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Pigs and No till

 
Posts: 12
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The idea of no till is that the soil disturbances caused by filling kills the microorganisms and good stuff in the soil. I’m curious how natural the idea is of no till when taking into consideration the rooting tendencies of pigs. Pigs roughly speaking till the soil when they root about. Is this a naturally destructive and unwanted behavior in a pig that we have to control or does the no till concept go overboard on the cons of no till.
 
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Hi Graeme.  That's a good point.  I consider myself a no till guy, and am pretty read up on the topic, and know a bit about soil health as well as having experience with pigs.  

he idea of no till is that the soil disturbances caused by filling kills the microorganisms and good stuff in the soil.

 Well, there is a bit more to it than that, but that covers a good bit of it.

The rooting of a pig can seem pretty destructive to the soil.  They tear into it with their feet and snout and with teeth and in some cases tusks to get at roots and grubs and bugs and worms.  They break up the soil into large clumps and units, and might break up some of the pore structure, but they do not pulverize the soil to a virtual powder, as what happens with tilling.  Pigs do turn the soil, and that might go against the grain of some people's idea of no-till.  Pigs, however, mix topsoils and organic matter but do not tend to blend sub soil and topsoils much, unless they are after a deep taproot .  While larger fungal networks are damaged, the smaller fungal networks would survive in the clumps.  Pigs add living manure and urine to the soils as they work it.    

The difference between what pigs do is what they don't do and what tilling does.  Tilling will pulverise the structure of soil aggregates, while filling the pore spaces with smaller created aggregates in the process, this generally results in a soil capping witht the first rain or irrigation.  This reduces the ability of the soil to exchange gases or infitrate water, and the tilling breaks up micro fungal networks, dries the soil out, and causes bacteria to eat aggregate glues through boosting their metabolism and population with temporarilly increased oxygenation before the aerated soil collapses.

When considering No-till, there are definitely some negatives in regards to having pigs if one was trying not to damage the soil structure at all.  But I can not equate pigs and tilling for the above mentioned reasons, and probably others.  The use of pigs can result in soil building in ways that would be difficult for anyone to accomplish with tilling, though it might be possible to have some of the pig effects be accomplished with lightly surface tilling a cover crop.

Pigs roughly speaking till the soil when they root about. Is this a naturally destructive and unwanted behavior in a pig that we have to control or does the no till concept go overboard on the cons of no till.

 
If any animal is left in one location for too long, then you tend to get the negative effects accumlating in that area.  I've seen cattle and chickens destroy a land's soils, and I've seen them build it.  By monitoring the damage being done, and then moving the pigs before they do too much damage we can mitigate the unwanted tendencies while gaining the maximum benefits of their actions.  

A person can take or interpret no-till in a lot of different ways, and so what it almost always comes down to in permaculture is that it depends on the situation and depends on the goals and needs of the farmer or designer.  It's about ideas and making them work for situations so that we are creating the maximum benefit from the smallest amount of energy.  

I encourage you to consider no-till to be a certain type of tool which has a certain range of benefits, and that pigs have some similar and some different ranges of benefits.  They are not mutually exclusive, but can, with the right design, be worked to be somewhat inclusive (depending on how one interprets no-till).

A person can advocate against soil disturbance of any kind, but that is different than no till.  Using a small hand tool is different than a plow.  Anything that we do including such relatively benign no-till techniques-such as mulching with cardboard or spraying compost teas-can disrupt the soil's micro-biological communities and thus can be considered a negative disturbance in some people's eyes.  

Tilling is a mechanized process that does a lot of different things that are very negative to soil life that, especially when compared to most no-till practices (however they might disturbe soil life in their own way) .  

I encourage you to check out a search for Jon Sitka on this site.  Or check out this thread that I started about using the info in his book:  The Soil Owner's Manual Discussion Thread   There is not a No-till forum on this site, which is a shame, but there are plenty of threads which mention it, if you have the time to seach them out.
 
pioneer
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I think there is a time and place for tilling also grazing.Watch Sepp Holzer video about pigs if you haven't already.
 
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Location: NSW, Australia
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We have 6 small pigs (fully grown about 50-60kg, so very small, but not technically miniature) that we procured specifically to cell graze behind the sheep as we move them through our 9ha vineyard. They're not for bacon, just to eat grass and interrupt the sheep's parasite cycle.

Almost every day we move them to a new 1000m2 area to zoom around in, so they definitely have lots of space and novelty. They always seem very happy: running, eating, playing, and sleeping under the vines, they love a pat/scratch, and one even sits on command. So they're not deprived in any way, but you would not believe how much rooting damage they can do in just one day! They consistently destroy 60-80% of the headland (the 10m wide open area between the fence and the end of the grape rows), and open up a few spots along every row.

The grass is plenty long, since we barely have enough sheep to make a dent, and there's lots of fodder, but they just root everything up terribly.

To be fair, this is almost entirely our fault. When they first arrived, we kept them in our overgrown "nursery paddock" of about 1200m2; they were great and didn't root at all, until the paddock was eaten down. Once the grass was eaten down, and we had to supplement their feed more, they started rooting. We couldn't move them because of harvest, and the workload at that time of year delayed our prep for pig rotation. In that time they learned to root a lot, and have not stopped.

Is it really a problem though?

It is traditional practice to till between the vine rows every winter. I really don't want to do that, so the pigs are a great compromise, but we can't just leave the moonscape rugged. I still need to run the sprayer and harvester over it, which I don't want jumping all over the place. My solution for now is to go over all their damage with a rake whenever I get an opportunity, and throw down some new seed. Only time will tell if it's viable in the long term.

So my problem is similar to yours, but beyond soil health, I have to also consider the practicality of towing machinery over a pig rutted surface. Is the raking enough? Am I undermining the pigs good work? Is this going to wreck my land in the long term? I just don't know yet.

Worst case scenario is ringing the pigs. I'd really rather not, but if push comes to shove it's either nose rings or the table.

On a bright side note, we have found very long narrow grazing cells (~5m X ~200m, with water at one end) work fantastically for our sheep and pigs. Grazing impact and manure distribution is pretty good and even so far. Perhaps it's the nature of the vine rows; the linear pattern of growth under the dripper lines, and long runs of shade? Whatever it is, all the animals spend mornings at one end of the rows, afternoons at the other, and at play they love the long runs up and down. Head out with treats, and a dozen babydoll sheep stampeding along a vine row is pretty hilarious; our little sounder of pigs isn't much better!
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I’m curious how natural the idea is of no till when taking into consideration the rooting tendencies of pigs.

another thontught came to mind about this.  Bears do much the same, digging up the earth, and wolverines and ground squirrels and others.  So why am I bringing that up.  Because I live in bear country,  and country where all these creatures live and I walk in the forest and meadow lands here, I see that there is minimal disturbance/tillage, by these creatures.  The majoriity of this area is not tilled by creatures.  It is no till.  It is nature doing what nature does, with plants to build soil.  Conclusion:  Taking into consideration the rooting nature of an animal or a group of animals does not take away from the general characteristics of the biome.  It is how we as humans choose to make pigs interact with the biome that creates a majority disruptive behavior/situation.  No till is natural to a natural system, and creating systems that mimic that as much as possible is likely the best possible thing for the soil health.  Pigs rooting up the entire area is not natural.  So hedge your bets on designing a pig system that creates the best of both worlds, or deal with their un-naturally confined destruction.
 
gardener
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I have Kunekunes that tend to graze. That is great in the warmer weather.  I rotate them through the paddocks.  In the winter I move them to a corral closer to the house and out down a layer of straw that by spring is compost for the following year. That is, I let it cook down for a year.
 
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No-till and till are both tools in the toolkit.  No-till takes less work and is one way of building soil.  

Nature uses every tool in her toolkit, including tilling (carol deppe has some great words about this in her book).  Different parts of the world do better with different techniques, and it's important to customize your technique to your location.

I also want to mention, that no-till relies on the ability of a fungal (and other invisible beasties) network to grow within mulch.  Where I live, this isn't something that happens very often.  With no - that is ZERO - rainfall between the end of April and the middle of October, there isn't enough moisture for last winter's mulch to transform into soil.  Since our frost starts before our rain, the moist months aren't warm enough.  Instead, on our island, the soil builds up through three main ways.  1. by leaves being crumpled to dust during the drought, 2. by animals rooting around in the soil (natural tilling), and 3, through conifers creating their own rain from thin air, and creating a conifer friendly mulch-to-soil environment.

This is one of the reasons why I like Fukuoka's writing so much - he advocates no-till, but encourages observing local natural cycles and adapting techniques to the location.  

Pigs - pigs are great.  They are doing what they do naturally and some disruption of the soil can bring up nutrients to different levels and make them available to different plants.  Overcrowding of pigs, probably wouldn't be so good for the soil, so again, adapt the number of pigs to the needs of the land.  
 
pollinator
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Graeme- this is an interesting theoretical discussion at this point.  Which is great!  Might we connect this to something less abstract?

Is there a particular case you're trying to figure out?  Considering pigs, or a particular type of pig, for pasture? Clearing brush?
 
Graeme Robinson
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Eliot Mason wrote:Might we connect this to something less abstract?



No. A lot of what I think about is in the abstract/theoretical realm as I’m still in high school. What prompted me to ask this was a lot of no till sources seemed to make anything that disturbs soil more than a broad fork was quite destructive to the soil and being that pigs have the quite disruptive tendency to root around, I was curious how pigs would fit in to the environment as most things seem to have a clearly defined job within their ecosystems.
 
r ranson
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In that case, have a read of Carol Deppe's book The Resilient Gardener.  She talks about how nature uses lots of different methods, including till and no-till, depending on the needs of the location.  
 
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Location: Colchester Vermont
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Hey everybody, I read a lot of the posts and information in this thread and in other places. I have a Mangalitsa sow, about a year and a half. She is a very nice hog, and respects electric fence. I have a garden area about 50’ x 150’ that I am starting a BTE and no till market garden. i decided to rotate her through each section of which there are about six roughly the same size. They are about 15 x 15‘ square, and her shelter is three pallets and a plywood top. I buried a plastic tote, and I built an automatic feeder out of plywood. she loves it! She is tilling the top layer of sod. I plan on rotating her to another spot in a couple weeks. She doesn’t seem to be interested in eating the grass though, and I’m not sure if that’s because of her breed. I suspect a Kunekune would do better?
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Auto feeder
Auto feeder
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What I’ve got so far
What I’ve got so far
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The pig mobile!
The pig mobile!
 
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Location: Belgium
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Hey, i think the soil disturbance of the pigs is indeed a natural thing but only in the right balance, so i guess it's a matter of adjusting the numbers to land.
I haven't got any experience in this myself but i have read about pigs being rotated in a chestnut orchard to eat the fallen nuts. Here the extreme soil disturbance was also a problem so they gave the pigs noserings, this greatly diminished the problem as the pigs stopped rooting and just scavenged the surface.
This is a practical solution so i'm letting any potential ethics aside, however the pigs don't suffer from it, according to the farmer.
 
Nathan MacAilpin
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Location: Colchester Vermont
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Hey folks, an update on my pig till exercise. Penelope did a good job of removing the top layer of sod and trampling it, fertilizing the ground with her waste, and respecting the electric fence. So far I had her moved in two different plots. I noticed that she did not touch a certain area of tall grass in one of the plots. Not sure why. What I found that it was that after a week, the ground compacted badly. Within a week tho it was fine. In the compacted area I planted squash in hills with goat waste hay bedding, very good stuff, for muck I and the squash are growing incredibly well.  
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