These big beautiful ladies are hoping for a morning treat. Let me introduce you – From left to right we have Big Pig, Petra Pig, Saddle Pig and Little Pig. Australia Pig, who is nursing, can be seen off to the far right and behind her is the boar snoozing by the bank as well as miscellaneous piglets milling around. Big Pig, Saddle and Little Pig are sisters – they are the mothers of the other sows. Other actors on the stage: to the left of Big Pig is the gander poking his head up for a look-see, in the mid-ground is a speckled sussex rooster and at the far end of the terrace you can make out some of the sheep – click on the photo to get a larger view.
The sows each have distinctive markings, for example Australia has not one, but two maps of New Guinea and Australia – on her rump and shoulder. Soviet has a hammer and sickle, just like from the old Soviet flag, on her butt. And Big Pig, well, she is big pig. Big Pig also has Groucho Marx eyebrows although they are hard to see here. Little Pig used to be little but now is less so. She has freckles on her butt. Saddle’s markings make her look like she’s got a western saddle on her back. Most importantly, all of them are wonderful mothers.
They are on the sow level in this photo. I carved this terrace out of the hillside last fall. You can see behind them that the sub soil looks pretty rough and barren. Within another two or three years though it will be a rich soil and I’ll turn it into garden space while the pigs work on fertilizing and digging up another terrace. Our top soil is about 1/8th inch thick, very acidic and poor. Plenty of hay and a few years of the pigs, chickens and sheep using the terraces makes for wonderful organic gardens.
Along the bank to the right you can just make out three of the animal dens. We carved these shelters out of the hill and roofed them over. In the winter we stored hay on the den roofs making it easy to toss down to the pigs and sheep. The floor of the dens are raised up a couple of feet above the floor of the terrace so they stay dry even in the worst weather. We fill the dens with hay which the pigs bed down in. Along the windward side of each den there is an extension of the bank to protect the animals from the winter winds. Pigs do very well in the cold and it is a lot healthier in their open dens than it would be closed up in a typical barn where the air is humid and saturated with ammonia.
They eat most of the hay but some of it they work into the soil. This is not wasted for it improves the level of organic matter in the soil, as does the hay that passes through their digestive tracts. They hay also acts to soak up urine, capturing valuable nitrogen. After a few years of this it becomes a rich loamy soil, just perfect for gardening.
In the process of being pigs and doing what pigs do they bring a lot of rocks to the surface of the terrace. This makes it easy for us to get the rocks out of the future garden. Holly, Ben, Will and I then have rock picking parties where we toss the rocks over to the down hill side along the fence line so we can make stone walls.
In addition to providing animal space and future garden space the terraces help control the water runoff. We use to get flash floods coming down the mountain during heavy rainstorms. One of the first things I did when we got here sixteen years ago was to put drain pipe and gravel around the foundation and berm the soil to divert the water away from the house and keep it out of the house – the first winter when we arrived in February there had been a skating pond in the cellar.
Now the terraces do one better – they capture the water so it soaks into the soil and is retained for the plants. What does run off is now diverted down to the pig pond through a series of small ponds and waterers. This gives the animals places to drink as well as great wallows for cooling off in the summer heat. You can’t see it but just behind the sows in this picture there is a small pond, a puddle really, maybe 15′ x 10′ which they love to bath in. The bathtub on the right is filled by the overflow of a waterer higher up the hill and then overflows into the sow puddle.
And yes, they did get their expected treat. :)