The Barry Farm’s Pasture Reclamation Plan :
Weather it was necessity, genius or my old soul rearing its head we chose to let pigs do the work of reclaiming this pasture for us. Part of our farm planning when we began in this location began from the understanding that we can only succeed in our husbandry as much as we were willing to invest in soil fertility. That is to say, we understood that from the ground up was the only way to build a real pastured livestock farm that would yield quality, health and still have organic matter left for our soil to be improved. If you have been following our story you are well aware by now the condition of this land when we took over as care takers. It was overgrown with thorns, littered with garbage and what was green was weedy or vines that choked out the pecan trees. We were frustrated but committed and with the help of many people the garbage was hauled away, the vines cut, and the thorns burned. But that still left a pasture of weeds and farmers that wanted to feed their animals a natural diet that the soil itself would provide. After much discussion I decided we had two options. The first was to rent/borrow/ buy a tractor and equipment to brush hog it down, rototill it under, grade it appropriately the seed it down with a pasture seed mix. The second was to pick the right animals to slowly and more naturally plow, fertilize, consume and replace this pasture. We quickly learned what phrases like “intensive grazing” “rotational grazing” or “mob grazing” meant and began studying the effects of the animals in relation to the soil, plants and their health. Expertise is not guaranteed here as we do our best but of course we fail just like everyone else does from time to time. I have left pigs in one place to long, I have moved them too soon, I have changed their feed for the better and also have fed corn and soy. We desire to candidly and openly share our story so that you can take a part of us to your farm, grocery store and ballot box with a little different perspective
Some nuts and bolts: with pictures.
So Geoff, I like the idea of low to no input reclamation of pasture with pigs how do I start? The secret is out and it is this. Move them. Pigs (all pigs) should be in a portable enclosure to maximize their beneficial traits and limit their destructive ones. Pigs will do what they are best at if given the chance. They are best at rooting, eating and breeding ( for a different blog). That muscular and sensitive nose they have can turn over soil in the blink of an eye, but they dont know when to stop. The farmer must decide when the part of the pasture they live on has had enough. Have a stubborn and compacted area that is too tough for grass seed germination? Those areas the pigs are left longer, approximately 10-14 days, to dig up the weeds and trample them into the soil and I let them dig down 6-10 inches insisting they leave the area bare ready for replanting. What if your pasture is green, lush and in great shape? Let them move on it more gently like for 5-7 days only taking only the best of that section of pasture and never let them completely make these areas bare ground. For these areas think of the pigs as mowers and fertilizers than of plows. They will trample the pasture down, eat their favorite grasses then dig for what they smell below the soil surface.
What equipment do I use for this pasture dance?
I wil keep this area brief as there are as many solutions to this as their are hog farmers. At the Barry Farm we use Premier One’s QuickPig Fence. Two sections is plenty long enough for 4-6 pigs to last up to 2 weeks. I like to use a solar powered DC energizer for the fences because first of all I have no choice as we have no electricity at the farm and secondly because it reduces my consumption. The fence energizer is contained in a box about the size of a brief case and can be moved very easily facilitating the rotational pastured method. Water for them is delivered by a 30 gallon drum with a drinker nipple set on a platform outside the fence. This takes some training as you just taught them to not touch the fence now their only source of water is a little nub that stick through it. My first attempt with the barrel I put the whole thing in with them only to return the next day and the nipple was pulled out the barrel on its side and the wooden platform needing repair. Next day it was outside the fence. Now the carefully and cautiously approach the water get a drink and then go back to doing piggy things. Our feeder is from an old plan and can be seen in another blog of ours. We move it with a hand truck from place to place. Finally their shelter; made out of reclaimed cedar siding and a tin roof. A late addition was wheels on the back, but before that we just drug it across the grass. If I was designing the shelter again, I focus on two things. First wheels on axle for smooth moving, and second answer the question how will I close them in here for moving day? To take down the fences it is necessary to contain them in the shelter so make it big enough for 6 300lb pigs.
Goal oriented and result dependent.
Keep focused on just why you chose pigs in the first place. We wanted to restore bad pasture to good. To do this we need to be very observant and purposeful with our management. There is no formula for size of acre and number of pigs, but rather a attentive steward with plan to change the soil and plant life for the better with the use of pigs. Choose this method if you dont own a tractor or like the idea of plowing without using fossil fuels. Choose this method if you are starting a new farm or just got a new pasture that is not suitable for ruminant herbivores yet. Chose this method if you like eating pork but object to confinement crates and destructive manure pits. By the way a 200 pound pig makes 13.1 pounds of manure a day with a fertilizer equivalent of 5 lb. of nitrogen, 5 lb. of Phosphorous, 15 lb. of Potash and 5 punds of Sulfur. courtesy of the university of Wisconsin Extension Service. So without fuel input your return to pasture is deep tillage, fertilization, manure that you never handle and at the end you and your family are eating bacon and ham.
This is where my expertise quickly comes to an end and almost everything I know I have learned from Farmer Brad at Home Sweet Farm in particular his lecture on cover cropping systems for the south. We choose to plant behind the pigs some very easy things this year. In the cool months we sew in rye grass and rake it in by hand. In the warmer months we are now beginning to sew buckwheat. I am interested in Milo/sorghum for both it’s historical quality, large seed heads and benefit for our laying hens. All of our planting are designed to be feed to the chickens and pigs as a source of real nutrition not just filling in space in the pasture.
Todays move we relocated them from here. I show this example to show how thorough they will be if given the chance. At the taking of this picture we have 5 pigs all over 200 pounds with our boar and gilt being over 250. They were here for 2 weeks and compaction can become an issue if left too long. Notice the distinct line of grass vs exposed soil.
This picture on the right is a picture of where they were two weeks ago. Here we are raking in the buckwheat that we have broadcast spread. It was also seeded with ryegrass and you can see some germinating
This image is 3 moves ago after being spread with rye grass and raked in afterward. Aprox 4-6 weeks ago pigs were here and had tilled it down to the dirt. This area last year was dense overgrown brambles and bushes. Now it is ready to feed chickens lush rye grass. Also visible in this picture on the left is the line of native an planted grass. I dont mean to suggest native grass is all bad as often a diverse native pasture is nutritious, forgiving and tolerant of both moisture and drought. I am focusing here on reclaiming or renewing damaged pastures.