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My hubby was getting some bulk potatoes and asked the owner if he happened to have a truck load we could buy. When he found out we were selling 4 H piglets he said, “Here, take these as a thanks for encouraging our youngsters to do agricultural activities.” We told him thanks so much and ran home to start our new feeding program. A couple of shovels full of raw potatoes were fed and poof happy pigs. After 3 days the pigs started to show signs of being full (or so we thought) and so we slowed down on the potatoes.

We stored the potatoes in the birthing shed. It was going to be a poor choice as we would find out. We alternated potatoes with our regular feed. It did not take us long to feed up a ton of potatoes. Russ went back up and bought a trailer load of them for the winter. We were so excited. Inexpensive feed, tons of work but it sure kept the cost down. There was too much for the birthing shed. (The last load started to pull the floor away from the walls). Youch.

We cleaned out an entire corner of the shop and built small side walls to keep the pile a bit more uniform. We were almost set for the winter.

We were talking to a friend who used to raise pigs and he said, “Oh well, you cannot feed them raw potatoes. Pigs are not able to digest them very well.” How can you feed them then? We just brought home about 4 or 5 ton of the things. “Cook them first, then they should be fine.” I felt my heart fall clean through my stomach.

My visions of the largest of my cooking pots cooking on the stove for 16 hours of the day, every day in order to feed tons of potatoes to our pigs, almost sent me to my room from a fainting spell.

I told Russ I just can’t do that. I will never get out of the kitchen for the winter. So we ended up deciding to cook them outside. We took the tractor and dug a nice little pit. We left the sides and back steep and only made the front low enough to hold the fire and drum. After we got that fixed to our liking, we put the tire rims into the pit to set the barrel on. Suddenly every 55 gallon drum in the area was taken. It had to have a lid so we could cut from top to bottom. You know the story. So after a week we finally found a drum to cut in half. We started collecting every piece of wood we could find to cook these wonderful potatoes with.

We would haul 5 gallon buckets full of potatoes to the pit, dump them into the drum, and fill with water. Russ would begin to tend fire. When the fire was hot enough to start to cook potatoes, Russ would stack the logs on for burning all night. The next morning the potatoes were done and just hot enough to give the animals a warm breakfast on a freezing day.

We never knew we would grow to hate potatoes.

That very large pile of potatoes lasted right up into the spring. We ran out about 3 weeks before we started to farrow. That was nice as that load of work stopped just in time to let everyone rest a bit before the all-nighters began.

Farrowing is a fun time as we watch all the babies be born. We don’t usually get to see the first one be born, but we do catch the rest.

This is where the real problems began (not that the floor out of the birthing shed or gasing our pigs to death wasn’t a problem). The first sow, Polly, took a while to get started but soon babies were coming about 20 minutes. Her first 2 babies were dead when we found them. The membrane hadn’t broke enough for them to get out of them. Lily found them and ran and got Russ. He stood guard from then on. Out of the 12 babies born, 6 were born dead and 3 of them had too strong of a membrane; it wouldn’t break. Even though Russ broke the bag of waters the babies didn’t live long. We ended up with 3 live babies.

This was the scenario for all nine sows. We were so stressed by the time we were done farrowing. I think there wasn’t a day where there wasn’t fear. After we were done and 108 babies later, we ended up with 21 live babies and so much heart break. After we recovered from the shock and could start to think we realized the huge financial loss and what a wasted year. We did chalk it up to a learning experience and will not ever do that again.

We called our vet and told him that we think our pigs may have some kind of disease and gave him their symptoms. We were going to breed the sows again but needed to know if we needed to do something different. We don’t give hormones or antibiotics to our animals, so this was a worry for us.

In our conversation we told him that we had no idea what to do the next time around. This is what we did and these were the results.

What did we do? We fed too many potatoes to the pigs. All kinds of problems result from feeding too much. How much is too much we asked. I wasn’t pleased with the answer at all.

Here is what the vet said.

Pigs can’t digest potatoes very well. (I was confused by this as their constitution is similar to a humans.)

1. Never more then 25% of their diet can be potatoes and this is even more different for lactating (nursing) sows.

2. Only ever feed cooked potatoes to your pigs.

3. When you are feeding potatoes, if you have any question feed less.

4. For a lactating (nursing) sow ~ The maximum you feed is 4 potatoes. Watch the piglets very closely. If they show the slightest sign of diarrhea, you either drop down to one potato or no potatoes.

We have chosen to not feed them to our pigs. I have finally gotten smart enough to call the vet on any change of diet. Man am I so glad I did. The story of feeding rye could have been terrifying.

We have snow now so it is off to work I go. You all enjoy the beginnings of winter.

I would love to hear any stories you have to share. I am always looking for ways to improve.

May you have a great day!

Root Farm

Valerie Root