There seems to be a shortage of research on whether grass finished beef is better than grain finished beef. I won’t go into the politics of the issue, but it’s easier and cheaper to grain finish large amounts of beef, from a feed-lot management perspective. It takes a lot of ground or hay to grass finish a beef, relative to grain.
Here are some resources that will help clear it up, with a bias toward grass finished beef.
We have 5 Dexter calves so far this year. We expect 2 more before calving season is over, but they are not all on the right schedule yet so we’ll be calving until September. Hopefully we can be more lined up for next year, although we’ll have one later than we want.
So far we have 4 red calves and one black one. Our red bull calf has the wild red gene, which gives him the black nose. This picture was taken before the 5th was born (this morning).
Also, we just started moving the cows onto pasture today. It’s been cold, rainy, and muddy and the grass didn’t grow well enough to let them out before May 11th.
We are getting ready for piglets this weekend on Red Alpha Farms. Our main American Guinea Hog sow, Jovy, is due on Friday. We have a new farrowing pen setup, with 8-10″ of deep litter (hog fuel), and hog panels to make sure she can see all the piglets all the time.
I set this up outside my office window so I can keep an eye on her and the piglets throughout the day.
Since we began raising American Guinea Hogs, we’ve had a number of shelter solutions. We move our animals frequently, so any shelter has to be mobile. They also need to be large enough for a pair of breeding hogs, a sow and litter, or a litter of hogs to get up to around 6 months in.
We began with 2 pigs that were around 8 and 12 weeks, so we started with a dogloo for large dogs. That worked really well for 3-4 months.
We next used a pallet house that was made with 4 pallets screwed together with some leftover plastic corrugated roofing on top. There might not be anything more convenient to build than a pallet house.
That pallet house worked, but it was very open on one side, and was extremely heavy — the roofing supports were 2x4s — not good. I built another one in a similar fashion, but cut down the pallets to 3′ high in the front and 2.5′ high in the back, and then installed galvanized roofing on 2×2 frames.
That worked very well, and was easy to move. It was much lighter. In order to make moving the pallet house easier, I put a 2×4 on each side of the bottom, the long way, to act as runners, and to hold the pallets together. I then put large eye-bolts in each end of each 2×4, to allow me to connect a rope with carabiners attached to each eye-bolt and allow me to drag it around.
The problem with that shelter is that we just got into some weather that was down in the teens, and I didn’t want the hogs to get too cold, so it was time to build the next iteration of the shelter.
This shelter was framed out of 2x4s, with an open bottom, and cedar fence boards for siding. The door is 2’x2′, with the shelter being roughly 6’x4′. The roof is 3′ high, and there is a covered porch to keep the weather out of the doorway. This one also has a front handle and pegs sticking out the back just under the roof to allow it to be flipped up to clean out. I also placed a sheet of 2″ foam board insulation just below the gap between the siding and the roof to make it even warmer.
The shelters open bottom allows a great amount of hay or straw (or other bedding) to be placed inside the shelter. When it gets a bit full, I just rock the shelter around a little bit to get the sides to crawl up on top of the bedding, and it helps keep the hogs up off the ground better.
I’m not moving them much with snow on the ground, so I will likely also install runners on the bottom and pull this around when better weather returns.
Our American Guinea Hogs are 4 weeks old this week. They are trying to eat more solid food with some success. Much of their efforts are hampered by the sow and boar in the same pen. It’s much easier to have them all in the same pen, but it creates too much competition for solid food for them to thrive. The solution is to create a creep feeder.
I took a 36″ by 16′ hog panel and cut it into three sections. I wanted a triangle so that the larger hogs could not push it and make a piglet sandwich. It ended up working well, although the hogs still push it a little bit and I have to hold it in place.
After the first feeding, I cut an additional vertical bar out from one section on each side so that they didn’t have to crawl in and out. I don’t have pictures of that yet.
The creep feeder works well at keeping the hogs out.
I place the food dish, filled with milk or water and an all stock type feed that I buy from Xcel Feeds in western Washington called “Premium Blend”.
American Guinea Hogs are great mothers. If you’re looking for a hog that can farrow on pasture and requires little intervention, this might be the hog for you.
Our piglets showed up on Monday, 9/20/21. We had 6 healthy piglets.
We lost one piglet on the 26th, so we are down to 5. We have 2 gilts (females) and 3 boars (males). We have no idea what happened to the one we lost – it wasn’t there when we went to check on them during lunch that day. It was there for breakfast. I suspect that a pack of crows got it.
Jovy, our sow is doing great. She did lay on one for a minute the first day, but I gently pushed her over and it crawled out and she hasn’t repeated the mistake since. She is very careful every time she enters the shelter to root through the hay to see if there are any piglets there.
It is surprising how flexible the piglets are when it comes time to eat. They just run behind and when they catch up, they start eating again.
We’ve learned some valuable lessons from our first farrowing – some assumptions might not be accurate, so we’ll have to test them:
Use a small pen – if it’s large, the piglets can wander off and might get eaten or lay down for a nap. We are using a 16’x16′ pen, with string across the top to prevent crows from flying in (after we lost one). Next time I might go smaller for the first week.
It might be better to use pellets or wood chips – the piglets can get lost in the hay. Although, it could be that the deep hay protected the one piglet that was laid on and allowed it to breathe.
Using pallets for the shelter walls required filling in the holes at the bottom (the space between the bottom inside board and the outside boards) so that piglets wouldn’t fall in and get stuck! I had to rescue one before I learned this.
The sow will possibly become protective within a few hours – if you lift a piglet up and it squeals, she may come running. It’s better to lift them from under them, and not hold them from multiple sides, so they don’t feel like they are being taken by a predator. Our sow became protective, but she would just come running out and grunting angrily – she did not attack anyone.
It took 2+ hours between the first piglet and the second. From what I have heard, this is very unusual. The rest came within 1 hour from the second.
Overall, this has been a good experience. It’s rough losing a piglet and not knowing why, and not having any evidence or carcass to inspect. I can’t emphasize enough how important good breeding stock is. The process went well partly because we started with great stock, and a great breed. Also, the Registered American Guinea Hog Facebook group is quick to help and offer advice. I’d recommend joining for anyone who would consider or has American Guinea Hogs.
We raise American Guinea Hogs (AGH) on pasture and in the woods. We move them frequently, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly. These hogs have a wonderful temperament, they don’t try to escape, and they don’t root up the soil too much. We’ve found that they root quite a bit more in the wooded areas than the field/pasture areas.
We’re about a week away from piglets, according to my calculations. We have a gilt that should farrow next Sunday, 9/19.
She’s looking very bulky right now, with milk bagging up and she’ll no longer tolerate belly rubs (too sensitive). I am going to separate the two pigs today and move them onto pasture and out of the woods. We’ve had them in the woods over the hot summer, but now it’s cooling off quite a bit, so the pasture will be better, and keep them away from the predators.
Here is what the wooded area looks like when they first get moved onto it. We leave them in one general area for 1-2 weeks.
You see it advocated by nearly every regenerative farmer or back to the land hippie. Pasture your chickens. Make a chicken tractor and move your chickens. Put those meat birds out on the pasture. If you do this, you may mine the biomass out of your soil and destroy the future prosperity of your pastures.
We’ve all seen the coop and run setup. The chickens are left to the same space without getting moved around and, over time, they eat everything, and nothing grows. The ground is as hard as cement. The chickens then get moved, and the ground will stay bare and hard for a long period of time after they are gone.
The reason this occurs is that the microbes in the soil require a carbon to nitrogen ratio of around 25:1 to break down material into the soil. If you have too much carbon, the microbes will scavenge nitrogen from the surrounding soil areas and compete with the plants for nitrogen. If you have too much nitrogen, the microbes will scavenge the biomass out of your soil and use that — this is mining the future potential of your soil.
If having too much carbon is not good, and too much nitrogen is not good – how do we fix the problem? The better problem to have is too much carbon. Too much nitrogen is harmful long term because it takes a significant amount of time to build and restore biomass. Biomass provides the ability to withstand drought, retain water and nutrients, and maintain the overall health of the soil. Too much carbon will be undesirable near term, but beneficial long term, as it is processed into the soil as biomass and the nitrogen supply will be replenished by the lifecycle of the microbial activity in the soil.
We tractor our chickens around our pasture. We move our layer hens weekly using poultry netting. When we have meat birds, we move them daily or twice daily, using a Salatin style chicken tractor. We solve the problem of too much nitrogen by unrolling round bales over the tracks from the chicken tractor and then letting the cows into that section of pasture for a day or two. This adds sufficient carbon to the soil so that there is an excess and we don’t lose biomass out of the pasture from the great excess of nitrogen that the chicken manure creates. We also make sure to add lots of wood chips to any areas where the laying hens will be for an extended period of time.
If you tractor your chickens and don’t see your pastures improving after a year or two, you may be mining your biomass and killing your soil.
The featured image at the top of this post shows a section of pasture where a chicken tractor had been moved through, with 2 moves each day, with 50 cornish cross birds in the tractor. The picture is 30 days after the chickens were removed from the pasture. Within 1 week after removing the chickens, a round bale was unrolled on the area to leave dry hay 1-2″ thick. It’s incredible how quickly the hay has decomposed and the grass has started sprouting up — especially considering the extreme drought that we’ve had in western Washington this year.
This is our second year of raising meat birds in a Salatin style chicken tractor. We’ve been using a standard moving dolly to help move the tractor so far, and that has been painful as it doesn’t hold the side of the chicken tractor up very well or very evenly.
I recently bought a stick welder and as part of learning how to weld, built a Joel Salatin style chicken tractor dolly.
You can see the standard dolly on the right that it is replacing. The project was a good learning experience as the 1″ tube was tough to weld without blowing through and required a lot of fixing and grinding for a beginner.
I tested it out by standing on top of it and bouncing around, picking it up and dropping it on the cement floor of the shop.
I added corner bracing at the bottom to help prevent twisting and breakage.
There is a 2″ peg near the bottom to keep the chicken tractor from backing up the handle. It could also be used to help push the chicken tractor, vs pull, if necessary.
During La Nina years, there is a high probability of a drought. This will contribute to higher feed costs, lower forage availability, and potential herd reductions. Fortunately, we are just coming out of a La Nina which should bring much needed relief to the drought in the western United States.
If we find ourselves in a continued La Nina weather pattern, it would benefit all graziers, ranchers, and forage growers to stock up on as much hay as possible, and consider immediate herd reductions to prevent future losses or damage to grazing lands.
Chances of a continued La Nina hover around 50-55%, according to climate.gov, with a 67% chance of a neutral weather pattern, and an 8% chance of an El Nino.