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permanent pig pasture size?

 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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Hi, last year we raised 2 pigs using a smallish paddock with electric fence that we moved around the property as they cleared sections of land for us. We loved having the pigs, are thoroughly enjoying our pork, and can't wait to raise another 2 pigs next year.

We're in the process of creating a permaculture design for our farm and so aren't really wanting to clear land anymore. My husband therefore wishes to erect a permanent pasture that would not require us to rotate. I'm thinking it's not advisable but he feels on our 4 acres that rotating pasture would take up too much space that could be otherwise used for food forest, forest guilds, etc. The question came up as to just how big a pasture you'd need for the pigs in order that they didn't eat up everything in sight and turn it into a barren patch of dirt (which seems the antithesis of permaculture).

We have in mind an area of about 1/2 acre that includes a handful of very tall evergreens (edge of a wood), bushy water-loving plants (mostly salmonberry bushes), and about half of it in grass/pasture mix. This area also includes our septic field. We supplement their feed with a locally made commercial feed and they also get lots of kitchen scraps, etc so the pasture doesn't have to support them nutritionally (I also plan to grow fodder crops for them) but we don't want them to denude the pasture over the 5-6 months they are with us.

Any advice, suggestions, recommendations on size? Am I right that rotating is a far better option (I admit the look of permanent fencing appeals to me more than the electric fencing, plus with no water source on that part of the property it would be easier to run water to just one place rather than several paddocks...)
 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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I cannot answer your question directly as I've never raised pigs, however I have observed many pigs and it seems to me that a lot of the rooting and destruction of plant life is just for something to do.  In other words keeping the pigs busy and mentally entertained might go a long way toward saving some of the plant life of your pig-area.

Pigs are smart so maybe hiding root veggies inside boxes or hay bails so they have to 'work' for a meal, etc. - or running the pigs with other farm animals or adding other distractions would help.  I believe moving animals to new paddocks keeps them busy and entertained discovering new land, so whatever you can do for habitat enrichment would be part of the solution to your question.
 
                      
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Jami McBride wrote:
I cannot answer your question directly as I've never raised pigs, however I have observed many pigs and it seems to me that a lot of the rooting and destruction of plant life is just for something to do.  In other words keeping the pigs busy and mentally entertained might go a long way toward saving some of the plant life of your pig-area.

Pigs are smart so maybe hiding root veggies inside boxes or hay bails so they have to 'work' for a meal, etc. - or running the pigs with other farm animals or adding other distractions would help.  I believe moving animals to new paddocks keeps them busy and entertained discovering new land, so whatever you can do for habitat enrichment would be part of the solution to your question.


I agree. I knew some confinement pig farmers who went around to garage sales and bought every bowling ball they could find. They said it kept them from fighting so much, they were less aggressive and did less damage to the facility and themselves. Bowling pis are good too, nice and solid and pigs cant eat them. I guess they loved to toss a bowling ball around
 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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bowling pigs!  I wish I could watch that on youtube 
 
Emerson White
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
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It seems to me unlikely that any animal kept in one spot will fit the permaculture bill. In nature animals move around to avoid predation, since you don't want to share your pigs with the wolves you have to move them around your self. Perhaps you could take half an acre and put a fence down the middle, then take two (or three) sections of movable electric fence and just leap frog them from one patch to the next, coming through after they have done their thing and tossing some seeds on the ground to have grown delicious by the time you make your next pass.
 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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Thanks, everyone. I was pretty sure that keeping the pigs in one paddock would end up in a mess. I also worry about parasite buildup, although our pigs aren't here over winter (yet it doesn't get very cold here, maybe not enough to kill off nasty bugs).

Having finally mapped out the top section of our property we've learned that we have a fair amount of space for the pigs. So we'll likely split the main paddock in two (the whole thing will be about 80 x 150 feet), and then have another paddock of about half the size just across the driveway. We should be able to rotate them through these three areas with little difficulty, and the two areas are close to water sources. Of course I'll also have to just keep an eye on them and see how much damage they do.

I love the idea of bowling balls. Our male found rooted up an old pop can last summer and could often be seen playing with it, tossing it around, etc. Toys are a great idea.
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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We raise about 300 pigs on pasture using managed rotational grazing methods. We have an outer perimeter fence and then subdivide our larger fields into smaller paddocks. We use both permanent fencing and step-in posts with polywire as well as netting in some cases. The pigs are rotated through those. The pigs graze very similarly to sheep, which is what we learned grazing techniques with years ago. The pigs do not tear up the land when properly managed. Any animal will damage the land if it is improperly managed, sheep, horses, cattle, goats, pigs, humans, what ever. Graze well.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
Emerson White
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
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I suspect that 6 paddocks would be better than 3.
 
John Polk
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A general rule of thumb for sustainable numbers is 4 hogs per acre.  Since you will not be keeping them 12 months per year, a ½ acre for a pair of feeders should suffice as long as you do not keep them in one spot long enough to do serious damage.  You will want one paddock well vegetated in early spring when you get your weaners.  As the other paddocks green up, you can rotate them.  Make certain that in the hottest months of summer you have them on a pasture that provides a lot of good shade.  Overheated hogs will go off of their feed, and not fatten up well.  Since hogs love their water hole to wallow in, you may consider a paddock system that rotates around a central water hole.
Good luck (and when is the next BBQ?)
 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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thank you, Rustysdog. While I know that observation is best, I am the sort who finds comfort in numbers I can crunch. 4 pigs/acre is a good starting point for calculations.

Walter, thanks for the links. How big is any one paddock when the pigs are in it? And how long are they in there before you rotate?
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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L8Bloomer wrote:
thank you, Rustysdog. While I know that observation is best, I am the sort who finds comfort in numbers I can crunch. 4 pigs/acre is a good starting point for calculations.

Walter, thanks for the links. How big is any one paddock when the pigs are in it? And how long are they in there before you rotate?


It varies greatly. We have small paddocks of a fraction of an acre and big ones of ten acres. Realize that we have pigs who vary from wee little weaners all the way up to 1,000 lb breeders. Some groups have just 20 pigs and others have 100 pigs. Season changes things dramatically too. Additionally, just to confuse things further, bigger pigs graze and digest better than smaller pigs so it isn't even a linear equation. This is why I suggest not trying to figure things too hard with the calendar but rather to observe the grazing.

Short(er) answer: Take an acreage and divide it up into divisions that the grazing animals will graze down in about three days to a week. Have enough divisions so the animals don't return to a paddock for at least 30 days to break parasite life cycles but you don't want them too long off of the area or the plants grow too big and toughen.

Super short answer: 1 to 2 acres per paddock is typical for us and we typically rotate about one week on and a month off.
 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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Fabulous answer Pub, I've always wondered about the practicalities of raising pigs.
 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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thank you!
 
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