South Field Starting to Green – Click to Zoom
We’ve been working on fencing and planting with all of this beautiful weather. The south field is now sub-divided for this year’s paddocks and the far south field is ready for animals. The pigs, ducks, chickens and geese are all enjoying going out there. The south field is for our Yorkshire x Large Black x Berkshire x Tamworth herd. Next we tighten up fences in the north field for the north Berkshire Tamworth herd.
Will and Ben have been doing most of the fencing work. What is shown in the photo above is the corridor between south field paddocks leading back from the far south field towards our home fields. In the far distance you can see a few of the remaining round hay bales from this winter and beyond Sugar Mountain that blocks the cold winter winds from hitting us so hard.
The shade of the aspen regen around me when I took the photo is a favored area by the livestock during hot summer days. This regen came up from the roots of the trees we flush cut when re-clearing this field in 1999. Aspen is also called Poplar around here. There is another tree called Black Poplar that is very different. This soft wood grows quickly. It makes fodder for the sheep and pigs. Cattle would probably eat it too. Enough light gets in that the clover and grasses grow well yet there is enough shade to make it very pleasant. Having some shade in every paddock is important. Pasture should be a mix of grasses, legumes, brush and trees to create balance through out the days and the seasons.
To the left is the extension of the south field plateau that about doubles our planting area this year. We skimmed off half the top of the plateau last year and mixed in the big plateau compost pile to extend the summer crop area for sunflowers, pumpkins, squash, beets, turnips and cole crops. This is then late fall and winter food for the pigs.
In the warm months the pigs will eat the tops of the kale, rape, beets and turnips we plant out in the pastures but they leave the tubers. However when the pastures diminish they become more willing to eat the roots, which are sitting up above the surface of the soil. Some of the roots get missed and grow again the next year in addition to the seeds these plants throw off naturally.
The lane between the lines of fence heading north in the picture is wide enough for me to drive the tractor, skid logs or drive a tractor trailer down in the fall such as when hay is delivered. Over the next few years we’ll even that out so that it simplifies the annual delivery. This will save time and fuel by not having to carry the bales individually up the mountain for each winter.
I plan to plant apple, pear trees and fruiting bushes along the lane. These will be protected by a double fence line keeping larger animals off the trees. The fruit will provide more food for the livestock in the fall.
The snow seems to finally really be gone and the ice is almost melted out of our butcher shop construction site. It is amazing how cold it is inside of the chiller, processing room and kitchen even with these warm days and the open open doorways. The super insulation and high thermal mass are very effective. Energy, specifically electricity for refrigeration, is one of the biggest costs of a meat processing facility. By having an energy efficient plant we are not only green as in saving the planet and all that good stuff, but we’re saving money on our bottom line. Green is good for business. Reducing waste makes sense in all ways. I would rather have that money for buying more apple trees than waste it on electricity that leaks its heat out the walls.
While Ben and Will have been fencing I’ve been planting with Hope. With this warm weather perhaps we’ll get a few extra months of growing season. I’ve risked some seed and planted early. If we get a hard frost I’ll have to replant but it is worth the risk to gain two months of growth.
Once we finish spring planting and fencing we’ll switch to form work in preparation for the next pour of concrete which is the ceilings over the administration (inspector’s office & bathroom) plus over the future warm kitchen and smokehouse which will initially be our cutting room.
Pigs Fixing Fences
Fence Lines 2
Poultry Netting for Pigs
Moving Pigs With Fence Panels
Dumb Pig, Smart Pig
Outdoors: 65°F/27°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/64°F
Daily Spark: You cannot unsay a cruel word. -Old Farmer’s Advice
If only the ag teaches across America in their big universities knew as much about land conservation and energy use, animal behaviour and health as you do Walter…we could actually have a future in farming in this country.
Your note of the cross-breediness of your pigs bring up a question I’ve been pondering for a while. We have started with large blacks as our foundational stock, but we plan on doing once a year farrowing and will need to bring in new boars/AI regularly. My tendency is toward experimentation, and I’m keen on bringing in other breeds and selecting the best gilts from the crosses–but I’m also getting some push back from folks that think I should try to maintain a single threatened breed. I have some vague ideas of what I want to select for (vigor, ability to reach sexual maturity in 8 months, good mothering, docility) but don’t feel super comfortable with my skills as a breeder. My main goal is to make things as simple as possible going forward, but I’m well aware of our human tendencies to constantly complicate a seemingly simple task. Any words of wisdom?
This answer got so long it deserves its own post. Check in tomorrow to see ask Have You Got the Right Stuff to be a Breeder…
I think sometimes we forget that these “old” breeds were also selectively developed. I also think that the work Walter, myself, and others are doing on their own small farms will produce a number of “new” breeds that meet the needs of modern pasture farmers. And 100 years from now, people will be trying to preserve the Jeffries Pig and the Hoffman Milking Shorthorn. Just my too often pondered opinion on the subject of “heritage breeds”.
Like! I wish we could “like” a post . . . of course, not being able to do that encourages more of a response. Walter, you are so good to answer questions and share your knowledge. I am not a farmer and I do not work with animals (and I won’t profit from your know-how yet I still learn something from this site). In any job I ever had/held I always shared my knowlege with my co-workers. For one thing, knowlege isn’t mine to keep and usually, by sharing, it made my job/life easier. I admire this trait in you.
If Large Blacks weren’t a rare and endangered breed, I would encourage you to go for it, as it is I don’t think you should remove your animals from the Large Black gene pool even if crossbreds grow better. You would have a better market at selling the purebred animals as breeding stock, and you might be able to sell the meat animals to people who want to boast of eating something rare.
I think Large Blacks were mentioned in one of the fantasy novels by Naomi Novik as a favorite food of dragons.
Fortunately, breeding a pure bred animal to a different breed does not take it out of pure bred circulation. Pigs are not monogamous. You can cross a pure bred Large Black sow with a pure bred Yorkshire boar and produce a crossed litter. Then she’ll be perfectly willing to do her next litter with a pure bred Large Black Boar and he’ll be perfectly willing to breed with a pure bred Yorkshire sow, or any other sow for that matter. Pig’s aren’t picky. This way you can have your cake and eat it too.
As to dragon food, I’m sure they would be quite happy with the Black Yorkshire breed we’ve developed. Simply delicious and even more marbling than either the Yorkshire or Large Blacks due to the Berkshire I mixed in. Quite pleasing to the eye as well and very hardy in our climate. Holly and I were joking yesterday about this – that maybe we would set that as our signature breed. Truth is, color is not one of my breeding criteria so it is simply incidental. :)
Is the fencing permanent electric? If not, then what sort of fence wire do you use? I have a beautiful quarter that I cannot let the animals out on because of lack of fencing. Sigh.
The pictured fencing is polywire on a combination of step in line posts and steel T-posts. For our outer perimeter we like to use the electrified permanent high tensile smooth wire but that is a lot more work to put in. In the long run we will gradually shift to the high tensile wire most everywhere. Once installed it is lower maintenance and a better conductor. It’s a process getting there from here. In the mean time the polywire on step in posts goes up very fast.
Walter, how do you purchase the polywire fence? I have some poultry netting which I put the pigs in last fall and they did well, but it is very expensive. I ran it off a 12V battery. What powers your fence(s) when they are so far from the homestead?
The polywire I’m referring to is straight wire, not netting. We also use netting, both wire and polywire netting. See this article about Poultry Netting for Pigs as there are some tricks to it. To get the electricity out to far places we use the outside perimeter fence which is about 1.5 miles long. I have that designed to run off of two chargers, one to the north half and one to the south half, to sub-divide the load incase one section gets shorted.
For fence energizers I like the ones we get from Tractor Supply and Kencove. I would recommend a minimum of 2.5 joules, preferably at least 6 joules and we use 15 joule energizers for the outer perimeter.
Use lightning projection on both sides of the energizer if lightning is an issue – big problem here. Also put in a very good grounding system to get the maximum power from your fence.
I strongly recommend an AC energizer rather than solar for many reasons including power, cost and maintenance.
Also see this article Calibrating Pain for details on how to measure your fence output.
I’m in the process of designing a fence for our goats and pigs. Running grid power to the area would be a major hassle, so solar seems like the best bet, but I keep hearing that it’s not preferable. It seems like the AC energizers are generally just nicer with more power. I understand part of the issue is that when plants grow into the fence, and branches fall on it, a solar setup will drain the batteries, whereas grid power will maintain more charge.
So my question is, does it make any sense to over-size a solar setup with an inverter and use an AC fencer, or just stick with a strong DC fencer and plan on cleaning the fenceline regularly?
I really appreciate all the time you put into this site to share info, it is highly valuable, thank you very much!
That is what I would do if I did not have grid power – build my own solar system. It is not a matter of AC vs DC but rather of Joules of output. Good solar systems are doable.
Are you really too far from AC? We energize a 1.5 mile perimeter around our pastures and then run our paddock fencing off of that. I suspect that you have AC power closer than that.
What ever you do, check the voltage daily. When it dips then walk the fence lines. If you get a big storm, walk them too.
Is the straight-wire fencing enough to keep in chickens and small pigs, or do you need an additional enclosure of poultry netting for them?
Thanks for all the info — this website is a fascinating and very helpful resource!
No, the smooth wire fences are for medium to large animals. The chicken and piglets do tend to stay within the field they should simply because they follow the herds. For gardens we fence out with tighter fence. For weaning areas we fence in with tighter fence.
As my fencing needs increase I constantly search for better ways to make the system efficient. Currently I run my pasture with a perimeter fence hooked up to a deep cycle marine battery that needs charging about once a month. I have been given a plug-in energizer and am in the process of installing that. I intend to run the typical three 8′ ground rods, 10′ apart and will then run a buried line to the fence. My question would be do you have an opinion on what type of wire/metal to in the ground? I have used a 12.5 gauge steel coated wire before, but feel that I am loosing some umph through this set up. Would solid 12 gauge copper wire or stranded wire be more conductive?
Copper. Ours is six strands of very heavy copper laid in a long trench with ground rods down as far as they’ll go. This creates a horizontal ground rod as well as the deep penetrations. I put this in a wet area, running the heavy copper strands back to the energizer at the house and ran underground wire out to the fences. The heavy stranded is better than one solid. I think the strands were each 12 or 10 gauge. I have another energizer I did not ground as well and it suffers for that. Fixing that up better is on my to-do list.
Great. Never thought of running the grounding rods laying in the ground…. We are in a fairly wet area so I usually don’t have much of a problem with that. But, with the move in the energizer I will have to use a longer grounding rod or do as you suggest and trench them in.
So I am not confused, are you saying that you run a copper insulated wire to the fence from the energizer?
The wire for the grounding is a heavy copper twisted stranded wire made of six copper wires each of which I think is 12 gauge or so. That is for the grounding system. This does not need to be insulated since the goal is maximum earth contact.
The wire for the power from the energizer to the fence is an insulated underground wire which I further sheathed within black water pipe. See this Underground Wire at Kencove.com for an example.
Thank you for the information. Keep up the amazing work on the butcher shop and I look forward to seeing some new photos of the interior progression!
Other than the obvious shelter provided by the trees and shrubs, is there more formal shelter available to the herds while out on pasture ?
In the cold months we have open sheds and deep hay packs. In the warm months they are not interested in any shelter we provide but prefer sleeping out in the fields. Pigs sleep much of the day when not grazing or carousing. Out in the pastures you’ll run across sleeping pigs under bushes, under trees, particularly evergreens, and sometimes just out in the middle of the fields. Gazing out into the field it can be hard to tell which are rocks and which are sleeping pigs.
haaahaaaaaaaa, I can just imagine all those “rocks” littering the fields !! I’m feeling a little stuck as my town requires 3 sided shelters and I”m trying to figure out how to manage one that moves around on rough territory to fullfill the requirements.
See these posts SowHuts.
Great– thanks for the link. With alittle more searching I did find a number of other structures that ou have used. Now my head is turning over the ideas to see what will work. THank you for sharing your experience!!
Hi Walter. I am having a strange issue with my batteries and nobody seems to know why. I was hoping you might have an explanation. Recently we were building a new paddock for our pigs. I left the two 12v car batteries I was using standing in a barn (on wood) for about 7 weeks. When I tried recharging them with my reliable charger it simply didn’t work. Assuming the batteries were at fault I bought two new 12 v batteries and a new charger and still nothing.
The energiser has a shut off function so that it does not completely drain the batteries. I read somewhere that the batteries may need to be jump started just so that the charger would detect them as they had some charge? Tried it, but still no joy.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Interesting question. The short answer is I do not know. I would start by testing the charger to make sure it is delivering the charging power. It should be a voltage a little higher than the battery voltage – say around 14 volts. Next I would verify the contacts are all good in the circuit to the batteries. It is possible for batteries to fail but this many suggests that is not the problem.
Thanks Walter, I think it is simply the charge indicator on my charger that’s gone. The new charger was and on Ah and dropping, which I thought was wrong. A friend pointed out that it should be at 0 or there abouts when fully charged. I tried the seemingly uncharged battery and it looks like it has charged even if just a bit. I will confirm this for sure after running it for a day or so.
I’ll let you know either way.
I have just released 4 gilts and 11 piglets into the new paddock, so I cannot afford to be with a “cold” fence because they are still exploring.
Thanks as always for your feedback.
Ah. I have multi-meters for independent verification. Well worth having. Never use a multi-meter on a fence though since the fences are 10,000 volts and never ever use one on a spark plug which is over 50,000 volts. I blew out a multi-meter testing the spark on our brush cutter once… Live and learn.