Petra Pig Grazing in Upper Pasture
Yesterday I showed a photo of pigs on paddock five in the south field. That is a section that has been grazed for twelve years. It started as woods that had been encroaching on the pastures when we moved here in 1989. In 1998 we cut the trees back to the field’s original stone walls and seeded. The animals moved into that area and began grazing. In time it became lawn like – certainly the inspiration for the lush green carpets around modern homes.
In 2009 we cleared more fields, fenced and seeded them this spring. They’re already greening up nicely. In ten years they’ll be lush fields. This is the slow way to do it but it preserves the thin layer of top soil we have. A bulldozer would disrupt it all and throw away valuable nutrients in digging up roots and stumps.
For most of this summer we have kept the pigs in the lower, older north and south fields to give the plantings in the new fields time to get established. A couple of weeks ago Speckles, one of our big boars, helped me open up the fence line between the upper field and the south field. That is to say he walked right through four wires of high tensile ripping out a 30′ section. A helpful guy he is. It was time and I mended fence by putting in a gateway there. Fortunately he had agreed with me on where it should go.
Now that the pigs have been grazing in the upper field for a few weeks you can clearly see the difference between where they’ve grazed down the grasses, raspberries and regen vs the other side of the fence where the forage is indeed greener. We’ll switch them to the other side and then this side will grow back even stronger than before.
Grasses, clovers, alfalfa and other grazing plants evolved in tandem with herbivores to take the grazing pressure. In nature the animals graze an area and then move on. Farmers simulate this by using managed intensive rotational grazing methods. This helps to favor the grazing plants and suppress the ‘weed’ species of plants we don’t want in pastures without the need for tilling, mowing or herbicides. It is a more natural method of farming and I like minimizing my driving of our tractor on the steep hillsides as much as I can get away with. Pigs and sheep clip the pastures quite nicely and rarely roll over.
On the negative side, both sheep and pigs eat raspberry and blueberry bushes. The solution is simple – we fence off strips where we want those to grow and get berries galore. With a little encouragement the animals help us make our gardens grow. The result is a mix of open land, brush and trees, a savannah style pasture.
By the way, that is Petra Pig in the photo. She is wearing her stylish shorter summer coat having shed her long winter hair. She is one of our older sows and still a beauty despite getting long in the tooth. Literally – Their tusks grow continuously. She still has her youthful figure and is doing very well after six highly productive years. In the ‘industry’ sows are typically culled after just a few pregnancies – called parities. This is done because as they get bigger they eat more making them more expensive to keep.
Since we keep our pigs on pasture and feed them whey – 97% of their diet between the two – this means that our cost to keep a big sow like Petra is only slightly more than a small young sow like Lois Lane. The advantage of bigger, older sows is they are more experienced mothers, have more piglets per litter, have bigger piglets, produce more milk so they wean bigger piglets, know the farm routines and graze better since they have larger jaws and digestive tracts.
Additionally, it takes a year and a half just to find out if a new gilt is a good producer. She produces her first litter at about one year of age but then I want to watch her offspring to know how her genetics are. Once I know a sow is a keeper, I don’t want to let her go. Thus big old sows like Mouse, Petra, Winney, Flora, Flo, Fauna and others are prime breeders even though they are old ladies by pig standards.
How big is Petra you ask…? Consider that the fence posts right behind her are 34″ tall. Compare that with her shoulder. Her back comes up to my waist. She’s about 700 to 800 lbs depending on her state of pregnancy. Sows gain about 100 lbs with a litter and then take it back off. Living on pasture she doesn’t put a lot of extra weight on like corn fed hogs do in confinement settings.
Outdoors: 57°F/43°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/65°F
Daily Spark: “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it”. -J. Tomberlin