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Raising pigs - in a swamp.

In 75/3:26 I wrote about Louis Bromfield's experience with raising pigs on pasture at Malabar Farm in Northcentral Ohio. Another experiment later tried by Bromfield was to raise pigs on an all-in/all-out basis in a swampy area.

After hearing of experiences of a Iowa hog farmer, Bromfield decided to try it himself. The following is his experience:

"In 1955 we are embarking at Malabar on a greatly extended hog program which involves the enclosure of about 150 acres of swamp and forest land now wholly unproductive save for an occasional cutting of timber. It is our plan to permit the sows and their litters complete freedom within this area which is also furnished with water and clean wallows by a large spring creek which maintains an even flow under all conditions. The hogs will also have access to rotated pastures of alfalfa and ladino with a single feeding lot of two acres where they will be fed whatever grain they need, and where the pigs can be rounded up and loaded at marketing or sale time. Within the woods and swamp area they will have access to an even greater variety of diet and freedom than under the present system. As the gravel in the spring stream is of glacial origin and about 40 percent partially broken down dolomitic limestone, even the question of minerals tends to solve itself. We are planning to run in the area a hundred or more sows for a beginning and will sell the pigs off at weaning time, rebreed the sows to be sold in the autumn to other farms, close down all operations and eliminate expensive grain feeding until January 1st, when a new lot of glits and sows will be purchased and put into the feeding barns with boars to breed for farrowing in early May, when the same routine will be followed in the succeeding year.

"The new plan (that of selling pigs as weanlings at 2 - 2-1/2 months and rebreeding the sows for autumn sale) promises to be even more profitable than our previous experience with raising pigs on pasture and cattle manure. During the past four years the weanling pigs we have sold never brought less than $16.50 and some brought as high as $20.00. These weanlings have consumed only very small quantities of grain and have been raised almost wholly on milk and legumes. As our average litters run between nine and ten living pigs (emphasis added), the return per sow is very high, especially when the sows are sold as bred sows in the autumn. Bred purebred sows or registered gilts in our area are, at the time of writing, bringing one hundred dollars apiece and ordinary grade sows are bringing eighty dollars upward. These figures are important especially in view of the very low capital investment involved, the virtual nonexistence of veterinarian bills, the elimination of the expensive mashes and supplements and a labor cost which is extremely low, merely a part-time job for one man. I mention these economic factors as they are of great interest to the practical farmer.

"In all the experiments in raising hogs at Malabar we have been concerned primarily with health, simplicity and net profit to the average farmer. It does not matter that a farmer puts 10,000 hogs on the market if he makes little or no profit and if he is plagued by sickness and ills of all sorts. A farmer raising 100 hogs with common sense may have a much larger net profit. The truth is that the whole technique of raising hogs as advocated by many "authorities" has become so complex and so complicated that both the margin of health and the margin of net profit has been greatly lowered for any farmer who attempts to follow out all their advice and instructions. Capital investment in elaborate housing and feeding installations made it necessary to raise hogs for years before the investment can be amortized. The costs of daylight lamps, of artificial heating, of veterinarian services, of inoculations and vaccinations, of expensive hog "mashes" and artificial chemical "stimulants" and a hundred other things have made of the comparatively simple operation of breeding, raising and feeding the most intelligent and self-sufficient of animals something which, if carried out in all the details, not only devours the profits but greatly increases the labor and in general produces a kind of nightmare not only for the hog but for the farmer who attempts to follow all the advice which is put out. Much of this frequently comes through high-pressure advertising campaigns put on by chemical, farm equipment and feed companies and frequently by "experts" who have never possibly imagined themselves to be hogs and what a hog would like in order to be healthy, comfortable and happy, nor have they ever at the end of the year been forced to balance costs against profits. They are men who regard hogs as something to be kept in a test tube rather than as highly intelligent and self-sufficient animals. A little time "wasted" leaning on the fence of the hog lot where the hog is happily taking care of himself might be of profit."

Two things come to mind:

* Several years ago the "Agri-Country" program which appears out of Columbus, Ohio on Saturday mornings had an interview with a well-above average size farmer. He pointed out about a 60-acre swampy area and briefly told bout putting sows and gilts and a couple into it in the spring and bringing out sows, boars and weaner pigs to sell in the fall without even housing costs. He commented those pigs had paid for his first farm.

* In the February 1991 issue of "Successful Farmer" magazine, one of their senior editors tells the story of doing extensive hog house remodeling based on plans provided by a $72 per hour consultant only to have most of them not work out anyway near as well as they did on paper. When she called this consultant (a Penn State University agricultural engineer) about the problems, he said he no longer supported one of his designs for them. A later article in the same issue said this same consultant basically had completely changed his recommendations from a November 1989 article he wrote for them on hog house renovation (and with an apparent editorial straight face I might add). This article was tided, "If you wait 5 years to remodel, you'll be 50 designs behind!" Since it probably takes 10-20 years to pay off a hog house remodeling...

To paraphrase Bromfield, if you make the decision to go high-capital, high-intensive, you have to keep making the right decision time-after-time; if you make the decision to go low-capital, low intensive, you only have to make the decision once.

While not indicated, I suspect Bromfield had to fence in the 150 acres with woven hog wire fencing. The new New Zealand-style power fencing would significantly reduce the cost and effort of building a fence just as effective today. Bromfield died in 1956, at which time basically every project at Malabar ended. However, he certainly seemed to be on the right track. Today's hog prices are at least double that of 1955. If the fenced-in area contained a predominance of oaks, early winter selling would allow the pigs to harvest the acorn crop essentially at no additional costs.

For information on a sow-operated feed crate, send a business-size SASE with two first class stamps attached to Watkins Mfg. Co., Rt. 3 Box 35, Linden, TN 37096. As the sow enters the crate and lifts the lid to the feed area, the crate automatically shuts in back of her. This allows limit feeding each sow as well as confining them for work as needed. The crates open in the front also which allows individual sows to be removed from the herd as required. Cost per crate is about $170.00.

A-frame pig shelters are fine but do have drawbacks: you have to make them, they are heavy to move, nonstackable for storage and 2"x4"s and plywood or roofing sheets are no longer cheap.

An easier way

An alternative is manufactured pig shelters by Port-A-Huts (Storm Lake, IA 50588, (712) 732-2546 or (800) 882-4884). Their basic 4'6" x 7'6" base, 3'10" height and weight of 130 pounds allow for easy mobility. With optional guard rail around three sides to allow a passageway behind the sow to save overlaying, they cost $14 1.00 each -- about the cost of a do-it-yourself A-frame. They are all-steel construction with three anchor stakes provided. Other options include having half the front side closed, pig rollers and doors to completely shut off the hutch. Since the pig Port-A-Huts come preassembled, pickup is required.

This company also sells calf huts, larger shelters (which can also be used as garages or machinery shelters) and additional related equipment. Call them for a brochure and the location of a distributor in your area.--K. S.
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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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