Pastured Pigs

As I mentioned yesterday the hills are alive with the colors of spring which you can see in the background of this photo looking across the south field pasture. The sows greeted us at the upper divider fence hoping we had some treats. In this photo you can also see some piglets on left just beyond a rock and the goose in the middle. Sheep are off in the distance. A beautiful day for grazing.

The fence that is visible this photo is three strands of hot electric polywire on step in posts. This is a quick an easy way to put up a fence. This line runs from one end to the other of the south field dividing up the field into paddocks. At each end the polywire attaches to the high tensile fencing. We are about to put in more lines to further sub-divide the south field for the summer. This will concentrate the livestock’s’ grazing into a smaller area which is more efficient. While they are grazing in one section the others have a chance to re-grow and parasites die off. Once an area is grazed down we move the animals to the next section.

I like these black step-in posts better than the white posts which break in the cold weather. The white step-in posts we have used in the past have a large headed nail for the spike at the bottom. In cold weather the differential thermal expansion between the fragile plastic and the steel causes the plastic to break off at that point. For this reason I take the white posts in to the cellar in the winter. The black posts don’t have that thickening which causes the problem with the bases of the posts breaking. Another problem with the white posts is they have snap on clips for the wires. The clips break easily. On the black posts the attachment points are non-moving so there is a lot less breakage.

The sheep and pigs make good complementary grazers. They both eat the grasses, herbs and brush. Pigs love some plants that the sheep ignore like burdock, thistles and brambles. That’s a mouthful! Sheep browse the brush and strip the bark much more than the pigs thus killing the saplings. The pigs then tear up the dead brush and trample them into the soil which helps to rejuvenate the section of the south field that used to be woods. We cut that area back to the original stone wall boundaries a few years ago and let the brush grow up. Now they’re bush hogging it.

The guineas, roosters and a few hens who are out with them also help. They aren’t visible in this photo but do an important job running around breaking up poops and clearing out parasites. The mix of animals, intensive rotational grazing and letting the fields rest is part of a natural organic cycle of improving the soil, the plants and minimizing parasites like worms, ticks and other pests. Another thing that the poultry do is scratch the soil smooth after the pigs. This gives the pasture a light tilling and discing. Interestingly, the pigs till much more in the brushy areas than in the lush grass pasture sections.

While the goose does graze he is really is an extra on this set. Or maybe he is security for the crew. His favorite thing is to follow the little piglets around. They start out as his many small charges and quickly grow to out weigh him by an order of magnitude. The goose is quite protective of the piglets although he has learned not to mess with the dogs – they are lords of their herds and flocks. The goose challenged Saturn, once. Saturn promptly pinned the goose’s head to the ground with a paw and growled once – Social rank resolved.

Also see: Keeping Pigs for Meat

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About Walter Jeffries

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26 Responses to Pastured Pigs

  1. karl says:

    excellent info on the black posts. i have just started considering my electric fencing options. i appreciate the insight.

  2. Peter comly says:

    Do your pigs tear the pasture up completely or mostly just graze. Pigs are the problem child of our farm because they generally destroy the pasture for the cows. I have been trying to figure out how to let them graze but prevent them from rooting without ringing them, which I refuse to do. Any suggestions?

  3. Peter, if you look in the background of that photo you can see how the pasture looks after a month of the pigs and sheep. This section is heavily grazed but they didn’t dig it up. They are about to get moved off that area so that it can re-grow. They rarely dig in the nice pasture areas. They do root in the brushy areas, uprooting the saplings. Digging rarely goes down more than a few inches.

    I find that if I confine them to too small an area then they will dig down as much as six inches or so. I use this feature of the pigs to till my garden and crop areas. They also fertilize at the same time. An easy way to have them do tilling is to use poultry netting. That fences a 40′ x 40′ space. I leave the pigs in until they have turned it up well. After I move them out I move our chickens in. They break up the poops, smooth the soil, eat any bugs and remaining plants. This leaves a nicely tilled, fertilized and smooth garden space. Then I move the hens out and plant immediately. The trick is not to leave the pigs in an area so long that they pack the soil.

    Conversely, for pasture that I don’t want to have tilled by the pigs I am sure to give them plenty of space. When they have lots of room I find they root very little. They graze instead. When they do root, it is only an couple inches down. Again I follow them with chickens who smooth out any bumps. If you are getting excessive rooting I would give the pigs more space. I see them do the most rooting early in the spring when they first get out on pasture and then

    If that doesn’t work then it is possible that there is a difference in breeds although I doubt that would be the reason. Our pigs are primarily Yorkshire with a little bit of Glouster Old Spot and Tamworth.

    The other possibility is what one considers a problem. Take a look at the close-up of the photo above (click on it) to get a sense of what our field is like after they have grazed a section heavily.



  4. Marge says:


    When you say ‘plenty of space’ for pasturing pigs, how much space per pig?

  5. Marge,

    Currently we have about 20 acres of pasture for our 200 pigs so that is about 10 pigs per acre. That is not an exacting number to follow like gospel. The size of the pigs, age of the pigs, other feed, season, pasture species, brushy, soil all affect how much land is needed per pig. Here is an article that talks about the topic of how much land per pig.



  6. Heidi says:

    Great blog, so much information!

    We have a small flock of Shetland sheep and want to add pigs to the mix. I am really pleased to read that I can pasture them together, and reading your blog has given me all the information we needed to move forward.

    You talk about how many pigs per acres you keep, but I was wondering how many sheep you also have sharing the acreage?

    We are thinking we will start small with the pigs, if we have 1 boar, how many sows should we have?


  7. Heidi,

    I would count sheep as about equal to pigs in grazer units. That is to say, if you add one sheep remove one pig from the equation. This isn’t exactly true since they like to eat slightly different things but its good enough math since pastures vary both with location and season.



  8. Jon Abrahamson says:

    I was just wondering if you would do the sheep before the pigs on a paddock or the pigs before the sheep? My parents run a hobby farm with pigs, sheep, and chickens so this blog is very interesting to read. I am hoping that you still keep up with it since it has not been written on since 2009. How could one add steers to the grazing pattern?



    • We graze the pigs and sheep together. They work well co-grazing. If I were going to do them successionally grazing I would run the sheep first, perhaps and the chickens last.

      I don’t know about steers since I’ve never had them. Something that I hope to do in the future. My guess would be to put them in the forward rotation if separating the animals.

      I’m not sure why you’re not seeing posts beyond 2009. I’ve been posting almost every day since 2005. Perhaps you’re just looking at the comments that are on this one article. Look in the right hand column for the calendar and for the Archives which will lead you to back posts or use the tag cloud to find articles about particular topics.



  9. Jon Abrahamson says:

    That is helpful, I was just wondering if you have ever seen a problem with the pigs and sheep fighting each other. I heard a story once where somebody was pasturing pigs alongside a few steers and the steer must have gotten a cut and the pigs went after the blood resulting in some steers put in a bad way…

    Also, what kind of forages do you have in your pasture?


  10. Tom Y says:


    I see you are using the metal? push in posts…how are you preventing unintentional grounding? I dont see or didnt read about the use of any unsulators…

    • We use insulators to hold the electric wires on any metal or wood posts.

      • Tom Y says:

        Ok thanks…I thought that was the case but didnt see any on the pic so just wanted to be sure Iwas understanding right!

        If I was to fence I would like to use those metal step in posts as well..I used some fiberglass rods for keeping coons out of the corn, after a few years those post start fraying…fiberglass splinters do not feel good!

        • The posts in the photo at the top are plastic, not metal. Thus they don’t have any added insulators because they are insulators. The plastic posts work well for line posts but can not take any serious force. For corner posts and end posts I prefer metal T-posts, trees and rocks. Note that not all plastic posts are created equal. Some die quickly in the cold and sun. The best we have found are these from Kencove. We have thousands of them. They last very well. Just don’t put too much force on them or they’ll bend. I do not like fiberglass posts because of the splintering and the potential for impaling.

  11. Brian says:

    I love that you pasture your pigs. It is so good to see them outdoors.

  12. Nicole says:

    I’m wondering about pasturing our 10 week old piglets (tamworth x lg. black) in with our 3 ewes, 1 ram, and 3 two month old lambs? I don’t want any casualties, but would really like to be able to graze them together. Did you ever have lambs in with your pigs? A ram in with your piglets?

  13. Tom Chalmers says:

    I have a pasture that I am going to reseed this Spring and am wondering about planting something other than field grasses, say barley or buckwheat? I can keep the pigs off it until mid summer or so. We also plant extra pumpkins and squash that go to the pigs, but I like the idea of turning them out in something other than grass to graze on.


    • I have grown buckwheat and it has done very well in our fields. There is a a question of sunlight sensitivity caused by buckwheat – I do not know how much of a problem that is.

      Barley can grow well and in its soft seed form the pigs eat and get a good bit of food value. Dry much of it passes right through. Oats and other seed grasses are good to have in the mix.

      Kale, rape, beets, mangles, turnips and other brassica’s are all good to mix in the fields in our climate which is similar to yours in Mass.

      Legumes including different varieties of clover and alfalfa are good choices too.

      We frost seed and now is probably the time where you are – we still have significant snows.

  14. Chandra says:

    We are pasturing our pigs also. This is our first go round with pigs and was wondering how you deal with ticks. Our pigs seem to be getting quite a few. We live in an area with fairly dense underbrush and lots of deer so ticks are unavoidable if let roam on pasture.

    • Although we have a lot of brush and deer as well as moose, real tick magnets, I’ve never seen ticks on our pigs. I’ve occasionally found them on our dogs or ourselves. I suspect that we have a low number of ticks and all the ones I’ve found are dog ticks. Our low tick count is probably due to to things our cold snowy winters and the fact that we keep a lot of chickens. Chicks dig ticks. They eat them up, along with other insect pests. Perhaps if you have a lot of free ranging chickens they’ll solve your tick problem. Ours tend to follow our pig herds naturally. I do not fence for the chickens other than to keep them out of garden areas.

  15. Chandra says:

    Thanks for the reply. We live in Oklahoma. I sometimes feel its the tick Capitol of the world. They are everywhere. I do have free ranging chickens ( about 30). Maybe I should get more and try guinea fowl. I don’t know, I’m trying to stay as organic as I can but may have to give in to some kind of medicated tick control.

    • I highly recommend more chickens. They do a great job with organic pest control. We did have guineas for a few years. I find that they’re very loud and don’t lay nearly the volume of eggs, neither count nor mass since their eggs are smaller. Our chickens’s first job is the insect control but the side benefit of a lot of eggs is a wonderful bonus. We cook the eggs and feed them to the younger pigs. Cooking doubles the available protein and eggs are a great natural source of food we can produce from our own pastures for our pigs who in turn are our end product to consumers.

  16. Sean Govan says:

    What are the heights of the three strands of polywire?

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