John Paul Crowe: Pig farming
27 year old John Paul Crowe is from Dundrum in Tipperary He has a passion for agriculture and the environment. After completing his leaving certificate at Doon CBS John Paul studied agriculture in Rockwell College, then received a Certificate of Safety and Health in UCD, followed by a Diploma in Safety and Health in University of Limerick and then achieved a Diploma in Speciality Food Production in UCC. All through his studies, John Paul has been farming the home farm and has now converted it to a fully certified organic farm. He farms a mixed farm of mainly beef and pigs and on a smaller scale crops and sheep. He believes a good mixture of enterprises is key to a vibrant organic farm. John Paul works in conjunction with his brothers TJ and Eamonn of Crowe’s Farm Artisan Meats in the marketing of there range of products. John Paul has appeared on television and many newspaper articles mainly to do with his venture into organic pig production.
Tips for looking after pigs organically and on a small scale
Pigs are natural foragers - they enjoy rooting (their natural instinct to dig up the grass with their nose) and exploring. They are highly inquisitive, have a very highly developed sense of smell, and are famously used to find truffles. Pigs have strong social groupings and thrive on contact with each other. Pigs are the most intelligent of farm animals, and tests have been carried out to prove that pigs can be trained to do more than dogs.
Breeds of pigs suited to organic production
Use of old breeds allows the term "original" and "traditional" to be applied to the meat products which can be useful when marketing. These breeds may be better adapted to a region and may produce a meat of a better eating quality. Coloured breeds such as Duroc, Saddleback, Tamworth and Hamshire’s have greater resistance to sunburn than entirely white breeds such as Landrace and large white however shade can be provided to minimise the effect of the sun. As a whole I would encouraged the use traditional breeds which may be suited to local conditions than improved genotypes.
Pigs are omnivorous and will eat virtually anything – plant roots, grass, grain, berries, beetles worms and snails, pigs have small stomachs and like to eat regularly. Since feed accounts for 70-80% of the cost of the pig meat production, the correct formulation and rationing of feed is very important.
Housing of organic pigs
Organic and small scale pig housing is usually not based on greater profitability or improved animal performance but on operator preference. There are many simple individual huts available on the market to organic and small scale producers. Hut design, construction and cost vary but the primary considerations are the huts ability to moderate temperature extremes, keep pigs dry and draft free and minimize pig crushing by the sow during farrowing.
When choosing a hut type you must consider:
- Ease of use – does the sow have room to enter, farrow and nurse
- Ease of access to sow/litter by herd worker
- Protection from temperature extremes and precipitation on inside of hut
- Ability to protect pigs from crushing by the sow
- Portability for moving, placement and storage
- Long term durability, maintenance needs
Crushing with farrowing and for the first 14 days of birth is by far the biggest problem when outdoor producing.
In outdoor production the pigs spread their own manure and the nutrient value is exploited through crop rotation. Odour is usually not a nuisance with well managed outdoor pig operations as you don’t feed intensively and confine pigs to a small area.
Producers who choose pasture production often have lower pig health expenses than producers using intensive systems, where animals in close proximity to each other encourages disease transmission. In outdoor production disease prevention must be emphasised over treatment.
Bedding for outdoor pigs
Bedding options include straw, low quality hay, rushes and baled shredded newspapers. Bedding is very important in wet, cold or muddy conditions to help the pigs create a dry draft free environment. Bedding in large shelters can be done with large round bales, the pigs will then shred the bales as needed.
Electric fencing is best when outdoor producing because it is easily installed, removed, and stored. Boundaries can where possible be permanently fenced but it is best when dividing paddocks to use removable metal or fibreglass posts. Electric fencing requires more training from pigs and it will not always work for very small pigs. Electric fences can be powered by plugging into mains or by battery power.