We went 6 long months without pigs. With our current poor boy setup, I don’t feel we can do a good job of managing the heat in July and August. Rather than stress both pigs and farmers we held off on raising pigs until September, in spite of a waiting list for our pastured pork. BTW, if you don’t already have your order for pork in, you better act fast!
Why did I describe those as 6 long months? Because I love pigs. I just do. I love having them. I love watching them romp, explore and play. I love watching them grow. I love the noises they make. I love their greedy but appreciative grunts as I bring them a handful of hickory nuts. I also love it when they are ground and stuffed into a casing and served with sauerkraut. I love them cured with salt and smoke or roasted and smothered with apple pie filling! You getting the picture here?
For 6 long months we composted our garden and kitchen scrap. There is nothing wrong with composting our scrap but I would rather turn it into bacon. We’re talking everything from cantaloupe rinds, starchy green beans and carrot peelings to stewed, softened chicken bones. Pigs get it all. The weeds we pull from the garden? Pigs. They especially like lambsquarters but will greedily enjoy any of the grasses and weeds I can provide them. I pulled out the biggest crabgrass plant I have ever seen from the compost pile. Each stem must have been 3/8 of an inch in diameter. The pigs loved it. What they don’t eat becomes future compost.
Right now 8 pigs are in a 20×20 pen on top of last winter’s cow bedding pack. They aren’t digging into the bedding as much as I would like but I didn’t put down the whole grains that Salatin suggests. I just piled wood chips and straw on manure and waste hay. They are happy here and could live happily all the way to their shipping date. They COULD but that would mean more work for me to keep them happy.
Pigs tend to manure in one specific area of their enclosure. Each day I just cover their manure with some fresh bedding and we’re done. The rest of the pen gives room for the pigs to romp, play, dig or sleep. But as I said earlier, pigs like to eat their greens. By keeping them on bedding, not only do I have to refresh the bedding on a regular basis, I have to cut and haul greens for them as well as picking up a few tree nuts or apple drops. As long as we keep that routine up, we’ll have happy, healthy pigs. But we can do better. I can have happy, healthy pigs AND lighten my workload. We need to get the pigs out on pasture so they can harvest their own greens and spread their own manure.
When the pigs gain a few pounds we’ll move them under the shelter of the hickory and oak grove surrounding the cemetery. Salatin says not to put pigs behind single-wire electric until they are 150 pounds. Until then we’ll have them either penned up as they are now or behind electric netting. Keeping them penned up works well for now.
Like everything else we do, our pig operation is going to have to grow. It’s really just a matter of repeating the motions enough that each action becomes efficient and natural. Practice. I know we need to expand but the pigs still have a lot to teach us.
Sounds like a good start. Do you muck out the pig stall after they get moved to pasture? Is that part of your compost also? I’m thinking it would make a great addition to the garden.
Well, the pigs are mainly composting the cow bedding for us. We’ll mound up a heap, let that cook and try to get it on the pasture to help with the fall fescue growth.
I wish Joel would expand more on his winter pig housing for the masses, those of us who know his operation well, know that pigs (and hens) being comfortable in winter on deep bedding is part of the scheme. Yet, the unintended consequence of his marketing pasture based products, (and media about such) and maybe not turning away some potential customers is that at least in my area, folks who skim his works and become instant experts have ran into the other ditch and pasture year round, no matter how muddy, how rainy, how cold, or how snowy it is, those pigs and laying hens are out on pasture because it’s gospel you know. Never mind what it does to the land, they’re on pasture, by Gum!
I was surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed raising pigs for the first time this year. My husband, not raised on a farm or with livestock also has enjoyed them far more than he thought he would. So pigs will be a regular fixture for us henceforth. Gotta say though, it was a big learning curve – I’m glad we only started with two. Fencing, water, shade, shelter. They dig a LOT if they have the opportunity.
Yup. Pigs are good times…until they are above 300 pounds and you are trying to get them loaded in a truck. There’s no handle!
Fencing pigs can be …interesting. Glad your experience this time was positive.
His new video says a lot if you are listening. He has pigs out on pasture in the fall in the video. He tells a story of when last batch of 50 were still out on pasture and an early 24″ snow hit. It took a few days to even get to the pig pasture but when things melted enough, they walked that last batch home to the hoop houses.
But, again, you have to be listening. Where are those pigs until they are 150-200 pounds? In a hoop structure or a lot. Where do they go in the winter? Inside.
I worked 3 pigs across a South-facing slope most of last winter on purpose. They didn’t really damage the fescue stand or the chicory but WOW! did they dig! We put down bale after bale of straw for bedding and it all got worked into the soil. That slope was in pretty poor shape from near-constant grazing all year round. It was also home to the fertilizer plant and a fair portion of grandpa’s rock collection. Because of the pigs and the seeding I did behind them, it is much healthier and diverse than before but I probably won’t do it again.
Why won’t you do it again? Your description makes me think of a particular piece of land with rocks, manzanita and I guess rattlesnakes. Clear some manzanita and let the pigs dig, then follow with seeding and chickens eventually. It also has some slope.
Well, never say never. Primarily, we don’t enjoy working in a partially frozen muddy mess. It was the winter, not the slope, that was the problem. The pigs really did well though. The farmers didn’t like it. The hillside, in most places, was improved by the action. Going forward, I would prefer to improve the hillside in warm weather and by application of compost.
Yes, if you’re listening or reading everything Joel writes, most people don’t put two and two together. I got that video for my birthday, looking forward to the rest of the series, I wish he would do a regular TV show. His new book will be here soon, and then I won’t be able to put that one down either.
Joel is cagey or smart, I remember reading one of his articles in SGF, and then later the same article appeared in the Biodynamics magazine, but of course he left out the paragraph about them hauling in garbage for the pigs…seems it wouldn’t set too well with the BD readers. Still a good article, it just wasn’t the entire picture. Marketing, marketing, marketing. When he appeared in Smithsonian in about 2000, there is a photo of him in winter clothes, in a nice cozy building sitting with his pigs, it looks very nice and clean, but I doubt anyone who read the article put it together, since in everyone’s mind the pigs should be outside all the time.
“…most people don’t put two and two together.”
I work with woman who just changed careers from being a paramedic. She says the same thing about health choices.