Dirt Hog: A hands on guide to raising pigs outdoors naturally by Kelly Klober

reviewed by Scott Hedley

Perhaps no other large animal enterprise offers as fast a turnaround on investment as hog raising. Range-raised pork is now sought out by the informed consumer concerned about issues of factory farming and willing to pay a premium to get a healthy, quality alternative.

Klober’s four step system is as follows. First, farrowing is done in a central area that is regularly cleaned and disinfected between farrowings. There is no continuous farrowing and thus no perpetual pool of very young and lactating animals that are often the epicenter of health problems. Second, soon after farrowing, the sows and litters are moved to pasture or wooded lots. Third, each group remains intact through weaning, and this is done by removing the sows and leaving the pigs in a familiar environment to reduce stress. Finally, pastures or lots are then kept free of hogs for at least 12 months to break the life cycles of most pathogenic organisms and parasites.

Klober likes hogs because in a seasonal production pattern, hogs can produce two litters of eight or more apiece each year. These pigs will grow quickly, producing several paydays each year. This book argues for raising hogs outdoors in order to greatly reduce the energy and facility costs.

Before starting to raise hogs, an initial assessment of the viability of a range or outdoor swine venture should ask the following: (1) Is labor available? (2) Will it compete directly with other ventures for available resources? (3) What are the available marketing outlets and options? (4) What kind of support infrastructure is available (e.g. vets, feed suppliers, seedstock sources, etc)? (5) Do you like working with hogs? (6) Is the family in accord on this venture?

Klober notes that the labor investment per year for a sow and her two litters is on the order of 20 hours or less. Klober also recommends establishing a loose network of area swine producers. As a group, they tend to hold suppliers in place and to draw more buyers to the area. They can often share the purchase of some inputs, and perhaps most important, they can provide each other valuable shared experiences and support.

Regarding fencing, the best choice for perimeter fence for hogs is a combination of woven and barbed wire. Also, a second electrified fence keeps the ani-mals back from groups of the same species contained in adjoining farms.

The single best place to buy a new hog is on the farm of origin. Klober lists several reasons for this: (1) You can see how the animal was produced. Facil-ities should be similar to yours, (2) You can view full- and half-siblings to see the strength and uniformity of the genetics, (3) You can view the breeding herd, including sire and dam, (4) It is probable that the small farmer working with limited numbers would value genetic depth and consistency, (5) You can visit with and get to know the producer, (6) The stress load on the animal will be much less if taken directly from the farm.

Veteran hog farmers recommend selecting replacement gilts only from their oldest sows. Their reasoning is that these females have had the time to build up the greatest levels of natural immunity to the “bug” mix on the home farm and to pass it on to their offspring. Also they are the most durable of the females.

Klober’s chapter on herd maintenance starts with a discussion of animal identification. The first choice for individual animal identification is ear tags. But ear notching is one of the oldest methods of swine identification and is the most long lasting. Herd records should include when the boar was introduced, exact breeding dates (if observed), ID of service sire, ration changes, health treatments, and general observations. In the days and weeks following birth, herd records would include losses during lactation, sow conditions, pig growth, and health care practices as they were delivered.

The book also has some marketing tips for those considering starting a hog business. First, have some really good business cards made for your farming operation. Second, develop some good letterhead and envelopes. Third, have a well designed road sign nearby. Fourth, prepare a simple one- to four-page, double fold flyer that potential customers can read over at home. Fifth, get the name, address, and phone number of every visitor to your farm and follow up with them after they visit. Sixth, cooperate with other local farmers to draw buyers to that area.

There were some weaknesses also in this book. The book had no glossary. A glossary would have been helpful for people like me who have never raised hogs before. The wagon wheel setup on page 42 had no information on measurements. No information was provided regarding how long the hogs are kept in the wagon wheel setup. Also is the wagon wheel setup really consistent with the author’s term free range?

Another weakness is the author’s suggestion of using soy feed supplements. There was no mention of the fact that most soy feed is genetically modified and there-fore dangerous to the health of the pig and to the consumer of the meat of that pig. Fagan, Antoniou, and Robinson (2014) note that GM soy had 27% higher levels of a major allergen, trypsin-inhibitor, than the non-GM parent variety. Also the GM soy was found to contain high residues of glyphosate (a known carcinogen ac-cording to the International Agency for Research on Cancer) and its breakdown product AMPA. Conventional and organic soybeans contained neither of these chemicals. Fagan et all (2014) gives a long list of other health hazards related to consuming GM food. Seralini et all (2014) also lists the health hazards of GM feed for animals. But not only is GM food harmful in many ways, the glyphosate used to produce GM feed causes the following problems: nutritional deficiencies, reproductive issues and increased risk to thyroid disease, kidney failure, cancer, tumors and early death. Glyphosate exposure also leads to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Samsel & Seneff 2013).

But soy in general (whether organic or not) has been shown to reduce the assimilation of B12, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc, and thus can stunt growth. High levels of soy have been linked to thyroid and autoimmune diseases. As if that were not enough, soy foods contain high levels of aluminum, which can be toxic to the nervous system and kidneys. For more information on the dangers of soy, visit www.westonprice.org.

An alternative to feeding hogs soy feed supplements would be for the farmer to raise feed him or herself organically or to purchase used, left-over hops from a nearby beer factory if there is one nearby. Some farmers sprout grains and peas for feed (Foreman 2010:176). Also Mikkelson (2005) explains how he produces GMO-free feed for his livestock.

However, anyone considering starting a small scale operation of outdoor hog raising should consider reading this book.

References and recommended reading

Fagan, John, Michael Antoniou, and Claire Robinson. 2014. GMO Myths and Truths. http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/gmo-myths-and-truths/
Foreman, Patricia. 2010. City chicks: Keeping micro-flocks of chickens as garden helpers, compost creators, bio-recyclers, and local food suppliers. Buena Vista, VA: Good Earth Publications.
Leu, Andre. 2014. The Myths of Safe Pesticides. Austin, TX: Acres.
Mikkelson, Keith O. 2005. A Natural Farming System For Sustainable Agriculture In the Tropics. Palawan, Philippines: Aloha House Inc.
Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. 2013. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 6(4), 159–184. http://doi.org/10.2478/intox-2013-0026.
Seralini, Gilles-Eric, Emile Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin, and Joel Spiroux de Vendomois. 2014. Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Environmental Sciences Europe 26:14.