Springtime on a Niman Ranch farm

Spring has finally sprung, which is great because this year we weren’t sure spring would ever arrive. What a crazy month April was – from thunderstorms to thundersnow to blizzards.  Our children are always happy to have a few days off from school due to snow, but farmers never get a day off.

Snow days in April can set us back on the farm. We employ traditional farming practices and this is the time of year when sows (mother pigs) should be farrowing (giving birth) on pasture or in deeply bedded pens. When we get hit with subzero temperatures and 12 inches of snow we must improvise. For us, a snow day often means additional work. All of the animal waters have to be checked to make sure they are not frozen, while the feeders can get plugged with the additional moisture so they must be checked as well. We use resources like straw or cornstalks to provide additional bedding to protect our livestock from the cold.

Sows like to farrow naturally on the pasture. Did you know their strongest instinct is to build a nest when they are about to give birth? We pitch straw bedding into huts for them and they add to it by grabbing mouthfuls of native grasses to bring back to their hut, then busy themselves arranging it until it’s just right. We provide all sorts of portable huts set up on the pasture for each sow, along with a larger community hut where they’ll spend time together before they venture off to their own hut for farrowing.  They enjoy the warmth of the additional straw bedding and the shelter of the huts, but most of all they enjoy the freedom to move about and socialize with the other pigs.


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