Let's review

In the comments on yesterday’s post, Lisa & Angie both asked about why we’ve decided to get different gilts, and what we’re going to get. So I put together this review of what we’ve been through with the gilts we have…

May 2006: we buy 3 Chester White gilts

August 2006: we buy our Berk boar, Ollie

March 2007: Gilt #1 farrows, is a bad mother, and loses the entire litter

April 2007: Gilt #2 farrows. 11 piglets born alive, she lays on 5 right away.

April 2007: We decide to cull the first gilt.

April 2007: Gilt #3 farrows. 10 born alive. She lays on 7, steps on 1.

late spring 2007: We buy 9 feeder pigs off my brother to make up for all of our own pigs we’ve lost.

late fall 2007: By the time these 2 litters are butchered in the fall we lose 4 more pigs. I don’t remember if we lost them pre- or post-weaning. Regardless, we butcher 5 pigs. 5 pigs out of 21 born alive. We are quite sad.

September 2007: the first fall litter is born. She has 10, lays on 1, leaving 9. One dies post-weaning, so we wean (and eventually butcher) 8. We are ecstatic.

October 2007: the second fall litter is born. She has 12, lays on 3, leaving 9. She weans (and we eventually butcher) all 9. We are beyond ecstatic.

Spring 2008: 17 pigs butchered out of 22 born alive. We hope we’ve turned the corner with these sows.

April 15 2008: first spring litter. 8 born alive.

April 18 2008: lost 2.

April 19 2008: lost 5.

April 27, 2008: second spring litter. 7 born alive. Loses 2 within a week.

October 2008: We’ll butcher 6 at the end of this month. 6 pigs, out of 15 born alive. We are quite sad.

And that catches us up to yesterday’s post. 1 sow with a small litter, 1 sow not even bred after 4 months with Ollie. These sows are going down the road, a.s.a.p. We’ll probably also buy some feeder pigs from my brother again, to make up for getting only 1 litter this fall.

So…through a friend of a customer at the farmers market we’ve made the acquaintance of a hog breeder. His farm, and his hog facilities, are closer to what we have here than the breeder we bought the Chesters from (they came from a confinement setup.) He recommended we get away from white pig breeds. It’s been a while since I talked to him, but if I remember right he’s doing Berk x Hamp crosses and Berk x Duroc crosses. We’re going to buy bred gilts that will farrow next spring. Not sure yet if we’ll buy 2 or 3.

Maybe we should have booted these sows sooner? Maybe we should give them another chance? Maybe we’re expecting too much of any sow, to farrow and wean and raise a litter in rather crude conditions? What would you do? And what breeds would you recommend we look at for our next gilts?

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10 Responses to Let's review

  1. I have no advice, but find the entire process fascinating. I appreciating your breaking it all down, too. I’ve been following your blog for close to a year, but you’ve always got so much going on, it’s so hard to keep track. But I do remember you posting about a bit of pig trouble a few times.Is it typical for mama pigs to lay on their piglets and kill them like that? Or is this just something you’ve come to experience with these specific pigs you’ve raised?I do hope you have better luck with this next batch you buy and I hope they come through for you many times. :)~Lisa

  2. I am only basing my comment on the pictures available in the list of links to past blog posts that you provided, so my comment may be off-base if you use shelters other than those in the pictures.The steep sloped sides of your shelter provide no protection for the piglets. Unless you have a very attentive sow, she is going to lay on at least a few. According to people I have talked to with decades of experience weaning thousands upon thousands of pigs, the best shelters for a sow and her piglets are “English Style Farrowing Huts.” In the US, these are available from the manufacturer Port-a-Hut. English-style huts have shallowly sloped sides that create a safety zone for the piglets because the sow can’t lay down in the space where the wall meets the floor. If you can’t afford new shelters, then it would be worthwhile to weld a raised bar into your existing shelter that prevents the sow from laying against the side. However, given the size of the shelter in the picture, I don’t know if this will solve your problem because the sow and the piglets have too much space to chose from to lie down in.Having said all of that, you definitely need to cull that sow that didn’t take. You can’t afford to feed a pig that doesn’t take. Regarding the other sow, you should take a look at your feeding program before deciding to cull her because she has had large litters before. Is she getting enough energy over the winter (energy needs go up by about 25% in pigs kept outside in the winter)? Is she getting enough protein and all of the essential vitamins and minerals? Did you flush her before breeding? According to Keith Thornton, who knows a thing or two about raising pigs on pasture, the Chester White is, and this is a quote from a presentation I heard him give, “as good a maternal line as you can find.” It could be that the Chester Whites you got do not have good genetics. It could be management. It could be a combination of the two.Anyway, you’ve got a lot of money tied up in those two sows. I don’t know what your marketing outlets are, but if you have the market for it, your best bet would be to have them made into whole hog sausage under USDA inspection. You’ll get an awful lot more for them that way than if you take them to the sale barn.Good luck.

  3. Ship them down the road. Sounds mean, yes, but….same theory we use on our cattle – we give 1st calf heifers 2 chances, then they are gone. We’ve had to get rid of some awesome cows, but….we cannot afford to feed them for 3 years waiting on the off chance they might have a live calf. We had 1 cow – awesome cow, great mother, but her 1st calf was born backwards and crippled (before we brought her). We buy her – 2 calves born backwards and crippled to 2 different bulls. Down the road she went. We have 1 cow now – our first calf born on the farm we are living on – she has consistently caught right away, early calves, good mama – she’s not bred right now and we aren’t waiting around on her. We don’t do calving in July, August, Setpember, etc. So down the road she will be going on Monday. Which is a bummer as we are REALLY down on numbers but….It might sound mean but….you cannot afford to feed them if they aren’t producing. Then you’re spending money vs. making money.I’d do the whole hog sausage on them too vs. taking them to the sale barn. You’ve probably got a lot wrapped up in them $ wise, might as well re-coup as much as you can. And as you haven’t fed all that crap that the majority feeds their pigs, the meat should be pretty good for sausage.Good luck.Kris

  4. farm mom says:

    I have no advice either, but it seems like you’ve gotten some really good advice here. Thank you for breaking it down for us all. I would love to raise my own pigs someday, so I am fascinated by any and all information regarding pigs in general and breeds in particular. Thank you so much for sharing and I hope you have better luck with your new acquisitions.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You might want to read Walter Jeffries’ Sugar Mountain Farm blog. http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/ He successfully raises pastured pigs for the market. Walter shares huge amounts of information about how he does it in what are not normally considered to be good settings for market pigs. His sows farrow outdoors even in winter and he has quite low loss rates. Plus he’s a really interesting fellow. I really enjoy your blog and check into it almost daily.kalaska

  6. dragonmom says:

    I don’t think that a sow that repeatedly loses that many piglets is likely to improve, do you? Would be willing to bet the field-farrowing sows wean more than a confinement sow moved to the field. We brought open herded sows into confinement but never went the other way, so am not sure.

  7. I didn’t read the first post about the arrival of the three gilts, so I didn’t realize these were confinement pigs. That could definitely have something to do with it. On a pasture-based farm, maternal instincts like not laying on piglets would be constantly selected for, whereas in a confinement setting that would not be a concern, so over time confinement genetics would tend toward sows with very low maternal instincts.If I were you, for the next go around I’d try to find some nice gilts (or young proven sows [the extra money might be well-spent at this point]) from a pasture-based farm.

  8. Patti says:

    Ya..What they all said .. plus..Keep praying for direction and keep hangin in …It sounds like your doing well in the marketing area for sure!!!!! Hugs

  9. Thanks for the input, everybody! We’d come to the same conclusions as the rest of you…sows from a confinement setup, and from that line of genetics, just don’t perform well in a setup like ours. We’re excited to move on and give something else a try. And of course you’ll here about it here, for better or worse :)

  10. Christy says:

    Tamworths are supposed to be great if you want them to raise the piglets naturally. I have friends that have had nothing but success with them on pasture.