even if you can escape the holes and the pushy sows, pigs love mud and love to share it with you. They rub against you, they wipe their nose on you, and they love to run between your legs to get the first shot at the feed bowl. So, no matter how careful you are, when it rains you get muddy.
This weekend we need to wrangle some pigs around. We have some sows that need to get in with some boars. We have been trying to schedule a couple litters per month. In order to do that, each month we need to rotate sows to be with our boars. I have 2 sows that need to get in with the boar this weekend. In order for that to happen, we need to take 3 sows out.
It is going to be a struggle this year, we are growing our herd and feeding out more than we have in the past. We currently have 5 pens being used just to grow out pigs. We have pigs that range from 25 lbs. up to 230 lbs. We try to keep pigs together and grouped by size. As some of our pigs grow at different rates, we have to keep an eye on the pens and keep moving up the pigs that are growing quicker. If there gets to be too great of a size difference, there will be bullying, and the smaller pigs will not get their share to eat.
We have split up some of our bigger pens in order to divide the feeder pigs according to size. This weekend we are needing to divide another one of our larger pens to make a new pen. I have a size difference starting again and no good option to separate them. So a new pen must be built. As we have been adding new pens,we have been struggling to keep up with building new shelters and water barrels. Soon I am also going to run out of pens that we can split and we will have to start expanding out to new areas. Splitting a pen is a lot cheaper than buying panels to make an entire new pen.
We have designated farrowing pens, boar pens, and grow out pens. Soon we will be getting our farrowing pens ready to have little babies, but for now we are using them to house our breeding groups. I am short one boar pen, which I will need to create before we switch over to farrowing, but I am still not certain how I where I want it to go.
My daughter and I made this hoop shelter for our pigs 5 years ago and it is still in great shape. It is fairly easy to build with just a little elbow grease.
This shelter is built from common materials and goes together easily.
2- 16′ cattle panels cut down to 12′
2- 4’x8′ sheets of untreated plywood
4- 6″x4″x8′ treated posts
4- 1″x3″ untreated boards
1- 10’x12′ tarp
Misc: Screws, Lag bolts, metal plumbers strapping, and fence staples
We started by notching the ends of the treated posts. The notches enabled us to overlap the ends of the posts to be glued and nailed together while still giving us a flat surface all the way around. We notched the posts with a circular saw, we used multiple passes to create slices half way through the post. The slices were then chiseled out and smoothed. Update to our original build- We would at this point in the build add a sealed floor of some sort. Hindsight is always 20/20.
In order to secure the cattle panels in a curved position, we put lag bolts on 2 alternate sides. The lag bolts were put in 2 inches from the outside edge of the posts. We used 6 bolts per side and spaced the bolts evenly along the post. The bolts were left out about 1.5 inches so that the wire panel had a good point of contact.
We wired the to cattle panels together along their length and put one end up against the bolts. The panel was then carefully pulled down so that the opposite end rested inside of the bolts on the other side. We have at that point a base and a hoop. The ends were secured in place with some large fencing staples, and all of the sharp edges of the panel and wires were removed to prevent injury.
The end panels were the next piece of the build to tackle. We held one plywood panel up to the end of the hoop and traced the outline onto the wood. We cut out the curved end piece and secured it to the wire with plumbing strap and screws. The entrance side will have a doorway cut out as well before it is attached. We cut two 1″x3″ boards that ran from top to bottom inside the end pieces. we attached them with screws to give the end pieces more stability. We double checked again for sharp points of screws and made sure to grind them down to prevent future injury.
We covered our hoop buildings with tarps secured with lathe around the bottom edges. This worked great right up to the point when the sows started their nest building phase. They tore huge sections of the tarp off to add to their nest even though they had plenty of straw. We have since corrected this by adding sheet metal strips to the bottom of each side, and we completely covered a few huts and removed the tarp all together.
There is always improvements to be made, and the first version is just a starting point. These are great huts, but by all means not perfect for everyone. Like I mentioned earlier we would have added a floor to these, and when we build more we will add that option. We have had these huts for 5 years and have only needed to replace the tarps. As are farm grows I will need to start building more.
We are fattening up some more hogs. We have some very nice looking Ossabaw Island Hogs. If you have never tried Ossabaw Island Pork, I suggest you do if you ever get the chance.
Almost all of our Ossabaw Island pork has sold itself. We get orders by customers that were given a sample from a friend, or had been given testimony of their great meat. Although still very rare, they can be found throughout the U.S. It is harder to get started raising Ossabaw Island Hogs for profit because they take longer to grow and have smaller litters. But, if you can stick it out, it is well worth the effort in the long run.
We had our last litter of the year. 6 healthy babies from one of our Hampshire gilts. I love the little red banded boar.
Now that our last litter of the year is on the ground we need to start thinking towards next year. We are going to try to schedule our litters this year. In doing so we hope to spread out the babies to coincide better with demand.
We have already had one hiccup to that thought. Our Hamp sow that we hoped to have a litter out of this week….. decided to come into heat a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t think she was getting big at all, not big enough to have a good litter anyway, but know I realize why. She skipped more than 3 heat cycles, I don’t know if the weather was in play or if it is our boar. She is due to come back into heat this weekend and I am going to watch and see if she comes in again.
If she does not present signs of being in heat, that will mean she is short bred. And that means she will have a litter right in the middle of our coldest time of year. So much for trying to make a schedule. One thing I have learned working with animals, is that mother nature has her own schedule and will slap you with it just for spite.
Even worse, what if she comes back into heat? That means our boar has a potential problem. Good Thing I like the little red Boar!! I guess we will find out this weekend.
You had a litter of pigs, now how can you profit from them? they have to generate income for your farm to thrive. Your goal should not be to break even or much worse lose money. Here are 4 considerations for making a profit on your new litters.
1. You must know your expenses. What does it cost to keep the sow and boar? Your sale price of the litters must cover the expenses of: feed, wormer, bedding, housing, electric for lights and waterers, marketing costs, and any transportation costs.
2. Your sales must exceed your expense. You now should have a grasp on the amount of your expenses. Divide that amount by the number of litters you plan to have and add on your profit margin. That amount can be divided by the number of pigs in the litter to arrive at the selling price of each piglet.
3. Different areas of the country vary on what a weaned pig is normally sold for. Don’t hesitate to advertise yours for more than the normal. Chances are the lowball sellers are loosing money and won’t be around long as competition. If you start advertising yours for what they are worth, the market in your area will reconsider their prices as well, and move closer to yours.
4. If you plan to make money on raising livestock, plan to invest in quality breeding stock. You will not be able to ask top dollar for a low quality product. Having high quality animals will set you apart from others, and your asking (a price that will allow you to be profitable) will no longer be questioned.