Feeding pastured animals can be a challenge in the winter. It pays to plan ahead - the turnip above, as large as two of my fists, was planted in late summer for this winter's foraging. Geography and weather play a large part. There seem to be equal parts of planning, planting, and prayer involved. Farmers have done this for centuries. Keep records, keep open to new ideas, keep changing as needed. That's what goes into the forages in our pastures all year long, but especially in the winter, where any fresh greens and extra calories are appreciated by the hogs.
The pictures you see on the homepage of all the lush, green pasture are our pastures in summer. Those are our pigs eating it. It was all anemic fescue and lots of weeds when we moved here last April. What changed? The pigs ate and fertilized. They wiped out huge patches of Johnson grass that strangled the southern end of the paddocks. They grazed intensively for 4-6 weeks, then got moved to the next strip, and I spread seeds behind them. The seeds for the winter were spread in the humid heat of the summer, when cold winds and frigid rains were barely imaginable.
I sowed the turnips. The oats didn't do as well, due to a very dry autumn, but they are slowly coming up now. I sowed a deer plot mix of seeds that the feed store up the street sells in bulk. It has oats, rye, daikon radishes, turnips, alfalfa, 3 kinds of clover, winter peas. I add extra peas and oats; when the hogs move, I am right behind them with the seed spreader, always a day before the rain, casting out future forage for them. . Beneath the browning grass are turnips and oats and peas emerging.
The deer plot mix of seeds is perfect for late fall and spring planting. Even the seeds planted now will slumber through our colder months of January and February and emerge and thrive once the longer, warmer days of March arrive, doing better than those seeded in March or April. This is the seed mix. In the background, the green ground cover is clover, which always comes back strong after grazing. It loves the cooler temperatures, and the hogs like to eat it. It is a good source of protein for them and it fixes nitrogen in the soil.
Right now the only hogs that we have are two sows and a gilt (a female that hasn't had a litter of piglets yet), and they are eating back a large stand of wild carrot as well as their forage mix. I just switched them from grazing strip number one to strip number two. It looks like they knocked back the pasture pretty hard, and they did, but not to the degree that it won't bounce back. They are enjoying the lush growth in strip number two, which looked pretty bare two months ago.
The bottom line is, yes, the hogs need some extra feed in the late fall and winter months, but they still have some quality pasture to enjoy. It is not only good for their health but also their mental well being. They like to move around and they like variety. One of the sows will have a litter of piglets in February, so all of this forage is helping them as they develop, too, and mama will show the little ones how to get out there and graze when they are a few weeks old. Like the pastures, the piglets will grow with the seasons, being equal parts on the land and of the land, and that's the way we like it here on this farm.
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.