Winter Garden Paddock
During the warm months from spring through late fall our pigs graze out on our pastures across the mountain side. We have about 70 acres of pasture which we use in a grand rotation of about 40 acres per year and then within that we do managed rotational grazing. Late in the year we open up those stock piled additional 30 acres as the fields fade into fall. As the snows deepen we call in the livestock to the central five to ten acres which are winter paddocks like the one in the picture which contains Spitz, our Berkshire boar, two sows Ophra of the Blackieline and PrettyGirl of the Yorkshires as well as 32 grower size pigs.
Winter paddocks are like deer yards out in the forest. These are places the animals pack the snow harder so that they can move more easily. I purposefully design these spaces to be low and in the lee of wind blocks. Our winters are cold and dry, and very windy. It’s windy here on the mountain pretty much all year round but the winter wind is particularly cutting. By putting the winter paddocks down low in the landscape and behind knolls, hedgerows, trees and open sheds we gain protection from the wind.
In these protected winter paddock areas we have three sided sheds, caves and open greenhouses that provide even more protection as well as belly warmth with their deep bedding packs. As the weather gets colder and the snows get deeper the pigs, chickens, ducks, geese and sheep naturally confine their activities to these sheltered areas, these winter paddocks.
Eventually our fence lines get covered as the snow pack builds up. We turn off the lower wires on the fences as they become buried and eventually the entire fence. The animals are not incline to wander because going outside their yards where they have compacted the snow means stepping into deep snow. Sharp pointy feet are not compatible with the deep snows. Even the long legged deer know this. Short legged animals like pigs are even more incline to stick to the trails and yards to avoid floundering.
In the spring the snow pack has become hard enough that some of the smaller pigs are light enough to be able to walk on the hard crust like the group of growers in the photo above who are exploring the new-to-them landscape. They were born during January in the winter paddock in the foreground of the photo, our lower garden paddock. They have know winter all their lives, almost a Helliconia Winter relative to their life spans.
In about a month these grower pigs will witness a strange transformation of the world where the white will disappear to be briefly replaced by sweet brown earth and then a strange color like that of the great tractor will splash across the land and feathery protrusions will burst from the tips of the tree branches. Liquid water will flows across the landscape as music to our ears. They will learn about the wonders of the wallow as the days turn hot, the sun rises higher and the herds migrate north and further afield out in to the mountain pastures filled with green grasses, legumes and other tasty forages.
In the spring with the flush of new foliages the pigs’s growth rate will explode. These pigs have thrived through the cold of winter on the dry hay stored from last year’s pastures just as we can fruits and vegetables for our family’s table. But the saved over foods are never quite as good as the fresh and during the winter some of our calories go towards simply keeping us all warm through the cold season. Being able to farrow and thrive through winter is a hard course and takes good genetics, something we’ve been selecting for over more than a decade.
With the bursting of spring buds in the warm sunshine the chickens will find insects and the pigs will find fresh forages. Both will blossom with the abundance of fresh food. So too will the summer gardens that were our winter paddocks. During the cold sterile frozen months the livestock shelter in these south facing wind protected spaces. Once the animals go out to fresh pastures in the spring we plant our summer crops on the inner acres. These will thrive in the rich fertile soil left by the pigs and poultry. Most of our land is poor mountain gravel but where we have wintered livestock the soil is rich with organic matter and ideal for planting nutrient hungry annual crops.
Weeds are minimal in the summer gardens for plantings because the livestock, the chickens in particular, peck them out for us. Weeds are just food by another name and the animals are eager to do their share by eating up the weeds. The result is we have gardens where the desired plants can get a head start. By timing the cycle of winter livestock, spring chickens and summer crops we minimize the labor of growing acres of pumpkins, sunflowers, beets, turnips, radishes, broccoli, squash, sunchokes and other foods that become late fall feeds for our livestock as the cycle revolves again to the snow season and the gardens become winter paddocks once again.
Spring is probably still a month off. We just got more snow and more is due. Our fields are blindingly white. But, in the good news the crust is hard and the animals have been able to explore further off the beaten path. They think that is grand. The dogs think otherwise and keep bringing them back down from the higher pastures. The dogs have other concerns the pigs don’t quite understand. The spring coyote songs are on the wind and our dogs are singing back. Time to reestablish territories and negotiate treaties anew.
Outdoors: 44°F/25°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/62°F
Daily Spark: No man should be allowed to be President who does not understand hogs. President Harry S. Truman