- X 3
Wife recently inherited her grandparents 286 acre farm 35 miles northwest of Lubbock, Texas. The farm has been used for growing crops, mainly cotton, milo and corn. Of the 286 acres, about 100 acres is crop land, about 100 acres is in the CRP program, the rest is native pasture. The native pasture has been overgrazed and poorly managed for 70 years and is grown up in catclaw mimosa and yucca. Grasses present are prairie grasses like blue grama, buffalo grass, bluestem and western wheatgrass.
The one big limiting factor in this area of Texas is rainfall. We average only about 19 inches per year. Most of the time it is not evenly spread out. This year, we went from January until end of June with practically no rain, then got nearly 6 inches over ten days. Growing crops in this area is a huge challenge which is why farmers rely heavily on irrigation pivots.
Because of all the demand on underground water for irrigation, the water table has steadily dropped over the years. Many farms in this area no longer have enough water available for pivot irrigation and have had to switch to dry land farming practices.
This brings me back to our 286 acres. We have two pivots over the crop land. It takes six wells to run the two pivots. This spring 3 of the 6 wells went down. We repaired two of the better producing wells and decided not to repair the third one when we found out it was only pumping 30 gal per minute.
I can see a time in the not to distant future when we may not have enough ground water supply to run the irrigation pivots. Therefore I am looking into other uses for the farm, thus the interest in pastured pigs. I am certain we will always have enough water for livestock. My big concern is over whether or not an average rainfall of Just 19 inches per year will be enough to support the pasture for the livestock. In periods of no rain, the native prairie grasses go dormant. Everything else dies, well except weeds. They seem to make it through the dry spells. In 2011 we only received 2 inches of rain from January to October and the drought extended to the end of 2012.
I would appreciate any input, thoughts or ideas on whether or not a pastured pig program would work under these conditions. I also need to add some facts about our weather. In winter we can get stretches of freezing weather with windchills below zero. We get at least one snow event each year. This area is rolling prairie with no trees to speak of. Summers are typically low humidity with temps getting up in the mid to high 90's and sometimes 100-110 and the wind blows pretty much year around 15-20mph And occasionally 50-60mph.
Thanks for any help you can throw my way.
- X 2
Walter lives in Vermont, so his climate is different, but he is more than willing to answer questions. He has a LOT of blog posts on the basics of what he does, and he's very successful at it. He's a member here, but I don't know how often he gets on here anymore. He and his family are good people. Best dog I've ever had came from Sugar Mountain Farm.
Doing this work will also help restore your groundwater since the land will soak up what rain that falls instead of it evaporating.
What is the lay of your farm land? how much variation in elevation is there overall and are there areas where there is more than others?
Are you willing and able to do some earth works such as swales and berms in order to get more water into your soil during rain events?
Are you ready to plant more diversity in prairie grasses to get better soil coverage and thus more roots into the soil?
There are other things that can also be done but these are going to need to be addressed first.
Once you have some good foundational work completed then you will be in a good position to raise pastured hogs.
I'm willing to give you some direction so you can make good decisions towards you goals.
I have been reading about how to build Swales. It is an interesting and effective way to catch rain water and prevent erosion. I'll be using an A frame with a plumb bob to lay out Swales on some of the steeper pasture ground. My neighbor will again let me use a tractor and equipment to make the Swales.
My wife's uncle farms the crop land on our farm. He borrowed a 5yd tractor pulled earth mover to fill in some eroded areas around the irrigated fields. I directed his farm hand to take the soil from the area where I wanted to build a water catchment basin so it worked out well. The basin is now close to 5 feet deep. It will need more work but I have a healthy start on it.
In my first post I mentioned we get about 19 inches of annual rainfall which comes
sporadically. In 2017, we got practically no rain from January to June. Then we got about 20 inches from June to September. Then nothing from September up until now. We are officially in a drought again and no rain expected into the near future. 2018 is shaping up to be a repeat of 2017 or possibly worse. I have learned how La Niña and El Niño weather pattern years can impact how much rainfall we can get.
With no rain in sight, I am hesitant to spend any money on seed for the pastures. Springtime is usually when seeding grasses around here is done because that is when there is the best chance of a rain. Summers are hot and dry unless a hurricane coming into the Gulf of Mexico pushes some moisture our way. I'm also hesitant to buy any pigs yet as all the existing native grass in the pastures are dormant and will stay that way until we get a rain and at this point who knows when that will happen. Last fall I borrowed a no till drill and seeded some winter wheat in a couple of the pastures. Most of it never came up because of lack of moisture.
This adventure will certainly be challenging. Any thoughts and recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
- X 5
Swales, terraces and such are key for us. We're on the side of a mountain. I put in some machine made terraces and swales to help control the flow of water as well as digging some ponds to collect water and store it. This way it does not go rushing down the mountain taking our top soil and nutrients with it but instead the water soaks in to the soil. Another trick I figured out is to run my fences with the contours of the land as much as possible. The action of hoof, wind, water and frost causes the soil to naturally build up along the fence lines. I liked to do paired fence lines which create reserve zones between them where the larger animals don't graze. This is where I plant apple trees, pear trees, nuts and other forages that I want to seed out into the pastures around them. The trees in these zones also provide moving shade, break up the wind and give food in the fall. I set fences to be creeps.
Seed is cheaper than feed - that is to say, planting seeds produce far more food value than feeding that seed to livestock. One of the things I did is to figure out what explore what plants grow well in our climate and soil as well as what are good for our livestock. I bought a lot of different types of seed in lots of 100 lbs each and then planted a plaid pattern across the mountain, observing how it grew, how the animals liked it, how they did on it, what reseeded or came up as perennials, what plants interacted well. From this I derived what I continue to seed with. Now I mostly patch seed with a mix of these. Exactly what species would vary with your climate. We plant:
soft grasses (bluegrass, rye, timothy, wheat, etc);
legumes (alfalfa, clovers, trefoil, vetch, ect);
brassicas (kale, broccoli, turnips, etc);
millets (White Proso Millet, Japanese Millet, Pearl Millet);
other forages and herbs.
I'm not against big iron, equipment, after all I have two tractors and they have their place. But I try very hard to design systems that don't need machine interventions very much, systems that will naturally work and naturally maintain themselves. For example, because of our intermittent electricity and long months of cold freezing I avoid pumps. Gravity has never failed me so I use it extensively. Look at nature and mimic what is useful - Mother is a good teach if somewhat of a hard mistress.
Most of all, I would suggest that you dive in slowly. Take your time. Ease into the mud. There is a tremendous amount to learn. How I or anyone else does it may not be just right for you and your location so plan on experimenting and adapting ideas.
Sugar Mountain Farm
Walter mentioned terrassing. If the land is quite flat diking to keep water in selected areas might work too , as long as you don't cross a watercourse naturally.
Thanks to Walter for sharing his great knowledge on this topic!
I figure an army of pigs will be very useful here in my woodlot transitioning back to pasture. Lots of stumps for them to play with.
I would be concerned that pigs would uproot too much vegetation you might need to combat Erosion in Texas though.
Must be some way of capturing surface water when it comes, maybe it just happens too fast. Intriguing challenge .
Goats would be a true survivor in that climate .
Erosion is always a concern. My plan is to rotational graze the pigs and keep a close eye on the condition of my grass and soil so as to not overgraze. A lot of folks in my area raise Boer goats(a breed of meat goat). We also have a healthy coyote population and the occasional mountain lion. The sheep and goat people utilize livestock guard dogs to keep these predators at bay.
I have been researching what food bearing trees might be able to survive in my area. Surprisingly, mulberry, southern red oak and sawtooth oak are some varieties recommended. Once I get my Swales laid out and put in, I plan on planting some of these on the downhill side of the Swales. Walter, I like your idea of creating neutral zones along the Swales. I was wondering what to do to keep the pigs from rooting them out or using them for wallows when they were holding water.
On February 16 we finally received a little rain, 1/2 inch. We had gone 136 days without any measurable rainfall. I'm learning not to like La Niña weather pattern years.
- X 2
As a note, the wind is blowing about 40 mph today. Our 1/2 of rain is quickly getting sucked back out of the ground.
Glad to hear you have a catchment basin Ron, the trees sound like a good idea, they will hold the water for you.
I too was interested to hear about guard dogs for pigs. Makes sense. The coyotes/wolves have been howling here the last few nights. Breeding season.
I m hoping to get enough natural pasture grass growing again as trees are removed. Reverting to pasture should be easy as it was pasture for over 100 years
before the 60 year period of spruce.
The old ditches are still visible and still carry water , and the soil looks real good wherever I have burned waste ( frozen solid otherwise these days).
THis land has been calling me to bring it back for quite some time.
Nice website Walter, even nicer farm !
Thanks for sharing.
Ron Metz wrote:I did not think coyotes would mess with a full grown pig. Guess that gives me something else to plan for. Down here, most of the livestock guard dogs are Great Pyrenees or Anatolians. I'll go back to your website and read about how you bred your dogs.
Ours are a mix of a pinch of German Shepherd, a pinch of Black Lab and a lot of Other. It's a gang war thing, mostly posturing but numbers, size and practice matter when the occasional turf war occurs. See: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/dogs
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