Late Risers


North Field Sows & Piglets

Pigs tend to be late risers. They generally go to bed early too. This is a communal nest of about half a dozen sows of various sizes and assorted piglets. Three to seven adults is pretty typical. As the piglets get older they’ll tend to form their own cohorts and start sleeping separately.
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This nest is in the upper north field, just below the water line road. I saw them the other morning as I walked up to check the springs. There were several nests out in that field like this and they were just beginning to wake up.

This field, and many others on our farm, was cleared by the settlers 200 years or more ago, stone walls were built and then in the early 1900’s the fields were gradually abandoned. By 1939, the first arial photo I have of our land, this field was grown in to forest. When we came here in the 1980’s it was thick forest with mature sugar maple trees. In 2009 we cut back the forest to the stone walls of this field and some others adding about 40 acres to our farm’s fields. Now the pigs are helping with the next step of field making, regenerate it to field, bush hogging it as it were. Doing it slowly like this saves the nutrients in the soil, saves soil from washing away and gradually adds organic matter spread naturally by the pigs, their urine and manure. The pH is slowly rising toward neutral – a good thing as our soils were so acidic.

In parts of the field there is lots of regen, which can be seen here. They pigs love the mix of pasture, brush and trees. Over time they’ll take out much of the brush leaving patches and turning the pasture more and more toward grasses and clovers. All this happens without my having to risk driving the tractor with a mower on our steep hill sides. The far south field is a step ahead of this field and the south field is ahead of that having been recut in 1998.

This field is about 10 acres so that is a lot of area to renovate. A few pigs don’t make a dent in it. This summer we shifted over 30 sows from the far south field to this field to be with Spitz, our new Berkshire boar. With them are hundreds of piglets. They’re starting to make a noticeable difference in the progress of the field. In a few years it will catch up with the south field. We shift the herds around to different fields which then gives each field a growing season of rest. During that time it stock piles forages which also go to seed saving me some cost and effort of seeding.

It is really good to see each year how the land improves from the grazing. Our soils are remarkably better than they were ten and fifteen years ago. Deep forests are low in biodiversity and the soils are poor. The mix of forest, brush and open pastures results in greater biodiversity. With open space the legumes like alfalfa and clover are able to grow, sucking nitrogen down from the sky – free fertilizer. We’re seeing more wildlife. This same day I took this photo Remus and I saw a big buck bounding away from us through the trees up by the maple sugar sap house on Sugar Mountain.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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5 Responses to Late Risers

  1. Beth says:

    Love your blog, Walter!
    We are starting a farm (year 2) and have about 25 pigs (mostly piglets) and 40+ acres of hilly pine forest, along with 25 acres of pasture. We’re looking at putting in more permanent fencing/infrastructure and thinking it would be best to keep the dairy cows in the pasture and put the pigs in the wooded hillside/meadow areas, but the pigs are rooting terribly and we’re afraid the ground will be destroyed and the weeds take over since we can’t get a tractor in to re-plant. How do you deal with rooting in hilly/wooded areas? Thank you!

    • Rooting is good for the field. If you do managed rotational grazing the fields grow back better than before. The rooting is probably a sign that there is interesting food under the soil, grubs and tubers. We see this in the brushy paddocks. Then once they have cleared the under food and the surface forages have come in the pigs then graze instead of root. See Rootless in Vermont. We see very little rooting in the developed pastures. When the pigs are rooting this is a prime opportunity to seed behind them with grasses and legumes like alfalfa, clover, etc. This saves you the need to till and makes it so you don’t have to get out the tractor to replant.

      On the pine forest, there won’t be much good food there. Oak forests are better, beech is good, but pine tends to have little of food value under them. I would rotate the pigs behind the cattle. There is an old saying about two cows can support one pig. The pigs eat the cow poop which still has a lot of nutrients in it since the cows are very wasteful feeders. Then follow the pigs with poultry. This is a natural cycle and it will result in improvement in the fields.

  2. Bernie says:

    I have been following your blog for a couple of years. I have been trying to rejuvenate a family property in southeastern Mass for the past few years using sheep and a bush hog. I have a 16 acre section that we cleared with a conservation grant, but I have been losing ground in the past couple years. My sons and I have been dreaming of using pigs to help out (lamb is tasty, but you can eat pork several times a week). I am a weekend/evening farmer with a full time day job (if only farming could maintain my family’s life they are accustomed to). We have a LOT of greenbriers in this section, which I refer to as New England barbed wire. If I confine pigs on a small section at a time, will they root out the long tubers of greenbriers? Do I need to bush hog it first so they can penetrate the area? Sheep are good at defoliating brush, but they cannot penetrate the thickets of greenbriers and wild rose (velcro effect). I have considered goats, but then you have goats! Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
    Bernie

    • Pigs will go right through thistles, burdock, raspberries, black berries, briars, brambles, wild rose, etc. They love them. If you want to clear out these things run pigs through the area. If you’re trying to grow berries or fruit trees, then fence off these areas to protect them from pigs, sheep, goats, etc. There is no need to bush hog when you have real hogs. Lambs, piglets, chickens and ducks are good for weeding under these. This is why we use double fences parallel to each other for protecting these sorts of things which also provide shade. Caution: Bacon is a side effect. :)

    • traye says:

      I don’t know if they are the same thing, but a lot of people call the smilax we have here in SE NC greenbriars (we have several species). If they are one and the same as what is in Mass then, yes, the pigs will eat them. All my pigs love the leaves as new shoots come up and SOME of them really like the tubers, which can be gigantic, I’ve dug them up to about 18 inches in diameter. They are very fibrous and I don’t see how they can be great food but some of the pigs really dig them.

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