hogs have free run of the fields.
NEW HAMPTON, Iowa. Tom Frantzen's hogs must
consider themselves pretty lucky. Frantzen, president of Practical
Farmers of Iowa, has developed an innovative system that makes
the most of his hogs' natural abilities, keeping them happy,
healthy and productive.
But Frantzen isn't running a nature preserve. With just 320
acres, he needs to squeeze as much profit as possible from
his 100-sow farrow-to-finish operation.
That's why he:
- Runs gestating gilts and sows on intensively managed pasture
to cut feed costs by half or more, and double per-acre net
compared with growing corn.
- Parcels out strips of annual crops such as corn, milo
and field peas with portable fencing so lactating sows and
their litters can hog them down, eliminating harvest costs.
- Farrows sows and gilts in A-frame pasture huts to reduce
capital costs and labor.
- Tore out his farrowing crates and switched back to pen
farrowing while maintaining litter size and boosting weaning
weights and making it a pleasure again to work inside during
"All this may sound pretty labor-intensive," says
Frantzen. "But it's easier than running comparable confinement
facilities. Confinement may reduce labor for some. But it's
more than made up for by the increase in maintenance. Plus
I'd much rather bed pens or move portable fences than fix
Frantzen first experimented with grazing hogs in '90 on a
3-acre site that was inconvenient to crop. The previous a
spring, he had drilled oats with a "shotgun" mix
of perennial forages (including red and ladino clovers, alfalfa,
brome, timothy and orchard-grass. "I used so many different
species because I wanted a lot of biodiversity and durability
," he notes.
In spring' 90, Frantzen built a three-strand perimeter fence
using high-tensile wire about 6, 12 and 18 inches high, and
floating H corner braces. "I've never had any problems
keeping the hogs in. They train to the fence very quickly
," he observes. "The key is to use a good, low-impedance
Frantzen subdivided the grazing cell into three paddocks
with fiberglass posts and two strands of Premier Maxishock
wire 8 and 16 inches high. (Premier , P.O. Box 89N, Washington
IA 52352, (800) 282-6631, (319) 653-6631.) Single-wire subdivisions
hold well-trained sows just fine, says Frantzen.
"I made just about every first-year management mistake
a beginning grazier can make," recalls Frantzen. First,
he didn't move bred gilts onto the pasture until June 1. "That's
too late. The forage was already past its prime, and stayed
ahead of the hogs all year."
The 20 gilts provided a stocking density (the weight of the
grazing animals relative to paddock size) that was too low
at just 7,000 pounds per acre. And Frantzen moved them once
a week on a rigid calendar schedule. The gilts selectively
grazed the legumes and left overmature grasses. They still
weaned seven pigs per litter farrowing in the A-frame huts
in a separate pasture in September slightly below average
for Frantzen's gilts.
In '91, Frantzen further subdivided his three paddocks so
he had nine altogether, and moved 38 gilts onto the pasture
May 1. "That got the stocking density in the paddocks
up to about 40,000 pounds per acre, and I based pasture rotation
on forage condition not the calendar." He cut back to
24 gilts when he moved a new group onto the pasture as forage
growth slowed in midsummer. Grazing was more uniform and forage
regrowth surged compared with the first year. Gilts were on
pasture a total of 150 days, and weaned above- average litters
of about 8.5 pigs each.
Not satisfied, Frantzen rearranged his interior fencing last
spring, increasing the number of paddocks to 16. And instead
of radiating from the central shelter, he arranged a system
of lanes to each paddock. Before, with the longer paddocks,
gilts trampled and overgrazed forage close to the shelter,
and undergrazed forage at the far end of the paddocks.
Severe winter weather had hurt the forage stand, so Frantzen
reduced his stocking rate to 30 gilts. But with smaller paddocks,
the stocking density increased to 62,000 pounds per acre.
Gilts now graze each paddock for about two days. "The
forage regrows so fast the gilts just can't keep up with it
and I've had to hay some paddocks," says Frantzen, who
clips paddocks when gilts leave overmature grass.
Frantzen feeds a supplement of l.75 pounds of ground shell
corn and a commercial mineral mix while the gilts are on pasture.
Legume pastures are usually high in calcium, so it's important
to supplement phosphorus. Be sure to use a source other than
dicalcium-phosphate, suggests Mark Honeyman, an animal scientist
at Iowa State University. Frantzen sampled forage to make
sure his mineral mix properly balanced those nutrients with
"I save about 20 cents per head per day on feed, which
translates into a gross of about $300 per acre," says
Frantzen. "With so little input, the net is easily twice
that of corn and that doesn't include the herd-health benefits
or what I save by not having to spread manure."
'Hogging Down' Crops
"After three years, I'm starting to think hogs might
be the ideal grazing animal," says Frantzen. Granted,
they aren't ruminants and can't make good use of low-quality
forage. But with a single stomach, they're also more adaptable
to radical ration changes, Frantzen notes. "If the pasture
is too wet, I can just pull them off and increase their feed
to 4 pounds of corn and not have to worry about getting their
system off-track or ruining the pasture.
"I've learned that the key to grazing hogs is to use
at least a dozen paddocks and keep stocking density high,"
he adds. As his sward improves and he hones his management,
Frantzen predicts the 3-acre grazing cell will carry 40 gilts
at a stocking density of 83,000 pounds per acre.
This year, Frantzen added a second 2.5-acre grazing cell
on some of his poorest pasture ground that's mostly dandelions
and quackgrass. With no renovation, it's carrying 32 of the
third-litter sows that grazed his original cell last year.
"It's remarkable how hard they graze. They remember what
to do," he observes.
Gilts have selectively grazed the legumes in the original
cell, so now brome is the dominant species. To maintain a
better balance of grass and legumes, Frantzen plans to alternate
grazing cattle and hogs in the two cells each year.
In one drought-damaged paddock in the original cell, Frantzen
experimented in '91 with annual forages. In early April, he
used a garden seeder to plant four different forages in 6-inch
rows in randomized blocks. The forages included berseem and
crimson clovers, Tyfon forage turnip, and an annual hog-pasture
blend called "Laugh and Grow Fat," which consists
of ryegrass, rape, sudan and field peas. (Albert Lea Seed
House, P.O. Box 127, Albert Lea MN 56007, (800) 352-5247,
He turned in gilts to graze this "salad bar" June
1, and they regrazed the annuals at roughly 30-day intervals.
"The clovers made an excellent stand, but were killed
by the first grazing," he reports. The mix fared best
especially the rape, which regrew quickly and provided forage
well into fall.
creep roof holds two 100-watt light bulbs
mounted in aluminum shades.
That year, Frantzen also let 18 other lactating sows and
pigs hog down crops. In April, he planted about 1.5 acres
in alternating four-row strips of 85-day corn and a mix of
milo and Canada field peas. The sows farrowed on 3 acres of
oats, peas, turnips and rape. In mid-August, when the corn
was well-dented and the farrowing pasture grazed down, Frantzen
used temporary fence to strip graze the corn, milo and peas.
He moved the fence forward eight rows at a time, giving the
stock about a quarter-acre of fresh feed.
"When I gave them a new strip, they weren't interested
in dry feed for four or five days. When they started eating
grain again, I moved the fence and gave them a new strip,"
Frantzen says. "There was no harvest waste and no harvest
expense." This year he's trying the same practice using
a drilled mix of oats, triticale, rape and Canada field peas
for early-season forage, and planting giant hybrid fodder
corn (also available from Albert Lea Seed House) to be hogged
down in late summer.
Last fall, after the sows and pigs finished off the corn,
milo and peas, Frantzen drilled 20 pounds of rye in the field.
In early May, he turned in 16 gilts to graze until late June,
when he moved them onto an oats/field-pea pasture. ("The
rye did very well. I only wish I'd mixed in some vetch or
mammoth clover," he says.
Pasture Farrowing Pays Off
Frantzen's father started pasture farrowing when he bought
the farm (during the Depression, and capital was scarce. That's
still a good reason to pasture farrow, says Frantzen. The
housing investment is far below that of confinement. Each
year, Frantzen has a local lumber company build two new A-frame
farrowing huts from pressure-treated wood for $200 each. "I
could find cheaper huts, but these won't fall apart or blow
away in a storm," he says. He expects them to last 15
years, but some of his A- frames are more than 30 years old
and still going strong.
Low capital costs aren't the only reason to pasture farrow,
he continues. "Like the hogs, I'd rather be outside in
the fresh air and sunshine. I don't want to mess with the
flies, smell and cleanup chores in a confinement facility
Frantzen also contends that there's less labor with pasture
farrowing. "It works out great with spring fieldwork.
I only have to do chores in the morning. The hogs can take
care of themselves in the evening." When he needs to
move A-frames, he simply picks them up with a front-mounted
fork and drives the tractor right over the interior fences
(an 8-inch-high strand of Maxishock on fiberglass posts).
The outdoor system performs as well as indoor farrowing, too.
"My weaned-pig average for sows is about 8 to 8.5 farrowing
inside or out."
The farrowing pasture's perimeter fencing is nearly identical
to the one in Frantzen's grazing cell, only he runs the lowest
wire just a couple inches off the ground to keep in little
pigs. An underground water system from Kentucky Graziers Supply
adds flexibility when arranging huts and interior fencing,
says Frantzen. (KGS, 1929 S. Main St., Paris KY 40361, (800)
729-0592. See "Put Water In Every Paddock," The
New Farm, Feb. '92.) The sod is mostly quackgrass and brome,
which stands up to the heavy traffic. This spring, Frantzen
planted 1,000 hybrid cottonwoods in four shelterbelts 185
feet apart in the pasture, to provide shade and slow winds.
Frantzen usually moves the first group of sows onto the pasture
in early May, and continues farrowing on pasture until October.
He makes sure there's never more than seven days difference
in farrowing dates among sows in a single enclosure.
It's important to have the right genetics for pasture farrowing,
says Frantzen. He's settled on the old four-way cross of Hampshire,
Duroc, Yorkshire and Spotted Poland. "They have to have
some color or they just can't take the sun," he says.
Frantzen adds a Lactobacillus-based probiotic to his starter-,
grower- and farrowing rations. But he feels the real key to
keeping hogs healthy is to reduce stress. My outdoor system
is hardest on 75- to 100-pound pigs in late fall and early
winter when there are wide temperature fluctuations,"
Pens Make Farrowing Fun
Soon after he took over the farm in '74, Frantzen built the
Cargill units where he still finishes hogs. "Investment
tax credits and good farm prices fueled my modernization fever,"
he recalls. In '78, he removed farrowing pens from the old
dairy barn that still serves as a farrowing house. "I
put in raised crates with plastic flooring, elevated walkways,
a scraper system, outdoor liquid-manure pit, high-tech ventilation,
heating pads and as many modern conveniences as I could get
my hands on," he recalls.
"It was trouble right from the start. Pneumonia and
other health problems plagued his herd. I went to crates because
that's what we were supposed to do. But after the first litter,
I said, 'My God, what have I done?"'
While Frantzen weaned roughly the "same number of pigs
in crates as on pasture, the pigs were barely large enough
to wean in 30 days. I hated just being in the farrowing house.
I couldn't look my sows in the eyes, and I didn't talk to
them for 15 years. Confinement is psychologically bad for
both the animals and the operator." Last winter, Frantzen
decided to make things right again. His scraper system broke
down in November, and he dreaded the expense and chore of
fixing it. Even though his crates were in pretty good shape,
the flooring and undersupports were nearly worn-out. "So
I went in with a torch, sledge- hammer and skid loader and
tore everything out," he recalls.
In place of the 14 crates and scraper system, Frantzen built
16 pens using wood from a basswood tree (Tilia americana)
felled from his father-in-law's grove and milled locally.
"Old-timers say basswood makes great pens because it's
light but strong."
Frantzen built eight 10-foot gates that run along the central
alley, and eight 7-foot divider gates that run from the alley
to the sidewalls. "Wings" made from 4-foot sections
of three-fourths-inch plywood are fastened with hinges to
the dividers to form triangular creep areas at the rear of
the pen. A plywood creep roof holds two 100-watt light bulbs
mounted in aluminum shades.
Frantzen removes the dividers so sows can farrow together
in group pens. "That's a lot less stressful for them,
especially compared with using crates where they have to farrow
where they dung." After a sow farrows, he sets up the
divider to separate the sow and litter in their own pen. "I
shut the piglets in the creep area early so they know where
to go to get warm." That, plus the long, narrow pens
and guardrails mounted on the sides, reduces crushing loss.
When the pigs are about 10 days old, Frantzen removes dividers
to re-form group pens. "That helps reduce feeding chores,"
he observes. "I bed the pens every other day, using straw
from the oats I rotate with corn and beans. It's not much
work, because the pigs always dung in the same corner.
"The best thing about going back to pens is that my
attitude is better. I don't dread working inside like I used
to," he adds. The hogs seem to like it too. "My
weaning average jumped to nine pigs per litter on the first
farrowing, and the pigs are growing faster, too. Now they're
bigger at 3 weeks than they used to be after a month. "Crates
didn't meet my needs or the animals'. But these pens do."