What information can you give me on raising pigs on pasture and heritage hog breeds?
J.H.IllinoisAnswer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information about raising hogs on pasture, and rare breeds.I understand the desire to keep hogs in a more natural situation, and allowing them to forage. Please refer to the ATTRA publications Hog Production Alternatives, Pork: Marketing Alternatives, and Profitable Pork. They should help you weigh the positive and negative factors of those enterprises, and give you ideas about forages and fencing, as well as marketing.In addition to those articles, I think you may benefit from reading the information referenced below. First of all, you asked about marketing, and I think that is a great place to start. The article from Kelly Klober addresses premium pork, heritage breeds, and direct marketing. Regarding heritage breeds: an excellent resource for information is the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. By reading the breed profiles from the ALBC, you will learn of the history, uses, and breed association contacts for each breed. This may help you select a breed you want to help conserve. If (and this is a big “if”) you have access to processing, you may want to sell pork directly to consumers. It will help customers find you if you will be listed on www.localharvest.org and on the Niche Pork website and on any local foods websites. I listed our farm on Local Harvest, and get a call at least once a month from a new customer who found us through that site. Listing is free. Call your Extension agent to find out what other free listings are available.It may be useful to you to compare different hog production systems, and to read about farmers who are doing various systems, including pasture farrowing and finishing. Their experiences may help you think through changes. Please see “Hogs Your Way” it should be interesting and useful.You mentioned forages to plant. I would think it might be advantageous (if your land is suited to crops) to grow some corn for the sows to “hog off”. That is an old method and letting the hogs do the harvesting is tried and true. For a farrowing lot you will need grasses that provide more cover and protect the soil. It will be important to rotate animals and not be overstocked. If you allow hogs to stay in an area too long, they will compact the ground and the result will be very similar to concrete; bare, packed, vulnerable soil. I encourage you to think of ways to protect your land, even if that means temporary confinement for the hogs. See pages 35-49 of “Hogs Your Way” for more considerations.Resources:Klober, Kelly. 2008. Customers seeking taste, type, integrity and terroir drive traditional pork revival. Rodale Institute. 5 p.Information from The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy about heritage hogs: Ossabaw Island, Red Wattle, Tamworth, Hereford, Mulefoot, Gloucester Old Spots, Choctaw, and Large Black hogs.DiGiacomo, G., Love, P., Martin, W., Morse, D., Nelson, B., Virnig, K. 2001. Hogs Your Way: Choosing a Hog Production System in the Upper Midwest. University of Minnesota Extension Service Bulletins BU-7641-S.