Ideas from Meetings and Workshops

Beware the Imported Pig!

A reminder for those purchasing piglets: Take all precautions to avoid animals with porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED). Signs of PED include severe diarrhea in pigs of all ages, vomiting, and death all pre-weaned piglets.

Importing pigs into Maine requires

  • an import permit
  • a health certificate with this mandatory statement: “… Swine represented on this certificate have not originated from premises known to be affected … and have not been exposed to PEDV in the past 30 days”
  • an official ID

Report sick swine to Michele Walsh, DVM, state veterinarian, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, Augusta, ME 04333; 207-287-7615 (office); 207-215-6727 (cell); [email protected]

How to Find Truly Organic Stock

Looking for organic slaughter stock (aka feeder animals, piglets, lambs, calves) to raise? Then visit www.mofgacertification.org/?page_id=1492. This page enables you to search for certified organic products. Type in the animal you are seeking – e.g., piglet, lamb, beef – and you will get certified organic livestock that have been verified by a third party to meet the national organic standards. These standards include use of 100 percent organic feed from the last third of gestation; no use of synthetic wormers or antibiotics; and use of only permitted management methods during the last third of gestation. 

Any grower advertising as organic must seek organic certification when grossing more than $5,000 annually in organic products.

If you sell organic animals but are exempt from certification (i.e., you gross $5,000 or less), you still must follow the applicable organic production and handling requirements.

Farmers who are certified to raise pigs for organic pork (and who do not breed their own feeder pigs) MUST buy certified organic piglets. They cannot buy “exempt” organic piglets.

Ask how your stock has been raised in order to be sure you are truly getting an organic product!


– DS

By Diane Schivera, M.A.T.

Winter is a good time to review notes from meetings, workshops and field days from the previous year. Here are some high points from some 2014 events I attended. Note: These notes include materials recommended by the speakers; organic producers should check with their certifiers to see which materials meet NOP standards.

Greg Gunthorp at the Meat Conference

At the New England Meat Conference, Greg Gunthorp from Gunthorp Farms (https://www.gunthorpfarms.com/) in Lagrange, Indiana, made these points about his pig operation:

He uses a Highcroft Energy Free Livestock Drinker from Minnesota, which needs enough animals on it in the cold to keep it frost free. See https://www.highcroftco.com/drinkers.html.

The interval between farrowing in groups of sows must be kept to a week or less so that older pigs won’t steal colostrum from farrowed sows.

Feeder pigs are managed at a level of 20 to 30 per acre on the pasture.

When pigs are hogging down corn (cleaning up pasture), be aware of molds; pigs will not eat mold intentionally, but if they do by accident, it will affect their digestive system.

Piglets are weaned at 6 to 8 weeks and are managed in groups of 75 piglets.

Gestating sows can get all their feed on an alfalfa-clover-brassica mix pasture if they are rotationally grazed well.

Weanlings are fed 10 to 15 pounds of grain a day; as they age they begin to eat more forage or pasture.

Huts house the pastured pigs and are always put in the corner of the pasture to mimic wild behavior. Farrowing huts are 6 x 6 and must be set up before the weather gets cold so that sows acclimate to them. Feeder huts are 12 x 24.

Parasites are a struggle. Gunthorp has fed humates and pumpkin seeds to pigs at different times without great success. Now he manages parasites by keeping animals off the same ground for two to three years in their pasture rotation.


Forrest Pritchard at the Grass Farmers Network

At the Maine Grass Farmers Network Conference, Forrest Pritchard of Smith Meadows Farm (https://smithmeadows.com/) in Berryville, Virginia, said the most important thing he focuses on at his farm is increasing soil organic matter. Every percent increase of organic matter creates an incremental increase of water holding capacity and biological activity in the soil! He believes having cattle and sheep makes a closed sustainable loop, complemented by his pigs and poultry. He also emphasizes low-cost inputs or solutions and labor efficiency on the farm. After three years of mob grazing, he saw a marked improvement in the productivity of his pastures. Each year Smith Meadows Farm produces 115 beef cattle at 1,100 to 1,200 pounds each, 200 lambs at 100 pounds, 225 hogs at 300 pounds and 4,000 broilers plus eggs, generating a gross income of about $1million.

Pritchard observed that in the first five years, 80 to 90 percent of businesses fail, and in the next five years, 90 percent. He lost money the first five years, and as the business grew, operating expenses increased – so you need a financial cushion to get started. As production increases the margin between input cost and profit should not increase; when you get to a 10 percent profit, you are doing OK.

A profitable pastured livestock operation incorporates quality pasture with effective rotation, good genetics, low-cost solutions, year-round production and excellent customer service, said Pritchard.

When undertaking a new project, establish your market first and purchase the best equipment you can afford for durability and risk hedging. For the first year, plan conservatively, considering your personal energy and unexpected challenges. Consider, also, your long-term vision and ways to keep costs low, to be flexible, to reduce labor and to have sufficient cash flow. Your lifestyle is part of the paycheck.

Regarding pasture management, Pritchard recommended letting animals consume 30 percent and leaving 70 percent of the vegetation when determining rotation lengths. Focus on building soil and fertility, on saving labor and on the synergy between species, he added.

When raising chickens, expect a 5 percent mortality rate among chicks, said Pritchard. He gets broiler chicks from Mt. Healthy Hatcheries in Mt. Healthy, Ohio, and Moyer’s Chicks in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, raising broilers in batches of 600.

Feed layers twice a day, one-quarter pound in winter and one-fifth pound when on pasture. Collect eggs three times per day.

Yellow legs equals no eggs! said Pritchard – meaning that as hens lay eggs, their leg color generally begins to fade.

The income per hen is $100 from eggs and $10 as a stew bird. When processing birds, use a scalding temperature of 151 degrees. Pritchard reuses egg cartons.

Pritchard keeps laying hens inside a 30-inch ElectroNet fence arranged in 14-foot alleys to help deter aerial predators, which have a hard time landing and taking off in these paddocks. One thousand layers fit inside eight 160-foot nets. The layers like the longer (7-day) rotation; shorter rotations reduce production, but weeds and over-fertilization are problems with longer rotations. Grazing when pasture is tall reduces the damage from weeds and over-fertilization.

With broilers, Pritchard keeps 200 Cornish crosses (because they are efficient in feed conversion) in a 165-foot loop of fence until they are processed at eight to nine weeks. Since feeding grain is necessary, Pritchard believes it is best to use the most efficient genetics, although these aren’t the most appealing birds. Grain production is an intense, high-input process.

Pritchard’s entire pasture area has four- or five-wire perimeter high tensile fencing. His multi-species grazing builds soil fertility, reduces labor, generates a diversity of products, maximizes what is free and results in a biodiverse and healthy ecosystem.

Since poultry and pigs eat grain, some of the fertility from their manure comes from other farms. It takes 1 pound of grain to make 1 pound of broiler meat and 3 pounds of pork. These animals not only produce a product but add fertility.

Raising hogs in a hub grazing system, with housing, feed and water in the center and with pasture around the hub, reduces labor, and ruminants benefit from the resulting fertile fields. Hogs adapt to pasture quality and need minimal housing and only one strand of electric wire. They are rotated every two weeks around the hub. Animals are moved to the next paddock before soil becomes compacted, pasture species become imbalanced or excess nutrients accumulate, and they do not return to the same ground for three to four years. Hogs fertilize the ground and open up the seed bank. Fifteen to 20 acres are used for 60 pigs. Pigs are fed ad lib (free choice) and their grain includes no corn or soy but does include Bio-Mos, a probiotic from Alltech.

Lambs graze forbs and will browse taller plants. Sheep are grazed at a 150,000 pound per acre stocking rate and are put on rockier ground to reduce the need for hoof trimming. Lush pasture, Pritchard finds, results in more hoof issues. Pritchard uses FAMACHA, a diagnostic scorecard, to monitor for parasites, and he uses a 21-day rotation minimum to control parasites in lambs. Often 40 days pass before they are back on the same ground. Sheep and cattle are grazed around the pigs and poultry.

Beef animals are fed hay on the pasture in spring until they won’t eat it. He rolls out bales to reduce competition between the lambs and cattle. The animals’ heavy trampling accelerates soil building and manure incorporation.

Pritchard’s book, “Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm,” is a great read!


Dairy Producer Conference

At the Northeast Organic Dairy Producer Association (NODPA) conference at Stone Wall Farm in New Hampshire, Sarah Flack, a grazing consultant from Vermont, covered highlights of an article she wrote for the NODPA newsletter on her observations of Vermont grass-fed milk dairies. The actual level of production was 4,000 to 12,000 pounds per lactation, lower than the article stated. Milk production levels are directly related to pasture and hay quality. The genetics of the animals and their ability to fill up on as much forage as possible are also significant. Flack said that farms must put up more feed for winter and use more ground per animal for sufficient production. She saw some reproductive issues resulting from a low-energy level in feed. It is important to monitor body condition, she said.

Cliff Hawbaker from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, a confirmed grass-fed dairy operator, said, “Green is good, brown is bad; a farmer has to earn the right not to feed grain.” His operation currently incorporates two separate farms. As he became successful on one farm, he added another and has been improving the soil on the new farm.

He milks cows once a day, producing more butterfat and protein than usual. Nurse cows help teach calves to consume pasture.

Because monocropped fields demand additional supplementation, Hawbaker believes that multispecies fields – with grass, legumes and forbs – are more productive and valuable for animal feed. He has shifted to harvesting the fields for carbohydrates rather than protein by having cows graze taller plants and eat the top of the plant and then move on to the next pasture. Milking once per day also helps if fields are not producing enough quality fed.

Spring and fall flushes are the best time to transition to no grain, because the feed value is highest then. All breeds will produce on forage alone, but the transition can take seven years before forage production and animal genetics peak. Hawbaker said the synergy of soil, pasture, cows and farmer produces a fat pasture, fat cows and a fat checkbook! The economics of his farm are in Graze magazine at www.grazeonline.com/economicsoad.

During an Ask the Vet Q&A session, Hue Karreman, a vet now with Rodale, and Dr. Cindy Lankenau, a holistic vet from New York, made the following points.

For cancer eye, a squamous cell cancer, try homeopathic Carcinosinum or Stasis Breaker from Dr. Xie’s Jingtang Herbal, https://www.tcvmherbal.com/.

How long should a calf stay on the cow? Hue said two months minimum and that weaning is best at three months.

To treat calf pneumonia, Lankenau suggested a thyme, eucalyptus and usnea decoction; combine this with bloodroot at 10 percent if the lungs sound solid. Karreman suggested dry bedding, fresh air, quality feed, a nasal vaccine, Bovi Serum, Immunoboost and herbs, including garlic, ginger, ginseng and berberine as a tincture or tea.

Lankenau said that echinacea is especially effective with septic situations.

For scours in cows, feed dry hay and test for Johne’s disease. For scours in calves, Karreman stated that at 2 weeks of age, when the cause is usually roto or coronavirus, give electrolytes, Immunoboost and Bovi Serum, vaccinate with ScourGuard, and feed four to five times per day. Lankenau also suggested an herbal product from Jingtang, as well as teas of chamomile, mallow, slippery elm, goldenseal and agrimony if blood is in the scours. Bentonite clay will bind toxins, if that is the cause.

For calving paralysis, use homeopathic hypericum and arnica, and herbal teas or tinctures of Solomon’s seal, nettle and mullein root. Prevent paralysis by rotating the calf’s head so that it is 11:00 or 1:00 to the cow’s spine after the head and front feet are out. Use Banamine for visceral pain and aspirin or white willow for muscular and skeletal pain.

For hoof puncture, consider tetanus toxoid or antitoxin, homeopathic ledum with or without hypericum, herbal andrographis tea or tincture, peroxide flushing twice a day, homeopathic graphites if a weak hoof is present, and zinc mineral supplementation.

Jericho Settlers at Farmer to Farmer

At MOFGA’s November 2014 Farmer to Farmer Conference, Christa Alexander and Mark Fasching of Jericho Settlers Farm in Jericho, Vermont, spoke about integrating vegetables and livestock. Including livestock on the farm helps break insect and disease cycles in vegetables, adds soil fertility and adds income, but it requires suitable ground, a way to minimize soil compaction from animal hooves, and additional management.

The number of animals, soil type, paddock size, frequency of moving, season and types of fence all affect rotations. Sheep and broilers are more adaptable to a smaller land base and shorter rotation system, and cattle are a longer-term investment than sheep, they said; sheep are quicker to start with and turn over faster.

They rotate Devon Angus cattle, sheep, and broiler and layer chickens on pasture for two to three years, using the hub or wagon wheel arrangement in the pasture, followed by vegetables for one to two years. Soil compaction, one potential concern in such a system, is managed by using a soil less prone to that problem, such as one without too much clay.

Cattle start the rotation, and chickens are rotated in after two to three days in order to consume fly larvae – which makes cattle more willing to return to what was the zone of repugnance (the area around their manure where they will not eat). These farmers believe that poultry also help extend the growing season for the pasture, because the nitrogen boost from their manure increases grass growth.

Diane Schivera is MOFGA’s organic livestock specialist. You can reach her at 568-4142 or [email protected].

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