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This week's Book of the Week feature is Dirt Hog, by Kelly Klober.

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From Chapter 4: Herd Maintenance

Pasture or large wooded lots are the most natural places on Earth for gestating sows. There they get much-needed exercise and the stimulus of a varied and changing environment. On a good legume pasture, they may be able to forage as much as 10% to 15% of their total nutritional needs. In warm weather, you can really back down on the feeding of concentrates and protein to sows that are on good legume pasturage.

You must always feed to the needs of the gestating sows, however. Sows rebounding from weaning big litters will need extra concentrates to return to condition and successfully carry the next big litter to term. The old bromide holds that a gestating sow will need at least six-tenths of a pound of crude protein daily to maintain a good performance curve.

This can be achieved by feeding 4 pounds daily of a grind-and-mix ration (yellow corn and soybean oil meal-based protein supplement) with a crude protein content of 15%. Another option would be to offer the sows 4 pounds of shelled corn and 3/4 to 1 pound of a protein supplement daily.

It is rather hard to ascertain just how much nutritional benefit a sow is deriving from pasture, and I favor offering the sow that same type and amount of ration that would be offered to her in a drylot. The pasture then becomes a nutritional plus. The producer on pasture has the task of matching browse quality to standard feedstuffs to keep the animals in good flesh.

There are times when protein supplements or concentrates can be measurably reduced. In good weather, you may need to feed just 1/2 pound of hog concentrate per head per day. Corn may be trimmed by a pound or two. And there are times when you will need to feed them just as if they were in a drylot. This is one aspect of range management that cannot be taught; a practice for which there are no formulas and few rules of thumb. You can only be guided by animal appearance and behavior and the weather.

The nursing sow will rob heavily from her own body if she must, and while some thinning is to be expected, she must always be maintained in a weight-gaining condition

Essentially, the animal retains the health and body weight that will enable her to return quickly to a good weight for her age and state of production. Pasture, good pasture, keeps sows in that potential weight-gaining state better than perhaps any other environment. You must never assume, however, that just because you’ve put them on grass you can just dump a little corn over the fence and forget about them. They need to be studied often for body condition, pregnancy rebound, development, and steady growth.

To really step up onto the soap box for a moment, let me say this: animal nutrition is not a finished science. We don’t know all there is to know about the nutritional needs of the hog or any other livestock species. A number of years ago, a major Midwestern feed company began to supplement its swine feed with a very diverse mix of protein and other nutritional sources. Included in the ration were a number of fish- and plant-based products that added what that company called UGFs: unidentified growth factors.

Vitamins are a quite recent discovery, and it stands to reason that the effort to simplify swine rations for handling and feeding in confinement may have resulted in rations that are not as complete as they should be. We know that hogs will eat grubs, acorns, hickory nuts, woody forbs, and the odd lizard from time to time, presumably as dietary supplements. I am sure, though, that you’d be hard-put to find nutritional data on that odd ration mix.

On range, hogs are getting maximal sunshine, they are fairly free to select from a variety of different food items, and the good producer will be carefully under-girding them with the staples of a traditional ration. The animal is thus able to forage to its own satisfaction and, quite likely, for its own nutritional satisfaction.

Even many producers with extensive investments in confinement facilities believe that herd performance is greatly improved by getting the sows out-of-doors at least a portion of each year. And yet, as important as she is to the overall success of any swine venture, the gestating sow still too often gets short shrift.

In a drylot, a gestating sow will need at least 150 square feet of pen space, and in wet climates, this space should be tripled. With Missouri's potential for wet springs and falls, and summers, and winters, I like a figure of 600 square feet or so. I haven’t come across any really good rules for stocking rates on pasture.

One key task that’s largely left up to the producer’s good judgment is to match sows to pasture and to prevent any damage from overstocking. Bear in mind that hoof wear is generally always the culprit in mud problems and lot failure. Frequently traveled paths can soon become ditches, and yet one of the reasons for penning the animals outside is to encourage movement and exercise.

While older hogs don’t necessarily get lazy, they are a bit like older hog raisers, in that they slow down a bit except when it comes to getting to the table. To make sure that they are getting out and about enough, the breeding herd should be fed at least 150 to 450 feet away from the sleeping sheds.

The real plus of pasture production may be every bit as much a physiological boost as it is nutritional. In a pasture or lot-breeding situation, the animals will be more content, they will be in better physical condition, will breed and settle better, and they will benefit from a number of near-intangibles. Most sows in confinement are gone from the farm before their fourth farrowing, and I have to believe this is largely because of all the things they’re lacking in the confinement housing environment.

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About the Author:

Kelly Klober specializes in raising livestock using natural methods. He is the author of Beyond the Chicken, Talking Chicken, and Dirt Hog, available from the Acres U.S.A. bookstore.

Author Kelly Klober

Kelly Klober was raised on a small farm in Middletown, Missouri, where he began a lifetime of experience with various livestock species, including heritage poultry. Klober has been active in poultry and livestock breed preservation for more than 35 years. He holds a State Farmer Degree from the Missouri FFA. Klober has written on agriculture, especially the small farm field, for over 20 years. He and his wife continue to farm with much love and attention to his heritage poultry flock.

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