John H. Zeller
PORK can be produced on good, clean hog pastures with 15 to 50 percent less concentrates than dry-lot feeding requires, depending on the method of management. Good legume pastures may replace one-half the protein supplement ordinarily fed in dry-lot rations, besides minerals, vitamins, and other essential food elements. Pigs on pasture usually gain faster and reach the market several weeks earlier than pigs fed balanced rations in dry lot.
Sanitation is easier when hogs are on a rotation-pasture system, and the danger of parasitic infestation is lessened. More runty pigs are found under dry-lot feeding conditions than with pasture-fed pigs. Hogs on pasture help to maintain soil fertility by scattering the manure over the land; as much as 75 percent of the fertilizing value of feeds fed to hogs on pasture may be recovered and returned to the land. Another advantage of pastures for swine is the saving of labor.
Despite those advantages, though, it Will not do to think that that is all there is to it. Hogs have a limited digestive capacity; their stomachs cannot utilize the large amounts of forage that cattle, horses, and sheep do. Even the best pastures generally provide little more than a maintenance ration for swine for economical production, hogs must be fed a certain amount of concentrate feed in addition to pasture. The basic point regarding the pastures is one of quality, then, not one of quantity.
I think of seven essentials of good pasture crops for swine production, regardless of locality. They must be adapted to the soil and climatic conditions under which they are grown. They must be grown at small expense. They must provide abundant growth for a short pasture period, or consistent growth over a long period. They must be palatable and succulent so as to be readily consumed, and rich in protein, vitamin, and mineral nutrients. They must have a good carrying capacity over the grazing period.
Four types of pastures are used in swine production: Permanent, rotation, and temporary pastures, and grain crops to be hogged down. Many successful hog growers combine two or more types to furnish the maximum grazing facilities, with planned rest periods for the pastures.
Permanent pasture plants most generally used are perennials like bluegrass, white clover, Bermuda-grass, carpetgrass, and Dallisgrass. Permanent hog pastures can be utilized over a long grazing season. They usually furnish the most nutrients, though, during the spring and fall growing periods, and have a dormant period during July and August.
Rotation pastures may include alfalfa, red clover, Ladino, sweetclover, alsike, orchardgrass, bromegrass, lespedeza, and others. These pastures grow rather consistently and can be utilized at any time during the growing season until other crops are ready to graze.
The temporary or annual pastures, which are seeded each year and supplement or replace permanent pastures, fit well into a swine sanitation program. Under the McLean County system, for instance, hogs are raised on clean pastures, the land having been plowed and planted since it was used previously by hogs. Temporary pastures include crops like rape, soybeans, cowpeas, Sudangrass, rye, oats, wheat, barley, Italian ryegrass, and field peas. The rate of seeding temporary pastures should be heavier than that for grain crops so as to get a denser sod, which provides more pasture than hogs can keep closely grazed and therefore lessens the danger of parasites. Frequently the pastures, after providing succulent grazing, will produce a grain crop that can be harvested.
Hogged-down crops include corn, sorghums, sweetpotatoes, peanuts, and small grain. A good practice is to have a pasture crop in a field next to a hogging-down crop so hogs will have access to both fields. Frequently soybeans or a similar crop is seeded at the last cultivation of corn so that the two crops can be grazed in the same field.
The proper use of the different types of pastures requires careful planning so as to have the hogs on each pasture get the most nutrients at the proper time and not handicap the carrying capacity of the pasture later.
Alfalfa makes one of the best legume pastures for swine. It is high in nutrients, provides a long grazing period, and gives an efficient substitute for the high-priced protein supplements. Alfalfa is rated 100 percent as a basis for comparison with other crops in value in pork production. If it is not grazed too closely, the crop will grow enough to be cut for hay and yield 1 or 2 tons of hay an acre in addition to the grazing.
Red clover, properly grazed, rates next to alfalfa in feeding value and economy as a forage for hogs. It is a high-yielding forage, but it should not be grazed too early in the season before growth starts. It fits well into crop rotation systems. On some soils it often excels alfalfa.
Rape, though not a legume, compares favorably in nutrients with both alfalfa and red clover. In all-around value, it is on a par with the clovers for hogs. Besides its long grazing season, it has a high carrying capacity. The Dwarf Essex variety is more palatable to hogs than other varieties. The crop may be seeded any time during the growing season; it grows quickly. It is often sown in combination with oats, barley, or oats and field peas.
Sweetclover is valuable as a soil builder and high in nutrients and is a large yielder of forage or hay. Best results are obtained when hogs graze the crop the first year, as growth in the second and third years is coarser and less palatable.
Bluegrass furnishes excellent grazing for hogs in early spring, fall, and early winter. It is a permanent grass that can be utilized on lands unfit for other crops. The crop becomes dry and unpalatable in midsummer.
Soybeans, a popular temporary crop for hogs, are planted about the time corn is planted. They furnish excellent green forage in midsummer. When the crop matures, it can be hogged down.
Oats may be seeded in early spring for an early forage. Oats and field peas are often seeded together.
Sudangrass furnishes green grazing in the hot, dry months. The grazing period is short, but the crop has a heavy carrying capacity.
Winter rye sown early in the autumn furnishes late-fall and winter grazing. It is also a good spring grazing crop for sows and litters in the Corn Belt. The crop should be heavily grazed; otherwise it soon becomes coarse and of little value.
Mixed grass pastures are becoming popular in many districts. They make succulent forage available at almost any season, depending on the plants used. Ladino clover, a legume of high protein content, is used in many such mixtures. Alfalfa, Ladino clover, alsike, bromegrass and orchardgrass are often used in one mixture.
The research worker is always on the alert to test new pasture grasses to determine their value in livestock production. An example is the use of cheat-grass, once considered a weed, as an early-spring pasture for grazing sows and litters. The unnamed variety used at Beltsville originated from seeds collected in Maryland by Dr. W. B. Kemp, of the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station, and developed as an excellent crop for the prevention of soil erosion. In the tests at the Agricultural Research Center, cheatgrass pasture was palatable to hogs and furnished a longer grazing period than either rye, barley, or wheat pastures.
Results of tests at various experiment stations show the value of hogging off crops. Corn, soybeans, small grains, peanuts, sweetpotatoes, sorghums, and such crops fit well into such a system. The chief advantages of the system are that it saves labor costs of harvesting the crop, increases soil fertility, aids in swine sanitation, and lowers cost of Pork production. Year-round grazing systems of green and mature crops are the basis of increased hog production in Georgia South Carolina, Florida, and other Southern States.