Friday, January 16, 2015

The Truth about #RealPigFarming - That's a Pig Barn?

 Why yes, that IS a pig barn.
(photo courtesy of

Raising livestock today is nothing like it was in the ages past. I'm going to somewhat explore how hog confinement has developed.

In the days where most farmers across the country were very small, and had a little of every type of animal, there was not enough income to justify spending a lot on developing some sort of housing for specific types of animals.  Some farmers would use the classic barn as a semi-universal building, but different animals still needed separated.  In these days, swine were mostly raised outside on pastures, or "hog lots."  Sows were typically raised in small hoop-like buildings, or wooden "hog huts", on these lots.  As late as 2012, Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green, KY, still had some of these sorts of facilities for people to use as a learning and evaluation tool.  The issue we face is the harsh weather conditions, especially here in the Midwest.  Extreme cold could lead to freezing, death, loss of piglets, frostbite, and more.  Likewise, extreme hot leads to pigs not breeding, heat stress (pigs cannot sweat), overheating, and sometimes death.  There is also the higher risk of diseases that can be carried by birds, etc., due to the open environment, as well as predator complications.  Some examples of these sorts of housing are shown below.

Property of The Foodie Farmer 

An example from the UK - Property of The Guardian

As the swine housing world began to develop in the 60s-70s, there were different sorts of buildings.  Nursery buildings mostly went to being enclosed with slatted floors, and LP gas heaters to control the climate.  These have only gotten more complex.  For example, we once just had a thermostat that we set, and walked away from.  Now, we have a telephone and an intricate system that is tied to every heater control box in all six rooms of one of our nurseries.  Any time the rooms get below our "set point," they have a certain range where the temperature can fluctuate before we get a phone call telling us we have a problem.  There is a numeric passcode we enter to acknowledge the issue, and we have 30 minutes to fix it, or it starts calling down the pre-programmed list of numbers in the system.  It is pretty amazing to be honest.  Below are pictures from nursery buildings.

I took these photos two weeks ago.  Ironically it was actaully 86.7* in the room where the piglets are sleeping in the pile.  They like to do that, and I cannot figure out why.

Farrowing was also largely taken inside at this point.  We still farrow on concrete floors that we bed with straw and clean out each morning.  Many other operations have slatted floors in farrowing barns.

Hopefully some of you recognize that sow, Miss Peggy, from my post, Miss Peggy Sue and You.
When sows farrow (have piglets), we put on the heat lamps (pictured above), to assure that pigs can move away from the mother and under that when first born.  It helps with the drying process, as well as it is a place where they can go (we call that, the creep) where they can get away from the sow if they desire.  Piglets often sleep under the lamps.

Early finishing barns were open, and were largely heated by the energy provided by the hog naturally.  Some of these were called "Nebraska Buildings."  I recently learned this.  I do not recall the story why, but they could wander outside if they wished, or go inside.  The lack of ability to heat the buildings was an issue, as was the likelihood of water lines freezing during cold winter months.  Three of the buildings we use are actually based on the basic "Nebraska Building" style.  Only one has not had the roof extended to cover the whole pen, and had heaters added.  The one that is still open has a special system set up with return water lines and a coil heater system to prevent water line freezes.  The top two photos are actually what were called "Cargill Buildings."  I do not know the whole history behind the name.  It had a small roofed part, and most of the pen was open to the elements.  The main difference is the amount of covered space, compared to the amount of open space outside.  Below are pictures of these open-style finishing buildings.  

The first photo was from Purdue University in an old file, and the bottom photo is from when we loaded market hogs in December of 2013.  As you can see, the bottom picture we have extended the roof to cover the whole pen and protect the pigs from the elements(I shouldn't say "we" - this was done back in the late 70s, or early 80s).  There is a roll down curtain that helps to retain heat in the winter.  In the summer months, we open the curtain, and the windows that line the back wall to let the south-north wind blow through.

Where are we today? Well, today, we have buildings that are carefully climate controlled, and most new buildings also have a forced air system that uses fans to bring air through, and works in conjunction with the curtains that I explained earlier.  Most curtain systems are actually electronic.  Again, based on a thermostat, we set a point for the curtain and heater to maintain a temperature, and the curtain automatically can open and close to complete this task.
The goal is to limit stress on the animals.  Pigs are like us, they're no good if you stress them out.  Also like humans, they get much less agreeable when you put them in a bad mood.
Below is a picture of the inside of one of these wean-finish barns.  It is a common practice in many new facilities to design the building to be usable from the time piglets are weaned, all the way to when they are sold, so you will notice smaller pigs in the photo.

I know this post was rather lengthy, but I appreciate you sticking with me as I continue my series, The Truth about #RealPigFarming.

I am reachable by the following social media channels, and you can also email your questions to
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Monday, January 12, 2015

The Truth about #RealPigFarming - Real Feed Content

Lately there has been a lot of misinformation available about production agriculture, and particularly in the swine segment, so I want to try and clear up some issues.  Welcome to my new mini-series, "The Truth about #RealPigFarming"! I'm happy to have you along.

One thing we do is keep a lot of pigs happy.  This picture was taken two summers ago on one of our breeding lots.  You heard that correctly - some of our pigs do live outside for periods of time.  Also, before you ask, that pink stripe on their backs is from when we were sorting them from a bigger  group.  It is a washable spray paint.  It is called livestock marking spray.  All it takes is a good dew or a light rain to start washing it off. 

Now to the feed.  There is a misconception that since pigs today look more fit, and gain weight faster than in ages past, that we must use hormones in their feed. 

THIS COULD NOT BE MORE FALSE.  On a side note, pork in the United States is grown without the use of growth promoting hormones.  The same goes for all poultry.

What on earth makes up this fluffy stuff we feed pigs?

Our rations vary a little.  Whether it is feed for piglets learning to eat ground feed, nursery pigs, finishing hogs, or any of the breeding herd, all of our groups of animals have different dietary needs, so we address them accordingly. 

 Morning trip to pick up feed ingredients - it does take a while to use all of that.

On the farm we keep a supply of certain things that go into feed.  The most important of these the are the amino acids, Threonine, Methionine, and Lysine.  After that, we have Vitamin E.  We also have the various things that change, or are only in some of the rations, such as Mecadox, which is a medicated feed that helps against a sickness and is part of our vaccination program, Selenium, BMD, and Pennchlor 50G are all used on and off for specific purposes.  These help to assure that our hogs are in the best health possible.  These all go in a feed mixture at often less than a pound per ton of feed (depending on the feed additive).

The next step in our feed ration is a base mix.  On our farm we use a few different feed base mixtures.  For our pigs, we use Land O'Lakes' Eco Care series base mixes.  We begin with what is called a 250 base, then shortly after we go to a 350 (these are just different levels of a mix for a growing pig).  The next step is the regular EcoCare Base Mix.  I'm not sure what the official name/classification of it is, but we have a mini-bulk bin of it for loading into the feed grinder.  Again, this does not make up much of the feed ration.  On a 4 ton feed mixture, we may be looking at 250 pounds of base mix at the higher end (I do not have the feed cards in front of me to be for sure, but it is not a large amount at all).  We have a separate bin market SWIBB (Southwest Indiana Breeders Base), and is the base mix used on all breeding stock feed.

The final two ingredients are soybean meal, which is where the pigs get most of the protein content in their feed rations, and corn.  The amount of soybean meal is proportionate to the pig's size and how fast it is growing.  For example, nursery pigs have a higher amount of soybean meal compared to hogs that are closer to being sold.  They get grow at a decreasing level - their size increases at a decreasing level (I am an ag economist by education, so I hope that makes sense to you).

The last, and largest part of hog feed is corn.  There isn't much explaining for that.  It helps dilute the vitamins and minerals. 
 Last fall's corn harvest

In the end, a feed ration for a hog is comparable to humans eating a plate of food that was carefully planned to have a well rounded diversity of foods that have a combined total health benefit to them. 

Like I said in the beginning of this post, I'm going to do a mini series called, "The Truth about #RealPigFarming," so stay tuned!

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