Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pasture Song

A couple of weeks ago at the urging of my friend Terra Brockman from The Land Connection, I wrote an op-ed piece for the NY Times. It was in response to an article written by Blake Hurst of the Missouri Farm Board. In a nutshell, he saw no real issues with confinement hog farmer and I disagreed. His article was published, mine was not.

Maybe he's just a better writer?

But the whole issue continues to weigh heavy on my mind as we've had several outdoor farrowings the past 6 weeks. I would be dishonest if I implied that pastured hogs are filled only with joy and light. Sometimes farrowing outside the barn goes sour, but we had a beautiful case of success last week.

Meet Dot.

As you can see by the size of her head she's no lightweight. A crossbred we have had for several years we bred her to our new boar Wickham Farm Wally . When she was about a week from her due date we moved into a large pasture of her own with a large hutch of our own. There was no way she would fit into the smaller hogcienda's Keith built, as they work best for smaller first time mommies.

Her babes (12) were born on a cool (25 degrees) calm night. We did not assist her, we only monitored her from a distance. In fact Keith did not feed her for 24 hrs. Why? Because we have learned the hard way that the more your disturb a recently farrowed sow the more likely they are to gobble up their own babies. It is not vicious. It is their way of protecting them.

After being left completely alone for 24 hours she was fed and watered. 48 hrs later we counted only 11 babies. No investigation was done. We chalked it up to "natural causes"

From the edge of her pasture we could see and hear lots of activity and on day 4 babies were peeking noses out of their safe home and mom was relaxing. On day 7 we loaded Dot up for a ride in the livestock trailer.

You know what is coming don't you? Don't worry. No tutorial this time.

Moving her to the other side of the farm where she would be less likely to hear her little ones, we entered the pig cave and started counting sacks. We had five pairs. We took them outside of the hutch so any extra blood is not spilled in the nest area. About 15 minutes later, yes about three minutes per pig, enough for betadine before, two small cuts with new blades each time, betadine after the procedure and some ear scratching , castration was complete and we had them all back in their nest.

Mama was released.

She knew something was up and headed straight home.

Tip of the day. Never get between a mama and her babies.

She checks them all and within minutes they are cuddling up to her for comfort. Nursing helps release chemicals in the piglets bodies which help vessels contract and bleeding to cease.

Notice how she has all her bedding piled up in the back? How it is so high behind her rump? By making their nests so deep and building them over rotting manure underneath they ensure natural warmth. Coupled with her own natural body temp of 103 the babes have a very cozy home. The front of the hutch faces east as we get so many of our winds, rains and snows from the west.

Soon the piglets they are all running about and already starting the healing process. We feel strongly and our pigs would agree that raising them and yes, farrowing them, outside on pasture is much healthier and totally more humane than than sadly what the other 95% of all hogs must endure in the USA.

Please note. The above is NOT a picture distributed by PETA. It came from the pork industry itself. If this is the photo they want to be shared can you imagine the photos they want kept secret?


  1. Dot is a big and beautiful gal, and the little ones look so healthy.

    Cruelty in farming will always be there, as long as clients want cheaper and cheaper meat. It is up to us to say NO, and ensure that at least a good percentage of rearing is done correctly. Well done to both of you.

  2. Fantastic read, thanks Donna. I still can't get my head around 'battery' style farming :/

  3. Dot is a beauty! Love her sweet little piglets. My heart went out to the penned mamas and to their poor little baby piglets!

  4. It's folk like you and your family that need to continue your farming practices and show the rest of the world that it CAN be done humanely. Not only that, but as icky as it is, we need to show people what the mega-food industry DOES; unfortunately too many people (including some of my own extended family) just see the meat in the plastic wrapped polystyrene tray and not the horrid living conditions those animals have to endure before being "relieved" of their lives via the knife.

    Yay for happy pastured piggies!!

  5. I think I want to be an animal on your farm!

  6. I think I want to be an animal on your farm!

  7. That is one big sow! We raised China whites and hampshire (I think). We had farrowing houses, but pastured the hogs almost 100%.

    Looking at the straw and the bedding, I can almost smell and feel the farm.
    Enjoyed your post immensely.