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Pastures & pigs: what about winter?

December 12, 2017

This story is the first in a series taking a look at daily life on SPCA Certified farms. Curtis de Dood of Sunninghill Farms writes about his clever pigs and all the efforts it takes to provide them a comfortable life, even during winters in the B.C. interior.

A black Berkshire sow and her piglets explore, making paths in the fresh snow

Mother Nature throws a curve ball

Growing up on our family farm I have been fortunate to be able to work outdoors in the beautiful Okanagan valley. We experience all four seasons here and, even though we do our best to be prepared for the upcoming weather changes, sometimes Mother Nature has her own plans. Well, winter arrived unexpectedly this year. It wasn’t long after we had taken the kids trick-or-treating that we woke up to eight inches of snow and a balmy minus fourteen degrees Celsius!

The unexpected heavy snowfall in early November caught us by surprise. We didn’t have our heaters in our water bowls, the heavy snow had flattened some of the electric wire around the pasture where the pigs were grazing, and I wasn’t finished working on a large new wintering pen that would hold all of our animals during the cold months. When you have freezing temperatures, frozen water bowls, pigs running all around the farm yard because the fence is down, and heaps of work that still needed to be done, you get one aggravated farmer!

Curious pigs trotting free around the snowy farm yard

Even though we weren’t prepared for the fluffy white stuff and the freezing temperatures, you could say our little pigs were happier than a pig in sh… snow! They would timidly come out of their warm straw bedded shelter and wonder what the cold white stuff was that was falling from the sky. But a moment after that they began chasing each other around their previously grass-filled pasture kicking up snow and rubbing their little pink noses in the cool icy powder.

As you may have heard, pigs are the ultimate escape artists. You build a fence, they will figure out a way to get on the other side. “The grass is always greener on the other side” is a term I’m sure was made up because of pigs! We use electric wire on the pasture and use page wire and 2×6 boards in our wintering pen. This seems to hold them pretty well but there are always one or two pigs smarter than I am!

Friends help put the new winter shelter together in time for the next snowfall

Although raising pigs outdoors and dealing with the weather can sometimes be a challenge, we wouldn’t have it any other way for our animals. Raising pigs in a clean fresh air environment with ample space to run around and the ability to forage for food and lounge in the cool mud is exactly how nature intended.

Since we live in an area where eventually the lush grass is covered in two feet of dense snow and temperatures can drop below minus twenty, we need to make sure we keep our animals comfortable and healthy in spite of these conditions. We do this by having shelters that are heaped with straw so the pigs can bury themselves to stay warm. Sometimes when you walk up to the shelter all you see is a few little noses poking out of the bedding!

Digging trenches to lay freeze-resistant water lines

We have clean fresh water available throughout the day in heated water bowls so that it will never freeze in the cold temperatures. We give them lots of room to roam outside of the shelters so they can get their exercise every day. We feed them grass hay and a barley grain mix with amino acids, vitamins and minerals. This provides them enough energy to continue to grow and be able to withstand the harsh winter months.

Raising pigs outdoors is something we will continue to do for years to come. We truly believe that raising animals in their natural environment and giving them a stress free life is the only way to farm.

Contact the farm team for more information about the SPCA Certified program and other BC SPCA farm initiatives.

Stay tuned for the rest of the series on SPCA Certified farm life with our quarterly FarmSense e-newsletter! Sign up today to stay on top of all things ‘farm’ at the BC SPCA.