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Swineset hoop v2.0

Garth Brown |

I wrote recently about getting a pile of inexpensive wood for rough construction. Here is photographic evidence that I've put some of it to good use.

This is my second iteration of pig winter housing- I've decided to call it a swineset hoop (as in Quonset hut), perhaps just "swineset" for short. Last year their winter accommodation was very similar with a few significant details changed, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I feed my pigs a lot of whey from greek yogurt manufacturing. During the summer the pigs rotate around the pasture with electric line to keep them on a designated patch of ground for a day or two or three. With relatively short stays on each patch of pasture the whey and their urine spreads far and wide. During the winter I have to house them much closer to the whey tanks because long runs of pipe will freeze. My bigger pigs are currently still out on the pasture making their final pass to the winter lodging. The newest pigs on the farm, bought as weaners a week ago, went straight into their winter home. It's good the big pigs are still out and about because their hoops are only half done at this point.

Given my druthers I'd like to build a larger swineset with a bigger footprint. The cost per square foot of interior space diminishes as the size of the building grows. In a perfect world I'd build one large hoop and subdivide it to manage different groups of pigs. I have two reasons to not attempt that right now. One is that I don't have nearly as many pigs as I ultimately plan to raise. Building a hoop large enough to meet my future needs would strain my budget unreasonably and I would make incomplete use of said hoop for a few years. The other reason has to do with nutrient deposition. I'm concerned about overload and unhealthy soils right around the barn if I feed hundreds of pigs truck load after truck load of whey for five months every year. I'm not sure whether I'll ever be able to circumvent this issue and build a big hoop. I suppose I could install a giant lagoon and try to capture the run-off, but then I'm committed to buying a lot of concrete for the barnyard, a big heavy tractor to haul liquid manure, and a slurry wagon to spray it around. I'd rather try to rotate where the pigs spend their winters and distribute the imported fertility that way. By building multiple smaller hoops I can relocate them every year to distribute the winter leached nutrients over acres of ground rather than concentrating it all in the same spot year on year. I will still need to spread the bedding pack and solid manure from each hoop, but this is easier and less expensive for me to manage than liquid manure would be.

Last year I used a single 12 x 28 ft hoop. The University of Minnesota published a good how-to guide on deep bedded pork production. For finishing hogs it claims 12 sq ft per pig is required, which would allow me to raise 28 pigs per swineset. I had 21 pigs in last year's hoop and think that's probably about right. I thought there was room for a few more than 21, but once they get past 250 pounds live weight their bodies take up a lot more space than when they're 40 lb weaned pigs. I also construct small outdoor pens from hog panels (see below) and that gives the more timid individuals space to escape the interrogations of an aggressive litter-mate, so I'm comfortable trying to put 30 pigs into each swineset, but no more than that.

This year I'm going to use 3 hoops of that same size. Ultimately I may get up to as many as 10 swinesets per year. The frame is bent from chainlink fence top rail and then inserted into ground posts. A beautiful thing about them is the ground posts make them straightforward to set solidly and then move in the subsequent year. Another wonderful aspect of the small hoop structure is its adaptability. I built this one on sloping ground, just how inclined was not quite as apparent from the other angle, eh?.

With a 12 foot wide arch one person can erect the hoop with only a short step ladder, though it goes a lot more smoothly with two pairs of hands. I'm still working out exactly how to build various parts - this year's major improvements over v1.0 are wooden walls along the interior, a plumb end wall rather than a "caterpillar tail" on the west end, and a white billboard tarp on the south side for extra light.

Total cost per swineset (12 x 28) is darn near $2.00 sq ft. I know there are cheaper ways to house pigs, but I have yet to find one that is both cheaper and equally nice for working in/around. By scrounging or Craig's listing the chainlink metal parts the price tag could potentially come down significantly. I just haven't had any luck going that route yet.


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