Of Tiller Pigs & Weeder Chickens


Sugar Mountain has great soil for growing maple trees but terrible for gardening. Our soil is shallow, acidic, stoney and the top soil is a very thin (1/8″) organic layer over glacial gravel, sand and granite ledge in most places. It is like gardening on bare sub-soil – not terribly productive.

Years ago I got soil tests done. To follow the UVM extension service’s recommendations for adding fertilizers would have been horrendously expensive. I also didn’t want to go the chemical fertilizer route. Manure is very hard to come by in any quantity – I’m not interested in buying it by the bag at the garden store. There are fewer and fewer dairy farms or any other farms that generate any excess manure. The farmers use most of their animals’ manure on their own fields. Any extra goes to family gardens. Occasionally I’ll see a little for sale in the classifieds. Horse manure is readily available but carries tetanus.

The solution was to get our own animals who would generate manure to turn our glacial till soil into rich garden beds. That’s the theory and it works. It might seem like a very long and convoluted way to grow a tomato. The side benefit is you get a lot of tomatoes, corn, pumpkins and other veggies as well as some great pork, eggs, chicken, lamb, wool, etc along the way. And if you do it right the animals will provide free labor in your gardens.

The standard way of modern farming is you put the animal in a box, shovel the food in one end, shovel the manure out the other end, spread the manure on the field, grow crops, shovel the crops back in the other end of the box, shovel the manure out, take the animal out and sell it. That is a lot of back breaking shoveling.

A simpler method is you put the animals out to pasture, they harvest their own food, spread the manure around and then you harvest the animals. Some people refer to this pastured method as grass farming. The animals do most of the work and it is a lot easier on the back. This method is real traditional farming and not compatible with the USDA’s proposed NAIS or their other scary ideas about modern farming. The more I learn about the USDA the less I like them. But that is another topic. We’re here to talk shit.

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We use this pastured model of traditional agriculture with our animals with some fine tuning for our climate and location. The animals over winter in areas that I want to turn into gardens in a year or two. This fertilizes the area. Any waste hay gets mixed into the ground. In the spring the pigs till up the garden space, mixing the hay into the soil. When pigs are mobbed into a small area, such as four to ten pigs in a 2,000 sq-ft garden, they dig in deeply and till the soil. They enjoy their work and I enjoy not having to own or run a tiller. Of course, bigger pigs till deeper and faster. More pig power.

A big trick is not to have the pigs in an area for too long. You do not want the soil to become compacted. This is easy, watch it. It is better to move them between small sections that take them a week to till up than to leave them on a big section that takes them months to work over.

After they are done fertilizing, working in the winter’s hay and turning over the soil we move the pigs out and move in the chickens for a few weeks. The chickens get any insects and plants that sprout up, smooth the soil down and leave the garden devoid of plant life. I like that because I am not overly fond of weeding. We then move the chickens out and plant immediately. Again, don’t leave the birds on the area too long or they will pack the soil.

The trick with getting the animals to do a good job is to limit the space they are in and limit the time they are there. This mobbing causes pigs to change their behavior to either root or graze. Out on the pasture with plenty of space they don’t tend to dig very much or deeply. Instead they graze. But when they are mobbed into a smaller area they dig down deep into the heart of the soil, working in organic material and digging up rocks. This all results in fertilized, tilled, leveled, virtually weed free gardens with very little effort on our part. As a side benefit you get to eat the tillers.


The other thing we do is move the pigs and then the chickens through gardens in the fall after we have finished harvesting. The animals clean up any crop residues, till the remains into the soil, fertilize the gardens and break up insect overwintering cycles. This means better gardens with fewer insects in the spring.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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65 Responses to Of Tiller Pigs & Weeder Chickens

  1. I like to read real life bloggs. I’m in Northern Idaho in far north in panhandle of Idaho. The mountains here are form from glaciers.
    We don’t have much rocks in soil. Basically are soil is clay we use a lot of water here to grow a garden.

  2. “As a side benefit you get to eat the tillers.”

    This part I think I like most of all, though the ‘less’ effort part is quite appealing as well.

    ~Scott

  3. Misty says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post! Your method is probably the most sustainable agriculture that is done in this day and age.

    We are doing a similar thing as well. The geese live in the garden all winter, fertilizing and defoliating. We don’t have the facilities to over-winter pigs. Otherwise we would definitely use the pig-tiller method!

    This year we aren’t cutting the grass on our (1+ acre) lawn. We are using portable electric net fencing from Premier 1, and letting the goats and sheep mow it for us. It gives the main pasture a break, and gives us a break from mowing. Plus our feed costs have been absolutely slashed. And isn’t it nice how goat and sheep manure is already pelletized and broadcast spread naturally, with no extra work!

  4. Misty, in terms of overwintering pigs, it doesn’t take much. We have simple pallet sheds and three sided pole sheds with walls made of hay and dens dug into the hill (also see here) that are effectively three sided sheds too. This year for winter farrowing we made this ultra simple greenhouse structure out of wire and plastic sheeting. In the winter we feed hay to the pigs – that replaces the pasture. They are very hardy and deal well with the cold even here in the mountains of northern Vermont.

    • smallhandsfarm says:

      Walter, how do you feed hay effectively to pigs, i.e. keeping waste to a minimum? Feeders attached to wall, in a container on the ground…?

      • We’ve done a number of things. Sometimes we simply put out a bale. This might be viewed as the most “wasteful” by some however when I measure the amount left on the ground I find that the pigs only waste a very small percentage. This fits with their behavior in the fields of knocking down a field and then cleaning it up.

        We also have hay ricks on the wall, make bale feeders out of stock panel by wrapping it around bales and in a few cases hand put out some hay, such as to a sow who has a new litter, placing it away from her nest since we don’t do a good job of chewing it up and stomping it like she does. :)

    • Andrew says:

      Do you feed whey through the winter as well?

  5. Rosa says:

    At first, I thought those were coyote! Phew!

  6. gjwolf says:

    Walter, thanks for the site. I raise some animal here in Florida (exotic parrots and rare bulldogs) and I am considering trying a few pigs. I stumbled on your website and just wanted to take the time to thank people like you. It never ceases to amaze me that there are good people who like to share their experiences to others.

    Many people won’t share much with you and it’s hard to make a good decision without decent (or any) information.

    thank you again I will be back checking things out. Great information, wish you were closer though!

    George Wolf

    gjwolf1@excite.com
    http://www.pawsanfeathers.net

    http://www.bulldogranch.com

  7. gjwolf says:

    Walter, thanks for the information. I have a Parrot Farm here in Tampa Florida and considering trying some pigs in the future. I appreciate reading about the farm and all the info you have here. I only wish you lived closer!

    George Wolf

    http://www.pawsandfeathers.net
    http://www.bulldogranch.com

  8. Michele McGlone says:

    Walter,
    could you please discuss your method of fencing your pigs? YOu seem to have such flexibility and are able to put your pigs where you need them for as long as you need them and then move them somewhere else.

  9. Michele, I have several fencing articles in the works. In a nutshell, we use a combination of stone walls, high tensile permanent fencing, temporary polywire on step in posts and poultry netting. The combination gives security and flexibility. Each has its time and place. -Walter

    • Nance Shaw says:

      This is really dumb, but these are my first pigs. How do I MOVE them across from their pen to the field I want them to till? They are not pets. I have poulty netting to define my new garden area. Chickens are already there, but no tilling that I can see.

      • See this post written especially for you with links to several articles about how we move pigs: Moving Pigs.

        Chickens don’t till much, they weed. To get the pigs to till completely requires mob grazing – density for not too long. So you want small spaces to avoid soil compaction which happens with all animals if on an area too long.

  10. Attila says:

    Great article!

    I plan to “till” my garden similarly next spring. I thought of over-wintering pigs in a hoop-house, but I don’t know how to provide drinking water in colder days (I do not have electricity on the site)
    I am sure, you have a good DIY solution :)

  11. Leta @ kingswood.ca says:

    Hi Walter or Any one out there
    I am looking for a diagram, to build a good pasture land low crush % farrowing hut, for my 4 pregnant pigs

    HELP!!!
    Leta

  12. Leta,

    The designs I’ve heard of are generally arched or A-frame with the idea that the piglets have a space all around the mother below the edge of the roof wall. Some add a bar down low to increase this. Most designs I’ve seen were moveable either by hand or with a tractor. Some people also use calf huts.

    We don’t provide them with houses – we learned they prefer to go out into the brush and make nests. Our sows farrow on the pasture and we don’t get crushing. They are very careful with the piglets. I think that crushing is caused by crowding and overly fat sows who are not as gentle about laying down.

    Cheers,

    -WalterJ

  13. Mellifera says:

    Ok, I work doing diagnostic testing at a veterinary hospital and hadn’t heard about the tetanus-in-horse-manure thing, so I couldn’t resist looking it up.

    As far as I can tell, the reason I’d never heard it before is ’cause it ain’t so. (Condescending quotes from PhDs to follow!) “Horse manure has tetanus in it” is kind of like saying “Bread dough has yeast in it.” Well… true. But the yeast got there because it’s already so common in the environment that some spores are guaranteed to land there. Sourdough starter is nice but not really necessary. : ) Likewise, the ‘osses just pick it up when it’s already there in the dirt- it’s not part of their normal intestinal collection.

    Bugs in the Clostridium genus (C. tetani’s the tetanus one, C. botulinum’s the botulism one, and there are others, including the one that does most of the work in retting flax) are pretty common visitors to the intestines of all critters, which is why they’re so frequently found in dirt. (They’re also one of my personal favorite pathogens. Weird, I know, but y’all got me started. : ) They’re anaerobic (aka oxygen is a poison as far as they’re concerned), so the good news is they’re usually buried pretty far down and not out to get us. The bad news is they make spores that go everywhere and hatch as soon as they find a nice anaerobic place to live, including wounds.

    The kinds of wounds they like aren’t the big scary ones- in those, the tissues are all open to the air. Nay, ’tis the punctures and other wounds that don’t bleed very much that they like, because in there there’s not very much oxygen. That’s why the rusty nail is the archetypal tetanus threat- a rusty nail’s usually been lying around in the dirt picking up all kinds of lovelies, and then delivers them all deep down where there’s no open air to bother ’em.

    Anyway, here are the long-promised quotes I found on horse manure and tetanus.

    “Spores of C. tetani are ubiquitous in the environment, although their frequent occurrence in horse manure appears to be a fable perpetuated for decades. Spores are concentrated in some geographic areas and are present in much lower levels in other regions, so clinical cases occur frequently on some farm and rarely on others, even with similar husbandry practices.” This source (Pathogenesis of Bacteria in Animals, Carlton L. Gyles) goes on to talk about the differences between botulism and tetanus toxins, which has ramifications in things like why feeding babies honey could make them sick for a day but probably isn’t going to kill them like everybody tells you, but that’s a research project I haven’t really finished yet so don’t quote me on it. : )

    This quote is great: “Clostridium tetani was isolated from human and animal stools at the following rates [95% confidence interval (CI)]: Human, 0% (1.5-0); horse, 1% (5-0); cow in cowshed, 4% (10-1); cow in pasture, 8.3% (17-1), calf in pasture, 0% (7-0); dog, 2% (11-0) and sheep in pasture, 25% (44-14).” That’s Ebisawa, Takayanagi, and Kigawa, Japanese Journal of Experimental Medicine, December of 1988, p. 233-41. So basically, horses are actually tied with people for the LOWEST amount of tetanus bacteria in their poop, and if you’re really worried about it, watch out for them sheep. As for pigs, when it comes to intestinal flora it’s usually safe to assume that they’re about the same as people. You know, non-ruminant, omnivorous, about the same size. So probably ok.

    As an aside, I don’t know how you guys feel about vaccinations but tetanus shots every 10 years are especially important for people who deal with a lot of dirt since that’s where the little guys live. I’m always rather mystified by the earthy types who talk all about “working with nature” but when a really good opportunity to do so comes along… ie giving your immune system a sneak peek at the bad guys so it’s ready should they show up for real… they’re totally against it.

    “Vaccine: So much more sustainable than two weeks in the hospital.” : )

  14. Cool! Thanks for the info and for taking the time to post it. I’m glad to now that is a rural myth as I have many times had people offer me horse manure but I’ve hesitated to take it for that reason.

    As to vaccinations, we do them. We get tetanus vaccines regularly, actually a little more often, 5 years I think, and the others including annual flu shots. I don’t want to get sick. Our dogs all get the rabies and such as they are our first defense against the wild diseases coming in on sick animals.

    Thanks again and Merry Christmas!

    -WalterJ

  15. JimP says:

    Hi Walter, great blog. I’m curious, what pig breeds do you use to till your gardens? Heritage breeds I guess, since the “modern” CAFO pig probably would not do well outdoors?

    I read a couple of Salatin articles where he is also using “pig tiller” power. In one article, he uses pigs to aerate cow dung into compost and says Tamworths “are the best breed for rooting.”

    http://www.awionline.org/farm/compost.html

    Then in another article, where he is using pigs to create pastureland from forests, Salatin likes “Berkshires, Hampshires, Yorkshires and Durocs” and says that “Tamworths are great as a follower pig with cattle because they won’t root up the pasture, but this makes them useless for turning compost and clearing land.”

    So Salatin appears to be saying contradictory things about Tamworths. Just wondering if you think there is a difference in pig breeds as tillers/composters?

  16. I’ve heard various people claim that this or that breed is superior at this or that trait. I’ve read people claiming that Tamworths are better at rooting and people claiming that Tamworths don’t root at all. I don’t have any pure bred pigs of any breed, ours are a mix, so I can’t tell you from direct experience either way.

    What I can tell you from experience is that how you manage the pigs makes a huge difference in how much they root. If you confine them to a smaller area they dig deeply. If you put them out on a larger pasture they graze more and dig hardly at all. They also dig more in moist soil and less in dry soil.

    Your expectations are also a key in defining how much they root. They will likely dig some. So if one is looking for a flat cropped suburban lawn sheep would be a better bet. :)

  17. chrysalis says:

    Hi Walter,

    I was discussing our excavation issue with our neighbour and she mentioned using pigs as tillers while pointing me in your direction!

    So here I am. I read the article you posted and am very interested but I am unsure if pigs are suitable in my particular situation.

    I have approximately 2.5 acres of “treed” land that has been cut but not grubbed.

    I would love to be able to use a natural method of clearing the land (as the cutters spilled gas, oil etc from their equipment) but am unsure if there is enough “pig power” out there to do it!

    I want to clear this stumped land to create pasture BUT some of the stumps are fairly large and there has been new growth come up as well.

    We live in New Brunswick, Canada. We are located in a clay based area but most of spring, some of summer and most of fall – the ground is nice and wet.

    I would like to hear your opinions and suggestions on this.

    ~ Jenn

  18. Hi Jennifer,

    Yes, pigs can do the job. If you combine them with sheep or cattle (Highlands are particularly good) then it works even better. It does require patience but over a period of years the livestock can turn it into nice pasture.

    Start by fencing the outer perimeter. I would suggest high tensile woven wire with a hot inner high tensile wire at nose low nose height for the pigs and a hot top high tensile wire for the sheep or cattle.

    Then subdivide the pasture into six paddocks. Polywire on step in posts will work fine for this. Two or three hot wires.

    Ideally the stumps were cut low to the ground. Either way they’ll eventually rot out. The advantage of low cut is there is less material to rot out and you can run a tractor with a bush hog on it over them if you ever want. It may take ten years for the stumps to decay completely. If you’re in a hurry this isn’t the method to use. The stumps will put up regen which can be good fodder for the animals.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  19. Anonymous says:

    Hi Walter, thanks for the great blog. I want to start a herd of pigs and I am a complete novice on the subject.
    Do you think pigs can be put to pasture only or at least as their main food? What area of pasture do you recommend for each pig?

    I have acquired some nice land with some good pastures and plan to eventually start a milk herd, as I think they would complement well. The pigs would make pastures better for the cows, and dairy byproducts would be greatly appreciated by them.

    I don’t have the winter problem, we are at the tropics high up above sea level so our low temps would go around 3-6 C and high 20-23 C. Do you think they will need shelter?

    Any advice would be great. Thanks a lot.

    Sergio

  20. Hi Sergio,

    We have raised three groups of pigs solely on pasture. They grew a bit slower and were quite lean. Pigs do better with the addition of dairy to the pasture as the fields are protein limited. Together hay/pasture and dairy make an excellent combination.

    Here are some posts to look at that cover some of these topics:

    Acres per pig

    Fencing

    Shelter

    Pasture

    I would suggest having some form of open shelter with a wall on the windward side and a roof to protect from rain in the wet seasons. Plenty of dry bedding is key.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  21. Karen says:

    I’ll need to read more of your blog :-) I live in northern Idaho like peppylady but unlike her clay soil, our land sounds like yours — acidic, thin topsoil, filled with rocks. It’s hard to drive a t-post or even the electric netting spikes into the soil without hitting a rock. The only things that grow well here are pine trees and the noxious weeds hawkweed, knapweed, toadflaxes and St. John’s Wort. Thanks for the encouragement, I will try to use the pigs and chickens in my garden area this year.

  22. Micky says:

    you say that you plant right after the chickens leave. I have heard that if you do that their fresh manure will burn the plants. what have your expeirances been with that.

  23. Micky,

    I haven't had a problem with the chicken manure burning plants. This may be due to the fact that it is a low volume of manure and the chickens are removed just before planting so there is some time between when the manure was deposited and when the seeds sprout.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  24. Olmec says:

    I am looking at using a couple of pig on our small holding for the purpose of tilling the soil. I noticed the comment about what types of pigs are best for this purpose, the information I was searching on that bought me to your site.

    I also wonder, if you know, do the pigs damage young trees if they are let into pasture that has young trees (no smaller than waist height).

    All the best.
    Olmec

    • Yes, pigs may damage small trees. If you care about the trees, fence a line so as to protect them. If you want to clear the small trees then graze chickens, pigs, sheep and goats for the best results. The combo cleans out brush very well.

  25. Leigh says:

    Hello Mr. Jeffries!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all these questions. I think you are one of the leaders in this ‘back to the grass’ movement.
    I have a few questions. Could you please help me?
    Recently I have been given the opertunity to raise some chickens, I want to do meat and layers. I would use pollynet for chickens, would I be able to put two pigs in with them? Would they try eat the eggs?
    I would move them every couple of days. The pasture is pretty bad, I do have a source of raw milk, wey&skim.
    Also, when should I buy weaned piglets? I can’t keep them through the winter, I’d have to slaughter end of fall.

    Thank you!
    Leigh~

    • Chickens need to be able to get away from the pigs. Keeping them in a small area means the pigs can corner them and kill them. At the very least, round the corners.

      Start the weaners on your pastures as early in the spring as they are open for grazing. You should contact breeders now to reserve piglets and put down a deposit.

  26. Leigh says:

    One more question!!!
    Would pigs, if they don’t eat chickens, would they protect them from weasels?
    lol! Makes me think of Piglet and the Woosels.
    XD
    Leigh~

  27. douglas says:

    Hi folks

    You wrote:
    > Horse manure is readily available but carries tetanus.

    Horse people also figure they need to worm 9 times a year. They use Ivermectin. It takes 2 full seasons to get an earthworm to live in Ivermectin contaminated soil.

    (___)
    {o,o}
    /)__)
    -“-“———–douglas

  28. douglas says:

    Hi Folks

    > Ideally the stumps were cut low to the ground.

    I have never dealt with hardwoods, but, for pine, spruce, poplar, Dfir, a 2 foot high stump (depending on diameter) gives you something to lean on with the tractor when they start to rot. 1″ drilled holes filled with pure chicken shit and water will rot those root crowns pretty quick. I guess chicken poop contains a lot of KNO3. knock the stumps down and light a little fire over the root crown to make a little hot spot of nutrient availability.

    (___)
    {o,o}
    /)__)
    -“-“————douglas

  29. Jeff says:

    Walt, do you still keep sheep? I am getting a couple of goats tommorow to eat down the brush that the pigs don’t seem to be interested in. I am thinking of getting some sheep to co-graze with the pigs too. How do you keep them over the winter? I would think that with all that wool they would over winter without a barn even better then the pigs.

    But I dont know if you watch Victorian Farm, my kids and I love it. Anyways at one point they bring in a seasoned shephard who tells them that sheep are unique in creation in that they are the only creature that is always looking for a way to die.

    • We’re currently sheepless in Orange but soon sheep will return to our pastures. They co-graze very nicely with pigs and poultry. Beware they are death to fruit trees so fence carefully. Sheep do very well over winter provided they have hay, water (mostly they’ll eat snow though – the water is for humans wondering if the sheep have water) and a wind block (terrain, brush, lee of a building, etc). Sheep are not as hardy as pigs, the shepherd is right.

  30. Jean Marie says:

    Hi Walter,

    Thank you for all the information you have provided through your posts! I recently moved to a new property in northern New Hampshire that hasn’t been farmed in 50 years. As a result, there are no established garden beds. I intend to turn 1/4-1/2 acres of our pasture into vegetable production beds using our pigs. When do you recommend moving the pigs to that area of pasture to till up the land? I don’t want to do it too soon (while the ground is still wet) for fear of compacting the soil. I also don’t want to wait too long and miss the opportunity of planting cool weather crops. Currently, the ground is still frozen and covered with snow but the pigs in the woodlot have done a great job of rooting regardless. Any recommendations about timing would be great!

    Thank you,
    Jean Marie

    • You are starting out with land like ours that had been out of farming for a while. This is good in some ways. While there are not the established gardens you are also unlikely to have disease and parasites in the soil due to the rest period. Twice I have known people who took over established farms only to find that there were diseases in the soil that killed or sickened their livestock and caused weak pigs and miscarriages in pregnant pigs. So in a way you are getting the benefit of a fresh start.

      Now is the time to get the pigs on the future growing plots. To make an area into a garden spot you can start any time, even last fall, by making it into a winter paddock. Bedding, urine and manure will build up and in the spring the pigs will work all that into the soil. Best to use pens on the smaller size to encourage the rooting and then to move them out after about two weeks of spring moving. Follow them with chickens for a few weeks who will smooth the soil, eat up sprouting seedlings from the bedding and other weeds. Then move out the chickens and immediately plant. If you are planting for the animals you can plant anything that will love the high nutrient load. If you are planting for your consumption then go with higher plants for this year and skip the ground crops like lettuce and root crops like potatoes, etc. Look to plants that are heavy feeders.

      Each winter you can use the pigs, chickens and other livestock to prepare new gardens, gradually expanding your growing space. If your soil is like ours it is very poor in nutrients and acidic. This technique will make for rich gardens down the road.

      During the summer months do managed rotational grazing out on the fields and they too will gradually improve. The goal there is to graze rather than to root them up. See Rootless in Vermont and Managed Rotational Grazing articles.

  31. ErikaMay says:

    Don’t know if you realize it but…you got some coyotes in with your pigs.

    ;)

    I learned this week that pigs that love to till won’t till if the weather jumps up to 80…then, regardless of the projected weather report, the weather will cool off once you remove the pigs from said area.

    Seriously, though, i have some areas where mine tore up the turf in a long strip leaving big mounds of turf and bare ground. It had been leveled and seeded with lawn grass by the neighbors brother years ago. My neighbor apparently showed my mother a picture of that pasture years ago and same thing: some animals had dug up that same strip 30 years ago. Clearly there is something in the soil right there that they want. I watched them digging one day and could hear everyone chomping away but couldn’t figure out what they were eating. Probably the dirt itself or some mycelia.

    problem is its supposed to be the winter pasture for the sheep and its a lumpy, bumpy and perfect for breaking little ovine ankles. might try to move the piggies back in smaller sections to see if they can’t fix what they wrought.

    • I bet you are right that there is something there in that soil of interest. Perhaps fallen trees are buried there that are producing fungi and other foods. You might run chickens behind the pigs. The hens tend to flatten out the soil. We kept sheep in with our pigs for years. Our land is very rough and rocky and that never seemed to bother the sheep. They were forever hopping on rocks and stumps. They seemed to enjoy the obstacles.

  32. Smallhandsfarm says:

    Walter, I wonder if you have any words of wisdom on “pig tractors.” I love your system of paddocks, but I am not set up for that at this point and am looking for a workable “tractor” system to move them around an area. I’ve done some research and I like the look of this one best. I would need something that a couple of people can move by hand and that’s simple to build. Not pictured on this tractor is a shelter for the pigs so I’m thinking that a simple lean-to over one end would work for summer, at least. Any thoughts? Thanks in advance. (If there’s an article on your site I should start with, let me know…)

    • Pig Tractors, like Chicken Tractors, work on a small scale with frequent moving. We did try this long ago. With more than a few pigs it becomes a bit too much work due to the frequency of moves necessary. Our bigger problem is our uneven terrain. It works better on flat land either kind of tractor or with netting. You might try using hog panels which are 34″ x 16′ such that you put four in a square. Then setup three more after those using one side of the first square. To move the pigs just open the dividing panel. Then close it and move the extra three panels from the first square forward. This would make a 256 sq-ft pig tractor which would be easy to move with just one person yet large enough to not need moving quite as frequently as a smaller Pig Tractor.

      • Smallhandsfarm says:

        Great idea, Walter! I also have terrain issues. My hope, and I’ll need to test this, is that by carefully picking my spots and how the tractor is oriented I can finesse them. The method you suggest would help with this, as the next tractor location could go in any of four directions and could be set up without pigs in it.

        A couple follow-up questions if you don’t mind. One, would you expect pigs to push up under the hog panels in this situation and escape, or if given this space to root, as well as grain, do you think they’ll stay put? If they will push on it I’ll need to come up with a sturdy yet movable system for holding the panels down. Perhaps a handful of T-posts plus clips would do it.

        Second question, what are your thoughts for fastening panels together in a scenario like this? Wire would obviously work, but fastening and refastening it day after day would be a pain. I currently use two cable clamp cord organizers in a similar situation and they’re not the worst things for it, but perhaps there’s another simple solution I haven’t thought of.

        • Yes, if there is no hot wire to keep them off the fence then they will tend to root at the fence. Secure staking is in order. A hot wire in a small space can produce pinballing pigs which is to be avoided. A 16’x16′ space with small pigs is just barely big enough to secure them with a hot wire inside. A 32’x32′ would be better. That uses more panels. Metal T-posts can easily secure the bottom of the fences.

          Zip ties or wire ties work very well. Overlap one square for strength.

  33. Bob says:

    Walter,

    I have really enjoyed reading your blog and have been spending a great deal of time working through it. Thank you for all the time you spend answering questions. I look forward to your book coming out sometime. I am sure that it would be a great seller!

    We are thinking of moving to property in southern Ontario that used to be pasture and hayfields but now has been colonized by eastern red cedar. Do you think that pigs would be useful in helping return this land back to pasture? From what I see in your photos and blog entries, they do well on land that was covered with hardwood tree but I am not sure what they would do with cedar roots etc.

    Thank you!

    • Yes, I expect they’ll trample the cedar if mob grazed highly enough. The trick will be to pass them through small areas at a time where they kill things off. Grasses and clovers can survive this and come back quickly. Woody trees and other things have a harder time coming back from this repeated hard grazing.

  34. Stephanie says:

    Hi Walter – I LOVE your blog and refer to it often – thank you for such a wealth of information! We just brought our 4 pigs to the local abattoir yesterday – boy do we miss them already! They were pure joy and we can’t wait to do it all again next year. We’re already thinking about how we can improve our “system”. One of our goals is to restore our abandoned pasture (which, unfortunately has lots of goldenrod, which the pigs don’t seem to like). We did rotational grazing, moving them every 1 to 3 weeks, which worked well….except, after they were done rooting about, the ground was incredibly uneven with huge ruts and clumps of sod. Should they be eating more of the sod that they root up? (we fed them commercial grain – thought it best for our first year – but plan to reduce or eliminate this next year – maybe it would help if they are hungrier?). We put chickens on the pasture after, like you, but they seem to be too small to do much with the ruts left behind. Any thoughts on how we can get a “smoother finish”? We did not seed the pasture and now have lots of weeds AND big ruts/clumps left in the pasture – so we definitely need to improve this for next year. I’m thinking we can run over it with a wheel hoe to smooth it out a little but I’d love to have the pigs and/or chickens do this work for me, if possible. Oh, yes – we’re in Nova Scotia – probably pretty similar climate to you in VT.

    • If you do some mob grazing you can knock back the goldenrod. After a few years it will be gone. This works with other ‘weeds’ as well since they don’t take trampling well. Timing is important so they expend their energy but don’t get to seed or store for winter.

      The first times they go through a paddock they may do a lot more rooting as they get grubs and tubers. Just seed behind them with the species you want to see like bluegrass, millet, alfalfa, clovers, chicory, beets, turnips, rape, kale, etc. In time the animals should focus more on the easier top forages and root less. Also see this article.

  35. Kate says:

    I ran across your blog after a Google search – I’m in Southern Maine and getting a plot of land that has a lot of scrub and saplings on it. I’m excited to get some pigs to do some natural landscaping.

    I saw that you can use step in posts – is this just for the separation of the pastures into smaller pastures, or will the pigs respect them? I’ve had horses and know how to set up a fence, and we never used step in posts for any kind of permanent situation.

    Thank you so much for your blog, the information is excellent for a newbie like me!

    • Most step-in posts are good for line posts which keep the fence wires spaced apart and make a visual marker. They are not good for corners or anywhere that is going to take a lot of tension. For there I would suggest instead using steel T-posts, boulders, trees or 4″ or greater wooden posts. The pigs respect the electricity and like all animals should be trained to it.

  36. Justin says:

    do you think a smaller number of pigs say 6 weaners through to porkers per acre would be a low enough stocking ratio to be able to leave them on a patch all nonwinter (6 months)?

    • Six pigs in an acre for all winter with snow – they probably would only use a small portion of it. If it is not deep snows such as we have then I would set it up for rotational grazing and divide that acre into ten paddocks or so like in this post which is a quarter acre divided into ten paddocks (e.g., 100′ x 100′ or about 30 meters x 30 meters). More smaller paddocks are better than fewer larger paddocks. Hay replaces warm season grazing for us.

      • Justin says:

        sorry I was meaning non winter ie May to November. Just rather than moving ones’ whole herd quickly have you any experience of just putting a fraction of it on a large area for a longer time?

        Thanks

        • Yes, definitely. For the warm season a full acre would be fine for six pigs. I figure that I can sustainably keep about ten pigs per acre (see here) using pasture without any supplemental feeding. If you supplement then you could do more pigs or less land or have part of that in gardens alternate years. Follow the link to the South Weaning Paddock which has a photo of a mere quarter acre setup that way. We use it as a weaning area for a month so the paddock sizes are graduated to larger and larger but the same idea could be used with more equal sized paddocks.

          The key to rotational grazing isn’t too leave the animals on an area for too long. Too few too long tend to cherry pick the forages, let weed species of plants grow, compact the soil in favorite spots and inhibit plant growth as well as possibly building up parasite loads. By doing rotate out before two weeks and rotate in after 21 days, ideally longer you break parasite life cycles, let the forages grow, trample down weeds and increase the available food per acre.

  37. Theresa says:

    I love your website! Somehow, I always end up at it when I’m trying to find info on raising our pigs. We have just moved to a new place and are using the feeder pigs to till up our future garden plot. Do you worry about worms from the pigs in your garden plots? We use rotational grazing and generally don’t worm our pigs. Perhaps we should worm the sow, but have never noticed a problem with thriftiness. Our pigs are not fed meat byproducts.

    However, we are buying some breeding animals from a place that I believe does use some meat byproducts. Since there are strict rules regarding the feeding of untreated feeds, is the concern of worms from a meat products a thing of the past?

    Thanks!

    • The first year after pigs I don’t grow in ground crops (e.g., carrots) for our family although I will for the pigs. That year I’ll grow high crops like sunflowers, corn, peas, etc. Then the next year I would grow lower crops, then next year in ground crops. That is simply my general policy. However, I’ve never had a problem with parasites showing up in the meat either. The biggest control of parasites is managed rotational grazing. See Worms Au Natural.

      On the incoming livestock, I would suggest quarantine, vaccinations and double chemical deworming with fenbendazole and ivermec so you’re not introducing disease onto your farm. Basic biosecurity.

  38. Trevor says:

    Hi Walter ,

    I was planning to grow vegetables using rotations of pigs followed by chickens as ground disturbance before broadcast.
    If you generally only grow taller garden crops following your pigs, how do you prepare the soil for seed of lower growing plants in successive years?

    • Yes, for human own consumption we start with higher plants after animals. For animal food we will do any including beets, mangels, turnips, etc which we also grow right out in the pastures. There is no proven necessity for this caution but that is how I do it rather than wasting effort on lots of testing. It is simple and effective. Same goes for all types of animals.

  39. Dave says:

    Hi Walter,
    I started in May with two Berkshire, female, weener pigs. I have them in a 50 x 150 electric fence in some field with a shed. Aside from maybe a half dozen small holes, they haven’t really done much to the turf besides flatten by their shed/water/feed areas. I was hoping they would dig like crazy! Any ideas to get them to dig?
    thanks much,

  40. Laurie says:

    I have been looking all over online to try to figure out if I need to remove any spent garden plants that might be harmful to pigs before I put them in to till it up this fall. I was wondering about tomatoes (moved them already) and potato plants, especially the seeds that were produced this year as they are plenty. Any help is very much appreciated.

    I also read about pigs and needing to worm them first if you were to use them in the garden cycle. Is this true? If so, what natural way might you recommend?

    Thanks!

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