Here’s the truth: pigs might not be the first animal that comes to mind when people think about pasture-based agriculture. While cattle and chickens may be stars of the show, raising pigs on pasture comes with its own unique set of questions.
Won’t they just root up the place? How often should we rotate them? How exactly will the ground recover? Knowing how many questions come with pastured pork, we sought out advice from the experts. We gathered up a bunch of farmers raising pigs on pasture and asked them this question:
What is the best advice you have for someone just starting out raising pigs on pasture?
We’re very grateful for the insightful replies we recieved from these awesome farmers. Read below to see what they had to say:
Brian Bruno – Apple Ridge Farm
Owned by Brian Bruno and serving the state of Pennsylvania, Apple Ride Farm is a sustainable family farm that produces everything from pastured pork to hydroponic lettuce.
I guess I would tell someone new to raising pastured pigs to make sure they have pasture available to keep the pigs moving through it all season and be ready for some serious recovery time because pigs will root it up pretty well.
Something we started doing that works really well for us is using old horse trailers for housing. We have a feeder in the trailer a nipple waterer mounted to the outside. When it’s time to move the pigs we just throw some snacks in the trailer and close it up. Then we’re ready to move anywhere on the farm quick and easy. Also makes slaughter day super easy as well!
Justian Jordan – Jordan Farms
Justian Jordan raises pastured pork for the state of New York with Jordan Farms.
The best response I can give is probably a bit long. Fencing woven wire and electric or electro net for piglets and training. Out on pasture electric. Make sure it is hot!!. On pasture have got to try your best to keep clean water and mud in the summer months. Don’t be afraid of winter. Water is your biggest issue. Breed selection and breeder. Try to buy from a breeder with pasture pigs or at least pigs that spend most of there time outside. They will do much better. Get to know your breeder. Some breeds graze and pasture better than others but with that said I have also seen York’s hold there own on pasture. Keep very close track of ALL expenses I’ve seen different genetics vary as much as $2.00 per lb cost that sometimes is ALL of your profit. If venture into breeding study and find a mentor. Not one system works for everyone. It is best not to name breeding stock at least till they prove themselves. Some pigs do NOT make good mothers and some just don’t breed. Cull them and move on.
Kim from Chestnut Farms
Kim runs the family-owned Chestnut Farms alongside her husband, Rich. Their farms operates a meat CSA that serves customers with grass-fed meat all across Massachusetts.
Fencing – good fencing is key – we use cattle hog panels (4 foot high) and T posts – these can be put up, taken down and moved – the second key is to remember to tightly tie the panels especially at the bottom. We use four linear ties per post.
Jaimie from Cowgirl Meat Co.
Located in the mountains of Montana, Jaimie and her husband manage Cowgirl Meat Co., which raises both grass-fed beef and pastured pork.
The first thing I would advise when raising pastured pork is to do due diligence in the breed and genetics of the pigs. Heritage breeds pig do the best on pasture and have some of the best taste in my opinion. There are different breeders out there depending on the region people live. I would find a reputable breeder that has good genetics when starting to raise pigs on pasture. I would also make sure to have a rotation grazing plan in place before starting to raise the animals. It is important to have a plan ahead of time rather than trying to figure it out when the pigs need to move to another pasture. It makes it easier to move fence and plan ahead.
Chris from Deck Family Farm
Located in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, Deck Family Farm raises a variety of pastured products. From pastured pork to pastured eggs, their 320 acre farm has it all.
Be ready to renovate once the pigs are out.
Pastured pigs do a great job of tilling soil and cleaning up unwanted plants but to make the most of the effort: disk, till seed, harrow and water once they are off to return the paddock better than when you started.
Scott Hasselmann – Hasselmann Family Farm
A true family-effort, Hasselmann Family Farm raises a wide variety of products. From lamb to Berkshire pork, Scott and his family are serving the Chicagoland area with great meat.
My advice is to start small with a dozen pigs or less, and learn and as you go. Better to have less pigs and a nice well care for pasture, than over crowd them and destroy the pasture. If you keep the pasture in good condition, it will keep the pigs healthy and well.
Natalie from Grateful Growers Farm
Grateful Growers Farm is a diverse small farm in North Carolina that is focused on growing wonderful food while fostering a sense of community.
Know where and how you are going to have the hogs processed and how much it is going to cost. Even if you don’t raise pigs as part of a business, you have to answer this question before your first pig hits the ground. Transporting the animals and the meat all takes time and money and a little know-how. That comment applies to any species of livestock. Processing facilities that will work with small-scale producers are harder and harder to come by.
As for the husbandry itself, I would definitely echo my farmer colleagues on the comments about fencing, breed selection, and the nature of pigs as rooters. If you don’t ring their noses you will have a moonscape if you leave pigs in one place for very long. This comes in handy if you rotate them with a garden space or are trying to clear vegetation, but out on a pristine “pasture”, they will make craters overnight.
Freedom Range Farm
The team at Freedom Range Farm is healing the land and producing great food in Wisconsin.
Cash in on otherwise low value woodlands especially acorn producing oak groves.
Wow! We’d like to send a huge thanks to all of the farmers who were kind enough to add their expertise to this post.