I am wanting to get some feeder pigs to till up a 1 acre spot of pretty baren bailing pasture that I am wanting to plant veggies in next summer. I have lots of questions:
-how many do I need and how should they be rotated? I was thinking on splitting the acre into 4 paddocks. How many pigs would till it pretty good this summer?
-what are some cost effective/not too time consuming feed alternatives you have found successful? How much food will they get off pasture?
- what type of electric fencing have you all found most effective?
- any other tips for a first time pig-keeper?
I don't have all the answers for you., but I tried pigs for tilling a pasture area I turned into gardens. I discovered that....
...pigs will compact the soil especially when it rains
...pigs are escape artists
Honestly, I love having piglets but by the time they are 5 months old, they aren't as much fun. Piglets aren't as good at tilling compared to adults. But adults can be pushy, bite, and escape more so than piglets. Piglets are playful and love attention and rubbing. The adults I've had weren't as pleasant.
The area that the pigs compacted took me several months to repair. And I'm still having drainage problems in some spots. Personally I don't use pigs for tilling anymore. My soil and weather don't work well with them and damages the soil structure too much. But they do eat off the grass and weeds for you.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
For starters, I might approach the pigs as a means for primary tillage, preparing the land for subsequent rototilling or discing/harrowing.
The number of pigs you need depends on size of pigs (which changes, of course), time until you want to plant, state of the land, etc. I'd say that probably a handful (four to six, say) might be sufficient. I would devise relatively small paddocks to concentrate their work, which should also help to avoid undue soil compaction. Start them where you intend to start your early crops (greens, peas, onions, roots, etc.), to get that area worked up soonest, and move them progressively based on your crop schedule. I would suggest more than four paddocks.
I feed mine whole grains--a combination of corn, wheat, and oats--and scatter them in areas the pigs haven't rooted up yet. (Avoid their toilet areas.) Be prepared for sprouting oats and wheat come spring. I don't look at the garden area as a substitute for feed, but feed them what grains they need (acknowledging the low- or no-grain options, but not using them) and figure what they can scrounge is just a bonus. But if time is of the essence, maybe they'd root more or more quickly if they were a bit underfed.
A single strand of hot wire is usually sufficient, though two wouldn't hurt. I use relatively small (17 gauge, I think) galvanized wire strung between rebar posts with round-post insulators. These insulators allow me to raise and lower the fence height as needed. I usually go 8-10 steps (25-30 feet) between posts, or closer together if the ground is particularly undulating. Be prepared to clean the fence line when the piggies root earth up on to it.
I've had great luck with pigs and tilling fields for new food forest spaces. I actually have a huge collection of video that shows the whole process. I'll edit that together at some point. Here's just some quick notes that come to mind.
I use portable electric fence to make paddocks. Single or double strand is probably best, but I've also used electric poultry netting. It's fine if you have calm pigs, but it's easy to pull up or crash through if your pigs are hauling ass and hit it.
Find calm docile pigs with a history of eating pasture in their lineage. That makes such a difference. Some pigs are just terrible at figuring it out.
If there's no reason for them to want to till... they won't. Areas with lots of tasty roots and grubs will get a lot of working over. Other areas might be neglected. I toss corn in those spaces to give them an incentive to do the work.
If you are feeding a ration of grain, do it at the end of the day so the pigs spend their daylight hours working on the ground that needs to be tilled.
Pigs will manure and urinate in only a few locations so your "fertilizer" will not be evenly spread out like it would with cows, goat or sheep. They also won't eat near where they relieve themselves. You'll have to do that space by hand. I use chickens.
Pigs will compact some areas to make mud holes. Good luck stopping them. It's better if you make a choice of where it goes before they do.
If it's decent ground, you can probably get it done in a season with 2 pigs. That assumes you get them at around 10 weeks old and early in the spring (march/april) and finish them off in the late fall. If you somehow brought in a couple fatties (200lb +), it'll probably take a week or two for them to wreck the ground. More pigs... less time. Do yo have a place for them once they are done in your garden area?
I wouldn't plant any root veggies or anything that I was going to eat raw in that area for at least one season. Pig poop... not fun. In my case I'm setting up a food forest space. The pigs came off the ground in early december I think. Things froze over a week or so later, Just after I tossed 10 gallons of acorns all over the area. When it thaws, I have tons of cover crops to plant as well as a ton of trees, shrubs and vines. Then we're off and running.
Placing fence lines on contour is a way that you can get pigs to make swales for you. They'll pile soil up along the fence line and if you are strategic about it, you can get a damn near perfect swale. Takes a little practice though.
Pigs usually move the soil downhill. It's easier for them to go with gravity I guess. Makes sense to me. Chicken do the same thing.
Scattering food scraps around the paddock will keep them interested and moving around.
Having more than one pig, creates competition so they will work harder if they have a comrade or two.
Unless you want piglets... one gender only. Most males, come pre-cut so no worries there. I've only ever raised uncut males and they will sometimes turn ground just for sport. I think they are showing off. In my trials, the males were better tillers but a bit testy at times. Females are more chilled out unless they are in heat and there are males about. Then they get a little cranky too. They till well, but not as aggressively as the males.
I have to find that video... It's so perfect for this thread.
Best of luck
Sorry for the scatter brained thoughts
I'm expecting a foot of snow tonight and I've got chores to do.
I also have a beat-to-death paddock of mud and ~5 acres to turn the pigs onto come spring.... but there are 10 pigs, 3 of them over 200, and since I dont personally raise them for eating (land owner does) I want to get them out of the mud-jail and onto some fresh earth for mutual benefit.... but Im starting to wonder if 3 or 4 paddocks made from the 5ish acres will be too little? I doubt theyll be expert foragers having been cooped up all their lives, but Im willing to meet em halfway. Lotta magic in a happy pig!
Its mostly oak, pine, and manzanita chapparel theyll be set up in with some double strand temp fencing - sage wisdom would be appreciated.
"It might have been fun to like, scoop up a little bit of that moose poop that we saw yesterday and... and uh, put that in.... just.... just so we know." - Paul W.
Lots of good suggestions here.
Feed dropped on untitled areas, sometimes it helps to poke a hole in the ground and drop corn in. Especially around any stumps or trees you want to come out.
Pigs have to be trained to electric fence. Otherwise when they get zapped they jump straight through it.
If you can't get pre-trained pigs. Make a smaller pen that is solid enough to stop them.
Set up electric wire inside so that they can't go forward. Wire hog panels work well for a reasonable price and being metal they amplify the zap which is good.
Usually takes one to two weeks to be fully trained.
Smaller areas also seem to get worked up better then larger ones. I think partly because of boredom.
To help cut down feed bills. Talk to local stores about getting old produce and bread. Don't forget milk and eggs.
A friend here got in with the local bread delivery guy and gets all the old stock.
Talk to neighbours about getting their kitchen scraps if they don't compost.
Good luck. Pigs are fun but can also be frustratingly smart.