We’ve had a few other activities going on these past couple weeks, including another few dozen baby rabbit births, but no event has been so big as The Great Hog Migration. It happened a good five weeks after we wanted it to, but the hogs have moved out to their brand new digs in our pastures again!
Why the change? The way we set them up last year, they had to walk up and down and hill to get from shelter to pasture. Their shelter was a barn that was already here, so we were trying to find a use for it, but the fact is that hogs going up and down hills is bad news. They create trails of dirt which rain promptly washes downhill. So, when we went out to set them up for this year and noticed how big of an erosion problem we had, we decided to go to our “ideal” hog raising strategy, which we would have used had that barn not been there in the first place. Now, they’re on flat land, with metal huts in which to snuggle at night and which provide shade during the day. And as sows get close to having litters, they get their very own hut for the six weeks they’re with their piglets, and they simply move to the next field when they’re piglets get weaned, so the babies stay back in the field where they’re most comfortable. And we’re hoping this system could actually work through the winter as well, since eventually we’ll likely use our big riding arena barn (where the pigs spent their last couple months) as a lambing barn.
A few pictures of the move (click on any picture to start a slideshow with captions):
Lessons learned: When we moved the pigs to their deep-bedded barn, we loaded them all on the trailer. We later realized it would’ve been easier and less stressful for everyone to walk them over instead. This time, we decided to walk them over and we learned that…
1. Sows and boars, who are used to being herded and are familiar with the field to which they’re moving, are much easier to herd than to load on a trailer. It was a leisurely 15 minute walk.
2. A group of twenty growing pigs, who don’t remember that field where they were born and have never been herded, should be loaded on a trailer. They’re a complete disaster to herd; one will inevitably try to go back to where he came from, convincing all the others to run back in the wrong direction as well. Everyone, human or pig, gets hot and tired and frustrated. It took us about an hour and a half to get them the same distance as their parents! An outsider might have found it a pretty funny spectacle. In the moment, pigs outsmarting us was not funny.
And now, we’ll continue with the Meet Your Meat Series
Meet Your Meat: Hereford Hogs
Our animals’ welfare is our number one concern at Dry Ridge Farm. We’ve chosen to raise animals because we enjoy having them around and taking care of them, so we make sure they’re as happy as possible while in our care. That’s why our hogs spend their lives out in our pastures, rooting for grubs and nuts and soaking in wallows with their buddies. That’s also why for a couple months this winter, we moved them into one of our huge open air, dirt-floored barns. The record rainfall this winter was threatening to wash away our fields and more importantly, the wet and cold was threatening our piglets… and making them miserably cold. Now, everyone’s back on pasture, and we think we’ve found a shelter system that might make them comfortable enough to spend the winter out there as well! Want to know more about it? Check out our latest website post at dryridgefarm.org .
We’re different from most pasture-raised pork farms in this area in two main ways: we have a purebred herd of heritage Hereford hogs, and we breed and raise our own pigs. We chose Hereford, not only because they’re beautiful pigs, but because they’re on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy conservation priority list. They’re a heritage hog, developed in the U.S. in the early 1900s, and there are only about 2,000 of them in the country! They do well on pasture, grow quickly, have just the right mix of fat to lean, and are excellent mothers, a trait that many other breeds lack. Breeding them on our farm allows us to know exactly how our animals are treated starting at birth. Our piglets are certainly happy to be on grass with their moms and our sows get to make their own nests in their farrowing huts, to which they come and go as they please. Plus, it’s just fun having itty-bitty piglets running around and watching momma care for them!
Our sows and boar are the only animals on our farm with names. We started with three sows and a boar last February, and this year, in February, we added seven more gilts who will hopefully have litters, therefore becoming sows, in the next couple months. If you ever want to visit the farm to see what’s going on here for yourselves, you’ll get to meet Gertrude, Celeste, Clementine (who’s more orange than red), Valentina, and Jack… and get to brainstorm name ideas for the five girls we have yet to name.