So it’s now March, and I’ve long since blown by the $200 mark with the pigs.
Judging from my receipts, I passed $200 on February 7th.
Turns out that bagged pig feed is expensive.
Previous total $186.01
150# Whole Corn (Bagged) $27.80
50# Whole Oats (Bagged) $12.40
300# Hog Grower (Bagged) $67.29
480# Whole Corn (bulk) $60.68
200# Soybean Meal (Bagged) $48.63
25# A-D-E Vitamin premix (Bagged) $14.49
New total $417.76
That’s a big jumble o’ feedstuffs, and it bears a little bit of explaining.
First, we started off feeding bagged hog grower that I picked up at Fleet farm. The pigs liked it, and it was unmedicated and convenient enough to pick up, but it was expensive at $659/ton. I had to find something else to feed them.
So I was pleased to find out that the feed store in Pine Island had much cheaper unmedicated hog grower at only $449/ton. It’s cheap, and a complete ration, but it’s ground into a really fine, almost powdery mix, like cornmeal. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the pigs enjoy eating the whole grains better.
That’s where the Corn and oat mixture came in. It’s only $400/ton, and substantially less if you start out with some free corn. The free corn, however, doesn’t last very long.
That’s better, even when I had to buy more corn, but there was still something bothering me.
You see, I was buying 50# bags of corn for $8.80. That seems downright cheap compared to other bagged feeds, but it’s awfully pricy when you compare it to the commodity price of corn.
Right now corn costs $7.08 per bushel. A bushel is 56#.
So getting your corn in a bag costs you an extra $1.72 and you get 6 fewer pounds of corn.
As with most things, buying in bulk is wayyyy cheaper.
And until recently, I couldn’t buy in bulk because I had no way of transporting or storing bulk grain.
But then last week, there was a big farm-equipment auction in Racine, MN. My dad was in attendance and picked up this Gravity Box. It’ll hold a few hundred bushels of corn, and as long as it’s not anywhere near full, my little Honda can pull it just fine.
I took it out on it’s maiden voyage the other day. We went to town and picked up 8.57 bushels (480#) of corn.
I only paid $7.08/bushel ($253/ton). That’s oodles cheaper than buying it in bags.
So if you’re out to spend $60.68 buying corn, you can have either 345# of bagged corn, or 480# of bulk corn.
Handling is a little more work with bulk grain right now. I’m storing it in (what else?) plastic barrels. Two barrels was more than enough for the amount I brought home.
I figured that I’ll need 6 barrels to store 1 ton of corn, probably a few more in reality, because a barrel full of corn is a real pain to move, even with a hand-truck.
So, all the corn is moved indoors (in the farm store for now) and soybean meal and A-D-E vitamin mix is in there with it.
I’ve come up with a feed mix that’s working out pretty well using this handy little calculator.
9# Whole Corn.
3# Soybean Meal.
and a smidge of Vitamin A-D-E premix.
Right now I feed them that mix in the morning and let them finish off some of the hog grower in the afternoon if they’re still hungry.
I’m not so sure that the vitamin premix is necessary since they’ve got free choice alfalfa hay, but I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry. Maybe it’s just the “coming off of the pre-mix ration jitters” but I feel like I’m probably missing some important nutritional item that’s going to make all the pigs grow a third ear or something.
I just keep reminding myself that the complete hog rations are most important for the folks raising their hogs in a barn on a concrete floor. They never get to go outside and root around in the dirt for their minerals, or eat some tasty alfalfa hay to get their vitamins.
The best part about the new ration is the price. The current batch is $403.13/ton. For the next batch I’ll be ditching the soybean meal (which has already had the oil extracted from it) in favor of roasted soybeans which the local mill sells in bulk.
That’ll bring my feed cost down to $368.24/ton. That’s $291.36 less (per ton) than the bagged feed that I started out with, almost cutting the price in half.
Plus, we get to feed our pigs unprocessed whole grains. That’s a big plus in my book, because less processing means fewer emissions, and it makes it easier for us to transition to non-GMO grains later when we get more bulk storage space.
According to my recent guesstimate (using the Walter Jefferies string-method) the pigs have about doubled their weight during their two months on the farm. The big barrow and gilt are both around 115lbs. The little guy is smaller, but he had to fight off an infection, so he’s lagging a bit behind.
So they’re growing, which is good. But they’re outgrowing their feed bowls, which is bad.
They tend to fight over space at the bowl now, and when they get really testy, one of them will just flip the bowl over. That gives them more room to eat, but wastes feed by spreading it all over the ground.
A new feed trough is in order.
I needed something that’s big enough for all 3 pigs, fairly indestructible, and hard to flip. Oh, and cheap too.
Good thing I have more of those free 50 gallon plastic barrels.
Step 1: Divide barrel into 3 equal pieces.
Lacking a compass or protractor, I used this method.
Step 2: Chop it all up with your handy-dandy reciprocating saw (or whatever tool you want).
Three equal pieces. Nice.
Why not halves? Well, halves seemed to be a bit too tall. Pigs may get big, but they don’t get very tall, so they have a hard time eating if they have to stick their heads over the 11″ side of a half-barrel.
The pigs waterer is actually a half-barrel, but it’s dug down into the ground so that there’s only a 6″ lip sticking up.
So, on to step 3: Cut and attach the legs. You’ll want something heavy. I used an old 4×6 that used to be in the chickens room. Two 24″ chunks of wood ought to do the trick.
Fasten with a handful of screws, trim the pointy bits of barrel with a saw, and you’re good to go.
It turned out to be just about the perfect height. The pigs were a bit disappointed that they could no longer stand in their food while they ate. The slick concave floor of the barrel leads to some slip-sliding pigs.
The gilt was perfectly happy to eat from the new trough.
The boys, on the other hand, preferred to horse around in the snow and mud, as boys often do.
Then the big fella (I call him Hammie) figured out that the barrel smelled DELICIOUS!!
It used to hold annatto food coloring, which smells fairly sweet. Apparently it’s an irresistible aroma if you’re of the porcine persuasion.
This is not unique to the barrel though, pigs chew on everything: my boots, fence posts and even (hot) electric fence wire, hence the “indestructible” requirement.
Despite his best efforts, Hammie was unable to flip the new trough over. I’m sure he will at some point, but at least it’s not going to be an everyday occurrence.
While I was watching them eat from the new trough, the sorry state of the pigs hay caught my attention. That’s the hay, in the messy heap in the background.
Sure would be nice to get that hay off the ground. It would keep it dry and keep much of it from being wasted.
If only I had a small piece of a cattle panel. Say about 4 feet long?
Cut to size with bolt cutters, bend the ends over 30° or so.
Attach to a convenient wall with a few fence staples and a bit of wire.
Add pig, a few flakes of hay. Stir well.
So at the end of the day the pigs are all set up with new stuff and I didn’t spend a dime. Awesome.
The mercury has plummeted in the past 24 hours here on the farm. We woke up to a -6 degree temperature this morning and it only got 11 degrees warmer during the day.
I prepared for the cold snap yesterday, but I still didn’t know how the critters would take it. On my morning rounds, the pigs were not terribly interested in getting out of bed.
But after some cajoling, they decided that a bucket of corn & oats was worth braving the cold, but just until the yummy stuff was gone.
The chickens were all feeling fine as well, although they have two 500w heat lamps to take the chill off.
I’m not having the best of luck so far with my first (and hopefully last) batch of winter-raised chickens. I’ve lost 3 pullets and 2 cockerels so far, with a further 4 pullets that’ll need to be culled due to leg problems.
Most of the deaths so far I’ve attributed to their tendency to pile up in a corner at night when it gets cold. They’re fully feathered-out at this point, so they shouldn’t need to huddle together to stay warm, but I haven’t had any luck getting them to believe it.
I think that this pile-up may be where I’m getting the leg problems as well. Three of the four pullets with leg problems have presented with lameness literally overnight. It could be that they’re getting caught at the bottom of the pile-up and making it out alive, but with a lame leg (or legs) instead.
On the off-chance that it’s a calcium deficency in their diet, I’m going to be switching them to a layer ration a few weeks ahead of schedule. They have been eating chick-starter so far, which is has 18% protein to help their growth but only about 1% calcium. The layer ration is about 16% protein, because layers are adults and thus not prone to much growing, but have around 4% calcium to help the hens form all the egg shells they’ll be laying.
I’m spending money like a madman I tell ya. It’s been fairly cold here (in the teens most days) so acting on the advice of my Dad, I started feeding the pigs more grain to make sure they were getting enough calories to stay warm. This was going to be pretty expensive when they’re eating 2-3 times as much pelleted feed at $16.49 per bag. So it was time to go buy a cheaper source of calories.
50# bag of oats – $12.40
Previous total – $170.42
New total – $186.01
In the past few days as I’ve been fighting through all the paperwork that comes with starting up a farm, I did notice that agricultural equipment and feed is tax exempt in Minnesota. I paid sales taxes on all my feed purchases thus far, so I can file paperwork at the end of the year to get that credited back to me on the years tax bill.
Factor in the $2.44 that I’ll be getting back in sales taxes and…
New total – $183.57
Remaining – $16.43
(enough for a bushel of cob corn and another bag of oats if it comes to that…)
So how are the pigs eating on the shoestring budget I’ve given them?
Quite well, thank you very much!
Remember back in October when I gleaned all that corn out of the fields after it had been harvested?
I had enough to fill a 35 gallon trashcan, and after getting pigs, I wasn’t going to go wasting much of it on the squirrels. I tossed a few in with the pigs normal feed, but they seemed to prefer the normal feed, lazily chewing on the corn cobs once all the hog grower was gone.
Also, feeding straight corn isn’t really ideal. Pigs are supposed to get 14-17% protein in their diet. Corn is only around 9% protein. Plus, if it’s not ground up it is not as digestible.
Enter my father, who used to raise hogs back in the day (before I was old enough to remember anything about it). He recommended soaking the corn in water for a few days. He even said that the hogs seemed to like taste of the corn more after it had been soaked.
Sure enough, they seem to love some soaked corn. It even cuts down substantially on the amount of water they drink.
Add in some higher protein whole oats (13% protein) and the pigs have a reasonably well balanced diet. They also get a bit of the bagged hog grower/finisher pellets and alfalfa mix hay. Variety, after all, covers a host of sins.
Start out with 2 pints shelled corn, and 2 pints whole oats, add water till it’s covered by an inch of extra H2O.
Then wait a day or two (or three), add water as necessary to keep the grain covered.
After a few days, drain the excess water, and serve.
Nom, nom, nom.
The pigs approve.
Earlier this week I bought the first three pigs for our new farm. They weren’t exactly the heritage breed hogs that I’d like to end up with, but they’re a cheap entry-point to the pork business, like a set of swine-raising training wheels.
Unfortunately, when buying feeder pigs, you’re at the mercy of the local feeder-pig producers. In my case I got three pigs from a guy who raised pigs fairly conventionally. These pigs came from a farm where they were raised in a barn, not a huge heated confinement barn, but indoors nonetheless.
On the ride home we noticed that the pigs all had very raspy-sounding breathing and they stunk like they had been cooped up indoors with a lot of other pigs. Figuring that they’d been raised indoors breathing a lot of stale ammonia-leaden air, we figured they’d improve with all the fresh air that they would now be living in.
All three pigs were a bit lethargic on their first day on our farm. I figured that it was to be expected from the stress of being moved to a new place.
By the second day, two of the pigs were active and eating, but the third ways still lethargic, not interested in food and most worrying: shivering. In an adult animal, being sick is not something that usually requires much intervention. Adults tend to have robust fully-developed immune systems to fight off most illnesses. It’s the young ones that you have to watch out for. I know firsthand that young calves and chicks can keel over dead within hours of showing signs of being sick. Much like human babies, they have undeveloped immune systems that can be rapidly overwhelmed by an infection.
While I have written before about the dangers of routine antibiotic use, antibiotics definitely have their place. Antibiotics should be used, much like in people, in targeted applications to treat sick animals that would otherwise die or be permanently harmed. When used sparingly (and according to the directions) antibiotics will be long gone from the animals system by the time they become food. Most antibiotics are excreted from the body in the urine within 24 hours application.
(As an interesting and disgusting side-note: the first patients to receive penicillin were given multiple doses by “recycling” the penicillin that they excreted in their urine.)
An hour later the sick piggie was still shivering a little bit, but he was standing in the feed pan scarfing down food. By the next morning he was looking like a million bucks. Antibiotics sure can be miracle drugs when they’re needed.
Just to make our marketing a bit easier, we will be the ones eating the pig that got the injection. The antibiotics will be out of it’s system in a few days. In 5 months when it’s time for the pig to be slaughtered the antibiotics will be long gone and forgotten, but we still couldn’t honestly claim that it was raised without antibiotics. It’s a shame that the big animal confinement operations have so sullied the name of antibiotics. They’re darn useful and safe when handled responsibly (not in every animals feed their entire life.) But it’d honestly take more time to explain it to our customers than it’s worth, so this piggie is not going to be for sale. Since we were going to keep one pig for ourselves anyway, we’ll be keeping this particular pig for our own freezer.
I think I’ll name him Bacon.
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. I’m beginning to believe it.
After looking around at other farms and browsing craigslist for the heritage breed pigs that I’d like to have as breeding stock, I ended up buying 3 feeder pigs that are more closely related to the typical commercial pig.
Why? Well, you might say that I had a little run-in with necessity. I’m hoping to have some pork to sell early this summer when we’re first making the rounds at the local farmers markets. If I were to spend the $500-600 on a heritage breed sow, it would be almost 4 months before she would have piglets, and a further 5-8 months before the piglets were ready to eat. That’s 9 months to a year before there’s any pork to sell. And all that time I’ve got to pay for the pig feed that she and her piglets will be eating. That’s quite an up-front investment.
Instead I decided to start out with a few feeder pigs. Feeder pigs are already about 5-8 weeks old and around 50lbs. They’ll grow up to butcher weight in 4-5 months. That ought to give us some tasty bacon, pork chops and ham to sell right around the start of the local farmers markets. Plus, if being a pig-raising novice leads to any unfortunate mortality, then I’m out the cost of a feeder pig ($45) versus the cost of a heritage breeding animal.
Just before we left Missouri I sold an old car for scrap and netted a cool $200. So with that as my pig-raising seed money, I’m off to see how far I can get raising a few pigs on only $200. I’m not likely to get them all to butcher weight for that price, but we’ll see how it goes. By my back-of-the-napkin calculations the $200 should last through late March or early April. That’s if I feed them about 1.5lb/hunderedweight/day of pig feed and free choice hay all the time. The $200 figure isn’t exactly a hard and fast limit, as we will only be selling 2 of the 3 pigs, but it’s something to aspire to.
I’ve been able to arrange the pigs housing for exactly $0. It helps to be living on an old farm with plenty of old fencing, feed pans, water troughs, and alfalfa-mix hay just laying around waiting to be used. They seem pretty happy in their new digs, even after chewing on the hotwire.
So far, expenses are as follows:
3 feeder pigs: $135.00
100# Pig Feed: $35.42
After witnessing some very enthusiastic pigs eating a few days worth of kitchen scraps I’m keen on seeing if any local grocery stores are willing to let me dispose of their produce-department scraps. That might help keep costs down.
Plus, if I bring them more scraps, this little guy is going to be my BFF.
He already loves me for the overripe bananas that I gave him.
Penny & Cinco greet the new arrivals.
It seemed like a long car ride back from Owatonna (about 40 miles away) with the new pigs, they don’t exactly smell good enough to make great car-ride companions. The pigs settled in for the ride after 10 minutes or so by just laying down and side by side.
They found their way into the newly minted hog barn and made themselves comfortable in the straw as the sun was setting.
It’s looking more and more like a real farm around here.
So I’ve been thinking pretty hard about getting some pigs. The problem is don’t exactly have a place to put them right now. There’s a small area of the barn that would hold pigs, but it doesn’t exactly have a great outdoor access, it opens to the big concrete slab that stretches back to the pole barn. If the idea is to let the pigs graze a bit, then they’ll have to have some grass.
That’s when I revisited the horse barn (or woodshed, whatever).
The lower side is open to pasture, with a nice overhang to keep the rain and snow out of the building. That ought to keep the bedding drier, which I hear is pretty important to keeping pigs comfortable.
The lower level is divided into two rooms, each with their own man-sized door and smaller animal door. Looks about like a pig-sized door to me.
Curious if anything was underneath the mounds of horse poop under the lean-to, I grabbed a shovel and started digging.
Sure enough, I hit concrete about a foot down. That’s going to make some awesome garden fertilizer once I get it all shoveled out of there.
One of the two rooms is pretty much open to the driveway on account of a large missing door.
We’re currently storing all our fencing supplies in there.
Add to that all the old lumber piled on the floor, and the hopefully unoccupied hole, it looks like this room is out of the running for the moment.
Oh well, I only need one room right now for a couple of feeder pigs. I’ll have some time before I get a sow and boar, which will make a second room neccessary.
There’s a door that opens to the other room, which is nice. I did notice that the door is not square to the wall on the hinge side. I had noticed much earlier that the lower wall is leaning out by several degrees, which could be a big problem if it indicates that the building is unstable. But with the door having been trimmed out to cover the gap, it looks like the wall has been leaning for many years at the same angle. Stable, I like that. It’s not square, but as long as it’s not going anywhere, I can work with it.
Anyhow, there are three good walls and a (now clean) concrete floor in the second room.
So that’s a good start, but the fourth wall is going to take a little bit of work.
There are two “windows” cut into the wall above the concrete foundation and what used to be a door to the next lot at the back of the barn. The door is in a terrible place now that the barn has a lean-to addition that routes all the rainwater runoff and accompanying eroded soil right into the doorway.
With all the holes, it won’t hold pigs right now. It sure won’t hold a dog.
So there’s a little work to do, but it should work out. Hopefully it won’t take to long either, craigslist is tempting…
Last Sunday I headed up to Pine City, Minnesota to visit Wayne Bontjes of Green Acres Farm. Pine City is 2 hours North of us. We’re an hour south of the Twin Cities, they’re an hour North, half way between the Twin Cities and Duluth.
Wayne has a spread that I’d guesstimate between 20-40 acres, it was a bit hard to tell with all the snow on the ground. It’s really quite flat there, that’s probably the case for most of the state. I consider us lucky in that reguard, the Southeast part of the state has more rolling topography, moving toward bluff-country as you approach the Mississippi river.
The biggest outbuilding is this former dairy-barn (not a terribly old one) that Wayne has converted for use in his pig operation. I found Wayne on craigslist when I was looking for Large Black hogs. He wasn’t selling any, but he was raising and selling Tamworth, Berkshire and Large Black pigs as market hogs.
I was pretty interested to see the farm since they have the same type of hog operation that I envision having on our farm someday. I’ve been curious about how to keep pigs warm in the Minnesota winters, and as luck would have it, it’s winter now, and with Green Acres Farm being 2 hours North, it’s even colder there than in Zumbrota. Whatever Wayne does to keep his pigs comfortable in the winter will probably work for me. As it turns out, I didn’t have much to worry about.
There were three different pig pens in the barn, each with their own outdoor run. It looked to me like this part of the barn used to be dairy cow stalls, and that they just took down a partition between two (or three) stalls to make one pig pen. The little pigs had plenty of dry hay on the floor to lay down in and that seemed to be enough to keep them happy. When they figured out we weren’t going to feed them they just piled up in a corner on the hay and hung out.
Getting the water situation right for the winter is apparently the hardest part. Wayne was sold on the combination of these $150 plastic tanks and a sinking tank de-icer. Waynes boar has been hard on the floating de-icers, he’ll apparently get bored and rip them out by the cord, leaving the tank to freeze.
I really liked that Wayne had two different breeds that I was interested in, Tamworth and Large Black. Both are said to be excellent grazers, but they look totally different from each other. The Tamworths were a bit smaller, but very well muscled. The LBH (large black hog) sow was quite skinny. Initially I was a bit alarmed by her shape, but Wayne explained that she had just weaned a litter of her own, along with most of a litter from his Berkshire sow, who was apparently not a great mother. The LBH had taken up the slack, nursing every piglet who wanted to eat, even though it took quite a toll on her physically.
That extra nutrition showed up in her offspring too. In the picture below, the black pigs are all LBH x Tamworth, and the small red pigs are Berkshire x Tamworth. They are all the same age, except for the bigger red pigs, which are pure Tamworth, and a full month older. The LBH piglets are about to catch up to the older Tams, and leaving the small Berks in the dust.
I’ve been interested in the LBH and similar “grazing” breeds of hog because the single biggest expense in raising pigs is the cost of feed. Wayne’s feeding regimen was very good to hear about. He feeds about 1lb of grain per day per hundredweight of animal. This goes for feeders as well as well as breeding stock. His hogs also get a few flakes of high-quality alfalfa hay per day, only as much as they’ll eat, they get cheaper grass hay to bed down in. In the summer, the pigs all live on fresh pasture, harvesting their own alfalfa.
Wayne said he gets his feeder pigs up to market weight in 8 months, which is 2-3 months slower than a free-choice fed pig, but drastically cheaper.
Thanks to Wayne for showing me around and answering all my questions. I learned a lot in the few hours I was there, and I’m now eagerly trolling craigslist looking for leads on some Large Blacks to start our pig herd with in the spring.