Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Feed Out Pigs... on the cheap

I thought I'd declare this Pig Week and re-run a series of posts about how to grow out pigs. Why? Mostly because folks are interested....I get questions all the time if it really works. It does. So let's get started this with this post - by far the most popular post on the blog originally published here, How to grow out feeder pigs: Part 2 Feed 'em on the cheap.

The only thing to note is that this was originally written several years ago. Feed prices have gone up significantly which is why supplementing lower protein (cheaper) feed with your farm produced milk, eggs, and produce makes even more cents.... and sense.

........As I mentioned yesterday in How to grow out feeder pigs - on the cheap. Part One there are lots of ways to feed out hogs. And my pal JHM, a real farmer, as well as FarmerChick who grows out hogs to 500 lbs to sell as whole hog sausage, will just tell ya to feed 'em hog chow and quick monkeying around. And many 4H programs have a right and prescribed method of feeding exact amounts to keep growth rates steady by using bagged food.

We thought we'd probably do the same until we happily marched down to our local feed store and asked for a bag of starter hog food for our shiny new pigs that Bourbon Red suckered me into buying. To tell the truth he called me a varity of unseemly names doubting I was man enough to get pigs. Of course that spurred me to action and 2 pigs were delivered a couple days later, much to the surprise of The Big Man ("WHAT is coming? TODAY?"). Anyway.

"That will be $17." Said our able feed store guy. I balked, "How much? Is that in US dollars?" He nodded. The Big Man glared at me. Now $17 is a lot for a bag of feed. Heck - that's alot for a bag of cat food and we love the cats, unlike the hated pigs.

We bought it and fed it to the not-so-shiny-anymore pigs. They ate it. All of it. In a week. I called up Bourbon Red and asked him what he got me into. Luckily he had a great solution. Later that day The Big Man and I were standing in the feed aisle of Tractor Supply arguing and trying to do math in our heads.

BR's solution was to buy a bag of Calf Manna and use this to supplement the regular hog chow. The problem is... Calf Manna is about $20 a bag. We balked and asked "Is that in US dollars!?" It was. Hence the arguing - we did not think this would work.

The theory is that you could feed the lower protein, lower priced, regular "hog grower" and add Calf Manna while the pigs are young instead of the usual (and much more expensive) "hog starter." Our young pigs normally go thru a 50 pound bag of feed a week. $17 a week would quickly double to $34 a week and heck at that point it would be some expensive pork.

We finally figured out the math and it looks like this:

So if:
One bag of Calf Manna = $20
Hog starter (high protein feed) = $17/bag
Hog grower (11 - 14% protein feed) = $7/bag

We only need one bag of Calf Manna for 2 pigs for the season.  Of course, if your pigs are big enough to go directly to hog grower then it isnt worth it, but even if you need grower for a month it makes sense (for us).

Hog starter only: $17 * 4 weeks = $68
Calf Manna + hog grower: $20 (one time purchase) +  $7 * 4 weeks = $48

So by the 3rd week then you've pretty much got your money back. But then a bag of Calf Manna lasts us more than a month - it lasts the whole season.  And we can use it for other things as well as to supplement the "corn only" feeding segment until the bag is gone.

As with most animals, pigs need more protein when they are younger (up to 18%) but then need less the bigger they get (14% to finish). The trick with this method is to use Calf Manna to make up the difference if using a lower protein feed (the grower or just corn). And then supplement with milk and eggs and whatever else you have to provide a balanced diet.

Does everyone have this?

Now the magnificent Kelly Klober who wrote the Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs: Care, Facilities, Management, Breed Selection (which everyone should run right out and get if you are considering pigs) will quote you chapter and verse about what to feed pigs at what age. We base our feed schedule by closely observing our pigs and feeding for a continuous growth rate.

You can feed a hog regular grower until "market weight" or until its big enough to butcher... but that's not really in line with our "raise 'em naturally" thing. We prefer to use whats available because we are cheap...and as it turns out, this works with what is seasonally available in the barn yard. Also high soy meal (hog chow) really doesn't seem all that natural to us and for lots of reasons we prefer to finish them on corn (mostly because I like a lot of lard and we feel the meat is better quality).

Our seasonal feeding schedule goes like this:

New/young pigs (8 to 12 weeks): hog chow + Calf Manna + goat milk + hard cooked eggs

Middle of summer (pigs are about 100 - 150 or so pounds): gradually mix half and half cracked corn and hog chow + Calf Manna + goat milk + hard cooked eggs.... and by this time we should have some fruit available.

Two weeks or so later: switch entirely to corn + goat milk + hard cooked eggs and by this time we should have some fruit available.  And finish up the remainder of the bag of Calf Manna

For the rest of the season we pour on the corn, hard cooked eggs, whatever weeds and leftover garden stuff we have, and we start hitting up our friends who have farm market stands. Pumpkins, apples, whatever they have that is "too ugly to sell" and especially we like to mix corn + the apple pulp/pressings from cider making. Pigs think this is great and if you let it ferment for a couple days, they love it.

A couple things I know you are about to ask...

Why should I monkey around with all this extra work?
If its not your thing, then don't. There is a whole industry based on raising pigs on commercial hog chow. But then... you're kinda raising a commercially grown pig.

How much Calf Manna?
Depends. I know that's vague but it depends on the protein level of your feed and how big the pigs are. Roughly if we provide a scoop of hog chow, about a cup of it is Calf Manna. And it depends on if we have eggs for that feeding, and how much milk we have. Less eggs and milks = more Calf Manna.

But they won't get the right, nutritionally balanced diet!
We don't worry about nutrition too much because they are "one season" pigs. We strive for a constant growth rate and adjust as needed.  And because we spend so much time with our pigs we feel like we have a good handle on their health. We take time to observe them daily and constantly evaluate their conformation and overall health.  And since we raise them on pasture - and provide a varied diet - we feel they get great nutrition. And this method is in line with the old timey way of doing things. Chances are your great-grandpa raised his hogs the exact same way.

How much to feed?
Depends. The old timers say to feed as much as they will eat in 20 minutes, two or three times a day.  So feed them appropriate for their age. Start small and watch to see how much and how fast they eat. If there is still food in their feeders when you go out the next time - feed less. If they push each other down and fight over the food, give them more. And better yet, at some point feed them in separate feeders. Also, the "two or three times" depends on the weather and their age. We feed 3x a day in extreme cold weather or when they are young (young animals of all kinds do better with smaller meals, more often).  Twice a day is fine for the summer. Some folks use those self feeders. We don't. Not only are we already out there in the barnyard... but it gives us  an opportunity to spend time observing them. Never underestimate the value of spending time with your livestock. Develop the ability to note changes in behavior or body conformation.

 Practically indestructable.. perfect for feeding pigz.

Whatcha feed them in?
We like those rubber, black, bendy tub things - we have a couple different sizes to accommodate their growth.  They quickly grow out of the smaller ones, so we then use those feeders for the poultry.

How much goat milk?
Pretty much they will drink as much as you have. Almost all of the goats milk goes to the pigs -  easily a gallon or more a day. If you don't have goats, please consider a dairy cow. Or ask around. Chances are there is a goat breeder somewhere who is dumping perfectly good milk - especially in states where the sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal.

How many eggs?
They will eat as many as you have. But try and provide consistency - for instance, don't feed them 2 dozen eggs one day and then one egg the next. Strive for a consistent level of protein from day to day.  By the end of summer I have 8 or 10 extra eggs several times a week. The most important thing is to feed them HARD COOKED eggs - never raw. Sure they will eat raw eggs... but raw eggs have a protein an inhibitor and the whole point is to feed them nutrient rich food, not something that will slow their growth. And you don't need any of that fancy stuff for cooking the eggs, just toss them in a pan of cold water, boil/simmer for 15 minutes, and let them cool. No need for exact timing or cooling them immediately. Just throw the eggs at the pigs... I mean to the pigs shell and all.

What about dumpster diving?
You want to be careful with this. While its OK to feed "ugly" fruit you don't want to feed your pigs garbage. In some states this is actually illegal and there are regulations about cooking "waste food" to a certain temperature before feeding it to hogs. We pretty much avoid giving them leftovers, anything that is destined for the garbage, any meat, fat, or weird stuff. Remember the pigs are what you're gonna eat, so you want to feed them quality food. That being said, some folks I know get "day old bread" from bakeries or can convince local grocery stores to give them 'old' produce. But you don't really want to feed your food junk. If whatcha got is headed for the compost pile then send it there. But got a bucket of tomatoes that you just can't use? Toss 'em to the pigs.

But if pigs will eat anything why not feed meat?
Because this freaks me out, man. But really, you don't want to encourage cannibalism or for them to go after your chickens. And while I take my hat off the to the old timer who routinely threw dead raccoons to his hogs... I ain't eatin' that bacon, if you know what I mean.

So pretty much, except for the one bag of Calf Manna and a couple of bags of regular hog chow... everything else is free (but the cracked corn but we use this for almost everyone so it folds into our budget). By the end of the season we were easily feeding 2 (or slightly more) bags of cracked corn per week which is $10 or less. Our eggs, our goat milk, our fruit, and free stuff from our farm market friends provide the bulk of what we feed the hogs. Free is a great price.

And if you get out and hustle you can find lots of free stuff. Ask the local farmers if you can glean in their fields after they take up the corn.  Or does your neighbor have an oak tree dropping acorns or black walnuts?  Got a lead on someone who is overrun with zucchinis or tomatoes? Is there someone who has an apple tree who doens't use the fruit? Folks love to help out - and if you can take their stuff so they don't have to compost it, rake it up, or throw it out - they will call you again next year. Take time to stick our your hand and say hello... and tell stories about your barnyard. Pretty soon you'll develop a network of folks who are very happy to fill up your truck. 

Or look closer to home - do you have some clearing to do on your property and have a buncha brambles, leaves, or branches? Toss them all over the fence.  If you have your hogs on pasture not only will they eat everything green - including poison ivy and that stupid wild rose and blackberries - they will also root up the place. Have stumps you need to dig out? Start throwing whole corn in that area - or use the old farmers trick and drill holes in the stumps and fill them with corn.

There's all kinds of creative things you can do. One guy I know got into hogs because he worked for a trucking company who had a dog food producer for a customer. One day they had a load of bagged dog food that could not be sold in retail because of a labeling mistake. He asked, and got, the entire truckload for free. And he used it to start a hog growing operation. It worked out great for him.

And it can work out great for you too. Take a look around at what you have and what you can use. Do you have extra garden space to grow extra produce? Have friends who have too many eggs from their hens? Can you get a few extra laying hens while you have pigs? Do you grow your own lush, legume hay? Have an orchard?

For our money, raising pigs on the cheap is the way to go. For less than half a year of work we get a whole year's worth of meat for us. And the leavin's for the dogs. And lard. And the cracklin's from the lard for the pigs. And not to mention the awesome burn pile we have whenever I find where I put those hogs heads...

Anyway. That's the way of it. Use the perfect circle of life in your barnyard to make your life better. The chickens and goats feed the pigs who feed us.

Now get out there and come up with a plan to feed your hogs!

1 comment:

David said...

Excellent post - going in "the folder"

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