In my last post, I said this was a banner year for apples and pears. Turns out it was also a banner year for acorns, and I have a lot of very tall Oregon white oaks in my pastures.
I tumbled to this fact when I started trailer-training the first set of pigs going to the butcher at the beginning of October. I moved the truck/trailer rig into one of the pastures. I opened the back door entrance to the trailer and put their feed, bread bits, and corn tortillas inside.
Then I opened the pasture gate to let the three pigs in. They dashed over to the trailer and inspected the open door and the 14″ step up. They walked around the rig a couple times to see if there was another way in. Then they took off running and disappeared down the hill.
After 10 minutes I walked down to see what they were doing. They were eating acorns in a frenzy! You could hear the acorns dropping out of the trees every second, and the pigs found them like truffles and I could hear the shells cracking before being swallowed.
Well, there went my food motivation to get them to step up into that trailer for their meal. I tried again at dinner time, but once again they rushed off to the acorns. This had never happened before! I had to come up with another strategy because I had only two more days to get them trained for the trip.
I decided I had to solve two problems:
- Modify the approach into the trailer by making the ground level with the trailer entrance. Pigs don’t like to jump, but they do it when they’re food-motivated. The food in the trailer was no competition for the acorns to make it worth a hop in.
- Secure the rig so the pigs could only get near it at the back door. They love to chew on things and when there’s a new rig in the pasture they’re immediately interested in chewing on the tire air stems and the license plate covers and anything else that grabs their interest. So when they were circling the rig, I was following them nervously and that wasn’t helping.
To solve the first problem, I decided to back the trailer up to my pig’s play station: an old farm burn pile that I’d inherited and have been cleaning up the past few years. Besides some big old tree branches and stumps, it had tires, old fence posts and gates, fencing wire, and other metal objects like car parts. I’d removed everything but the branches, stumps, and tires, because the pigs love to scratch on those, so the old burn pile had turned into a useful berm. I added a cartload of gravel to bring the berm up to the level of the trailer door.
To solve the second problem, I set up a polytwine hot wire all around the truck except for the rear entrance.
Here’s what I ended up with. The solar energizer for the hot wire is sitting on the trailer fender.
Now I could leave the pigs in the pasture with the trailer without me around so they had a chance to get comfortable it. I once again let the pigs into the pasture and then left the pasture and watched from behind a tree.
Welp, after a short time my favorite friendly pig disappeared through the door to start eating. The second pig went in and out and in and out and finally stayed in. But Big Mama was still not having it. She stood outside the trailer door and watched the two inside.
After a few minutes she snorted an alarm call and charged about 20 feet–and the other two didn’t follow. At that point she took off down the hill towards the acorns.
For the evening meal, Big Mama was still suspicious but finally went in and ate looking out the door. By Friday evening, all three were inside waiting for me to dish out the feed. On Saturday morning it was just a matter of sliding the door closed and we were off.
The bumper crops of apples and acorns had another large effect — literally. These were the heaviest pigs I have ever taken to the butcher, even compared to pigs the same breed a few months older. They exceeded my initial hanging weight estimate by about 40%.
The second batch of pigs are leaving for the butcher in a couple weeks but are two months younger and the apples and acorns have finally abated, so I think they will be on the high side of my estimate but not like the previous porkers. Still, this is a great year for finishing on apples and acorns!
Quotes and Trivia
We’ve done displacement tests with our meat compared to what comes out of the factory farms, and our meat is heavier per square inch, which indicates muscle tone, density, as opposed to flab. You know when industry said “Pork the other white meat” they should have said “Pork, the other white cardboard tasteless flabby junk meat.” So our pork is actually rose colored because of the green material and the carotenes in what they’re eating.
– Joel Salatin
2020 video, https://youtu.be/BG9iyd1Dpj8