This time in Iowa is the beginning of farrowing season. For those of you unfamiliar with farm terminology, it’s the time of year when sows give birth. Many farmers have been working diligently in preparation for pasture farrowing. They’ve been busy moving hog houses from last year’s plot to the next field. It might seem like a lot of work, but pasture farrowing is not new. It’s a traditional farming practice that has been passed down for centuries.
Pasture farrowing takes know-how. An experienced farmer understands the importance of timing, placement and bedding. It’s important that the farmer provides plenty of bedding – consisting of corn stalk, hay, or straw bales – for the sows on pasture to use for comfort and protection from inclement weather.
The additional bedding supports the sow’s greatest instinct: to build a nest just before she gives birth. One of the best workouts I’ve had on the farm include pitching straw to ensure that each hog house on the pasture had bedding pitched into it, along with an additional pile as a source for the sows to draw from.
The hogs spend one season on a designated plot of land, rooting and fertilizing the soil during their stay. They often enjoy a pasture of alfalfa, clover or some combination of grasses and legumes that can supplement their diet, improve their health and prevent soil erosion. The pigs also benefit from their time on pasture because they’re able to move about and follow their natural behaviors. The exercise is good for them, and their natural nitrogen-dense dry waste serves as fertilizer to the soil.
Including pigs as part of overall farming operations has served as a great natural way to enhance the soil and increase annual crop yields. Many folks think of baby chicks or bunnies this time of year, but in my book, there is nothing as wonderful as farrowing season.