23 June 1995

thrive in cold

Outdoor pigs

PIGS can be finished outdoors successfully for pork or bacon, whatever the weather.

That is the experience of Danish pig farmer Fie Graugaard, who has been finishing pigs outdoors for four years, and is now finishing 1000 pigs a year on grass for her husbands organic meat marketing business.

On 22ha (55 acres) at Voel, Silkeborg, east Jutland, a unit which also supports a herd of 13 Limousin suckler cows, Mrs Graugaard buys in nine-week-old weaners from three other organic pig farmers. She finishes them to 70-90kg in electric fenced grass/clover ley paddocks.

Some 20% of the pigs feed requirements come from grass and roots with 80% supplied in the form of commercially made organic finisher nuts.

She reckons that the feed from the geass/clover leys and roots more than compensates for extra feed intake of outdoor finishers.

Pig keeping at Voel started with a herd of Camborough 15s from PIC in England, but because of spiralling demand for organic pigmeat and space limitations on the farm, a switch was made to finishers only.

Both male and castrated male weaners are purchased and reared in mixed groups. Each electrically fenced paddock contains a well strawed pig hut, which is insulated for younger stock.

Progressive enlargement

As the pigs grow the paddocks are enlarged progressively to strip graze the group on fresh grass and clover.

Land is used for pigs for a maximum of six months, and then arable cropped and re-grassed for at least 18 months. This rotation totally controls parasites, particularly worms.

"We have never used any medication with our pigs, and the vets told us that we would have a big problem with worms," says Mrs Graugaard. "But we have had no problems at all. Our pigs are never sick and in over four years, we have had just two out of 4000 pigs rejected at the abattoir," she says.

"We would use medication if it was ever necessary, but based on our experience to date it is unlikely that we will have to."

She estimates that it takes about two hours a day to look after the 300 paddock-housed pigs at the farm, including feeding, moving the Gallagher electric fences and strawing the huts.

"Winter weather has not been a problem," she says. "We have experienced deep snow, but as long as the huts are well-strawed, have a plastic curtain over the door in winter, and there are sufficient pigs to fill each hut and keep each other warm, the pigs are quite happy."

Intake of feed

Feed intake is not accurately recorded. "My wife feeds by eye and gets very good results," says her husband, Ulrich, who is looking for more land in the area to expand the booming business.

Mrs Graugaard says that the breed of pig for outdoor organic finishing is not particularly important, but she is not keen on highly strung Yorkshires (Large Whites).

Her pigs are slaughtered at 70-90kg liveweight depending on market demand.

At present they go to an abattoir 10 miles away, but to minimise stress and maximise meat quality an abattoir is scheduled to be built on the premises within the next few months.