My friend Steve pointed us to the most interesting hog farmer I have ever met. He farrows on pasture, raises pigs in deep bedding and uses, of all things, large black hogs in his hybridization program. In a world of specialists and sub-specialists, I found a guy who is not only farrow to finish, he does it in a way that honors the pig-ness of the pig. There are things I would do differently (multispeciation) but he’s going against the grain and keeping his head above water.
I met Mike Butcher some months ago. The first thing noticed was that he was pigging on pasture…in February. I saw a number of huts spread across the field, each hut with a sow, each sow with a litter of little pigs. Out in the real world, sows are kept in confinement in crates to minimize the number of little pigs that get squished when the sow lays down or eaten when she expresses her stress level. Mike has selected for good mothering instinct and farrows in an environment that give the sow room to relax.
Yes, it’s a muddy mess, but we’re in monsoon season here. I really want to drive home the point that he’s pigging on pasture. His sows do such a good job of mothering the pigs he had one who kept 15 piglets this week!
Once the pigs are weaned they move to a series of hoop houses. Unlike other confinement buildings I’ve been in, Mike’s hoop houses don’t have slatted floors with a manure pit beneath. Instead, the shoats were bedded in a deep layer of straw and the larger pigs were bedded with round bales of corn stalks. As a consequence, there was little smell and enormous compost piles. Enormous.
Look at the space available to these little guys. And they have a foot of straw to root, play and sleep in. From a confinement perspective, this is hog heaven.
Again, Mike pigs on pasture, uses heritage sows with excellent mothering characteristics, raises pigs in deep bedding and composts everything. I don’t know what else I could expect from him. I was so pleased I bought 8 pigs. I was so pleased with his price I gave him a free chicken along with the check. If you’re in the Palmyra area and want to see hog confinement done artfully, find Mike Butcher.
At one time this was normal. I’m happy to support Mike in his business.
We had a few problems keeping these little guys fenced when we got home. Look for an article on that in the near future.
Farrow (verb) – To give birth to a litter of pigs
Pig (verb) – See Farrow. Also written as “pigging”
Shoat (noun) – Weaned pig male or female