Monday, May 4, 2009

Cost and husbandry

One thing that factory farms have a very good handle on is expense. They typically know down to the nickel how much things cost. As a result, if you want to raise animals with the least amount of expense, in my opinion you'll inevitably head down that factory farm route.

What I wrestle with myself is how much of the proven techniques to use. Farrowing crates are a good example. Farrowing crates are used to confine the sow at time of birth until weaning.

No part of a farrowing crate is easier than a pastured pig. On pasture the pigs roam around, get their own food and water, and you can have a single giant feeder that holds a ton or two of food at a time -- so you only have to feed the pigs every other week or every third week.

With a farrowing crate there's quite a bit more labor. You're having to check food and water daily; the feeder is smaller, and needs to be filled more often. Because of the confinement you'll need to clean the area under the crate often, or put it up on grating so that the waste drops through.

Why go to all this trouble?
That's a whole litter I lost because the sow chose to have her litter in icy mud. She had a clean shelter with hay in it that I'd set up and gotten her into, but she rooted out of it and went to a corner of the pasture and I got a bucket of dead piglets. That sucked a lot.

If they make it out alive, there's a risk that they'll be squished by mom rolling over on them, stepped on (breaking their legs) or just wander out of the immediate area of mom. Last month I had an eagle take a newborn piglet. The world is pretty rough on piglets.

So in the interest of saving pigs, I'm going to adopt farrowing pens this year, for at least the first couple of weeks of the pigs lives. Other producers claim to be able to have lower losses than mine -- but I'm a little skeptical. For myself, I'd rather save their lives than hold that farrowing crates are inhumane.

A farrowing crate is only used at birth, and immediately after while the piglets nurse. It is not a gestation crate, which I believe are inhumane.


Anonymous said...

As a start, just building some pens that sows can't bust out of would probably save you a lot of pigs.

There's alternatives to farrowing crates that could help you.


or deep straw:

Those will save litters, but you won't be able to manage the pigs and reduce death losses the way you can with more control. For example, with those, you can't easily identify sick pigs and give them medicine. You can do that with crates.

If you use farrowing crates, you'll probably have to cull the sows that fight the crates. After you've done that a few turns, you'll have sows don't mind being crated. The same thing happens with the pigs and people who use gestation crates.

Bruce King said...

I've been using pens that are 8'x16' long bedded with hay as an interim step, but I've still been losing between 30 and 50% of the litters. So 14 born, 7 weaned. It's better than 14 born, 0 weaned but I'd like to get the survival above that.

as I've said before, I'll put the animals welfare above cost, and in this case the cost is higher.

Anonymous said...

What sort of system did your gilts come from?

Anonymous said...

There's a neat video on sow housing here:

Bruce King said...

I've raised all my pigs from weaners or had them born at the farm. We're on the third generation now. I've been culling for sows that don't work in the system. The primary problem is cold and wet in winter, and overlay by the sows in any weather.