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Pastured pig recommendations for PNW?

 
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We have lots more land at our new place and that opens up some interesting possibilities...like pigs. I think pigs are the only barnyard critter I haven't had any experience with, however. So I am looking for advice on a 'beginner' pig breed, that will forage well on pasture and be relatively easy to handle. The idea would be to use them as part of our 'mob grazing' strategy for improving our sandy, eroded soil, so we'd move them frequently in the alleys between rows of chestnut trees that will be planted out this winter/spring. I'm picturing eventually being able to produce 'chestnut-finished pork' which I bet would be excellent eating, letting the pigs clean up under the trees after the main harvest.

We're on a small island just off Vancouver Island, BC. We typically have up to a month of snow and the rest of the late fall through early spring it will be raining most days, although usually with some breaks in the rain each day. Temperature sometimes goes as low as -20C (-4F) but that is unusually cold for here. More typical winter lows are in the -5 to -10C range (say 15-25F). My thought is pigs could probably live in a moveable shelter with electric fencing that would be easy to move along the tree alleys in the dry season but should live in more solid dry and draft-proof permanent housing in the winter with access to their own large fenced pen.  I read that pigs can handle the cold well but only if they can stay dry. Are there breeds that handle cold rainy winter weather better than others? Would they go outside and forage, or would we be providing 100% of their feed through the winter?

Also wondering about hoof health if they spend a lot of time outside on cold muddy ground. Again, are there breeds for which this is a greater/lesser concern?

Since we're new to pigs would it be smart to go with one of the smaller breeds? I'd like to start with an unrelated breeding pair, probably get them quite young so we can sort of 'grow up' with them. It might be worthwhile to get a 3rd pig to slaughter and produce some meat earlier, rather than waiting for the other two to mature and then grow their offspring up to eating size.

 
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Sounds perfect for Kunekunes.
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Kunekune
 
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Andrea - good questions!  I can't answer some of your specific questions but I'll toss out something that might feel like knowledge.

First, go small.  As the aforementioned KuneKune, or an AGH variety.   Small is nice because they are easier/less scary to manage, require less demanding enclosures, and they won't tear up fields as much.  Second, get a pig with a short snout as a long snout is associated with rooting and you don't want them digging giant wallows that you have to move fencing and structures around.

Breeding ... I've considered this but so far have declined and intend to stick with seasonal weaners.  My opinion is that breeding hogs is a lot more like zoo-keeping than farming. Even AGH boars get big, other varieties get huge.  The Berkshire boar at one of my providers rips 2x6 boards off the enclosure just to have something interesting to do and has to stay in an enclosure b/c they do to much damage to their pasture otherwise (this is one farmer's experience anyway - others may do better).  So there is a lot of pen cleaning, carrying food, etc.  In comparison my cows and bull are super simple.

Feed & Grazing - Breed is going to be really important here.  The other thing is your expectation - standard meat breeds, even heritage ones, grow big fast, reaching a 250lb(ish) slaughter weight in ~6 months.  They consume a tremendous amount to achieve that growth, far more than most pastures can provide without substantial additional feed.  Smaller breeds put on weight more slowly, have lower caloric requirements and generally aren't economical for selling meat from (there are exceptions ... these are generalities here).  So if you're ok with grabbing a six month old pig at 30-40 lbs and just popping it in the oven as a roast pig, you're fine.  If you're expecting to sell some fancy chestnut fed pork, you might be disappointed.  So if you're doing this for your own table, I think grazing is more viable.

Also, there's probably not much for forage in the winter and I'd expect to feed them.

As for wintering ... check out Walter Jeffries and Sugar Mountain Farm (https://sugarmtnfarm.com).  His pigs over winter in open pastures - in Vermont!

I'll hope others have actual knowledge and experience on your questions of hoof health.
 
Andrea Locke
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Thanks John and Eliot! Those were both helpful responses. After I saw John's recommendation of Kunekune I started looking around online and discovered there are two farms that breed Kunekunes on Vancouver Island within an hour's drive of me.  At least one of those sells weaner pigs, although at this point I don't think either one has stock to sell. They both have waiting lists though so I can email them and get on a list for next year. There was another place on the mainland that had Kunekune and Kunekune x Ossebaw crosses for sale.

The fact that these farms appear to be rearing this breed successfully here suggests it is compatible with the climate. And the size and temperament seem good for beginners, for sure. I had not realized there was a long/short-nosed difference with the rooting. It would be nice not to have the place torn up although in summer with our rotational grazing I imagine we'd be moving them along before they did that. A rooting pig could do more damage in winter, though, when they would be in closer quarters.

Also, a grazing pig would be better, even if it takes a year to finish as opposed to 6 months, if it means we don't have to go crazy with supplemental grain. There will be a lot of produce of one kind or another the pigs can eat. Even now, there's an old orchard that hasn't been touched in decades that produced hundreds of pounds of apples and pears. They were small and scabby, but still. Lots there that a pig can eat. And we hope to improve quantity and quality of the fruit by pruning and mulching this winter, and will be planting a variety of new fruit and nut trees plus other crops.

Eliot, your point about restocking with weaners rather than breeding our own is probably the smartest way to start. We have lots of experience handling bucks and midwifing dairy goats, but zero with pigs. So it would likely be best to get some experience with pigs before making a decision about whether in the long run we want to breed our own replacement stock. Also, the experience of rearing pigs for a year may convince us that pigs are not for us, who knows.

 
Eliot Mason
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Andrea - local is a great idea and the best testament for climate suitability!

Since you mention goats ... a sheep dairy used a particular breed of small pig with the sheep in a brilliant manner ... the pigs ate all the dropped hay in the barn.  This kept the sheep from eating on the ground and prevented parasite transmission!  Super Permaculture!  I'd have to dig around to find the breed type, but its another potential benefit of barn poly culture to consider!

 
Andrea Locke
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When I had a guard donkey she was really good for that too! Sadly the livestock guardian dog doesnt eat the dropped hay. And goats are so wasteful. A pig that would take care of the hay would be brilliant.
 
Andrea Locke
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...and that's another reason to go with a smaller pig breed...less likely to eat the goats and chickens. I think the 6 adult geese could look after themselves.
 
Eliot Mason
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Andrea - I had to dig around and figure out which breed of pig... and bonus!  KuneKune!

My dairy maid friend wrote :
"The other key element to my herd's intestinal fortitude is our Kune Kune pigs that live full time with our dairy herd.  They sustain themselves on grass, we don't grain them unless they are pregnant or lactating.  In the barnyard, our Kunes eat the hay/alfalfa that falls out of the feeders onto the ground.  They don't share the same worms as sheep and goats!, so they get full bellies out of the deal, and it keeps the non-discriminating sheep and goats from eating that food near their poop.  The Kunes run out to pasture with the herd each day, and munch on the grass out there.  They're also insanely adorable and Pippy comes when you whistle."

So ... 10 pts to KuneKune House!
 
Andrea Locke
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Eliot, that's fabulous. Thanks so much for following up with your friend.

So it seems we have a winner! KuneKune. I will start talking to those local breeders about availability.
 
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Joel Salatin has some really good videos on YouTube regarding his pasture raised pigs (Rotational grazing). They are free and lots of good info. I don’t remember him going into detail on breeds, but he does deliver a ton of good info and tips. I just figured you might like to watch them. Good Luck!!!
 
Andrea Locke
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Thanks, Paul. We definitely want to rotational graze so those will be good to review!
 
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