Sunflower Ark

South Field Ark Surrounded by Sunflowers

Our open greenhouse in the south field plateau is currently surrounded by a sea of gold and green – sunflowers growing in the winter paddock. During the winter many of the pigs sleep in the Ark, what we’ve taken to calling it, although they also spend much of their time outdoors in their winter paddocks and on the trails north to the waterer and whey.

The Ark is a 38’x96′ metal ribbed structure with a fabric cover. It’s 21′ at the peak in the back, the north end. With the 2′ slope of the plateau that puts it at 23′ on the southern peak since the Ark is flat on its foundation of cedar posts but the land slopes down east and southward to drain.

The center of the Ark was fill with a 2′ layer of whole tree wood chips which composted through the winter to produce belly heat for the pigs. For ventilation it was open through the winter as shown above on the south end. Two large vents tall enough for me to walk through at the north end of the walls a gave good cross flow of fresh air while blocking the worst of our winter winds.

In the summer we opened up the north wall to about 10′ in height to further encourage the flow of air. This has worked wonderfully. The space inside is dry, warm, pleasant, shaded and not hot. I sometimes see the pigs in there lounging although they spend the vast majority of their time out in the pastures. Most litters have been born out further although two summer sows did choose to nest in the greenhouse over the past three months. It’s an option available to them although most seem to prefer nesting out in the margins of the brush.

As seeds go, sunflowers are great. I buy a $20 bag of blackseed sunflowers and spread it over a couple of acres growing many, many thousands of more sunflowers – you can see the density in the photo quite well. They’re easy to broadcast seed. Raking them in improves germination but they can also be storm seeded.

Tip: First seed radishes and wait for those to come up and make a bare start of a canopy, then seed the sunflowers. This gives cover to the sunflowers to protect the seedlings from sun and birds. Seed just before a hard rain.

The Ark has been a great success. Now Will is building a smaller one in the north home field which will give Spitz, our Berkshire Boar, and ladies a nice home come winter.

Outdoors: 80°F/54°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/62°F

Daily Spark: If people have more free time a portion of those people will choose to create new and interesting things. While these things may not be ‘necessary’ some may still be fascinating and atleast a few will be critical. The others are chaff and not a worry.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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8 Responses to Sunflower Ark

  1. Farmerbob1 says:

    Hey Walter,

    I know that you use wood chips for bedding and hay for eating over the winter (though some of the wood chips are eaten, and the hay used for bedding too…)

    Have you ever considered using crop residues from lowland farmers? If there are tobacco farmers near you, that might be good for bedding. (I know the tall tobacco is grown at least as far north as Connecticut, because I picked it there.) If tobacco stalks are used to amend tobacco land, they have to sterilize the stalks, but it works fine on non-tobacco land.

    That’s just an example. I can easily imagine that you might not want to expose your pigs to tobacco products, heh. Corn is normally left in the field to protect the soil, so that’s out (if you see someone baling corn stalks, they need a talking-to if you know them, unless they have a long enough growing season to get something else established after they harvest.) I don’t know what else is grown near you in the nearby lowlands.

    You’ve mentioned before that the wood chips are something of a waste stream, depending on where you get them. However you’ve also mentioned that you get glass and metal in the wood chips when they come from the cheapest sources. You already collect several waste streams of organics for the benefits of your pigs. Whey, cheese, spent barley, apple pomace, etc. If you can find another waste stream to provide bedding, it might even save you money. If you can save another farmer the hassle of getting rid of something they can’t or don’t want to leave in their fields, it’s win-win, and chances are pretty good that they would make an effort to not include trash in what they give you.

    • Tobacco isn’t grown around here. In fact, about the only things grown around here in any volume are hay and corn as crops. There is no residue from either since both are harvested entirely by cutting to the ground leaving just the roots. The corn roots die. The hay field roots hold over the winter to the next year so they can grow back quickly in the spring. I would be curious to try corn stalks but haven’t yet. In our area the wood chips are our cheapest source of carbon for the bedding pack. Going with the whole tree and brush chipping also gives bark and leaves. In other climates other resources would be of choice.

      I stopped taking the waste stream wood chips due to the problem of the road side work crews throwing glass bottles into the shredders. Their attitude was they saw the shredder as a trash disposal and they couldn’t get out of that mindset. So for years we’ve instead simply bought big truck loads of the chips from loggers. This avoids the trash problem although it costs more.

      Another waste stream that I know of one farmer using is the local newspaper’s excess copies. But the newspaper is dying because people aren’t reading it as much so that is not a reliable source for the long term. Besides, he’s already taking care of that. I also have hesitations about the staples, ink, etc on that. I like the wood chips better.

      Realize that we log, we do sustainable forestry, so we generate wood chips by the hundreds of tons. If the timing is right between when we’re doing a wood chipping job and when we need them as well as the access we can provide our own chips – otherwise we can buy them in from another logging job. Which way we do it depends on things like the current market price, what type of wood we’re working (I don’t want cedar chips), timing, trucks in use, etc. Out of a theoretical typical tree there are the portions that go to veneer, to cabinetry, to lumber, to firewood, to chips (called biomass).

  2. Sarah Poyser says:

    Hi, I’m just wondering if your weaners or growers are given any meat meal? If not how do you get enough protein, lysine into their diets please.

    • No, we don’t feed any meat meal. They get lysine from whey to an extent but pasture is also a source. While pasture plants are generally low in lysine the lysine is still there and if you eat enough of them you get enough lysine. Another source specifically for the smaller pigs is cooked eggs from our hens. The hens are for organic pest control. They eat a lot of insects plus some mice, snakes and pasture forages. As a side benefit they produce eggs which we cook to double the available protein and feed to the younger pigs. See feeding notes on The Pig Page.

  3. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Are you replacing the billboard tarp “roof” of the ark this year? I know you had timing/wind/temperature considerations when you first covered the nice space.

    Just watched the combine go through thousands of acres of sunflowers locally. Seems to have been the drought crop of choice in Davis. All, apparently, a variant that tops out at about four feet and makes a head less than a foot in diameter.

    • The translucent greenhouse fabric covering is the goal although frankly the tarp is doing very nicely. Replacing it is a big task so it’s competing with other things including building the second greenhouse in the north home field. I am very much looking forward to having a bright sky roof and think the pigs would like it in the winter, spring and fall. In the summer I hope to grow warm season crops in there, someday.

  4. Eric Hagen says:

    Do the pigs have access to the greenhouse year round? What’s that do for parasites? I thought you rotated their living spaces so parasite life cycles could burn themselves out.

    • No, there have been periods when none were able to get to the greenhouse. It depends on where they are in the rotation schedule plus the greenhouse is divided into multiple sections. The hot composting bedding is hostile to parasites as well.

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