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Pastured pig paddock paradise = epic fail!

 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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I worked hard last spring to fence off 4 paddocks to rotationally graze a few pigs for the family. They worked well last year. Then this spring the pigs decided they like the roots better than the greens, and started rooting up all the plants, starting with the clover then working their way toward the grass stands. Every time I rotate them, they go back to the same areas, compacting the soil and preventing anything from growing back again, all the while expanding the bare areas. The paddocks are 48 X 80 feet. This is what two of them did in about 5 weeks in one paddock (I let them, decided to plant it to 3 sisters once I saw how quickly they were destroying the grass that had been there).



They are not big pigs, the pot belly pigs are around 80 lbs, we killed the boar at 135, but it's mostly a few half-grown piglets in there now, with two pot belly sows. I think I'll have to thin the herd down to just a few, then pen them on the sacrificial area for months to let the grass and clover recover in the other 3 paddocks, where it's 1/3 as bad as the photo. I've been bagging grass from the mower in the meantime to give them some greens.
 
Zach Muller
gardener
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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How quickly do you rotate them? Is it always about 5 weeks?

I don't own pigs, but I do have chickens and I have seen similar destruction and compaction when I confine them to a small area and essentially overstock it. If your problem is one of having too many in too small an area, sounds like your solution of thinning the herd will work.

Have you thought about experimenting with your paddock size/number?
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
Posts: 1251
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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forest garden hugelkultur
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I've tried to follow the basic rule that once they've eaten about one third of the forage, you move on to the next paddock. This allows the area to recover quickly and minimizes compaction. They till a few areas up but that's just way they are. They usually manage to find all the good stuff first anyway.
I raised a couple pigs on and acre or so last year. They moved to new ground roughly every 5 days. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It depends on how many pigs, how big they are, how fast the forage grows and what you're trying to achieve. I experimented with smaller paddocks rotated more quickly and then with larger paddocks for longer time periods. I finally nailed it down to a schedule that works for me.
I'm going to expand this model again this year with six pigs and try to make paddocks on contour. I'd like the pigs to do a little more rough tilling and then have chickens follow up to move the debris down hill into a mound. This should allow for a nutrient/ sediment/water trap. With any luck it'll help reduce spring melt run-off. Of course it's just an experiment. we'll see if it works.

 
Patrick Mann
Posts: 302
Location: Seattle, WA, USA
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Isn't that what pigs are supposed to do - root around and till and fertilize your soil? Looks like it is perfect for planting a crop now. Maybe you can use them more as ground prep machines than trying to make them be grazers.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1570
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Looks like they have prepared the way for a crop. Jerusalem artichoke is a pig favourite apparently. Plant lots and they will harvest them themselves later in the year.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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I normally move them every week. One of the sows had babies when the barn was already full of babies, then one of the pigs in with her killed and ate a baby (she kept laying on it - I heard it squealing but she wouldn't get up and the mother didn't chase her off, for some reason). So I had to sacrifice a paddock to put the other pigs in to keep them away from the little ones until they were bigger/stronger.

The bare paddock that resulted was planted with corn, squash, pumpkins, and field peas, and I put in 12 apple trees around the fence line for shade and free feed in years ahead. They'll need to be protected when the pigs are allowed back in again. I also underplanted with clover, for next year's pasture. I think it will slowly grow among the other plants then really take off when they're removed. I like the irony that the paddock will provide us with pork and the applewood to smoke it with!

What I'm seeing is that, due to their rooting, the stocking rate is much lower this year if I want to keep to the same rotation schedule without them destroying too much of the paddock's grass/clover. I figure last year they were in each paddock for a week about 6 times. If I plant the paddocks and then let them in to "harvest" they'll only get one use out of them when the crop is done, unless I can manage some sort of seasonal rotation, like ryegrass after they demolish the corn stalks. Hmmm. They really like ryegrass. That might work.

My comfrey is huge this year, so I think in the fall/winter when I move the pigs off pasture I can harvest the roots and plant them in the paddocks, but with 6 weeks in a paddock, wouldn't they just destroy any comfrey that was trying to grow there, even if the weeks were separated out so it was only 1 week a month in each paddock? I think the Jerusalem artichokes would work the same way - they'd dig up every last root and eat them then keep rooting there so the plants couldn't re-grow the rest of the season. It seems like it would be better to have a separate, "fall paddock" where the comfrey and Jerusalem artichokes could grow all summer to be harvested once in the fall, leaving some to re-grow the following year. But out of 52 weeks in a year, that would only feed them for, what, a week or two? And be out of the rotation for the rest of the year?
 
Kf hunter
Posts: 8
Location: Northeast Washington zone 5a
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opps double post how do I delete?


 
Kf hunter
Posts: 8
Location: Northeast Washington zone 5a
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put a ring in their nose?

 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Renate Howard wrote:I worked hard last spring to fence off 4 paddocks to rotationally graze a few pigs for the family. They worked well last year. Then this spring the pigs decided they like the roots better than the greens, and started rooting up all the plants, starting with the clover then working their way toward the grass stands. Every time I rotate them, they go back to the same areas, compacting the soil and preventing anything from growing back again, all the while expanding the bare areas. The paddocks are 48 X 80 feet. This is what two of them did in about 5 weeks in one paddock (I let them, decided to plant it to 3 sisters once I saw how quickly they were destroying the grass that had been there).


The problem may simply be that the rotation period is too long. I like to keep time on paddocks under two weeks and preferably shorter. Faster rotations result in less rooting and more grazing. I find that our pigs tend to graze first, root last. Rooting thus is a sign to rotate. See:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2011/10/03/rootless-in-vermont/

and here is more about grazing management:

http://SugarMtnFarm.com/pigs

read the managed rotational grazing section and follow the links from there for how we do it. This does work for us with our pigs in our climate. It takes time to figure things out, get fencing systems in place, etc. Keep at it. Baby steps.

-Walter
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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