I'm brand-new to this forum, just joined this morning, and a few days ago had a big aha! moment when reading about hugelkulture, and this morning an even bigger AHA when I thought up a hugelkultur pig shelter. I live in Northern Ontario, on the claybelt, and have yet to have a successful garden here. We get a lot of rain, and the heavy soil does not drain well, and without a lot of work to add carbon, the soil is so dense that even root veggies have a hard time pushing their way through. After fighting the crab grass all summer, I got a breeding pair of Large Black pigs (more than just descriptive, it is the breed name for these good foraging, native to Britain, and suited to the family farm pigs). [We had no idea how much they would eat! Easily more than a bag per week of commercial pig feed, but that can be another thread.] Pippa and Percy have done a remarkable job destroying the garden weeds, rooting up nearly everything, and turning it into muddy slop, so now I need to start them really working organic matter into the soil. They will also need shelter for our (usually) very frigid winter: we often get to -30 C, and even -40 and colder isn't rare (without the windchill: -60 with the wind factored in). At those temperatures we will bring the poor beasts into the barn, for their sake and also because we need all available body heat to help keep the barn from heaving in the cold (the damp soil expands as it freezes and takes the building with it). But in the usual -20 C or so that we should get between mid December through to March, I think the pigs will be happier outside, with lots of straw and bad hay to burrow under, plus a really snug piggy cabin, which I hope to make in the next week or so. I thought of an earthbag shelter, but then I don't want bag parts in with my veggies next year should the pigs decide to do some home re-modeling in their spare time. There is a fair amount of waste firewood lying around that for whatever reason got mostly cut up but not split or stacked, and now after a few years of sitting on the ground isn't really suitable for keeping the house warm any more. But it would be perfect for a hugelkultur garden! So here's my plan: place logs on their side, ground side out to help them form a ring about 7' across, with mud, old hay and straw stacked on top, leaving an opening for the pigs to get in, sort of like a cob/stackwood shelter but without sand or a lot of careful mixing, because after all the aim is decomposition. And then once the logs are stacked above pig height, put a few of the longer logs right across the ring, and pile that with lots of hay to stop up the holes, and then a light dusting of soil to help weigh the hay down until we get a good snowfall (which looks like it's happening right now actually! Better get my rear in gear!). In the spring I can fill the cavity with all the organic material that comes out of the sheep birthing stall, mostly manure and old hay, but a bit of extra stuff too- should make good plant food. I also have plenty of horse manure I could add. Then the mound/shelter will be my new hugelkulture bed. So very exciting! I'm thinking I'll plant a serviceberry bush on the north side of the mound in the spring, and an assortment of veggies everywhere else on the mound. We have a huge slug problem here, but I'm hoping that inherent in this plan will be a solution to that problem.
Hopefully I won't need to have the pigs living in the garden again except on a very temporary basis after harvest, but I hope the hugelkultur bed will be productive for many years.
Suggestions, thoughts? Anyone tried this or something similar? And everyone that has had pigs in a cold climate, did how did they fare in the winter? Thanks in advance!!
Gretchen near Timmins, Ontario
I can't speak to the hugelkultur part of the shelter.
But last winter was the first time we kept pigs over winter. Our sow, who is a large black/tamworth cross fid very well by herself in s shed with lots of hay to burrow into.
Her pigglets, who were born in august had the same but with all of them in thete for heat they did very well. We processed them in march.
Now last winter here in BC was very mild but a couple old timers in the area have said that as long as they have a place to get out of the cold they will be fine. I know our had fun playing in the snow.
I also know a family in the Yukon where I am from and they just have a three sided shed that they put a round bale of hay or straw into for their sows and they pull it apart and have no problems in the temperatures you are talking about.
So I would say that from your description, your pigs should be fine on your hugel house. Especially if they are together to share body heat.
This sound like a pretty good idea! Overtime you'll really create a lot of good growing areas, plenty of pork, and awesome soil! Quality function stacking. Post some pics once you get the project going and let us know how it works out.