In seems everywhere I turn someone is talking up the advantages of grass fed. This includes hogs. Now don’t get me wrong. I agree with grass fed and do now enjoy our home grown beef but it did take a little getting used to after about 30 years of predominately grain fed. We have raised quite a few hogs since we have been here and have eaten several of those. But …. in all honesty there was a lot of corn that went into these animals. Many of us may even question IF it can be done. YES hogs can graze and do quite well! So well in fact that quite a few States have declared an open season on hogs in the wild. The question being then well why don’t we?
First off we don’t have a lot of pasture. About 3 acres at the most right now and it is not in the best of condition. Add to that we have three cows, two of which have calves and there is not any extra grass there. One more factor is that hogs are known to root for roots and protein sources in the ground. Any where they root the pasture is damaged and so there is less grass for everything including the hogs. In fact it has been my observation in the past they do a lot more rooting than grazing the grasses there. At least until the acquisition of the Guinea Hogs. They are by far the best grazing hogs I have had.
When I was a kid coming up we raised hogs as well as a milk cow and a few calves. The cattle free ranged the hogs were kept penned. Why? I have no idea. I didn’t discuss t with Dad, that is just the way it was done. The chickens were free range the rabbits we kept penned. Why? Again the same response. I am sure the dogs would have loved it if we had turned the rabbits loose though. Those dogs never saw a bag or a can of food in their lives. It was table scraps and catch what catch can. But back to the hogs. Was it fear of them wandering off or possibility of them doing damage to the property that dad worked on. I don’t know.
So here is what I am getting to. If I want to free range my hogs for what ever the reason. Is there specific grass they prefer or would meet more of their nutritional needs? As I read and try to determine what is best for me I keep running into (legume) over and over again. Well that is great but what exactly a legume! and is leg ume really the way it is pronounced?
OK back to my go to source for things of this nature. Wikipedia Says!!
A legume ( or ) is a plant in the family Fabaceae (or Leguminosae), or the fruit or seed of such a plant. Legumes are grown agriculturally, primarily for their grain seed called pulse, for livestock forage and silage, and as soil-enhancing green manure. Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, lupins, mesquite, carob, soybeans, peanuts and tamarind.
A legume fruit is a simple dry fruit that develops from a simple carpel and usually dehisces (opens along a seam) on two sides. A common name for this type of fruit is a pod, although the term “pod” is also applied to a few other fruit types, such as that of vanilla (a capsule) and of radish (a silique).
Legumes are notable in that most of them have symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in structures called root nodules. For that reason, they play a key role in crop rotation.
As happens occasionally I found more information than what I actually wanted. All I really need or want is a list of legumes that I can plant in my pasture that would be good for hogs. What I found was that most, if not all, of the legumes are things like alfalfa and different clovers along with just about any kind of bean or pea that I would choose to plant. Add to that the info that hogs can also graze to, some extent, on any good palatable pasture grass and it seems to me that the cows and hogs can eat from the same field. It turns out that a hogs digestive system is not designed to hand the grasses as well as say cattle , sheep or other herbivores. The legumes fit their needs better in that respect. Soooooooo? If I watch it closely to make sure the hog or hogs, do not stay in one area long enough to damage the pasture by rooting could I run them on the same pastures? Could I run them together even! Will they do ok socially? Any health issues that can develop? How about food competition? The answer too all of these are without a doubt YES. It will require monitoring on my part. That is true of what I or anyone else is or has done all along.
As a possible point of interest I have already done this in the past. Not by plan originally. The first sow we had a Tamworth Yorkshire cross, large hog, got out of her pen and in with the one cow we had at the time. I left them together for about 2 weeks until it was obvious the sow was doing a lot of damage to the pasture. During this time we noted that did they stay in close proximity to each other while feeding but would lie down close to each other when resting. Other than pasture damage keeping the hog out of the drinking water was the biggest problem we had. Occasional disagreements over who was to get the last little bit of grain but never anything serious. When we found it necessary to separate them again they could often be seen at the fence dividing them just standing with each other as though socializing. Yes they can be run together at least on a small scale operation. In fact ours are together right now. As I have admitted to in other posts I have too many cows for the pasture I have. The hog lot on the other hand is larger than our one guinea hog can keep down so I currently have the cows in there to eat that down. I am thinking about leaving one in with him to see how that will work out for both of them.
If I back up to my original question: If I want to free range my hogs for what ever the reason. Is there specific grass they prefer or would meet more of their nutritional needs? I would have to so no. Not one in particular but legumes should definitely play a large part. On a small scale operation such as ours or a sustainable living or subsistence farm I see no reason why your different animals could not be run together with the exception that if supplemental feeds are to given care MUST be taken because specialized feeds for one variety of animal may have something in it that is benefical to that animal but harmful to others. Be careful! It may be easier or better to keep separate rotate from pasture to pasture as individual species depending on how much land and how many animals you have. I do know that the different animals have different preferences in what they eat. For example cows, unless hungry won’t eat wild roses or black berry. Goats on the other hand will walk through lush pasture grass to get to it.
If we are going to graze pigs or hogs we will have to monitor them closely. Too long and they will begin to cause the loss of pasturage both for themselves and the other livestock. I was watching the sow I mentioned earlier one day and she reminded me very much of a miniature dozer being moved with the blade just off the ground. That snout would dip down and a patch of grass, anywhere from a couple to a few inches would be turned over and she would not even hesitate in the doing. I believe she turned and sniffed for content all in the same motion and she could cover a lot of area in a short time.
As with anything new and different watch to see what happens. It is not as though we are running a hundred head, at least I am not, so it doesn’t take a lot of time but walk your pasture so you can see what they are eating and what they leave. Both are important.
There are quite a few articles available out there on grazing hogs so if you want to look around and get more information from other sources here is a place to start. http://smithmeadows.com/farm/how-to-raise-pigs-on-pasture/ This person was doing it on a commercial basis and I came away a little confused on a couple of issues but overall good and informative.
Drop me a note and share your thoughts with me. I certainly don’t have all the answers!