Pasture pigs are happy pigs

We moved the sows and their piglets out to a new pasture the other day. I had been meaning to do it for some time, but it kept getting put off for other, more time pressing jobs. Nevertheless, all 45 are now out on a large area with lots of grass and alfalfa. It may surprise some people, but pigs will graze, and can get a fair amount of their diet from grass and legumes. 

The pigs seemed extremely happy with their new home, and spend a lot of time roaming the field. The piglets have access to a self feeder with grain as well, and I feed the sows some grain morning and evening to compliment their grassy diet.

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Did you bring me anything?

About half the time when I go to the sheep pasture, Doris comes to see me. She was bottlefed last year, and still knows that I sometimes will have a treat for her. If she is nearby, she trots right up to see if I have brought her anything.

After checking it out and a quick pat, she is soon on her way back to graze.

How do you feed them?

This question was posed to me a few times recently in regard to the livestock guardian dogs. It is something that seems straight forward to me, but of course to people who are not used to having a group of dogs who are not located in the yard or house, it is not. 

I feed the dogs when I go out to check on the flock each morning. I don’t want the dogs to leave the sheep so I bring the food to them. They are given dry dog food, and usually a piece or 2 of fresh organ meat from our butcher. I fill the dishes and place them out for each dog. If all the dogs are there, I am careful to feed the more dominant dogs first or they will chase the others off their food. Usually Thor and Ruza get the first 2 dishes, then the pups, then Sam and finally Alice. Then I wait for the dogs to finish or check the sheep that are nearby. I keep an eye on the dogs; occasionally Sam or Alice will get pushed off their food if someone else finished their own quickly (or if Lola is along and feeling hungry). It is a bit of a skill to be able to feed 6 dogs and keep them all calm and orderly. If the dogs are spread out, I will travel around to find them and feed them where they are in the pasture, but often they hear me coming and gather around for their breakfast.

Occasionally for some reason, a dog will not want all their food. If the dog gets up and leaves, I consider them finished and pick up the dish. If they come back, I might offer it to them again, depending on why they left and how much they have eaten. As each dog finishes, I pick up the dishes and any leftover food, and continue on my way.

Tula and Fern eating the last few kibbles

Small victories

It has been a bit of a tough stretch with losses lately. I discovered a hungry coyote had been helping himself to the odd lamb from the group of sheep which was left near the yard. Normally it is a safe area, but a pair of coyotes that has been hanging around I think have discovered the taste of lamb. So after chasing one out of the pasture twice and shuffling some groups together, I brought Ruza back from the main flock (where the dogs seem to be keeping the coyotes at bay) to watch over the small group of ewes. This combined with a few losses to pneumonia and parasites, has made trips to the pasture depressing instead of enjoyable. 

As I head out each day, I get a feeling of apprehension about what trouble I may find. Yesterday, things seemed to be ok, nothing noticeably sick or dead, a new set of twins, and a couple lambs I had caught to treat looked no worse. As I checked the other side of the pasture, Chief (the collie) came across what looked like a coyote path under the fence. About this same time, the pups, who often follow me while I’m in the pasture, seemed to have found something of interest. My heart sank as I thought I would find a kill when I reached them. As I got closer, legs up in the air went another step to confirming my dread. Until the legs moved! Instead of a dead ewe, I found one that had been cast (stuck on her back). I turned her over, and after a few minutes of resting, she was able to walk back to the rest of the flock under the supervision of the pups.

Vaccinations, heat, and bulls

That’s what June is all about. Last week, we brought the first group of calves in for their first vaccinations. Thanks to good help, we had a good day and got the roughly 100 calves and cows vaccinated and moved to their new pasture. The vaccinations are done to protect them from common diseases such as pnuemonia and tetanus. 

We have been having a stretch of hot and dry weather, which can be hard on the animals, and makes me wish they had more shade. We have had a few sheep come down with pneumonia, which I suspect may be due in part to the warm weather, which also causes them to bunch around the water trough.

The dogs spend most of their time during the heat of the day resting and will sometimes sneak off to find shade, but here Sam is resting with the sheep.

We also went this week to purchase a new bull. This Speckle Park bull will be used on our heifers this year and should produce some nice replacememts. He has very nice conformation and a great dispositon. He came from Stookeys, who have a very nice little herd of Speckle Park cattle. If you’re looking for easy keeping cattle from a grass based program, they certainly fit the bill!

Record, record, record

One of my most important tools on the farm is my lambing record book. In it I record the ewe, the number, sex and colour of her lambs and their tag number when they are tagged. I also make comments such as “keepers” or “bad udder, cull” or “can’t count”. These notes and information will help me make culling decisions, replacement decisions, and in some cases management decisions. I also record any treatments, pasture movements, deaths, and any other information I think I will need. This book travels with me all summer and in some ways is a diary of my days. 


In addition to that book, I also record all the lambing records on my computer program. This helps me know lifetime production of ewes, weights, and many production specs, which I also use to make decisions. But with this program, it’s trickier to make those little notes and general information is harder to pull up. 

In addition to both of these, I also transcribe all my lambing records into a binder. I don’t use this binder much, and thought about eliminating it, until a few years ago when I lost my lambing book. Then it’s real value as a back of record became pretty obvious! I used it to recreate my lambing book, and although some info was lost, I was able to keep most of it. 

I know that 3 types of records is really overkill, and probably I’m wasting some time, but without them, I would never be able to remember all the details of every sheep, and wouldn’t be able to make decisions accordingly. If the saying is “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”, then I have no excuse!