What do you feed bacon?
What do you feed bacon?
In raising our happy Iberian Pigs, we know their proper nutrition contributes to the nutrition in the mouth-watering pork they make. That’s why we choose natural non-GMO feeds as well as healthy pasture crops for their meals. That said, not all feeds are equal. We have multiple groups of pigs who have unique nutritional needs. So how do we manage feeding our sows, piglets, shoats, and boars?
Sows are the mama pigs. They require different nutrition based on their phase of life. We have to ask “Are they pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant?” Before breeding, sows need a healthy weight. Their chances to concieve are greater if they aren’t overweight or underweight. Their feed consists of soyhulls with high oleic sunflower oil and corn. After she’s bred, a pregnant sow needs plenty of protein to grow healthy piglets to full term. While our sows are pregnant, they get more feed. After they deliver, or farrow, we want our piglets to remain with their mothers and drink plenty of their mother’s milk. I remember when I was nursing my babies...our grocery bill nearly doubled on account of my increased appetite. We make sure nursing sows have plenty of feed with a little extra protein to keep them (and their babies) happy and healthy.
Piglets are definitely the cutest, most fun part of our operation! My children and I have often seen sows give birth, and it never gets old. For the first 4-5 weeks, piglets live on nothing but their mother’s milk. Eventually, however, they need more than milk has to offer. That’s when they get a nursery ration, or creep feed, made just for little growing piggies. It consists of soybean meal, wheat, oats, and rice. As they grow, they’ll graduate to shoat feed.
Shoats are the “grower pigs” that will one day be on the menu. When our shoats are weaned from mother’s milk, they are given healthy non-GMO planted pasture, and a daily feed consisting of wheat, sunflower meal, barley, and field peas. We want our pigs to gain weight consistently, not too slow, not too fast. The fat in our Iberian pigs is a huge part of the flavor of the meat. If they grow and gain weight steadily, and have plenty of pasture to roam for exercise, their fat marbles evenly and deliciously throughout the meat.
Boars are the daddy pigs. They wait many long months for their chance to see the ladies. Twice a year, our boars get to spend a few weeks in the sow pen to do their job...making baby bacon. It’s important for the boars not to be overweight when they breed. They need to be a healthy weight so they have plenty of energy, and don’t make it difficult for the sows. They get a daily feeding of shoat feed.
The actual work of feeding depends on how many pigs are in a particular field. For smaller groups, we fill 5 gallon buckets with feed and pour it into their pen. For a pasture with hundreds of pigs, we scoop a measured amount of feed into the front loader bucket on our tractor, drive into the field and empty the bucket into several manageable piles.
In order to make sure our shoats are growing properly and our sows and boars are at a healthy weight for their current life phase, our family will regularly weigh them and analyze the data. Weighing means we herd the entire group into a “working pen”. From there, each pig is brought across a scale. Someone (usually me) opens the front gate of the scale, reads out the number on the pig’s ear tag, and tells how much the scale registers. Another person (usually my father-in-law or one of my children) records the weight on a laptop with a spreadsheet, comparing the gain with the last recorded weight. A third person will open the back gate of the scale and let the pig exit. When all the pigs have been weighed, we move the herd back into their grazing field. The numbers are then analyzed, and feed rations are adjusted if needed.
This whole process takes a little time, but we want to make sure our pigs are happy, healthy, and at their best. The better they’re raised, the better meat they’ll make. And we want the best meat for our table and yours.