Pasture-Based Swine Management (PBSM)
is an alternative approach for raising swine outdoors using pasture as
a major source of nutrients, particularly for gestating sows. Compared
with confinement or indoor systems for raising hogs, the PBSM approach
can offer the producer lower initial costs, lower production costs, and
a sustainable method for producing pork. Typical designs of pasture-based
systems use low-cost portable housing and electric fencing. Because these
systems require no expensive buildings and waste handling equipment, farmers
can feasibly down-size or expand their operation depending on prevailing
market conditions. In addition, the portability of pasture systems should
allow farmers to utilize rented land. These systems should be especially
appealing to limited-resource and/or beginning farmers.
A study conducted in Iowa by Mark
S. Honeyman and Arlie Penner of Iowa State University compared economic
and production data of indoor and outdoor herds. Results showed that fixed
cost for the outdoor herds were approximately $3 less per pig weaned than
for the indoor herds. Also, break-even price was almost $5 lower per pig
marketed for outdoor herds compared with indoor herds. A British study
showed cost per pig was $2.90 lower per pig raised outdoors as compared
with pigs raised indoors. An estimated budget of
the ALFDC operation for 1999-2000 is available.
Because 55 to 85% of the total production
costs of raising swine can be feed costs, providing year-round pasture
of good quality will help save on grain and protein costs (see "Forages
for Swine"). Hogs can also be turned out onto vegetable crops
after harvesting to glean or "hog off" the aftermath. This not
only can provide the hogs with a source of nutrients but soil fertility
may be improved due to manure deposited on the land by the hogs.
Environmental and Social Issues
There are environmental and social
issues that will continue to have an impact on confinement operations.
Compared with pigs raised indoors, pasture systems significantly reduce
problems associated with animal-rights groups, health of operators, and
environmental concerns associated with dust, odor, and waste disposal.
Pasture-based systems have a "built-in" waste management system
because hogs disperse their waste over the land as they graze.
The main two ingredients in conventional
swine diets are corn and soybean meal. Often, these crops are managed as
continuous row-crop production using potentially ground-water contaminating
pesticides and fertilizers. Pasturing hogs reduces the reliance on corn
and soybean production because forage crops will meet a portion of their
daily nutrient needs. Therefore, a pasture-based system should have a positive
social impact on the community, especially with people that are environmentally-sensitive
and/or troubled with methods used with producing pork in confinement.
Finally, hogs raised outdoors often have
fewer problems with respiratory diseases and foot and leg problems than
hogs reared in confinement. Healthier hogs means less antibiotic use which
also appeals to many consumers.
Site Selection and Layout
One of the most important decisions
to be made is where locate a pasture-based system. An area of land should
be chosen that is well-drained and large enough to accommodate herd size.
A land requirement of four to six sows per acre is a good place to start,
but if pasture is to be utilized as feed, this stocking rate may need to
be decreased. Other factors to consider when selecting a site may depend
on how you plan to manage your hogs with other enterprises. A two-litter
pasture system operates on a 6-month cycle, with sows farrowing in the
spring and in the fall, when temperatures are relatively mild. This system
fits well as an alternative enterprise on a crop or vegetable farm where
labor needs are characterized by being intense at times (planting and harvesting)
and less intense at other times. Farrowings, which require intense use
of labor, can be scheduled to utilize labor available when crop labor needs
are low. Hogs can also be rotated on land with crops to take advantage
of the improved soil fertility from manure left on the ground.
The layout of paddocks will vary due to size
of the herd, soil type, topography, and land area available. A minimum
number of paddocks should be constructed to accommodate the different management
phases (gestation, farrowing, nursery, etc.). If pastures are to be utilized,
the number of paddocks will vary depending on frequency of pasture rotation.
Pasture rotation will help maintain the pasture stand, nutrient quality
of the pasture, and reduce damage of pasture due to rooting. Furthermore,
the layout of the system will depend a lot on personal preference. A wagon-wheel
design may fit the area and can lower labor needs because the distance
traveled when rotating hogs among paddocks is reduced.
Power or electric fencing is a
low-cost alternative to conventional fencing. The low-cost and ease of
installation has contributed greatly to the increased popularity of producing
hogs outdoors. The heart of the power fence system is the energizer, or
charger. Energizers are powered either by 110 volt alternating current
or a heavy-duty battery that is recharged by a either a battery charger
or solar panel. The cost of an energizer can range from $60 to $500 depending
on its features.
High-tensile, 12.5 gauge steel wire is widely
used because of its affordability and durability. However, it is more difficult
to install than 16 gauge metal wire. Its installation is made easier if
a reel is used. High-tensile wire can cost approximately $.02 per foot.
However, along with steel posts and heavy-duty insulators, high-tensile
fence may last up to 30 years! A two-strand fence will suffice for most
situations. However, more strands or a netting may be needed for young
It is usually necessary to train animals
to electric fence. Remember it is a mental barrier not a physical barrier.
With the proper charger and grounding, swine can be trained to "respect"
the fence after only a few encounters. For more information about electric
fencing visit "Fencing
Shelters and Shade
Some type of shelter should be
provided during each stage of production. There are many designs available
for each type of shelter. Factors to consider when selecting a shelter
type include: cost, use, construction skills required, and personal preference.
Adequate space for dry sows is 12 to 16 square feet per sow or boar.
An individual hut should be provided for
each sow during farrowing. Any of several designs can be used. The amount
of floor area is a serious consideration because it appears pig crushing
is related to floor space. It is also advantageous if huts are relatively
Selection of Breeding Stock
Once your facilities are ready
to hold animals, the next step is to locate and purchase good-quality gilts
and boars. The genetics of your breeding herd will be the foundation of
your operation; therefore, it is extremely critical that you begin with
good-quality stock. Today's consumer prefers pork from lean carcasses--a
characteristic that is primarily determined by genetics. Lean genetics
can be attained by careful selection of sows and boars. Assistance is available
for locating and selecting genetically superior stock through the agricultural
extension service and universities.
Nutrition and Feeding
Over 50% of the total cost of
producing hogs will be feed costs. Therefore, it is important to provide
a nutritionally balanced diet at the least cost. Remember, no one
feed ingredient can provide all the nutrients swine need on a daily basis.
Although, most swine diets are based on corn and soybean meal, a wide variety
of feeds exists that are suitable for hogs. The key to using different
feeds is to make sure they are mixed correctly with other feeds/supplements
to ensure the diet is balanced based on the weight class or stage of production
of the swine.
Pasture-based swine systems take advantage
of the sow's excellent grazing ability to lower the cost of feeding. Wise
use of pasture can significantly lower your feed bill. However, not all
pastures will be suitable for sows. Pastures should be young, tender, high
in protein, and low in fiber. Clovers and annual grasses such as wheat,
oats, rye, and ryegrass make excellent forages for sows during the cooler
months of the year. Rotationally grazing these pastures will help ensure
that maximum productivity of pastures is achieved. Rotationally grazing
sows helps maintain pastures at a young, tender stage of growth and helps
avoid excessive trampling and rooting of pastures. Good-quality pasture
can be used to replace 50% of the grain and supplement needs during gestation.
Pasture - The Gunthorp Farm. Greg and Lei Gunthorp have many good ideas
and tips. Visit their website.
An Agriculture That Makes Sense: Making Money on Hogs. Is a publication
that describes a farrow- to-finish enterprise in Minnesota that pasture
farrows about 50 sows in May and August. This publication also provides
details on farrowing, feed costs, veterinary costs, shelter costs, and
marketing. This farm's total actual listed costs were $17.45, $14.84, and
$5.89 per hundred weight lower than the average listed costs of the top
performing farmers (reported in the Southeast Minnesota Farm Business Management
Program Annual Report) for 1998, 1992, and 1995, respectively. For a copy
of this publication write to or call:
Land Stewardship Project, 2200 Fourth Street, White Bear Lake, MN 55110,
A Gentler Way - Sows On Pasture by farmers Dwight and Becky Ault
describe experiences of several farmers that are involved with pasture
farrowing. For a copy, send $4 to Dwight Ault, Rt. 1 Box 230, Austin MN
Tom Frantzen of New Hampton, IA has many innovative ideas on how
to be successful with pasture farrowing. His experiences and are described
in detail in the book , Farmers for the Future, by Successful Farming Business
Editor Dan Looker. It should be available from Iowa State University Press
The Greenbook ‘97 contains descriptions of three different outdoor
Grazing Sows on Pasture, Grazing Hogs on Standing Grain and Pasture,
and Butcher Hogs on Pasture. Visit the Energy and Sustainable Agriculture
Program page at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website to find
out to receive this publication.
Moorman's Outdoor Swine Technology (MOST). Program Manual. Moorman's,
1000 N. 30th Street, P.O. Box C1, Quincy, IL 62305-3115. Tele. (217) 222-7100.
Outdoor Pig Production. Keith Thornton. 1988. Farming Press Ipwich,
U.K. (206 pages). Distributed in N. America by: Diamond Farm Enterprises,
Box 537, Alexandria Bay, NY 13607. USA.
Practical Outdoor Pig Production. VHS Color Video (approximately
40 min. running time). Farming Press Videos, Ipswich, U.K. Distributed
in N. America by: Diamond Farm Enterprises, Box 537, Alexandria Bay, NY
Pasture Farrowing. PORT-A-HUT, INC. Storm Lake, IA 50588.