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the 'sweet spot' of disturbance

 
Danielle Diver
Posts: 60
Location: Niort, France
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Hey Y'all! So I was able to participate in Joel Salatin's recent webinar series (all 4!) and i came away with some juicy tidbits from his Pastured Pork telecast. Just as a review, I found this webinar, like most his work, to be extremely detailed in terms of his own personal experience, but rather lacking in general information. Not to say he left out the basics because he didnt! But in typical Joel style, he gave you a wide window into his personal operation, without offering many (or any) generic solutions/alternatives for people considering other options... THAT BEING SAID!!...

Now, we all know pigs dig and destroy ... eerr till, which CAN lead to destruction if they are left too long in once place. which is why it takes a lot of land and a heavy rotation in order to keep pigs well fed from organic found ground material. In the webinar series, Joel identifies what he calls a Sweet Spot of Disturbance. His claim is that when pigs are left too long in one area and then rotated out, the land they were grazing will turn to weeds. If, though, they are not left long enough in an area, that same land will turn back to forest (trees shrubs brambles im guessing) . The Sweet Spot is that perfect time (individual to the land) where you move the pigs off the paddock just in time in order for it to restore itself to its 'original' state (or better?).

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Has anyone here had experience/troubles/successes using pigs to clear land or graze only to find suprises after they leave? Do YOU know the sweet spot in your land and how do you use it to your benefit?

attached is a sample picture from the webinar. it shows the pigs moving from one paddock to the next. (the 'new' paddock had pigs on it just 60 days earlier!)

onepaddocktothenext(60daycycle).JPG
[Thumbnail for onepaddocktothenext(60daycycle).JPG]
 
John Weiland
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Location: RRV of da Nort
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My wife has pigs that she keeps "sanctuary style" (we use the manure, not the critter). They tend to be rescued...a mix of pot-bellies and regular farm stock (Duroc, Yorkies, Landraces, etc.). The have free-reign of our ~14 acres. This included the yardspace leading right up to the house. At one point on....gee....a whim.....I decided it was time to fence *us* in and *them* out. So the immediate yard was fenced with the obvious noticeable difference now, after a few years, of the grass on the inside versus outside of the fence. The property is a rock-free clay loam. When the soil is wet, the pigs will root....no exceptions. With the grass at the right stage, they will prefer grazing over rooting. But spring and fall are both non-optimal for grass quality or production, and with soft soils during both of those seasons, the property looks pretty much like northern Europe after WWI......and WWII, combined. Rootin' is what that snooter was made to do and the creator didn't short-change the pig on that ability.

In a nutshell, just watch for the rooting, move them off that spot and onto drier ground if you are in a wet cycle, and save the softer grounds for grazing during dry spells. We find it's just too hard for them to root through dried hardened clay soil and they stop during those periods. Hope this is of some use....
 
Walter Jeffries
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Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Grazing vs rooting is controlled by several factors including what is underground vs on the surface for food, soil wetness and type and most of all speed of rotation in the grazing pattern. See:

http://SugarMtnFarm.com/rootless-in-vermont

We do rotational grazing of pigs on pasture. There is little rooting. When I see much rooting I know that it is a sign to move them to the next paddock.

-Walter
 
Dave Burton
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In geoff lawton's Advanced Cell Grazing Techniques video, he discusses a similar topic: using proper animal grazing techniques to promote regenerative land development instead of destructive grazing.
 
Mike Hart
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Location: Zone 7b, Georgia.
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I will have to find time to check out the Cell Grazing video. I feel like I am continually fighting my pigs on this subject and the pigs are winning hands down so new approaches are welcome.

John I know exactly what you mean by WWI battlefield, in fact I managed to damage my 2 wheel tractor trying to mow one of these "battlefields" that had been fallow for close to 15 months.

In my experience with Joel Salatin's work I feel like he comes up with reasons/explanations for why he does things rather than approaching it from an idea first. I'm not sure if that explanation makes sense, and I am not attacking him - I will read what he writes as I can learn a lot from him. Maybe I am over analyzing this one picture, but it is hard for me to understand how the paddock on the left is doing anything other than losing soil and organic matter while rapidly drawing in weedy annuals (in many cases my pastures have looked like that after the pigs have gone although we don't have so many large rocks thankfully). The one on the right doesn't look like good grazing to me, I think I can see milk thistles in the foreground - http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/detail.asp?weed=122 and I am no expert, but I am guessing the brown grass is not good pig forage as mine don't seem to eat grass that isn't young and fairly short.

That said I think he's right about the idea of a sweet spot, it is just a difficult target to hit. From what I have read so far it seems to me like Mark Shepard is on the right track in trying to limit soil disturbance as much as possible with his pigs. If you haven't read "Restoration Agriculture" then I recommend it to you although it is unfortunately light on specifics.
 
Danielle Diver
Posts: 60
Location: Niort, France
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Hey this is all really great. I watched the Cell Grazing Vid and found it super interesting, but it focuses on cows and he moves them on quite a large area of land at around 40 days, which (knowing NOTHING about cows and only slightly something about pigs) seems that is a pretty great goal, if you have tons of land and time and such. But maybe ill watch it a second time to make sure im not missing something i can relate it to with pigs (and by the way THANK YOU for the link, Dave!)

but as for pigs, i guess what Walter said is the verdict (so far): when they root, give 'em the boot!

but this Sweet Spot still interests me, especially when we talk about Restorative Agriculture. I will check out that book, by the way, thanks Mike for the tip. Im always on the lookout for a new read.
 
Luke Groce
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Location: Louisville, KY
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Danielle:

This is a great topic. I believe Walter is probably one of the foremost experts in this department, and I wouldn't disagree with him at all. I've also learned a ton about how to get started and how to think about raising hogs from Joel Salatin's vast Internet compendium. I have however noticed that videos and pictures of Joel Salatin's pig pastures don't exactly look like they are ideal, weedless paradises. But the pictures are probably all from mid summer. To my way less experienced eye, that paddock in the picture on your left looks over rooted and grazed and the one on the right looks like it over impacted was 100+ days prior. My understanding and experience is that pigs like to eat grass when moved fast, and when grass is kept short and has very tender fresh regrowth. I'm planning on playing with this more this year. I've got some landlords who like to cut hay all over their property,(don't get me started) and they are especially afraid of their pastures not being smooth enough to handle that equipment. So I am working to get my guys set up to move quick this year, to see if I can get them grazing and not plowing. But we have deep clay loam and when it is moist, they will pull up the sod in sheets, and if it is warm for a few days after a rain, they will make some serious, deep wallows. All that is ok. Just not in those open pastures. I would find examples of systems to emulate that have similar land, soil and climate characteristics. All forest, vs all open, vs mix, depth and type of soil, plant coverage, fencing, when does it rain and how much are all going to determine what is your best course of action to achieve your goals. That said, my experience is this: last year our 19 hogs had access to a total of about 20 acres, and they never saw a piece of ground twice. We moved them on average every 2 weeks, but slower, and in bigger wooded paddocks in the fall - I think that's what Salatin does. That felt pretty spacious, and our double sized herd this year will repeat on some ground twice, and move twice as fast. (Ambitious spring plans, you know.)
 
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