Training Pigs on Electric Fence

 

I am new at this so…I share with you my experience.  The big question is whether containing pigs solely on hot wire or not it is possible/repeatable.  I really hope it is because it has been a great experience!

What I know- at least what I have gleaned from sources and now bank as ‘truths’:

  • Pigs surge forward when first exposed to electric fence
  • Once pigs fear the wire they respect it- for life
  • Training requires both a hot wire and a physical fence 
  • A drift of pigs running up to to the fence to greet you- without getting near the wire- priceless!!
  • You will shock and awe friends, family and yourself!

We want to produce ‘powerhouse pork’ which means that these pigs are not single purpose porcine.  We are trying to reclaim unused land, spread compost and fertilize a bit.  We chose to run them on hot wire to accomplish these goals.  We thought about a moving pen set up but couldn’t visualize easily portable housing with piggies in -15 F degrees weather outside.  Instead we built a house of straw and a fence out of 2 wires and plastic posts (trust me- I am nervous all the time about this set-up).  We figured we better try pigs on hot wire before we know any better or we would never try it.  

Constuction of the house took about 20 3-string wheat straw bales.  We cross stacked a perimeter of bales to leave a 4’x8′ interior.  We went two bales high (except only one bale high at the door- a decision I would soon regret).  We then laid 2″x4″s across the top and covered them with corrugated roofing.  We thought the corrugations would give some ventilation but still keep the body heat in.  On top of the corrugations we placed another course of bales.  We shoved fiberglass rods in to tie the bales together and pin them to the ground.

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Overall- I love the house.  Before we put the roof on we put down a couple of inches of compost followed by an couple of inches of straw.  The pigs took to it and there have been no complaints.  I have crawled in a couple of times and all is well on the inside.  We plan to only have pigs over the winter this year and will blend the house into the garden after butcher day.  I hear straw bales will get infested with lice if you try to use them over and over- not our intention.  I am concerned about the doorway being only one bale high- I can always dig it out a bit if worse comes to worse.  

 

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Alright- back to the hot wire.  

From the house we extendended bales as wings and attached a 16′ horse panel (hog would work) to the front.  On this panel I attached two aluminum hot wires: the first at about 6″ from the ground and the second 10″ above that.  Keep in mind the pigs were about 70 pounds at this point.  They sniffed- checked it out- got zapped- several in a row- zap, retreat, zap (different one), retreat.  We kept them this way for a week.  The day before we removed the panel I put a little bit of their feed next to the horse panel as a test.  They never touched  the hot side- any food that had slopped near the wire stayed there all day!  

We thought they were ready and Saturday morning we removed the panel.  We were fortunate to have nice weather and could spend all day outside with a watchful eye- all the stars were aligned.  With the panel gone and the feed trough in the ‘outside world’- nothing happened.  The pigs were not going to cross the line where the panel used to be.  Enventually the call of breakfast was too much and one by one they crossed the line.  For the rest of the day when they went in for naps they paused, sniffed, and then eventually crossed the line.  Today- they are fine with it.  

We were a bit worried that they would know that the old threat of being zapped was gone- but would they know there was a new boundry?  To check, I fed them on the other side of the wire one brave piggy took a sniff and got zapped.  No one else tried it- no one else has gotten within 2′ of the wire.  Content that they would not try the wire again I moved the feeder over the wire and they gobbled it up.  For two days I kept an eye on them- the third day I left for hours and all was well.  Tonight Hazel and I  took turns chasing each other and the piggies around the compost pile.  Hazel got down on all fours and called them her ‘wild brothers’ while crawling around with them.  

Watching pigs run, wrestle, root, play king of the hill is truly ‘better than cable TV’ (Joel Salatin).  Did you know when pigs play-run they bounce around on thier front feet- kind of like a dog on one of those agility courses with the zig-zag posts?  Did you know they like to dig a trench and then lay in it….then dig another?  Did you know they like lie perpendicular to the sun all lined up next to each other?   Did you know they are happy to see you- even if you don’t have feed bucket in hand?  I didn’t.  We raised pigs when I was younger and didn’t know these things.  

So far so good.  The pigs are free to be pigs- a fundamental objective of the farm.

Pig on Compost

 

2009 Season Offerings

Well, the planning is done and we are posting our offerings for 2009.  Please click ‘Sign Up for Product Availibility‘ at the top of the page to sign up for notices of dates, prices and quantities available.  Comments are always welcome as we cannot be successful without them.  Thanks much for taking a look at what we plan to grow this year and we hope to hear from you! 

Factory Free Broilers   

Broilers are chickens bred for their rapid meat production, tenderness and mild flavor.  The Cornish Cross is the industry standard (on both conventional and grass fed farms).  We raise ours to 8 weeks as the tenderness drops off rapidly after this point.  Our birds are fed corn, soybeans, oats, kelp, oyster shells, and organic minerals and, most importantly,  grass.  We source feed locally (although it is a bit hard to find kelp in Central Oregon!) and mix it ourselves.  All broilers are processed on the farm, out of doors (pending), clean and with caring, competent hands.  We plan to process under the USDA exemption PL 90-492.  We butcher in the morning and have the birds chilled and bagged and ready for pick up in the afternoon.  Our chickens really do ‘taste like chicken’.  These are not watered down, gooey factory birds – you will notice great texture, yellow not white fat, distinct white and dark meat flavors, and a completely usable carcass.  Best of all you will know everything about the life of the bird that was raised for your family.  The chicks are brooded in deep bedding, raised outside on fresh pasture and sunlight, fed only natural ingredients, and processed cleanly and humanely.  Factory free broilers are available spring through fall; however, they can be frozen up to 6 months.

Factory Free Eggs    

To make the best eggs we need three ingredients- heritage birds, diverse pasture and natural feed, and proper living conditions.  Our main flock consists on Black Australorps.  We chose this bred due to it’s hardiness, decent egg production, aggressive foraging, usable carcass, and most importantly intelligence.  Note the aerial predators around next time you drive through Powell Butte- these hens are smart enough to take cover when hawks are near and are much faster on foot than their pursuers.  The birds are given a section of pasture to forage at will, nest boxes available when their internal clock dings and elevated roosts at night.  The eggs are radically different than factory organic or otherwise.  Our yolks stand tall and proud with a bright orange (not yellow!?!) color.  You will also notice a more pronounced chalazae than a conventional egg- a sure sign of freshness.  A strong outer membrane holds the whites together so the egg does not spread across the frying pan.  Benefits of using our eggs are less broken yokes, higher faster white peaks, full rich flavor, and are nutritionally superior.  Can you believe there is so much difference in eggs that doctors will prescribe pastured eggs and prohibit factory eggs for cholesterol patients?  Factory free eggs are available year round; however, we have a significant drop in production as the birds naturally (not forced) molt in the winter.

Ready to Lay Pullets

Backyard chickens should be required on all lots!  The City of Bend allows 4 hens per lot and are great for lawns.  Chickens will pull up the dandelions, fertilize the lawn, eat insects, hang out in your lap, provide endless entertainment and, yes there is more, they will give you eggs!  We recommend some sort of chicken tractor set up as predators are an issue (we lost several in Bend due to skunks).  Brooding is an expensive process; the little chicks must be pampered in order to make successful layers and there is no return for about 5 1/2 months.  Our ready to lay pullets will get you started in chickens without the upfront expenses.  The downside is you can’t watch the chicks grow up and that is a very enjoyable journey.  The good news is that you can always head out to the Great American Egg and see how they are doing!  Ready to Lay Pullets will be ready in the spring as we raise extra each year as we rotate our flock.

Powerhouse Pork  

Pigs are the work horse of the farm.  They spend the winter tearing down a compost mound, rooting up weak soil, mixing in fertilizer and preparing our 1/2 acre garden.  In the spring they search for corn deep in winter bedding.  It is hard to imagine such a useful animal confined up in a factory – what a waste of talent!  Our pigs root for some of their food and are never fed meat or table scraps.  So if you like a little pink in your pork you are safe with our pigs.  Working pigs are great fun to watch- so please come to the farm and see them in action.  We raise pigs fall through spring and for this season we will have pure-bred Durocs and will raise them to 225-250 pounds live.  Pigs will need to be slaughtered, cut and wrapped by a custom butcher shop of your choice due to USDA regulations.

Heritage Turkeys    

We will raise one pen of turkeys this year as an experiment to see if there is a demand for these beautiful birds.  We will raise Broad Breasted Bronze on pasture similar to how we raise the broilers.  We chose this breed for it’s durability and table manners (looks, cooks, yields well).  These turkeys will take 6 months to grow out and will be ready for Thanksgiving dinner.  This will be a learning year for us so we will be offering these only in exchange for a comprehensive review.

Brooders

Brooding the chicks is a critical step in the rearing of chickens.  In Central Oregon we have the added challenge of huge temperature swings – 40/50 degrees difference between day and night.  We started our chicken adventure with metal brooders.  They work okay for layers; however, broilers out grow them well before they are able to survive out on the pasture.  This left us thinking we should make a two stage brooding system – one week in the metal box and then out to deep-bedding brooders outside for the final 2 weeks.  Then we came to the realization that this was silly and we should not turn a chick’s world upsidedown any more than necessary.  

So we set a couple objectives: brood the chicks from day 1 to 21 in the same brooder; control temperature during the extreme swings, eliminate the crating step between brooder and pasture, and, finally and paramount, provide a healthier brood for the young chicks via deep-bedding.  Our solution (at least, for now) is a 4’x8′ rolling brooder.  We hope to start the chicks in the heated shop, then roll them outside to finish their time in a less controlled environment.  Then we can hook up the brooder to the golf cart and roll them out to the pasture.  With deep-bedding we can reuse the brooders for the next batch with beneficial bacteria already working away in the brooder- giving the next batch a better chance coming out of the gate.    We just sprinkle pine shavings over the old and in with the new batch.  Our heat source can move up as the depth of the bedding increases.  Also with the 12″ pneumatic tires we hope to make it out to pasture in one piece.  

Frame is built up from 5.8" sheet of plywood

Frame is built up from 5/8" sheet of plywood

We used 5/8″ plywood on the bottom to hold the wheels in place.  The sides are 2′ OSB and the frame is just 2″x2″.  The heater in connected to 2″x2″ across the top.  In the photo the heat is in the highest position.  The  roofs are just corrugated sheet-metal and plastic.  We feel better with the sheet metal over the heat source, but we need to let light in with the plastic panels.  We have no other light source for the chicks- they will rise and shine with the sun.  The temperature of the brooder is only important at chick level.  This is why we drop a wireless temperature sensor to regulate the temperature.  This was the big problem with the metal brooders- the controls are at the heat source.  So once you set the desired temperature it would hold fine; however, ambient temperature would change so much that the system would yo-yo the chicks.  Even in the heated shop the metal brooder couldn’t maintain a steady temperature.  This style holds temperature much, much better.  

 

 

We used 12" wheels so we can roll directly to the paster without having to crate the chicks

We used 12" wheels so we can roll directly to the paster without having to crate the chicks

Home at last!

Home at last!