Thursday, September 24, 2009

Winter pigs

A weaner pig is a pig that has just ended nursing off its mother. It's a pig that has been weaned. That usually means around 8 weeks, but some folks take their piglets off the sow earlier and smaller. That's called "early wean", or EW. You'll see that acronym or term if you look at pig auctions.
This blog entry is about winter pigs. From a profit perspective, winter pigs make a little more money than do summer pigs, based mostly on the price you can purchase the weaner pigs at. A typical weaner pig price varies from a high around march to a low around December, and then repeats. That's because if you buy a pig in march or April, the bulk of the time you have the pig it's relatively easy to care for. The picture above is of a batch of weaner pigs I've purchased socializing with a litter of pigs that I had born on my farm. The mother of the brown and black spotted pigs is visible in the lower right hand corner. you can see her ear.

I'm aiming at having enough sows on hand to produce the number of piglets that I need, but I haven't reached that point yet, so I have to purchase pigs from other farmers from time to time to supplement my own breeding. Winter prices are an attractive time for me to add to my herd.
Pigs are very social creatures, and if at all possible I try to buy a whole litter, or out of a whole litter. If I mix pigs from different producers or litters they spend quite a bit of time fighting each other to figure out what the pecking order is. When you buy a little and keep them together you don't have much fighting -- the pecking order has already been established. In this case there were 8 pigs available for sale. 5 of them looked good, 1 had good weight but I didn't like its posture (I'll talk about that in a bit) and two were underweight. Since the seller said that they're all from the same litter, I'm going to assume that they've all had identical access to food and water.
When I buy piglets from other producers, I"m usually buying them from a confinement system of some sort. These piglets were raised in a barn, and were given good shelter and water, but they've never seen sunlight or dirt, or taken a drink from the ground. So an important part of integrating this group of piglets into my system is to give them time to get used to what the rest of their lives will be like, and the cast of characters that will be caring for them. Here, Red the Airedale, is sniffing at the pigs, and the pigs are learning what he smells like and to not panic when a dog is around. They're also learning to drink from the ground.
I introduce piglets to our system in stages.
When the piglets first arrive the first thing to consider is the possibility of parasites, disease and overall condition. So I dust them with a powder to remove lice and fleas and put them into a quiet corner of the barn with all the food and water they can handle.
After a day or two of that, we go to stage 2. They're bedded with hay, and given all the food and water they can take, but I remove the visual blocks so that they can see other pigs and touch noses with them, but they can't contact them, for their safety and for the other pigs safety, too.
Stage 3 is where they're put into a larger pen on grass, surrounded by a hard wire fence and an electric fence on the inside. This is to condition them to respect the electric fence, and to give them the opportunity to mix with all of the other pigs of their age. The bonds they form here will be lifelong, and will pretty much determine who they hang out with. They'll usually sort themselves out into social groups of 8 to 10 piglets.
At each stage they see me every day, and I work on having positive interactions with them. I scratch them, and give them food treats, and generally work with them so that they're used to being handled and cared for. I become a regular feature. This is crucial to my operation because we run minimal fences, and I need them not to panic when I approach. A motivated pig can run right through an electric fence.

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