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Saturday
Apr092011

Using Hogs as Gardeners (9 April 11)

The iconic American famer is male, drives a tractor around the farm, and brings overflowing buckets of grain to the animals' feeders. I don't fit the description. But I do own guinea hogs, an Ameican original. They are an American breed developed in the eastern United States over the past three centuries. While they were once common on the farmstead, because of the industrialization of agriculture, they have become extremely rare with only a few hundred individuals existing today. The guinea hogs are my plow, so I don't need a tractor. They feed themselves lots of grass, so I don't bring them much grain. But I do feed them some grain because, unlike cows and sheep, hogs do not have digestive systems built for thriving on grass alone. My hogs are currently eating grass and some grain too.

 

The excessive amounts of money I spend on soy-free, certified organic grains for my hogs is not healthy for my farm's bank account, and the meat produced from grain-fed animals is not healthy for people to eat. Most everybody says that 100% pastured, grain-free pork is not possible, and I've found only one or two places in the entire country that offer it for sale. I would like to produce meat without pesticides, herbicides, GMO's, soy, and grain, all for a reasonable price. Feral hogs survive and thrive without grain and so I figure there must be a way to produce grain-free (or at least almost-grain-free) pork. 

My first step was to choose the right breed of hog for this endeavor. I settled on the American Guinea Hog, which is advertised to thrive on pasture, requiring relatively small amounts of supplemental grain. I've been very satisfied with these hogs. They've been eating far more grass and much less grain than the typical hog, but I am still looking for ways to increase the foraging and reduce the graining. 

 

This year I'm growing vegetables for my hogs to eat, and the hogs themselves are going to assist with tilling the soil, spreading the fertilizer, planting the seed, and harvesting the crops. That's right, the pigs will do almost all of the work. I'm directing their activities with a few tools taken from rotational grazing. I used temporary electric fence to divide the pig pasture into small paddocks. Limiting them to a small area focuses all their digging and rooting activity in one section of the pasture. Providing a little irrigation when the soil is dry encourages rooting. A few weeks ago, the pigs had their first section nicely tilled up. I waited until it rained and was very muddy and then broadcast seeded forage turnips and forage beets. I left the hogs in the seeded paddock for a few hours, with whole kernels of corn scattered throughout ito to encourage them to walk around the whole area. Sharp little pig hooves trampling around in the mud effectively planted the seeds.

 

 

I then took the hogs out of that pasture and moved them to the next section. They were delighted to have a whole new area of lush grass to eat and dig in. In about a week, the turnips and beets had sprouted. They're now growing well in the soil that the hogs themselves fertilized over the winter. I'm continuing to move the pigs down the pasture, allowing them to till up one section at a time. When the turnips and beets in the first paddock are ready to harvest, I'll turn the hogs back into that section. They'll graze the tops and dig up and eat the roots. 

The side benefit of all this rooting activity is that these hogs are also making me an orchard. I eventually plan to convert this small pasture to an orchard with an understory of clover instead of grass. I'm trying to get rid of the grass and the hogs are assisting with this effort. I don't need herbicides, insecticides, chemical fertilizer, a tractor, or any other heavy equipment. The additional benefit is that the pigs are also fertilizing the future orchard. Other than manging the electric fence and throwing some seeds on the ground every so often, I get to sit back and watch while the hogs grow and harvest their own food. My hogs will soon have some of the grain in their diets replaced with beets and turnips, and I'm off to investigate what other non-grain crops we can grow for our hogs right here on our own farm.

 

Reader Comments (1)

this is so cool! thanks for sharing!

May 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStaceyNoff

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