Rabbits, Pigs, Chickens... OH MY!
At the conclusion of the last pig-raising post about fencing, I asked the question: "Will non-heritage pigs actually eat hay?" As you can see from the pictures above, the answer is 'YES!'. I can't tell you how relieved I felt to see that pig eating the hay. As with every adventure, however, there have been a few learning experiences as well in the past few weeks.
Unfortunately, one of the downsides to raising pigs in the winter is that the whey is not as readily available. During the spring, summer and early fall months, our local dairy is very busy making cheese. (As an aside, as part of this experience, I've learned that they actually make custom batches of cheese, using customers' milk. Neat.) However, in the winter, the cheese-making tapers off a bit.
I learned this after showing up with two newly-acquired 50 gallon food-grade drums, ready to collect whey. Someone had gotten there before me, and cleaned out the tank for THEIR pigs, so mine were out of luck.
Thinking quickly, I reasoned that we could increase their feed and supplement with a product called 'milk replacer', basically a dried milk that cattle-owners use for calves that need to be bottle or pail-fed. This is a VERY inferior product to whey, with the biggest drawback being that it is neither cultured nor raw, nor does it contain the high-protein content of the whey. As an upside, it does contain more fat...
The other downside to this plan was that pigs do not digest whole grains well, so while it's a nice treat, they do not derive the same nutrition they would from whey and high-quality hay. So increasing the grain presented it's own problems.
Since I was away for a week, I needed to let this experiment play out without the added benefit of being there. Yes, we all know where is this going. Down hill...
That's when tragedy struck. Murder. Mayhem. A complete breakdown of the happy barn community structure.
The pigs killed and ate a chicken.
Don't ask me how I know. Just trust me on this one. You don't need to see the outline on the floor or the other forensic evidence. All you really need to know is that Bob, our polish crested hen, has gone to meet the big chicken in the sky. After a full investigation, with none of the pigs willing to reveal the true culprit (Which, as they argued, makes sense, as they may be pigs, but they are NOT rats.) I did a lot of research and have discovered two schools of thought on this omnivores' dilemma.
I've discovered two schools of thought: 1. The pigs were bored; 2. The pigs were low on protein. I'm inclined to believe a mixture of the two.
So here's my solution: I broke apart another huge round bale of hay, scattering it around the snowy ground. This gives them more space to walk around outside, off the snow. By moving the bale, I uncovered a nice patch of dirt for rooting in. It also gives them some fresh hay to eat. I wish I had had a camera when I was unrolling the bale of hay. The pigs were little puppies with a new toy. They were racing around, grabbing mouthfuls and shaking their heads like puppies with a stuffed animal. Cute pigs.
I also bought a bag of unshelled peanuts. After sprinkling them all over the floor of the shed, they went crazy looking for the peanuts. I am hoping that this will cut down the boredom. (I'll sprinkle a few handfuls each day until this snow melts.)
I've also increased the milk replacer, and will be making up yogurt buckets. To make a 'Yogurt Bucket', I'll fill a bucket with the milk replacer and add some yogurt, and place it down by the woodstove to stay warm and culture. This will help them stay healthy while they are on the milk replacer. Luckily for me, the dairy now knows that I will come and pick up whey at a moments notice, and have put me on the short list. (Another reason to get on good terms with local farmers!)
So, this is a rather long post. We've covered eating habits, criminal activity, and more home-cooking for pigs. Is all the work worth it? I'll admit, some days it's daunting. But it's winter. What else do I have to do? AND, don't forget, in the spring I will have fresh pork as well as a newly plowed garden!