Friday, December 17, 2010

Bedding pigs -- what I do

The climate that I farm is is perpetually damp, and pretty cool to cold.  We don't get the sort of dry cold that you get in the midwest or in the north, or even in Eastern Washington; our cold is about 40 degrees and moist.  In the summer it dries up a little, but in the winter its cool and it rains pretty often. 

I struggled for a few years with trying to keep dry bedding in the pigs areas, but between the damp pigs and the rain, it'd last a day or two, and then be damp.  The picture above was really my eureka moment; well, not really.  Deep bedding is the concept. I just do it in small scale. 
The little pigs showed me the way.  Here's a bunch of weaners that found the warm, just-cut chips, and they're glued to it.  Weaner pigs love warmth.  So What I do is use a couple of feet of new chips under each shelter to provide them with it. 

Composting only happens at temperatures above about 45, but when a bunch of pigs lay on compost, it gets warmed up, and starts to generate its own heat.  Pretty soon, if it's thick enough, it'll maintain a comfortable temperature of around 120 degrees F for two weeks or so, as the microbes break down the sugars in the newly cut tree.  To get the most warmth out of the chips I usually use them immediately after they're cut.  I get 9 to 10 truckloads of chips each week, so I have a pretty good choice at any time.   I'll put down two tractor scoops of chips, and then put a shelter down on top of it. 

With the pile of chips, I'll roll over one of my calf domes and put it right on top of the chips. 
The final touch is to put another scoop of chips on top of the shelter.  the chips fall off the top, and it helps "glue" the shelter down.  The pigs will tend to try to get their noses under it and flip the shelters over.  The third scoop on top prevents that.  It may provide some additional insulation, but the weight and coverage of the edge is what I'm really after.  . 

All done.  Cozy, warm, ready for occupancy.


Craig said...

Bruce, how have those polydome huts worked for you? I"ve thought about using them for pigs and have seen them at auctions going pretty cheap. I like the fact that they have good light inside. How do you tie them to the ground,re-bar stakes? How do they hold up to pig abuse?

Bruce King said...

The polydomes are a good size for 3 or 4 full-sized pigs, or a bunch of weaners. I buy them around here for $110-175, buying a few each year as they appear. I purchased 20 of them at a recent dairy farm auction.

The pigs can and do lift them up and move them around, for no really good reason. So that's why I plop them down on a mound of bedding and then pour more chips down on top of them. If the pigs can't see the edge of the dome it's a lot less attractive to flip over, so they stay in place longer. I've chosen not to try to anchor them because it's difficult to get the anchors back, and I don't want to be placing stuff in the pasture that might injure a pig. Even a little poke with rebar can lead to an abcess.

In regular use they last 2-3 years on average; they fail by having the connection at the bottom of the door break, and I doctor those up by attaching a piece of flat stock with bolts across the opening, but eventually that breaks off too, and then they're pretty much done for field use.

...but they work pretty well even with the door broken if you build a platform and bolt them to it, so I get a couple more years of use out of them that way. I use them for feeder huts in fixed locations, or for boar shelters if I need to seperate the boars for a while. The broken domes work well as hospital domes for animals that need individual attention. They also work as calf domes, for raising calves.

They come in a couple of sizes; I buy the larger size because they're big enough you can get in and work if you need to. If a sow is having problems farrowing, or you need to look at a pig that's sleeping there, it's handy to be able to have the room to do so.

The other thing that I've found useful is to catch a pig that I want to work with. My pigs sleep late; they usually get up around 10 or 11am -- so when I want to work with a particular pig, I'll locate the dome that it's in, and then use a 35" hog panel tied in a circle to slip over the top. A piece of twine tied to the door frame prevents it from being lifted off, and the pig is contained until I can deal with it. I'll do that when I'm cutting a pig from the herd, for instance, or for a pig that need sort of intervention.