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
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
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 winter.
"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 scraper systems."
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 charger."
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
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 pasture sources.
"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
'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
"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
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 all summer."
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," he notes.
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
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."