Current as of 2021-10-02 14:41:21 -0500
Raising Iberian Pigs
The black iberian pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) is hardy and used to living outside the whole year. It does not need a man-made shelter to survive and much like the wild boar (Sus scrofa) feeds on a varied diet of what is available in the habitat.
- Natural behavior
- Shelter areas
- Drinking water
- Plan for upcoming season
We want to provide a natural environment to the pigs so they can behave according to their instincts.
The pig is a forest animal and likes to dig up soil and plow throw the understory of the forest searching for food.
According to what veterinarians tell us and what we can read ourselves pigs
- live in groups
- females and their litter
- males with young males
- roam, play, forage
- pregnant sows and sows with a litter drive a boar away
As our farm is conveniently devided into two main sectors (zone A and C) and a third one in between (zone B) we can manage our pigs so that natural behavior is encouraged.
We keep the sows and their litter in zone A (or C) in a paddock rotation and the boars in the other zone (C or A). That way the two groups don’t meet.
Once we want to get our breeding sows to become pregnant we move them to zone B and introduce the boar to them. After some time we remove the boar and join him with the rest of the male pack again. The sows can then build their nest with material (straw, hay) we provide in zone B. Once the piglets are old enough we join the breeding sows with their litter with the rest of the female pack.
Each group of pigs (separated by sex) has their own shelter area. Inside the shelter area we provide:
- Drinking water
- Winter: deep bedding with straw under a roof
- Summer: wet area for wallows
- Summer: feed troughs
The configuration of the shelter areas changes according to the season.
As the only water source for pigs is located in their shelter area, they will return to it frequently. We also expect them to sleep there as that is “their home”.
Shelter areas have one or more wooden doors that allow the pigs to walk out into sectors where the animal path leads them to a set of paddocks. If a paddock has an open door, they can enter and forage.
Shelter Zone A
This is the shelter in zone A:
- shelter with roof for winter
- nipple waterer
- second door to provide access to other sector
- blocker in animal path (stored when not in use)
Construct an animal waterer (for cows) along the fence of the shelter area and add hooks for a metal divider to block the animal path so that we can separate sectors. The segments of the divider can be stored in a pocket behind the animal waterer.
Shelter Zone C
Zone C has a swale with a natural pond (it holds water).
Around that pond we want to build another pig shelter with the same features as the one in zone A.
Management during acorn season
The acorn season runs from November to February.
As our farm is located in the dehesa our pigs feed only on acorns and what else they can find. They do not receive any additional feed.
As we have divided the farm into many small paddocks and have paths to connect them we let the pigs roam freely along those paths. They can find an open door to enter a paddock and then forage there.
The desired form of participation of the pigs is:
- Pigs enter a paddock full with grasses and acorns
- In order to accelerate the harvest of the acorns we make the acorns fall down with stick and string.
- While we are present pigs harvest all the acorns
- We then push the pigs out of the paddock and/or lure them to the adjoining paddock by providing a “rain of acorns” there
- Once all pigs have moved, we close the wooden door to the paddock
Some pigs will go back to the shelter area to drink water. They don’t do it as a group but rather individually or in small groups. They want to stay in the paddock for as long as there is a chance for finding acorns. Regular feed is not an incentive good enough to lure them out.
They will also uproot the soil in order to find buried acorns, plant roots, etc. That is beneficial as it removes compaction of the soil and as we have observed vigorous growth will follow later given our seed bank in the soil is filled well.
If the uprooting of the soil is going on for too long, there will be less feed for the cows.
With long sticks to which a string is attached we can “beat” the trees to make the acorns fall down in bunches instead of waiting for them to fall down on their own or because of the wind. That allows us to harvest all acorns a tree has and then close the paddock so that it is protected from the uprooting.
However, we need to keep the pigs busy elsewhere when we want the cows to graze in that very same paddock. Pigs need to go in first as the cows also eat the acorns.
Another issue is that the pigs don’t want to leave while there are still acorns to be found. They know that better than we do. Regular pig feed is not attractive enough to lure them out.
We may try to watch them and close the paddock when they go for a drink at the waterer somewhere else. But based on observation that is unlikely as they don’t go to the water as a group but rather individually or in small groups.
Acorn season 2020/2021
We move our 35 pigs from zone A to zone C. They are going to live in the main swale and can go out and harvest acorns in areas that they can reach.
Inside the swale area the pigs will have:
- drinking water
- straw as bedding
The main swale is going to have a solid fence with electric wire all around and a wooden door at the entrance to the main animal path.
Around the main swale we will have several large sectors where the pigs can search for acorns. These sectors will become small paddocks over time as we are installing more and more fencing. In the beginning we fence in what is convenient to do. The pigs will be allowed to roam freely between the main swale and one of these areas at a time.
As pigs have not been in zone C but only the cows the pigs will uproot the soil to search for buried acorns. That prepares those areas for seeding.
Management during the rest of the year
The rest of the year outside the acorn season runs from March to October.
Pigs will find the remaining acorns. Depending on how we manage them there may be none left and that fact together with other available forage should reduce their digging to a minimum.
Depending on the forage situation we keep the pigs confined to a shelter area and provide feed or we use the animal paths to guide them to enclosed areas where they can harvest themselves.
Crops for pig feed
Ideas for season 2021:
- Harvest turnips or cabbage sown in autumn
- Seed more cabbage and turnips on the berm of the main swale in zone C.
- Harvest cabbage sown in March
- Harvest corn sown end of February
- Harvest turnips sown in March on the berm of the main swale in zone C
- Harvest corn sown mid March
- Harvest corn sown in April
- Harvest corn sown in May
- Harvest corn sown in June
We don’t have enough pasture yet to keep the pigs on pasture throughout the year.
While we improve the land we can still do some of the above. We can sacrifice special paddocks in zone A, B, and C where we keep the pigs for too long on purpose, then seed the area and keep the pigs in the next area for that purpose. In order to improve fertility in these areas we add straw and other plant material which the pigs will happily chew on and trample into the soil - some of it they will eat.
Outside the acorn season pigs are kept and fed commerical pig food in areas covered with straw.
The pigs play with the straw and integrate it into the soil. That increases the amount of organic matter and helps to build up humus which in turn improves the water retention capacity of the soil that should help mitigate the negative effects of the summer draught.
Beginning in fall 2020 we will seed a variety of forage plants in several paddocks in order to grow our own feed for the pigs. The pigs will then be moved frequently to harvest that forage.
As we are also moving the cows frequently we will have the cows and pigs mixed and going in and out of the same paddock. The upside of this is that the cow manure will be spread out by the pigs which should help to fertilize the soil.
During the acorn season pigs are guided to areas with acorns. Humans supervise pig’s activity in order to prevent too much destruction of the soil. When all acorns have been eaten by the pigs they are taken to the next area.
As we don’t have enough fertility yet in our soil, we depend on commercial pig food.
Our long-term goal is that all the animals can feed on what grows within the boundaries of the farm and we have to bring nothing in from the outside.
Making our own pig feed
We have grown a limited amount of corn and harvested it in 2020.
Now we want to grow rye and corn at a larger scale to begin feeding the pigs with our own feed. Growing the feed on the land helps to improve the land.
Between November and February pigs feed on acorns and grass or whatever they can find when roaming paddocks filled with acorns. By the end of February the pigs that have had their second acorn season have been slaughtered and we are left with the ones that have had the first acorn season. The feed is now for that group.
gestation up 120 dias
That food consists of:
- Soy meal
- Calcium carbonate
- Animal fat from pigs
- Sodium chloride (salt)
- Monophasic phosphate
This is a sample label:
During the non-acorn season the pigs get to eat about 1 kg per animal per day.
In addition we try to feed them something else to avoid that they start to eat dirt. They are always hungry and always want to eat / chew on something.
So far we have used beet pulp. They do eat it but are not that keen on it.
Beet pulp works but it gets delivered in heavy 40 kg sacks, creates a lot of dust and doesn’t do anything good for the soil.
We will try with bean straw next. Being straw some of it might end up as organic matter in the soil while the other part helps the pigs to feel full.
Pigs have access to water in holding areas or along the animal paths throughout the farm.
As pigs cannot sweat they need bodies of water to cool down during hot days. Summer temperatures can reach 35C regularly. We have observed 45C.
Building ponds helps to regenerate the soil as we could observe between 2019 and 2020 in zone A02:
This type of shallow pond dries out during summer which is ok. However, in order to keep the pigs cool we need to fill up the pond in the area where they are at a given moment with water from a well. Our wells are shallow wells and don’t use ground water from deep below. If we had a huge catchment system for rain water (there is plenty of rain during fall and winter), we were able to maintain the water level with that water. This requires us to:
- build catchment system
- build huge cistern
- automated water level measuring and valve control
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