My name is Matt Barnhard. I live in Northeast Missouri with my wife and 4 children on our farm. We raise beef cattle by means of managed intensive grazing, we raise Large black hogs that we market direct to consumer, and we raise pasture broilers which are also marketed direct to consumer. We are passionate about raising top quality food for our family and our customers. Our 3 oldest children show our large black pigs in 4H. I have a Bachelor degree from Northwest Missouri State in Animal Science which includes extensive work with commercial swine production. To include breeding, genetics, and nutrition. I have many years experience with raising pure bread animals in the beef industry. One idea I have for the LBHA is a meat marketing program. Something similar to a certified angus beef program on a smaller scale. Something as producers we can educate our customers and market our products and create more demand for our breed. We would serve as husband and wife pair
Natasha Paris is a pasture-based farmer and high school agriculture teacher in Green Lake, WI. She is from Eastern Wisconsin originally, holds a BA from Knox College in Education and Modern Languages, and has taught preschool, adult English learners, Spanish, German, Science, and Agriculture. She has also lived in Madison, Western Illinois, and Norway. She and her husband own ParKelm Farm where they raise grassfed Classic Hereford Cattle, grassfed Icelandic Sheep, and pastured Large Black Hogs. They direct market all of their meat through their website and at a farmers market in Madison. They started farming in 2012 and bought hogs in 2017 after the loss of their son put them on a new path in life. Natasha is passionate about advocating for pasture-based agriculture and serves on two SARE advisory committees, is on the Grassworks Conference planning committee, and is the Vice President of the Green Lake County Farm Bureau. She has spoken at events on her farm and at conferences on the topics of soil health, pasture-based meat quality, pasture-based hog rations, multi-species grazing, and diversity and inclusion in agriculture. She recently won the WI Farm Bureau Young Agriculturist Excellence in Agriculture Award and placed in the Top 10 in the American Farm Bureau Excellence in Agriculture contest. With regards to Large Black Hogs, she is interested in breeding pigs with good conformation and efficiency for meat/litter production on pasture.
For all those who have questions regarding raising pigs more naturally check out the workshop to be held June 23, 2011 in Kiel, WI. You can view the agenda by logging on to http://glacierlandrcd.org/?110260000000 for details. Yes, Wisconsin is a long way from many of you, but it will be well worth your time and money. I am working with Will Winter to make this an extraordinary event. In the event you would love to attend, but distance is a factor, please let me know, as we are considering bringing this same workshop to the areas where there is interest. Contact me at or call 920-579-1544. Educated we can do even more for this wonderful breed.
Raising heritage breed hogs, especially the ones with low numbers of individuals, brings with it more than a business proposition, more than a cost per pound of meat or return on investment. To be happy you must reset your expectations.
I often speak with folks that have raised modern crosses and are frustrated by the low profits, if any, and are looking at heritage breeds as a way to renew their hog businesses based on the selling price of heritage hogs. I have to caution them that they will probably be disappointed as their metrics for success, their baseline for what makes a good hog, is skewed by their experience with modern cross hogs. They consider things like average number of piglets per litter, weaning weight, time to butcher weight, ratio of meat to bone, and many heritage hogs just can’t compete. This makes a lot of sense; of course modern crosses are better because the breeders who created them were pretty smart folks. They started with heritage breeds and selectively crossed those that had larger litters, larger muscles, etc. It would be unrealistic to take a foundation hog and expect it to be as good a piglet or pork producer as the improved breeds.
However, as “better” hogs were created, they lost some of the traits their ancestors had. This also makes sense because modern breeders raise their hogs in environments where things like cold and heat tolerance and pasturing ability are not necessary. To maximize the survival of piglets you provide them the least risky environment possible. You artificially inseminate the sows to prevent mating injuries and maximize insemination success. You raise the sows in an environment that is designed to improve fetus retention. When farrowing time comes you restrain the sow so that she cannot possibly injure the piglets and you keep her restrained so that the piglets can suckle easily, balancing the numbers of piglets between sows so that teat competition is eliminated. You wean the piglets early on a specialized feed so that you can breed back the sows at the earliest possible opportunity. Then you feed the piglets with a special diet to encourage rapid growth, including antibiotics that enhance feed efficiency. All of this makes sense if the metrics you use are as many piglets as possible raised to butcher weight as soon as possible.
There is nothing wrong with this from a business perspective, except perhaps the result of a saturated pork market with continued pressure from customer expectations of consistent quality pork at a low price.
However, replace these specialized cross hogs with heritage breeds and this model won’t work. Your litter numbers will be low and growth rates will be slower. You will only be able to produce a limited amount of pork because the market that will pay the price to make this profitable will be very small. And the cuts that will come from your hogs will not look like the traditional cuts that most people are accustomed to.
This also is true on a smaller scale. Hog farmers that raise a few hundred hogs per year will see the same issues; low litter numbers, low piglet weight and growth rates, lower feed efficiency and non-traditional cuts. Those that have learned their craft from modern crosses will be very disappointed.
In order to be happy with heritage breeds, one has to reset their expectations and understand the unique value that comes from the old breeds. Heritage breeds are best for those who are living the “homestead” life, making the change to living on a small farm in a simple, natural manner. This holistic view of farming is often more beneficial to the soul than the wallet. It is a decision to appreciate the intangible value of traditional farm life; doing things the old way and appreciating the benefits of providing food from your own effort. Usually hogs are only a part of this plan; a square to be filled. People take a look at their farms and eating habits and decide to try to make the farm provide as much of their family’s dietary needs as possible. They eat vegetables so a garden is a natural; they eat chicken, beef and pork so poultry, cattle and hogs are needed. They may want to do some old crafts, such as cheese, wool and honey so their cow (or goat) needs to provide milk; they need sheep to provide wool and bees to make honey. Once they have defined their needs they then start the process of choosing the breeds that will work for them.
It is easy, and inexpensive, to choose commonly available breeds and vegetable varieties, and many folks start with that. But since the choice to homestead is as much about emotional fulfillment as anything else, some folks decide to choose breeds that better fit this concept; going “old school” by choosing heritage livestock and heirloom vegetables. A Holstein cow will provide beef and milk, and a Hampshire hog will provide lots of pork, but a Canadienne cow or Large Black hog brings the real satisfaction of helping to resurrect a rare breed. Rare breeds have connected groups of like minded people that brings the enjoyment of belonging to a community. I’ve made lots of friends, around the world, that I would never have met had I not chosen to raise heritage breeds.
Heritage breeds also have meat that looks and tastes different than the stuff that you find in the grocery store. The first time you see the dark colored pork from a Large Black you might think it was beef. But cook Large Black pork low and slow and you will be ruined; grocery store pork will just never satisfy again.
Some heritage breeds, especially the rare ones, can also help pay for the homestead life, and although that should not be the primary consideration, it is nice to be able to make a little more off the hogs so that I can have other livestock that don’t provide much return. My sweetie and I call it our “traveling money”; we get to go see our kids every once in a while.
It’s also nice that the livestock we have chosen can utilize the food that grows naturally on our farm. Sustainability is all about lowering the need for outside inputs; making your farm “sustainable”. We started with Duroc and Chester Whites but left those breeds behind because they required too much supplemental feed. Our Large Blacks need less than half of the supplemental feed.
I think that the current price for Large Black and other heritage pigs will endure for many years as more people are choosing the homestead life due to the economy. Even when companies start hiring again the lessons will be remembered; you’ve got to have more to your life than a title and a paycheck. Life in a cubicle is just not fulfilling; even a part time farm will make life more complete. And if you choose livestock that don’t require constant attention…
With any hog, the true future is not in the breeding market but in the pork market. There will always be farmers who provide high quality breeding stock but the most successful will be those that can make the transition to pork. Large Black or LB crosses will be the product; hogs that retain the taste and quality of LBs while providing better proportioned cuts. The Large Black has lots of pork belly and ribs but relatively small hams and roasts; cross it with a Tamworth, Duroc or Hamp and you get the best of both. We have several LB X Hamp litters each year and they all sell out quickly to people who want traditional cuts with old world flavor.
My point in this very long post was to try to explain why you simply can’t compare heritage breeds with modern crosses. Different strokes for different folks; the markets are different. When choosing what hog you want to raise you need to match the breed to your expectations. If you like the natural life, the simple pleasure of raising livestock in the manner they were raised in the 1800s, then choose livestock that retain the ability to do well in that environment.
Since I raise Heritage breed hogs I am always interested in how they were raised back when they were considered as every day hogs. I try to replicate the conditions that made them successful; try to provide them with the environment their ancestors had. It can be difficult since most of the references published today are all about raising hogs in large barns.
A very good source I’ve found is the Internet Archive, an online repository and search engine for digitized collections of books, photos and other media. Using this source I’ve found several old books from the 1800s that detail how hogs were raised back then; giving me some really interesting insights. Here is one paragraph from a book published in 1899 that may make you really appreciate the different economies of then and now:
For all of those who are raising these old hogs, I encourage you to do the same and learn about the “old ways”. Your research may provide some really good tips on how to make these old breeds more successful.
Did you know that piglets are born with little slippers over their nails?
Sometimes called slippers, or thimbles, piglets are born with pliable covers over their nails. These are meant to prevent injury to the sow while the piglets are in utero. After they are born the little slippers usually wear down or fall off within ten minutes or so as the piglets scramble around.
Other than a curiosity that many are not aware of, these slippers can be very useful to diagnose stillbirths. If they are still attached then it is likely that the piglet was stillborn or died very soon after birth. If they are not present, usually that means that the piglet lived long enough to wear them down.
Just another interesting fact to add to your toolbox!
I’ve raised a lot of pigs and learned a lot through my mistakes. My experience has shown me that the natural method is best for a number of reasons.
There is usually no need for preventative antibiotics such as in medicated feed. Don’t treat your pigs if they aren’t sick. Most medicated feed and milk replacer has oxytetracycline added. This is a good antibacterial medicine, but when given in constant doses over time it can actually open the pig up to some very serious infections. Use over time it can create resistant bacteria that cannot be controlled by the antibiotic. Additionally, most of the drug is excreted in manure and goes into your pasture.
We lost two cross litters last spring due to severe meningitis; infection of the brain by bacteria. The piglets all died over a period of a few weeks and our vet tried several different antibiotics to try and control the infection. It took an autopsy to verify what had happened.
When we would get bottle babies, we used to use non-medicated goat milk replacer. But it was so expensive that we decided to go with an all livestock milk replacer that was much cheaper. The two litters became bottle babies because their sows, first time moms, did not produce milk. We fed the 26 piglets with the cheaper milk replacer. The first few weeks they did great but then, one by one, they became listless, appeared dizzy, started paddling and then died.
Only after losing all of them did we realize that the milk replacer was medicated with oxytetracycline. What we had done was to kill off all of the good bacteria in their bodies and they became infected by an oxytetracycline resistant bacteria which eventually killed them.
Large hog farms routinely provide medicated feed to their hogs. The result is a large increase in the number of antibiotic resistant bacteria and a call by the FDA for producers to stop using medicated feed. This is a serious problem with clear indications not only for livestock but also for human health.
Don’t make the same mistake. If your pigs get sick have a vet diagnose and treat them. Don’t give them medicine when they are healthy.
Most illnesses can be prevented through good practices such as keeping their water fresh, cleaning their area daily, giving them fresh, natural (non-medicated) food and rotating them between paddocks or pasture.
Give them as clean and natural an environment as you are able to. Learn as much about pigs as you can. Read the old texts (from the 1800s) and gain from the experience of those who had never heard of raising pigs in a crowded environment or of using antibiotics. Your pigs will reward you.
Yep, it’s that time again. Time to get the old farm ready for the snow and ice. Part of that is to figure out where all of those hogs are going to spend the winter.
After driving to Home Depot and pricing all of the pressure treated lumber we would need to build sheds for all of the new hogs we bought this year, and freaking out at each 4×8 shelter costing over $200 just in lumber, we decided to go with hoop houses again. We’ve overwintered our mature hogs for the last two winters in these and most of the hoops are still standing (the ones that aren’t fell victim to little goats thinking they were mountains needing to be climbed…).
If you don’t know what hoop houses are, here is a good site with photos and instructions. They work very well for yearling and older hogs during the coldest of nights as long as there is lots of hay inside. However, we keep our piglets and their sows in smaller huts with heat lamps.
Here are some things I suggest you learn about now as you are likely to encounter them, if you haven’t yet.
Know how to give injections. Some medication must be given intramuscular, some must be given subcutaneously. Know how to give each type and where they should be administered.
Know which needle size to use with each common medication you are likely to use. Which is larger, 18 gauge or 22 gauge? How do you give an IM injection to a new piglet that has very little muscle? How do you restrain a mature hog for injections?
Know the different common sizes of syringes and which should be used for different dosages. Can you reuse a syringe for multiple hogs? If so, when? If not, why not? Can you use one syringe but change needles for each hog? How do you disinfect multiple dose syringes between uses?
Know about anaphylaxis and why you should have epinephrine on hand and ready to use when you give injections. Where can you get epinephrine? How do you administer it?
Know how to store different medications and how long they can be stored.
Why might Dectomax be better than other anthelmintics? Should you have a regular worming schedule? Why or why not? What choice do you have if you don’t want to use an injectable anthelmintic? What can you do to lessen the possibility of your hogs being overloaded with internal parasites (therefore not requiring anthelmintics)?
What is the difference between LA200 and Biomycin 200? Why does the difference matter? What symptoms might indicate their use?
What is “Scour Halt”? When and why is it used?
What is “Excede”? Why might it be a better choice than others?
What is the difference between bacterial and viral infections? Which is e-coli? What infections can be transmissible to humans?
What are the benefits and downsides of clipping needle teeth, docking tails, castrating boars? Does your farm operation require any of these practices?
Why do industrial farms provide antibiotics in their hog feed? Is that appropriate for your farm? What could the negative effects be if you followed this practice?
What is the normal temperature for a piglet / hog? How do you find out the temp of your pigs? What do you do if your piglet’s temp is 95.5° F? How about 105.5° F? Which might indicate a bacterial infection? Does either indicate the possible need for an antibacterial? How do you raise or lower the temp of a piglet?
How do you treat a tear to a piglet’s ear? A deep cut to its leg? A dislocated hip? A broken tooth? A prolapsed rectum? A scratch on it’s back that bleeds but has not gone through the skin? Which can you handle and which need a vet?
How do you bottle feed piglets? What conditions require that? How do you tube feed a piglet? What equipment is needed for each?
How long does a sow produce colostrum? How long after birth can a piglet get the benefit from colostrum? What do you do for an orphan piglet? Will a lactating sow accept and feed an orphan from another litter? What do you do if there is no sow available that is producing colostrum? What is the difference between powdered or paste colostrum and colostrum supplement?
How do you wean a bottle baby piglet? When does this start and how do you know a piglet is weaned?
What is a biosecurity plan? Why does it matter? What are the specific procedures for your farm? How long do you quarantine swine? Is there any difference between that period and one for cattle? If so, why?
This is a very long list of questions and topics; you may be able to answer these right now; but if you can correctly answer all of these then I would consider you ready to take care of swine. And you would know more than perhaps 90 percent of swine caretakers.
Where do you find answers to these questions? Of course, there is the Internet. But there are also some very good books out there. I highly recommend these:
Large Animal Clinical Procedures for Veterinary Technicians. Elizabeth A. Hanie.
Handbook of Pig Medicine. Peter GG Jackson and Peter D Cockcroft.
Pig Ailments Recognition and Treatment. Mark White.
IMO, the best thing that these books can do is to let a newbie understand just how important knowledge is and how to see when they are in over their heads. One of the common things that I have seen is that newbies (and veterans) assume they know more than they do. It happened to me and a lot of pigs died due to my hubris. Now I know when to call the vet.
I sometimes hear comments from folks that generally go like this: “You can’t trust a (boar, sow, hog); never turn your back on it!” “You can’t tame a mean hog!” “All of you ‘hobby farmers’ who play with your pigs are not real hog farmers.”
Today I added a post to my blog that explains why I treat my hogs as I do. Why I “play” with them and don’t have any fear being with them. I thought it might be interesting to this group so I’m reposting it here:
When I talk about some of the things I do, such as give belly rubs to my hogs, talk with them and look them in the eye, let them rub against me (not the most sanitary thing…), sit with sows while they are farrowing, check ears, feet and eyes without having to restrain the hog, some people doubt that I am being totally honest. This is because they think of hogs as aggressive man-eaters that can’t be tamed or trusted.
I’ve recently made a point of proving that my hogs are docile and easy to be around when people come to the farm. I bring the visitor to the fence and then I walk into the hog herd and start scratching them, rubbing their bellies, checking their ears for parasites, talking to them…
Silly, isn’t it?
The truth that I have learned is that if your hogs trust you, they will let you do your work. They will let you do all the things you must do, such as check them for parasites, examine and treat injuries, examine teats to ensure they work and know when they are about to farrow (even feel their babies move around inside them), check their piglets and treat those that need help. If your hogs trust you they will let you check their teeth, give them injections and oral medication, without having to restrain them. The truth is: my silly methods allow me to be a hog farmer without needing all of the expensive restraint hardware that modern farms require. My method, in my opinion, is better.
And it’s all about trust. Belly rubs, soft talk, ear scratching, just making sure to say “hi” to each hog every day, all of these techniques have a purpose. If my hogs know that I am not going to hurt them, that I pose no threat, then they trust me to touch them and check parts of their bodies as I need to. It makes my work easy.
I have taken in mature hogs that their owners described as “just mean”. Boars that would rip you to pieces if they could. Sows that fight every time they see each other. But within a couple of weeks after being on my farm they all have become very docile and content. This happens because they just did not trust their previous owners, due to the manner in which they were treated, but they learn to trust me because I don’t do the things that scare or hurt them.
So, how do I build this trust? It all starts with an understanding of hog behavior. Hogs may seem like predators with their large teeth, loud growls, and big size. But they are actually prey animals. Hogs are food for predators and their instinct naturally makes them distrust other animals like dogs, bears and people. The way to overcome their fear is to give them no reason to fear you.
It starts when they are born. I am there whenever I can to soothe the sow and let the piglets see that I am part of their new world. A couple of days after birth the piglets are walking around with mom, and I am there too. I don’t try to grab or hold the piglets (unless necessary for their health). I am just there. After a week or so they start walking over to me, sniff my boots, play around me, and then I know that I have not done anything to make them fear my presence.
The process continues as they grow (if we keep them). They become part of a herd that trusts me and the herd’s behavior reinforces their knowledge that I am not a threat. When the new pigs show me that I am accepted I then start touching them, scratches and belly rubs begin, and that becomes part of their daily routine. Then they start welcoming me when I visit and asking, through their grunts and behavior, that I provide attention to them. It is then that the process is complete. They don’t fear me, I don’t fear them, and I can do whatever is needed to assure their continued health.
When we talk to new pig owners my sweetie and I explain how they can achieve the same:
1. Take them home and put them into a healthy environment.
2. For the first week, don’t try to grab them or pick them up. Just go into their environment, provide clean water and good food, and sit with them for awhile. Talk to them, read a book, but don’t try to touch them. If they start coming to you, let them but don’t react other than to speak in soft tones.
3. After the pigs start welcoming you and touching you, then you can start touching them. Don’t grab them, don’t try and force them, just scratch their ears and necks if they let you.
4. Once the scratching becomes a welcome thing then start with the rubbing. Pet them as you would a dog or cat. Move your hands down their sides and rub their bellies. When they lay down for a belly rub, they have fully accepted you and trust you. And you can do what you need to.
We know this restraint (on your part) is hard. You want to pick up your new cute piglet, want to hug it, but doing so would make the piglet feel “captured”. For a prey animal this means danger! Don’t make it think you are a predator. The process is essential if you want to be able to easily check or treat the pig whenever it needs it.
Be the friend that your pig wants and it will trust you to do “weird” things.