Turnip Patch Turned Out

Pigs in the Turnips Patch

Yesterday evening I opened up the gate into the almost one acre plateau in the south field. It is mostly turnips and beets with some cabbages, mangles, radishes, pumpkins and other crops. The pumpkins have been dismal but the root crops and cole crops have done well along with the clover.

The pigs were very excited. Once they were clear that the electric fence was no longer blocking the way they rushed in to forage. The leafy tops were their first pick with roots being saved for later. Over the next two weeks they’ll clean that garden up, till it, fertilize it and prepare it for winter. The farmer we buy round bales of hay from will deliver about then. The trees are changing color. The hills are wearing their coat of many colors. Winter is coming but hopefully not too quickly. We have a lot of projects we want to close in before the temperatures plummet and the hard snows come.

Update: The pigs cleared the one acre of turnips and other root & cole crops in about seven days. There were about 40 big pigs averaging about 600 lbs each plus about 80 smaller grower pigs averaging perhaps 50 pounds each. This comes to about 28,000 pounds of pigs or about 140 finisher pig equivalents. Thus the one acre of is enough food for 980 days of dining. Do realize that the root crops and their tops were not the pig’s only diet during this time. They also had access to pasture in section one of the south field and they had free access to whey. The turnip patch was only one part of their diet.

Still, it is interesting as it gives an idea of how much land would be necessary to feed a pig supplemental food in addition to the dairy and pasture/hay. Useful for figuring out how much I might need to plant to take us through the low time of the fall and winter.

300 pig equivalents x 180 days = 54,000 pig feeding days over the cold season.

Divided by 980 days of dining per acre => 55 acres to supply enough turnips and such as the pigs would choose to eat in a free feeding situation along with pasture/hay and dairy. That is more than I have available.

Flip that around and one acre of turnip patch is enough to feed up about 5 pigs when they also have free access to pasture/hay and dairy.

One thing to keep in mind is that about half of that ‘turnip patch’ was planted in pumpkins which failed this year. Lots of vines but almost no fruit. Had the pumpkins not been there we would have had more turnips. Had the pumpkin crop flourished we would have had more food from that one acre. In any case, the above numbers represent a reasonable reality since one must plant a diverse set of crops to allow for the potential failure of any crops. One can’t plan for perfect plantings. Reality is.

Outdoors: 62°F/42°F Mostly Cloudy, Spots of Sun, Light Evening Rain
Tiny Cottage: 69°F/62°F

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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47 Responses to Turnip Patch Turned Out

  1. Mary Ricksen says:

    If I could I'd send some of this heat up there so you'd have a longer season. Cause it's really hot here.
    I miss the seasons and the farms up North. There is none of that here.
    Here's hoping for a long Indian Summer for you.

  2. Jon says:

    I have been reading your blog all summer and I love it. We raised our own butcher chickens this year and some laying hens and took a big step forward and raised 4 pigs… almost ready for butcher yea! Anyway I have seen you post on some topics on other sites as well and had a couple questions. Do you have any problems with your vegetable gardens not producing well (ie not many tomatoes on vines)after using hog manure? Also a friend that used to raise hogs said that if you feed them the whole plants with the roots not cut off from a garden that was hog manure fertilized and the hogs from the year before carried some disease it can be passed on…. apparently they had some pigs get a rash that had to be treated with antibiotics that stemmed from eating plants roots from a garden fertilized with hog manure the year before…. sounds fishy to me but what are your thoughts?

  3. Hi Jon,

    I've never heard of that and we've never had any problem. We have acres of gardens, mostly that we grow for fall and winter feed for the animals. They help with tilling, fertilizing, disking, planting and harvesting. The plants do great.

    The only problem this year was the extensive rain and cloud cover until August set most plants back but that has nothing to do with pig manure.

    Composting the manure would certainly be one option. The problem is you need to collect it. When I clean out a winter area this is possible sometimes but generally not because the animals spread their manure across the pastures as is natural.

    If I'm growing crops for us I like a rotation of the animals through the garden, then high crops (e.g., broccoli, corn, etc.). Next year surface crops and after that root crops. The pigs produce excellent garden soil from our very poor mountain soil. In fact, improving our gardens was one of the reasons we started keeping livestock almost two decades ago. It's hard to find the good shit.

    Cutting off the roots sounds like a lot of unnecessary hard work that would deprive the pigs of minerals and good nutrients. If you're worried about disease, consider feeding garlic on a regular basis. See the "Worms Au Natural" post.



  4. Craig says:

    Hey Jeffries …. Where are you on Facebook ? Come on man …..Your lagging behind now …. Blogs are so passe :)

  5. Craig,

    I'm not lagging behind at all. I have a Facebook page. It says: "Please note that I do not actually use Facebook. This account happened incidentally. Better to reach me at my blog: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/blog"

    Facebook is slow and awkward. It uses email to tell me I have messages. They should just send me my messages. It uses the web to show and connect. It's all redundant and wasteful. Far faster to simply use the web and email directly. The very fact that you think I didn't have a Facebook page when I do demonstrates why Facebook doesn't work. If it worked you would have easily found me.

    Facebook is so self-centered that they waste time trying to get me to click through to confirm frineds and all that. If you did find me on Facebook, and chose to ignore the warning that I don't use it, then you wouldn't get to me because I have my email filters set up to automatically direct all Facebook emails to my trash.

    Ironically we were having a similar discussion on this topic last night. Nobody in our family, ages 6 through 17 or adults could see why one would want to bother with Facebook. It has no advantages over blogs, email, the web, etc. It's just one more layer.

    Systems should work to make things easier, not more difficult or complicated. Facebook fails that test so I don't use it. It's that simple. Facebook's a failure.



    • Yvonne says:

      I completely agree with you. Facebook is the worst for marketing. You have to pay and friend fallow or like everything and everyone. You also have to be in every group amd page. It is ridiculous.

      • It’s now almost a decade later and I still feel like Facebook is an unnecessary layer. I prefer direct communications of email and direct publishing of a blog. That said, Facebook does seem to have found it’s niche in people who what what it offers. Still, if someone want’s to reach me they’re better off emailing me than using Facebook as I may or may not see a Facebook message but read my email several times a day.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I just love the pictures of your pigs living unfettered out in the fields as nature intended. That is such a beautiful scene.

  7. Craig says:

    You need a Fan Page ….. Facebook is a marketing dream. Its free and has the possibility of getting far greater #'s then your blog. Especially new viewers. I think you need to rethink this one Brother.

  8. Uh, Craig, I have millions of visitors at my blog. I can't grow enough pork for that many people. I'll let the marketers keep Facebook. Its just one more extra unnecessary layer of processing. Sort of like TV dinners.

  9. Walter, I too had very negative feelings about Facebook. Got on it, got off ,now on again. I use it primarily for the self-centered boost I seem to need and my large extended family and I use it for bits of trivia, pics and fun jabs at each other. My blog has served as the best way to share FARM info for those who choose to read it, a phone call is best for PERSONAL info, a hand written letter is priceless these days but nothing will ever beat the joy and honesty of face to face. Keep on bloogin'!

  10. Anna says:

    Craigs right Walter. Facebook is a marketers dream. And a total ugly. Your blog has useful articles. Facebooks just chatter.

  11. Jan says:

    Even worst than facebook is twitter. I love the doonsbury series they did on twits. Hugely funny and so true. Both show how people have lost their attention span. Keep up the great posts. I love your long articles about how you do things on the farm, farm life and expecially our secret project.

  12. mark says:

    email blogs web sites face book twitters each sorta serve different functions. twits are short on the go communications which i think were really originally meant for phones with their limited keys and pdas. blogs and web sites are really for the sort of thing walter does both here and on his nonais.org blog. i do agree that facebook has very poorly implemented their interface between it all. the way they send out emails and then want you to click through and confirm and sign in and it all takes way too much time. i tried it but dumped it. face to face or email or phone is what i like.

  13. David Anders says:

    Ahem but back to the topics of turnips I am wondering how much of your pigs food you are able to grow? How long does it take them to eat up that patch in the picture and how much do you think is there in pounds of dry matter which is how feed is usually measured?

    I would love to hear more about what you grow for the various animals. Feed bills have gotten so outragious. The commercial feed we buy has more than doubled. Any way we could grow my own next year would save us a lot.

    By the way I really appreciate your blog. Keep up the good work.

  14. David,

    I don't have exact numbers on how much beets, turnips, cabbage, pumpkins and other assorted crops we produce. Currently it only makes up about 3% of their diet by estimate. Sometimes more, sometimes less depending on season and how well the crops do. The pasture makes up about 90% of the pigs' diet in the warm months and then we buy hay that replaces the pasture during the winter. Whey, butter, cream, milk and cheese, that is to say dairy, is the other component, about 7%, of their diet.

    The patch above is a little less than an acre. After two days of munching they've eaten most of the tops. They still have the roots, the actual beets, mangles and turnips, to go. I did notice they munched down the few pumpkins right away. I expect they'll have that area fully cleared in a week or two.

    My eventual goal is to grow enough crops like the pumpkins and turnips to take us through the late fall and winter when pasture isn't available. Each year we've increased our herd size so it is a bit of a moving target. With our new fields I anticipate planting a lot more, with the help of the pigs. Most of our land is too steep and too rocky for conventional planting so we simply over seed and let the pigs trample the seeds into the soil. A very old technique.

    As to what you should grow? Big questions are:
    What grows well for you?
    What are you good at growing?
    What is easy to grow for you?
    What fares well in your soil?
    What fits your climate?

    I would suggest a diverse mix of crops since some seasons turn out to be a failure for one crop or the other. Weather is less than predictable.



  15. Craig says:

    I never meant quit the blog ….. But use FB as a tool …..

  16. Michelle says:

    Did you buy this mix of seed from a seed producer or did you go buy several types of seed and then mix them yourself? I think this is something we would be interested in doing next season, wondering where to start.

    Is a mangle a large type of beet? And when you mention beets do you mean the type we would also eat or are they a commercial/feed variety?

    Twitter is useless, sorry if folks like it. Who wants to constantly take the time to post these stupid little blurbs?! I'm not into facebook, but the teens are. I think it's the whole "how many friends do we have" thing.

  17. Michelle,

    We buy seeds of the various varieties we want to plant and mixed them in pails. For small areas we just hand sow by scattering. For larger areas, say around an acre or more, we have hand cranked spinning seeders that work very well to evenly distribute the seeds.

    A key is to seed just before a rain and ideally while the pigs or sheep are still in an area. The animals trod the seed into the soil but don't eat it as it is too small for them. The rain soaks it and further covers the seed with soil when it splashes up dirt. Do not seed with chickens around – they think you're spreading feed and they will peck it up to a large degree.

    The beets are actually several varieties, some commercial feed types and some garden types. I've been watching to see what does best. Mangels are an old time winter feed for cattle, sheep and pigs. This is our first year growing them. They did well. Look odd. Pigs like them about as much as the other things. Thus a success. We got some from Seeds of Change.



  18. JoeLarry says:

    You tipped your hat on the butchering blog Walter(as if it wasn't obvious to begin with.) Please hurry construction as I am excited about the 'Folly" start date ! Much good wishes to you and yours.

  19. I really appreciate this discussion. We want to raise more of our own food here and more of our own livestocks food to. I would be particley interested in sources of seeds and varieties and types you plant I hope you will post more about that. Corn grows real well here. We havebottom land.

    On the facebk thing I dont have one or twitter but my mom does. She said that it used t obe good that it was about people and then it became this contest for popularity and now theyre selling friends that companies use it for marketing and it is losing its fun appeal. Seems like one of those passing fad things. I actually thought it had been replaced by twits which seems silly to me.

  20. Mea says:

    Wow, I love the colors in the background of your picture- the red tree is especially beautiful! One thing about the South, we don't have those glorious northern New England falls!

  21. CarolG. says:

    Walter, I have been reading and enjoying your blog for a while now. I am wondering if you seed your pastures or have any noxious weeds you have to remove. Thanks

  22. We do over seeding with alfalfa, clovers, grasses and herbs. Ideally I like to do this just as the animals are leaving a pasture and before a rain. This maximizes the germination. The pigs and sheep don't get the seeds and they trample them into the soil. Chickens though can be a problem with this and need to be kept off newly seeded areas.

    We also frost seed in the fall for spring growth. In the spring we never have time to do it. The frost opens the soil and covers the seed which survives well through the winter. Some loss there probably to mice over the winter but not significantly.

    I thought I was going to have to remove the thistles and burdock but it turns out pigs absolutely love both those plants. They eat the tops, including the thorns, and dig up the roots and eat those. For years before we had pigs we had battled both of these by hand clipping. We had made good progress but it was a lot of work and the pigs are far more efficient at it. They love their work and taste great too. Now all the pastures are clear of both these plants.

    There was dog's bane in the pastures which is supposed to be toxic but that vanished after the pigs and sheep began grazing. The plant is tall and noticeable but fragile. I think they simply trampled it.

    • Sean Govan says:

      I have never planted anything with this method before and have trouble visualizing the details. How long do you keep the chickens off the newly seeded areas? Do you just make a judgment call on when the seed looks sufficiently trampled in? And importantly, how do you convince the chickens to stay out of the area for that long, if the pigs are there?

      Aha…maybe you only have to keep the chickens out during the actual seed-throwing. If they don’t see you throwing anything on the ground, maybe they don’t clean up so hard afterwards. Is that it?

      • You can fence the chickens out or better fence the chickens into another area.

        Another trick I use which also works on the wildlife is that I simply plant radishes a week ahead. Once the radishes come up I plant the next seeds I really want there. The radishes are unpalatable to the animals so they leave the area alone and the target seeds can grow big enough that the animals then leave those alone.

  23. johnl says:

    Hi Walter and family, I read your blog every day. I think it keeps me grounded in my own past on a tiny farm here in Ireland where we practised a lot of the methods you have because that was all we knew at the time. I've never been comfortable with modern intensive methods and I think you and others are a great encouragement to those who have a feeling they should be doing something to keep natural food cultivation alive. This year I stared growing my own veg again though our wet, wet summer put pressure on me. Great feeling to eat your own produce. Keep up the work. Slรกn.

  24. Turnips.. I was thinking when I first started reading it, turnip greens and bacon grease… Then I read on… The pre-bacon is in the greens… I read that during the depression this is what farmers fed their swine, root crops… Pretty cool!

  25. Cath says:

    I admitt it. I am a face book user. I kind of got sucked into it by friends. Yes those kinds of friends who hand out free samples. I have to agree with the slowness and layered thing it is more awkerward than it could be. but Some of us are not as skilled at making a blog. I do love your blog and please please keep posting!!!!

  26. oliver says:

    how does this acreage go into winter? is it basically bare soil from the grazing and then rooting? do you put down seeds just before the pigs are out and then these come up in the spring? no issues with big muddy erosion during thaws ‘n rains? thanks !

    • What you’re looking at above is the south field plateau which is a garden. This is very different than pasture. Pastures are covered in grasses, clovers and other plants. We do managed rotational grazing whereby the animals are moved after they have grazed some. The pastures don’t go down to bare ground. There is not even get significant rooting. Contrary to myth, pigs are excellent grazers when properly rotated.

      The gardens are generally flatter areas, terraces that we’ve created to catch the rain. In fact, I just wrote about terracing today.

      In the fall we mob graze the gardens down to bare soil. The goal is to have the animals eat everything. Then in the spring there are no weeds and we plant pumpkins, sunflowers, peas, turnips and other things which will be ready for fall grazing. This means we don’t have to till, weed or harvest. The animals provide all the labor. All we do is spread seed and keep it fenced.

      Right now, in the end of August, the south field plateau garden is fenced off so the pumpkins and things can grow undisturbed during our limited warm time. When the gardens growing season ends we’ll once again let in the livestock to eat what has grown over the summer. We have many large gardens like this. What this pattern does is provide extended forage for the animals after the fields start to wane in the fall.

      These several acres of gardens become the primary winter paddocks for our livestock. We get very deep snows that bury our fences – come February we will be walking, without snowshoes, on a snow back that is up to four or five feet above the ground. The animals with their sharp pointy feet can’t walk on the snow pack. Like deer yards they keep the snow within the gardens crushed down so they can walk around and then the snow itself becomes their fencing. All winter they’ll fertilize the winter paddocks so that come next spring the soil is rich and fertile for being gardens once again.

      It is a cycle of the seasons.

      • oliver says:

        are you doing a lot of movement with them in the winter season or are they more or less in a static snow bound paddock ’till the spring thaw? do the cool temperatures reduce the need to move for parasite avoidance / cycle breaking?

        what if anything are you planting in the fall to augment your pastures or provide cover where it might be desired (ie: hardpan areas that might benefit from forage radishes ‘n such).

        lastly, is there a way to get an email alert for new comments on these threads if desired?


        • In the winter they have multiple areas – sleeping, paddock, trail and feeding. I like to put the water and whey at a distance from the other areas so they continue to get exercise.

          Our winter temperatures aren’t just cool, they’re cold. It kills all the parasites not in the host. Winter breaks the cycle. This is one of the factors that helps give us natural parasite control in addition to the managed rotational grazing that leaves behind parasites, whey and garlic that inhibit parasites and selecting for good genetics that are more resistant to parasites.

          We don’t get much in the way of hardpan since the animals are moved around. We have planted radishes – with their long strong tap roots they’re a good one for digging deep into the soil.

          When you leave a comment, check the box for followups. There may be other “widgets” I can add to do “subscribe” for articles but I haven’t investigated them, yet. I’m in the process of moving my blog over to WordPress but time to do embellishments is limited with our other projects. I hope to do more this winter as well as resetting the URL to SugarMtnFarm.com like I used to have. If anyone knows of a good Subscribe widget/plugin that they like for WordPress please give a holler to let me know.

  27. Thomas Ferguson says:

    I was wondering if you could help, we just had a neighbour drop off a truckload of turnips that had gone woody on him and I tried feeding them to my 100lb barrows but they won’t touch them. Do my pigs just not like turnips? do they not like woody turnips? or should I be cutting them up or boiling them first?

    • If something is new the pigs may not be willing to try it for a while. The taste is different and they are cautious lest they get poisoned. Turnips can be high in nitrates which can be an issue. Thus I would suggest not over feeding a huge amount of turnips all at once. Or anything for that matter. Variety is ideal. Instead mix them in with other things. What we see is they eat the turnip greens during the summer and then the turnips in the fall. The frost action may be sweetening the turnip and softening it to make it more digestible. I’ve never cooked them for the pigs but I have heard of it being done. More so with potatoes.

  28. Andrew says:

    This was a great post. When you mentioned growing root vegetables, I thought that would be counterproductive since you want the pigs to graze not root the pastures, but this clarifies that there is actually a distinction between pasture sand gardens. So, you’re sowing pasture seeds (alfalfa, clover, etc.) behind or with the pigs, not growing root vegetables in the pasture.

    • Yes, primarily the pasture seeds like grasses, legumes, millets, brassicas, chicory and such are what get seeded in the fields with mob seeding (behind the pigs), storm seeding and frost seeding. I have experimented with seeding turnips and other root crops in some pastures. The pigs tend to leave the root portion alone until fall, just eating the tops during the summer and then only some at a time. Come fall they munch on the tuber portion.

  29. Farmerbob1 says:

    Seems like you have some Chinese characters hiding in the temperature line, Walter.

  30. T. Foerster says:

    I think it’s really interesting how you feed your pigs many plants that would be considered by most people as “garden plants”. But the interesting thing is that in the 1800s that’s often what they fed their animals. I think the understanding of the real value of those as excellent livestock feed all got lost in the wave of commercial crops like (here in the midwest especially) corn and soybeans. I was wondering if you have ever fed your pigs squash.

  31. T. Foerster says:

    Are they pretty similar to Pumpkins in feed value? Also do you have any idea what the feed value is for the cabbage? Protein high, moderate, or low, and energy high, moderate, or low?

  32. Bob says:

    Hi Walter,

    Great to see this old post show up again!

    Now that it is about 6 years since you wrote it, do you feel that you have been able to make any progress since then in growing more root vegetables to help take your herd a little longer through the fall & into winter? Also, if you were able to grow enough mangels & beets to carry your herd through the winter, would you still try for self-harvesting?(through the snow and into the frozen soil), or would you harvest them yourself and store them? Our ratio of land to pigs is much different than yours and, theoretically at least, we could grow a substantial proportion of what they would need (in addition to whey) for winter. Our climate is not too different than yours but is milder b/c we are down near the shores of Lake Ontario and not in the worst of the snow belt areas.

    As always, thank you for your generosity of time and expertise!


    • We don’t produce enough to feed out through the whole winter but I now have the skills after years of honing them such that if I needed too I could be up to that point within one year. We produce a lot of food in our summer gardens a.k.a. winter paddocks that we feed into late fall and early winter by just rotating the animals through. As you note, deep snows would make it hard to access the root crops under the white stuff. If I had to do it for the entire winter I would harvest and store the crops – a lot more work but doable. I do like buying in winter hay as that imports nutrients to our farm. We also planted a lot of legumes in our pastures which also sucks down tons of nitrogen to our soil in addition to the carbon of growing plants. Stay warm!

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