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You have your pigs, now what?

We are right in the middle of sale season, with a lot of live sales and open barns going on the last few weeks and upcoming weeks in Wisconsin, I thought I might share a little insight on what to do when you get home with your project. Some might be well educated in this topic, but every year there are new customers and showman that are in their first year in the swine project. Some may ask questions, while others may be afraid to. The livestock industry, more specifically the show industry, is ever-changing and even experienced breeders or showman always have something to learn along with teaching the younger generations.  


Man, have times changed just in the 20 years we have been involved in the show pig project. When we first started showing, we would get them home, fill the self feeder and turn them loose in a pasture (yes, I said pasture) where water was on one end and feed was on the other; that’s how they got their exercise. We didn’t train them to walk or condition their skin and hair and we washed them the day they went to the fair. We have learned so much by talking to other breeders and more experienced showman over the years. Now we hand-feed them, walk them daily, and use conditioner on their skin to give them that “pretty” look. We learn new things every year, if not daily.


So how do we get them to that “pretty” show ring look and trained so they walk like a dream? Time. Patience. Hard work. It seems simple because that’s ideally how you reach your goals, but this starts before you even buy your pig. Having the pens ready to go, having feed on hand, making sure the environment is fit for them to live in (ex. no sharp edges, access to fresh clean water, clean low dust bedding, heat lamp if needed) is crucial to the start of your project.


Next step: pick out your pig. Whether it be for a county fair, state fair or a national show, purebred or crossbred, this step is important. Starting from the ground up is how I like to start to sort them. Making sure their feet and toes all point in the right direction, making sure they aren’t bow-legged or cow-hocked and that their bone size is adequate for their frame size. Once I get those bases covered then I move to width of chest floor, depth of body, muscle shape and overall structure. However, muscle shape isn’t everything when they are that small. Just because they have the most “flashy” big topped look when you are picking them out, doesn’t necessarily mean they will be the best one. Sometimes the best one comes in a greener, more immature package, but if the feet and legs and correctness of structure are there, 9 times out of 10 overall shape can be fed.


So now that you have them picked out and home, where do you start? In the Midwest, we can’t necessarily get them out and start walking them right away due to colder weather. After giving them time to adjust to a new place and potentially new pen mates, we sit in the pen with them, try to brush them or scratch them to gain their trust and tame them down so they aren’t so spooky when we walk in the door. We also always have a radio on so they get used to noise and voices. Once the weather warms up (and hopefully no more snow falls) we take them outside. The first couple of trips outside we try to keep them calm and let them explore a little, as they have been on slats or concrete their whole life, so they don’t know what grass is. Letting them out morning and night, we gradually start to guide them with a show stick or a whip, some will come as naturals, others… not so much. Patience is key, especially when working with the more stubborn ones. The more frustrated you get, the more frustrated and angry they get, but with time and consistent hard work with them, they will get there. Start with shorter walks and build up their endurance by gradually stepping up how long you walk them, without overdoing it.  I would advise starting right away trying to train/teach them to walk with their head up, as it gets harder to train as they get older, and some will be naturals while others will be stubborn and harder to train.


Now to get that skin and hair just right. Starting with just brushing them when they are little to get them used to the brush is key. Once they are used to you and the brush, we like to condition them at night after their walk and rinse them in the morning, especially on the hotter days to get the oils off of them. Using a soft brush to brush in the conditioner at night really helps as well. You can use anything from the fancy oils you can purchase from show tack companies, to simple coconut oil or aloe vera, depending what suits you and your program best.


Never be afraid to ask your breeder questions or for advice, that’s part of their job. They are always learning as well. Don’t be afraid to learn or grow as a showman or even a breeder. Some may have way different ideas of how to get started and on walking them/conditioning them, but this way is what works for our program.


Happy Spring Pig Shopping!


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Buying Pigs–Are you ready at home?

There are 3 major stress times in a baby pigs life. First, the birthing process. Secondly , would be weaning and third and what we want to talk about today is when the show pig leaves that comfortable, secure warm nursery or chip barn is pulled away from his pen mates and sold. In all my years and I don’t have a statistic to quote but a lot of pigs are lost in this stage of production. What can we do to limit the stress and give this purchase every chance to flourish and become a high quality, competitive show pig? Lets discuss.

In this day and age of the show pig world it takes a tremendous amount of work to get one ready to sell. They have been pampered when it comes to facilities, nutrition and care and rightfully so. So how do we handle this new purchase?

First, are your facilities at home ready for the pig? Is your barn warm? Draft Free? Dry? Correct High quality bedding? Is the water source an automatic water? Does it work? Will you water them in a trough? Pan? Do you have the correct type of feed? Starter, grower or other?

Ok, you have your pen ready at home. Now we are on the hunt? Where will you buy your pig? Private treaty sale, auction, online or other?

Questions to ask the breeder–what vaccinations have they had? What type of feed are they eating? Can I buy a bag of this feed to help the transition from here to my barn? Genetics? How do they grow? know your end date show be it a county fair or a state fair or the many other opportunities to show BUT how do these genetic lines mature? Most generally, the breeder will be able to answer all of these questions.

Ok, so now you bought your pigs ar pigs. How are you getting them home. Remember, in the Midwest as far as the weather goes, I believe anything can happen weather wise until May 15. Do you have a trailer you are going to haul the pigs home in. Is it enclosed? As little draft as possible? Are you using a box? Same questions here are the trailer. Are you buying pigs from multiple sources? Can I keep them separated until I get home and then co-mingle there. MY THOUGHTS ARE MANY PIGS NEVER RECOVER FROM THE STRESS OF NEW SURROUNDINGS, NEW PENMATES, NEW FEED, NEW WATER and a host of other issues that go along with buying pigs in the Spring in the Midwest.

These are just some of the things you need to consider when purchasing your new project. Many more issues are there. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME AT 816-284-2518 or email at eliteswineprogram@yahoo.com. You can find me on FB at Bruce Butler.

Happy Pig Hunting!!

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Transitioning Piglets

We all know the struggle of weaning pigs, getting them on feed and trying to avoid hiccups along the way. Of course, when getting those day-one shots in, iron dextran injection is at the top of the list. If you have a vaccination protocol, making sure those are done at the appropriate times is important, too. But what do you do when you’re nearing the age of weaning them? Do you start them on pellets or ground feed in the crate? Do you wean to the nursery and then start them on either pellets or ground feed? In talking to customers, friends and other breeders, everyone has their own way of doing things and knows the best fit for their operation.


What I like to recommend and how we try to start ours is with pellets in the crate. We use the ESP Phase 2 pellet.We start with sprinkling pellets on the mats we have in the crates around 7-10 days old, when they hit 10 days old we have round stainless steel feeders that attach right to the crate and start by covering the bottom of the pan with pellets and gradually adding more to the pan as we get closer to weaning. We do this so we get them interested in playing with them and nibbling on them, similar to cattle operations that creep feed their calves. If you fill the pan, as many of you have I’m sure have experienced, the pellets end up on the floor or in the pit and wasted. We typically put 1-1.5 bags of pellets through each litter before starting them on ground feed. Some find that because the pigs are curious enough and get into the sow’s feed a little, that starting them right off the bat on ground feed works just fine. Depending on the female and how they are doing in lactation, we do occasionally supplement with milk replacer as well. With switching to the ESP Sow 100 Premix  we are thankful for not having to supplement as much as we have in past years.


Once we get them in the nursery we continue the pellets until we get that 1-1.5 bags through them, then we transition them to the nursery ground feed (ESP phase 2 Mixer) that is around 22% protein. In the ESP program the Phase 2 Pellet uses the same base mix as the Phase 2 ground feed, so it makes for a very easy and successful transition without any drastic changes. Keeping the nursery warm and well-ventilated is crucial to keeping those piglets healthy and on the right track! We keep ours right around 75-78 degrees. We typically try to pick a nicer day to move them from the farrowing barn to the nursery so they do not get cold-shocked.


Once they have spent their time in the nursery and we get the chip pens set up, they hit the chips. We make sure to get low-dust chips, fill the bottoms of the feeders and equip each pen with heat lamps to help keep them comfortable. We keep them on that same ESP Phase 2 nursery feed, full-feed until sale day. This keeps them looking fresh with that extra “pop” everyone likes to see!

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Farrowing House Environment- Keeping them Comfortable!

As we are getting in to the early stages of farrowing our 2019 show pig crop, sometimes we need a reminder how important the environment for the farrowing house is. Keeping both the sows and the piglets comfortable is one of our top priorities, and because they require different things, can be slightly challenging. Keeping the environment ideal is just as important and matching up matings and the diets they get fed throughout their life!

Keeping the temperature at an ideal spot for both the sows and the piglets is probably the biggest struggle for most people. Piglets like it warmer the first 3 or so days of life, around that 85 degree mark, where sows are most comfortable around 60-65 degrees. To keep both comfortable as best we can, we keep our barn around 68-70 degrees. We do this with both an LB White Heater under the tarped room, and a Radiant Tube heater for the whole building. The Radiant tube heater is one of the best purchases we have ever made for our barn. It allows us to keep the temperature a little lower for the comfort of the sows, while heating the surfaces of the crates to assist the heat lamps in keeping the piglets warm enough. The tube heater also helps keep the barn as a whole from getting too damp, lessening the chance of respiratory problems.

Having heat lamps in those crates is as important as anything for the piglets. We start with the the lamps hanging a little lower and move them up as the pigs grow, never allowing it to be low enough to where they pigs could hit the lamp. We use a biodegradable mat underneath the lamp to aid in blocking any possible draft. We keep the lamps to the back side of the crate so that sow can’t get to it. If they can even reach the cord just the slightest bit, they WILL no doubt tear it down! Making sure all the cords and outlets are in good condition is important as well, safety first!

Watch your pigs, they will tell you how comfortable or uncomfortable they are! The best way to tell the piglets are comfortable in their environment is by how they are laying in the crate. If they are piled on top of each other directly under the heat lamp, we probably need to re-evaluate and find a way to get it warmer for them, if they are sprawled out all over the crate, away from the heat lamp, it is too warm and we need to lower that temperature, we don’t need any getting laid on because it is too warm. The best is to see them laying out of the way, in a group, but in a comfortable group, not in a pile.

For sows, the biggest red flag is their feed intake and milk production, if it is too warm, you will noticed one if not both, we need to keep them eating and milking so we keep the piglets fat and happy. Keeping those feeders clean for the sows is huge as well. If they aren’t cleaning up their feed, evaluate why that might be an issue. Are they not feeling well? Is it too warm? Is it too much feed? If you pay attention to detail daily while feeding it is an easy “tell” to if one is not feeling well or if maybe they are just not up to that level of feed yet. One of the best ways to keep on top of this if there is different people feeding, is just to clean out those feeders periodically or even daily if possible.

Always remember, a clean farrowing barn is a happy farrowing barn! Keeping dust down and having a solid ventilation system is key. If you are stuffy or coughing after being in there, it’s likely bothering them too! Not everyone has the same protocols or practices, you need to do what best suits your program to keep them all happy and healthy!

Best of luck to everyone this farrowing season!

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