The following is the unedited version of an article I wrote in Small Farm Canada magazine back in 2006. There is some debate ongoing about pastured pigs in several sites including Homesteading Today . Now, you will note that in my article I don't propose raising pigs solely on pasture, but I do believe that it is possible to attain a level of pasture based diet greater than the 60% that I outlined in the article. With some intensive pasture management, I believe it would be possible to hit the 90% mark with a pastured operation. Here, below is the article for your entertainment.
by John Schneider
Pasture based hog producers in Canada do not have the luxury of having their animals actually grazing a pasture for a good part of the year. It is beneficial to duplicate, as much as possible, the conditions of the pasture in your winter feed program. Alfalfa as a major hog feed supplement in winter is probably nothing new, but as with a lot of small farm knowledge…much of what was once common practice has been lost in a few short generations of intensive, modern farming.
Alfalfa contains approximately 17 percent protein. There is a need to increase the crude protein of feed above what any single type of grain can provide. Monogastrics and Ruminants both require protein for growth, reproduction and maintenance. Proteins contain ten amino acids that are essential to an animals’ well being. Ruminants only require a source of nitrogen, or poor quality protein; microorganisms in their rumen can then construct the essential amino acids. Hogs need these amino acids to be readily available in the form of high protein feed. Along with protein, alfalfa also contains high levels of calcium and carotene and can provide pretty much all of the vitamins needed for maintenance. A challenge for most small farmers is to keep costs down while maintaining sufficient protein and nutrient levels for their swine herd. The standard method of feeding barley with supplemental protein and vitamins and minerals does not come cheaply in a certified organic form. The cost, along with a lack of availability has created the need to examine other forms of swine feed.
Two things that are available in abundance in Canada are grains and alfalfa. Alfalfa mixed with barley or wheat is a feed that is quite complete. Another legume feed such as peas can be added where a protein level in excess of 14% is required for gestating, lactating and young hogs. It is advised to use a heritage breed of hog for a pasture based operation as they more easily convert nutrients from a legumous diet. Hogs will take time to adjust to this type of diet; up to two months will be needed for the hogs’ system to begin the uptake of nutrients from a diet rich in alfalfa. Go slow with your introduction of alfalfa to the feed.
The Feed Resource Centre at the University of Saskatchewan refers to a study from 1981 by Pollman et al. This study shows a sow diet containing 50% alfalfa meal resulted in less lactation weight loss, a higher number of live births, better weaning average and a healthier weight gain during gestation. No other known studies have recommended alfalfa at a rate greater than 40% and personal experience has found this to be the limit of palatability for swine anyway.
A Good Recipe for a Young Gilt Ration
Alfalfa Meal or Grindings 40%
This recipe will yield a crude protein level of 16.2% and an energy level of about 11,200 MJ per tonne of feed, perfect for the feeding of your replacement gilts. Each pig will require 4-6 lbs per day up until 2 weeks before breeding when the feed will be increased to 6-8 lbs per day. This ration will contain superior levels of all vitamins with the exception of D and B12. With some supplementation of household food scraps containing eggs and/or dairy, enough B12 will be provided. With a larger herd, feeding of a dairy based supplement may be necessary. Vitamin D is manufactured within the body with exposure to the sun.
There are numerous ways to achieve ground alfalfa. Hammer Mills and Burr Mills are easily used to reduce a bale of high quality alfalfa hay to smaller “chunks”. A quick change to a finer screen and running the alfalfa through again will achieve the necessary consistency of a “rough flour”. It is not advised to feed raw alfalfa through the finest screen of your mill in one pass. The resulting green powder can then be mixed with finely milled grain in varying amounts to suit your protein needs and can be fed wet as slop, or dry in the self feeders. The same results could be obtained by soaking alfalfa cubes. Hogs will appreciate a warm porridge on a cold morning and this is one way to make the transition to pastured feed a little easier.
Good luck with your pastured operations and don’t be afraid to ‘go green’ with your hog feed this winter!