Our family farming history began with my great-great-... (nine generations ago) grandfather Johannes. He, his wife and three children left Saxony, Germany, on April 20, 1734, aboard the ship St. Andrew, mastered by Capt. John Stedman. They landed at Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and eventually settled our family’s first "New World" farm near Society Run in Frederick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., in 1743. Pig farming was our family’s specialty until the mid 1950s. A lot has changed since then. Our BQA cow–calf operation includes 100% grass-fed registered Red Angus, Hereford and purebred Beefalo; 30 to 35 pastured Duroc and Spot pigs; 100 Freedom Ranger broilers; and 90 Golden Comet and Buff Orpington layers. We organically maintain 80 acres, comprising 15 acres in rotational pastures, 15 acres in tillable cropland, and alfalfa/mixed grass hay on the balance. We have never used chemical pesticides or herbicides on our pastures or hay fields. We are not a "certified" organic farming operation, but we prefer the natural/organic approach to help promote sustainability.
Patured Pig Quality Management
Jun 02, 2012
Pastured Pig Production
The first principle of quality management in the context of pig production is Customer Service.
Customer Service is the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase. Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.
Your customer’s can be your best spokes persons for your Pastured Pork products or your biggest downfall. Customer Service can be defined with respect to both quantity and quality of your product. Your farm should be designed to operate at peak efficiency with a specific capacity (amount of product available for consumers), and a specific Pastured Pork product expectation. Over or underproduction comes at the expense of your pastured operations efficiency. If you build a demand for your product, but you never have any available or the quality isn’t consistent, your customers will not be shy to tell everyone about it.
Customers who are neither loyal nor satisfied have been described as "terrorists." When they're unhappy, they let the world know, such as an angry passenger who creates a Web site for posting complaints about an airline. Customers who are highly satisfied but not loyal are described as "mercenaries." They focus on lowest prices and will switch suppliers at the drop of a hat when they find a cheaper product. Customers who are not satisfied but highly loyal are described as "hostages." They are frustrated but have no choice on suppliers. And customers who are both highly loyal and highly satisfied are considered to be "apostles" -- the most desirable.
A lot of folks have noticed that the quality and level of customer service in every industry has decreased in recent years, and that this can be attributed to a lack of support or understanding at the executive and middle management levels of a corporation and/or a customer service policy. On your farm, you might be that executive or middle management level because you might be the one that makes all the decisions.
How to keep constancy
Beyond the obvious issues with pasture size/availability, you need to know your pig’s physical limitations too.
Pig’s have evolved to survive in relationship to a natural environment. Conventional managers seek to control the environment in order to overcome ingrained behaviors. This strategy can cause animal discomfort and stress, which often leads to health problems that require further intervention and increase costs. By contrast, pasture-based producers strive to understand and work with the unique capacities of the animals. Small scale pastured-based hog producers will find that they can take advantage of niche markets while keeping animals healthy and costs low. To this end, small scale producers will benefit from better understanding the instinctive behaviors, nutritional needs and farrowing capacities/limitations of hogs.
Natural Hog Behavior
Pigs are very smart & social animals. For many pastured-hog producers, quality of life for the hogs is a strong motivator in implementing a pasture-based system. This method is also very cost-effective and very appealing to consumers. Hogs display a wide range of instinctive behaviors, such as rooting, foraging, nesting and wallowing in mud whenever possible.
It’s extremely rewarding for us at the end of a long hard day on the farm, to sit on our back porch with a glass of sweet tea and watch/hear our pastured pig’s running around and playing with each other in their natural environment. In order for pastured pigs to be healthy and happy, they need to be raised in an environment that will allow them to express their natural behaviors as previously stated. It is possible to create a confined space that mimics a natural environment enough to meet many of these instinctive needs. But grazing Pigs on pasture not only benefits the animals but also improves the overall farm, as pigs will clean up weather-damaged crops and weed species, fertilize pastures/fields with manure and can even be used to "till up" rocks in otherwise underproductive areas. It’s a lot easier to let them dig them up! Pastured pigs harvest their own food/forages, which greatly reduces feed costs, which now a days is a blessing. And just like other grazing systems, pastured Pig production requires careful management.
Allowing hogs to express their natural rooting behavior is key to reducing their daily stress levels. Pigs will start rooting the day they are born and through their lives, according to research,
will spend about 51% of their time rooting. Raising them on pasture will allow them to satisfy this instinct. If overstocked, rooting pigs will cause damage to permanent pasture, but the behavior can be managed by utilizing rotational paddocks just like used for Grass-fed Cattle and lambs. This use of rotational pastures/paddocks will benefit the farm and the farmer.
Over 50% of the total cost of raising most pigs will be feed costs. Like all livestock, pigs need a diet with an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water. Water is actually the largest requirement: for every pound of feed, hogs require 2-3 pound of water. Lack of water will significantly reduce intake and daily gain. Be sure that there are a sufficient number of waterers to avoid overcrowding. For other nutritional demands, "conventional" Hog house producers feed primarily corn and soybean meal—corn for energy and soybean meal for protein. However, these grains are not only expensive to produce, process, store and transport, but they are also nutritionally limited. Because most pigs have high energy requirements and do not process fibrous forages as efficiently as ruminants such as cattle, most grass-based pig producers will not be able to get away from energy concentrates entirely. However, we have found the TAMWORTH breed of pig’s can be raised almost entirely on grass/forages! They grow slower, but are healthier and consumers are willing to wait the extra month for their pork when the savings are passed on to them.
A pasture based system takes advantage of your pig’s naturally excellent grazing ability. Pigs will forage on legumes, grasses and non-legume forages such as flowers, fruits, weeds, seeds, acorns, worms and insects. If managed properly, your pastures can replace up to 50% of the diet in gestating sows and 30% of a finishing diet. Legumes such as clover, have the protein & calcium necessary to furnish an adequate supply of most vitamins needed to raise/finish your pigs. Alfalfa, ladino, sweet clover, red clover and lespedeza are favorites of pastured hogs. Perennial grasses such as orchard grass, endophyte-free fescue, timothy and bromegrass, while not as high quality as legumes, should be used in mixtures with them. Non-legumes such as turnips, rape, kale & beets are high in protein, highly digestible and make excellent pig pasture.
Farrowing on Pasture
And lastly, the always controversial Farrowing crates. In some instances they are very useful and necessary. Primarily used for first litter gilt’s, they severely restrict the gilt’s movement, which may be necessary to prevent accidental crushing of piglets when the gilt/sow stands up, changes position, gets up to eat or lays down. However, this restrictive system is stressful for the gilt/sows, often resulting in ulcers, sores and other abnormal behaviors. As pastured pig producers, we are constantly working to keep stress levels low for our expectant mothers.
In the past we’ve used deep bedding to buffer piglets. Unfortunately we found out that using hay for bedding will greatly restrict the ability for newborn piglets to get out of the way when the gilt/sow is moving around. The ending result is unfavorable, for the piglets and us. We will now be using wood shavings to help create a protected area where they can escape the sow.