Piglets weaned from their mother are given ear tags for identification and tracking while they grow. Rick Carr, Rodale Institute’s Compost Production Specialist and Animal Husbandry Intern June Chiango tagged 17 piglets this week. These piglets will be part of a research study funded by the UNFI Foundation that monitors growth and development over time.
The Institute’s Animal Operations Team, including June, Rick, Farm Manager Ross Duffield, Animal Husbandry Specialist Shelby Dukes and ASC intern Larry Byers, have been weighing different groups of pigs to investigate the nutrient contribution of pastures for pork production. Their goal is to increase our understanding of how pasture type, conditions, and management strategies can supplement pig dietary requirements. Rodale Institute pigs are provided with full-time outdoor access for grazing and foraging but they are fed grain inside the facility as well. What they would like to achieve is to maximize nutrient contribution from the pasture so that they can reduce grain inputs, which would significantly reduce the cost of production.
The data they have collected so far shows that pastured pigs gain about 11 pounds per week. Weight gain decreases however, when feeding is restricted and the pigs are forced to forage more in the field. This was the case with Group 4 when they were moved from the hog facility, where they were fed ad libitum, to the apple orchard and fed a restricted amount of grain.
In 2018, the Animal Operations Team will continue to track pig weight gain and analyzed that data with grain and pasture consumption. Plant biomass samples will be collected from the pasture while the pigs have access in order to estimate how much they consume. Additionally, two different types of pastures (alfalfa and clover) will be established to study how pasture type influences growth and development. There are a number of other research questions the team will be addressing in the near future and sharing with organic pork producers throughout the Northeast U.S.