April was a huge month. The weather was good, with nothing so hot that we couldn’t work, and we made a couple of points of pig progress. One of those points of pig progress was planned and the other was a little impulsive. Both were awesome though.
First of all, we finished off our meat chook yards. We made a run with a nice shed connected to two good-sized yards. The theory is that we can let them into one yard while we sow some kind of forage in the other, and keep alternating them between the two. We can also put a fruit tree or two in each yard.
While nothing is ever really fox-proof, we tried to make the yards and shed as secure as possible. We used 6-foot chook wire around the outside, running it about 5½ feet high and then kicking it out about 6 inches along the ground. We then weighed down the bottom with rocks, which will allow grass to grow up between the mesh. This is a common method in rabbit and fox-proof fencing, as it prevents them burrowing under.
The shed backs onto the fox-proof fence at the back, and has tin under the rest of the edges. It’s about as fox-proof as a shed can be. This run and shed are further from the house than our other poultry areas, so we’re hoping we can keep it predator free.
Our first pig progress point, which was the planned one, was the purchase of two new breeding sows (gilts). We have a commercial piggery around 5 minutes from us, which uses stall-free production. It’s not free-range, but is still a significant step-up from farrowing crates. I’ve met the owner before, and he’s a really nice, super-approachable guy who knows more about pig husbandry than anybody else I’ve met. He breeds his own replacement sows, and will sell them on if he has spares.
One of our original girls, Smoked, looked like she’d come up lame, and we wanted to get a replacement. In the way things normally work out here, buying one of anything is never enough, so I decided to get two. I’m actually really happy this worked out, as we now want to farrow our girls in pairs.
These girls are crosses of pure Large White and pure Landrace, which is called a F1 cross. What the piggery does is cross these with Duroc, giving a Terminal Sire Line (TSL). This combines the best of all of these breeds, which is called “hybrid vigor”. The Large White/Landrace cross means you get pigs who have large litters and produce lots of milk, while the Duroc TSL means you get meaty babies from the F1s. It’s fascinating, and has us thinking about getting a Duroc boar.
Getting pigs from an intensively farmed environment is interesting. Both of the girls we got were around 8 months old and right around the age to start breeding. Though they had more human interaction than most intensively farmed pigs, they still hadn’t had the kind of one-on-one time that our pigs get. Even with that, they’re still both really sweet girls, and super placid. Their personalities shine through too, with one being much more affectionate than the other.
A few things struck me about these new girls (Ziggy and Stumpy). Firstly, they’ve never spent any time whatsoever outside, and so had no idea what the sun or rain was. They LOVE laying in the sun, but even in April that can burn a white pig. They learned that the hard way. They don’t love rain at all, and still aren’t quite sure how to handle standing water.
The thing that I found most fascinating about the new pigs, however, was the smell. That sounds weird, but buying these girls actually demonstrated something to me that I’d taken as self-evident before. They stank and their poop was black. Our pigs really don’t smell bad at all, and they’re poop is basically undigested grain. These new girls had only ever eaten highly-processed foods, and they lived indoors with lots of other pigs. The result was fairly stinky. You don’t truly understand the difference between pigs raised that way and those raised in a free-range environment until you can compare the two side-by-side.
Something else that was interesting was how fat these new girls were. I mean, pigs in good condition look a little fat, though you learn to see what is “good condition” and what is just straight up fat. These girls were fat. In fact, one was so fat that I was worried she’d come up lame. We quickly put them in the back paddock and made sure they got some exercise.
We introduced the two new girls to Boris The Boar about a week after getting them. While they had never stepped foot outside and had no idea what the sun or rain is, they instinctively understood what a boar is for. It was literally under 30 seconds before Boris had mounted and coupled with one of them. Go Boris!
April had the Easter long weekend, and we traditionally work ourselves near to death over the 4 days. It’s awesome. This Easter, we did the following:
Rotary hoed The Patch in readiness for the cool weather rotation. We were WAY behind in our warm weather crops, not having things ready to go into the ground on time. We’re a little behind with the cool weather crop. It’s not a lack of planning, but rather a lack of time.
It was fairly overgrown, as we’d had some rain, most of the harvesting was done, and we hadn’t had time to get in there and weed.
We let a couple of the big pigs in for a few days. We also let the new girls in, but they really had no idea what to do. They’ll get the hang of it, but right now they simply don’t know the meaning of “free range”.
I finished it off with the rotary hoe. Seriously, that thing is a beast!
We also too a fence down between us and our rear neighbours. There was a double-fence there so the previous owners could grow a row of gum trees. The problem was the area was around 4 metres wide, which is a ridiculous waste of space. The trees don’t need protecting anymore, so we took the fence down, thereby reclaiming some land and giving the pigs an 80-or-so metre long shaded area.
The last big job over the Easter long weekend was two pig shelters. One of the many, many, many lessons we’ve learned from keeping pigs is that they’re destructive and like to break things. This includes their housing. In fact, it probably applies to their housing more than most other things. They really like busting up where they live.
I came up with a design that ticked the following aims:
- Shelter from the wind and rain.
- Low so they can snuggle and use their body warmth to keep it toasty.
- Sturdy enough so they could scratch their giant, quarter-tonne arses on it.
- Heavy so they could never move it.
- Strong so they could never break it.
- East-facing so it has it’s back to the bad weather and side to the horrible hot north winds.
What we came up with turned out to be freaking awesome. It’s 5 sleepers high, making it 1 metre. It’s 2.4m along the back, and 1.2m along the side. The uprights are cemented in, and the roof is lengths of colourbond with nice long overhangs. The result weights, quite literally, a half-tonne and not even the pigs can move it a touch.
Lastly for the weekend, we had a chick hatch. Our first batch was 10 chicks, this batch was 1. Our problem is that our broody chook, who is permanently broody, sits on all the eggs and keep them all warm. We had about 10 hatch or half-hatch and die. We need to keep her on a dozen or fifteen eggs, and keep the other chooks away from her. We can’t quite work out how to do that right now, so we’re collecting all the eggs from under her and getting an incubator.
Our second and unplanned point of pig progress was the purchase of three new piglets! The black heritage breeds are all the rage right now, which to my mind is good and bad. It’s great if people are doing it to promote the survival of a variety of pig. It’s less great if they’re doing it just because it’s trendy. I’ve literally seen a place selling sausages made from “black pig”, because they see that as a marketing point. To me the important part is how the pigs are raised, treated, and slaughtered. The breed is secondary. Important, but secondary nonetheless.
Having said that, I’ve been quite keen to try one of the black heritage breeds, as I’d heard that the meat was better. We saw a litter of Large Black x Berkshire for sale on gumtree.com and couldn’t resist. We went and saw them, and got to meet the parents, who were just beautiful. Dad, the Large Black, was HUGE and super-placid. Mum was a Berkshire, and also large. She was pregnant, and so a little thicker than normal, but I’d say she was a touch larger than our F1 girls.
I bought two girls and one boy from the litter, the aim being to have the boy as a spit-pig in May and to either feed the girls on as baconers or use them as breeders. Spoiler Alert – the spit pig was amazing, I think the meat is probably better, and we’re keeping the girls as breeders. I also think that we’ll experiment with the breeding a little, including trying to source either a Duroc boar or maybe a Large Black boar.
The very last thing we did in April was visit an Epicurean pig farm in Victoria, Jonai Farms . These people made their tree-change about the same time as we did, but had a commercial aim right from the start. They breed and raise Large Blacks in a true free-range environment, have them processed by a local abattoir, and then do all of the butchering themselves. Tammi Jonas, the mum in this family business, trained as a butcher and does all of the butchering herself. They have a big cool room, boning room, and all of the gear you’d ever need (smokers, bandsaw, industrial mincer etc.) More importantly, they raise their pigs correctly, and it was a great visit.
Jonai Farms runs various workshops, and they had two running in the final weekend of April. Linhda and I took the opportunity to visit and attend both workshops. I also had 5 pages of questions to ask about pig husbandry, and believe I had them all answered. 🙂
The biggest take away from that weekend was that no matter how well the Jonas family raises their pigs, and they do it very well, it’s nothing that we can’t do given the opportunity. That opportunity is access to more land, and we started May with the thought that we could expand our operation into something commercial and we started to search for more land…