It’s been a month since we got our first installment of our heritage hog herd. 11 gilts (most of which are preggo, a few of which are super preggo), 4 young boars, 3 barrows (snipped boys) and one very adorable little Piggy Azalea (the pig formally known as Britney Spears). Â In the past month they’ve taught us a lot; how curious they are, how they can really make you appreciate a mid-day nap, and how quickly they can completely tear up an entire pasture within a few days. Luckily, it’s only a temporary pasture that’s buying us some time until their permanent home is finished. We’ve been sketching out ideas for their pasture for about a year now after talking with Carl Blake of Rustik Rooster Farm, researching the Joel Salatin method and bouncing off ideas with fellow farmers. I think we’ve finally come up with a great easy to manage intensive rotational grazing set-up for our pigs that will keep them well fed on open pasture and woodlands filled with hickory nuts, acorns and persimmons.
The most important thing to consider when creating a rotational grazing system is to make it work for your land and your needs. The field that we chose for our systemÂ has a decent amount of open pasture and a large amount of wooded areas, about 25 acres in total. The wooded area has a great mix of oak, hickory, some maples, some persimmons and a crap ton of cedars. Too many cedars. WAY too many cedars. When it comes to pasture raising animals, cedar trees won’t do jack to help you out. They grow too fast and end up choking out all of the good nut producing trees. They’re just jerks. Jerks that smell really good. So before we got too far ahead of ourselves, we had to take them out. This involved a couple good friends of ours who are excellent tree toppers/climbers/trimmers/all around awesome and capable people (you guys remember John from our “Blogging about Logging” post last year), our excavator buddy Jay who helped us with the pond and a couple huge machines. The good thing about cedars is that even though they’re no good for animal pastures, they’re great for just about everything else; fence posts, lumber, air fresheners, whatever. So all the cedar posts that we’ll take out will certainly serve another purpose somewhere else.
SoÂ while our woodlands get an overhaul, we needed to plot out our pasture design. This involved our friend, Nice Guy Ted, who is an excellent surveyor. He helped us conceptualize our idea plans into actual plans by marking out points and measuring distances for fencing and pasture acreage. With his help, our vision is becoming a reality. Here’s our basic plan for our rotational pasture plan:
- A central area that will be where we move the pigs from one pasture to another. This will also be where we can water and feed the pigs in any pasture. There will also be a loading chute where we can load pigs in and out of any size trailer or truck.
- From the central area there’ll be ten pastures that fan out much like a sunburst or pie pieces. They’ll be wide at the very end of the pasture and get narrower as they get closer to the central paddock. At the narrow end of the paddock, we’ll keep their water and any feed. By keeping their water, feed and shelter close to the center, they’ll have to go down there daily, making it easier to move them into the next pasture.
- Our first and smallest pasture will be saved especially for farrowing. The other pastures will be where we rotate our pigs every so often, depending on how fast they eat through a pasture. The plan is to move them onto the next pasture before the one they’re on is completely demolished. We’ll also leave some pastures open so that they have time to heal or be re-seeded.
Forgive this rough drawing. I’m a farmer, not an artist. But these are our initial plans for the pastures, we’ve already started building off of this and improving on some ideas. That’s what farming is all about, right? Getting it right on the third time!
Granted, it’s a bit more involved and complicated than that but you get the general idea. Basically we want it to be as natural as possible for our pigs, giving them opportunity to forage and explore and do whatever pigs do. Our ultimate goal is to make them as happy and comfortable as possible, as is our goal for every member of the Such and Such Farm family. We also want it to be easy for us to work with them and move them from pasture to pasture. It’ll also be beneficial for our pasture/woodlands, they’ll be turned over and tilled, naturally fertilized and re-seeded so it will maintain its diversity and nutritional value.
The other great thing about this rotational grazing pasture system is that we’ll be able to insert virtually any animal into this system. We can run lamb or a couple of cows in a pasture before the pigs, run pigs behind the lamb/cows, run duck or chicken tractors behind the pigs. Our goal of creating and maintaining a biodiverse farm is coming to fruition!
Have any of you experienced raising pigs on pasture? We’d love to hear your thoughts on pasture raised heritage pork!