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Moving Pigs

posted on

May 7, 2024

Pigs are back on pasture at Polyface! Kept warm and snuggly all winter, we've returned our pigs to their usual home - the pigerator paddocks. 

Pastured pigs are not only a lot of fun to raise, but the by-products of bacon, sausage, ham, and more make pigs well worth it. What all goes into raising pigs on pasture?

Our pig pastures are set up mainly in forest/silvopasture settings. 

We run one or two strands of wire at the height of the pigs’ noses. Pigs don’t have great eyesight so the wire needs to be easy for them to see and kept at a high voltage. This means we often trim around the paddocks to keep the wires free from overgrowth and tall grass. In each paddock, there is a “doorway” to the next paddock which is closed with wooden gates. Pigs have an easier time moving from paddock to paddock through the wooden gates because they can see it better and can tell when it's open.

When we go to move the pigs, we drive out to the pasture with a tractor hooked up to a feed buggy. After letting ourselves into the paddock, we open the gate to the next paddock, scoop up their feeder with the tractor (we time the moves so that it is empty now), bring it to their new pasture, and fill it with fresh feed. All of our feed is non-GMO whole grain feed milled at a local farm and tested for glyphosate residue. 

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While we do this task, we drain the pigs' water tank (which is simply connected to our gravity-fed water system) and enjoy watching the pigs explore their new setting. 

During the fall, the pigs enjoy rooting through leaves and crunching on acorns; in the spring and summer, they enjoy the fresh grass and greens that each paddock offers. And if they are lucky, they will find or make some mud!

After the water drinker has been drained and moved (usually we tip this and roll it over the electric wires to the next paddock) and we have moved the tractor out of the new paddock we look for any last pigs that haven't moved yet and coax them to join their friends in the new space. Then we close the wooden gates again and electrify the fence. We then head back to park the tractor and feed buggy, leaving the pigs to enjoy their best life!

Polyface does not farrow (breed/birth) our own pigs but we buy weaned pigs from some other great farmers around us. 

When we get new piglets, we keep them in a barn pen for a few weeks where they can be trained to electric fencing. Once the pigs are big enough to be out on pasture and are trained to the wire, we load them up deliver them to their pasture paradise. 

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After months of feasting on good feed and enjoying their roomy forested paddocks, when our pigs are “finished” and ready for the butcher, part of our team goes to “yeehaw” them down the mountain and back to the barn. (It sounds far more exciting and high energy than it is.) Carrying a stick or “sort-board” (lightweight plastic boards with handles) we gently herd them out of their paddock and down the gravel farm-road. Just don’t let the pigs get the best of you! To herd pigs, much patience and quiet coaxing are required to make the pigs think it's THEIR idea to go the way you want them to go. 

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Our pigs spend most of their time out on pasture but, in the cold of winter, when the pigs are bedded down in a hoop house or barn, we spread old hay over their bedding about once a week to freshen things up and give them something to play with and cozy up in. In the spring, the pigs also work for us in the barns, stirring the bedding (pigaerating) and turning the cows' manure into rich compost. As you can see, the Polyface pigs play lots of roles here on the farm!

I hope this has given you a small glimpse of the work and joy of raising pigs! If you're ever near Swoope, VA, come visit the pigs yourself and see them in real time - living their best piggy lives!

Priscilla

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