Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bedding pigs

That's shortie snoozing on a comfy bed of hay even though the air temperature is 20 degrees. We've experimented quite a bit with bedding pigs on our pasture, even in winter. Notice the snow on the field to the right.

For pig shelters we use portable calf domes that we get used from dairy farms. They show up on craigslist from time to time, and if they're in good condition with no cracks they work great. Market price around here for a 7' (that's the larger size calf dome) is $190. I've bought about 20 of them, and in the three years I've been using them, I've only cracked one. So I use that one mostly as a "tarp" over the top of supersacks of pig food.

Pigs love to sleep together, so even though this sow (her name is tank) seems to fill the entire dome, when night falls there will be her, her sister, and a couple of smaller pigs fit into the cracks, or sleeping on top in the grooves between the sows. Goats get in there, too. I'm guessing that everyone appreciates the extra warmth.

Whole litters of piglets love this, too.

So here's what we do to make this work.

First, you want the animals to have a good amount of insulation under them. In fact, the insulation between the ground and the animal is more important than the cover on the animal. So we actually cover the entire bottom of each pen with 8 60lb bales of hay. This means that there's 18-24" of compressed hay below the animals. You can cut the strings or not. We do cut them.

After you've got the bottom covered, break up another bale and stuff every hole.

The pigs will go into this, and if they're cold, they'll burrow into the hay. This picture shows a mature sows head buried in the hay. The snout of the pig is at the center bottom of the picture, her ear is near the top of the picture. This is a happy, warm pig.

We watch the hay, and when it gets wet or muddy we'll toss another bale of hay in. If it's too messy we toss a handful of food into the hay pile and flip the dome over and rebed it. I buy local grass hay for $2/bale for this, and usually spend about $100 a year on bedding these domes. Figure it saves me at least that amount of feed that the animals would otherwise shiver off. Plus it's fun to see a bunch of pigs sleeping in.

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