Since the beginning, our mission here at Circle B Ranch has been to raise our hogs in the most natural way possible; our hogs are what they are meant to be. They do as nature intended. Because of our natural practices, we farrow all year round here, even in the coldest of winter months.
While we allow the sows to choose where they birth—whether in an outside nest or inside an insulated farrowing hut—we keep a close eye on the mama and the piglets. It is our goal to make sure that both the sow and the newborns remain in good health. If the mama has given birth outside, we remove the piglets from the nest when she leaves to feed. We then place the babies inside a farrowing hut to allow us to easily monitor them and to ensure they stay warm.
We do not provide a heated barn, or heat lamps, or any type of temperature controlled environment. Our farrowing huts are well insulated and hold in the heat generated from the sow’s body. Even in the most frigid of winter hours, the huts stay toasty warm. This method creates two positive effects. First, it causes the mother and offspring to depend on each other for warmth. The dependency increases the bond between mother and babies as she builds a tight nest, forcing the piglets to stay close to her body.
The second productive result is that the use of farrowing huts improves the hardiness of our stock. Because the sow and piglets are more reliant upon one another and less dependent on us for heat, they are essentially in a more natural environment—even though they are in an inside setting. As well, we are able to readily assess the piglets and mama for any health concerns.
During the winter months, we wean our piglets later than we typically would during the summertime. By waiting for 10 weeks rather than the usual 8 weeks, we improve the ease with which the piglets switch from sow’s milk to feed. During the suckling and weaning period, the piglets eat feed along with the sow—a high protein diet necessary for piglet growth and sow weight maintenance. In this way, any shock caused by weaning is lessened.
While the 10-week period may be a little harder on the sow, she is fully equipped to recover. A good mother gives everything she has to her piglets, and may be “skin and bones” by weaning time, but we watch over her and give her a month and longer to recover before breeding her again.
During the weaning period, we keep a sharp eye on the piglets—especially the ones that may be labeled the “runts” or the “weaklings.” Once they are weaned, the members of the piglet herd rely on each other to stay warm; the smallest and the weakest are often affected by the extreme cold. Because we prefer the natural process, we do not cull the small or the weak from our stock. Some farmers may choose to do so, to save on cost and time related to their care, but we believe in giving all of our stock a fair, fighting chance. We provide extra feed and straw to provide warmth and shelter where needed. We enhance the chance of survival for each and every piglet on our farm—without compromising the all-natural standards we strive to provide and that you have come to expect from Circle B Ranch.