Rotational Pasture Raising Heritage Hogs: The Beginning

| by | Hogs, sustainability | 5 comments:

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).  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 system 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.

Lots and lots of cedars to take down, limb and put away for later use.
Lots and lots of cedars to take down, limb and put away for later use.
As we cleared out cedars, we also made paths that will go alongside each pasture, giving us room to work on the fence in the middle of the woods.
As we cleared out cedars, we also made paths that will go alongside each pasture, giving us room to work on the fence in the middle of the woods.

So 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.
A very rough layout of the rotational grazing pasture set-up. But you get the general idea of it. We'll be able to move them from any pasture and to any pasture. Eventually the central paddock will be under roof and will store all of our extra feed and supplies. And as you can see some pastures will be more woods than open fields and vise versa to give our pigs some diversity when exploring and foraging.
A very rough layout of the rotational grazing pasture set-up. But you get the general idea of it. We’ll be able to move them from any pasture and to any pasture. Eventually the central paddock will be under roof and will store all of our extra feed and supplies. And as you can see some pastures will be more woods than open fields and vise versa to give our pigs some diversity when exploring and foraging.

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!

The farrowing/community pen is almost finished! Gate is hung, fence is up and there's just a little more hot wire to run before we insert the farrowing huts.
The farrowing/community pen is almost finished! Gate is hung, fence is up and there’s just a little more hot wire to run before we insert the farrowing huts.
This is a view from the central paddock down into one of our pastures. There will be a gate between the first two posts (at the most narrow part of the pasture). The pasture then fans out like a pie slice all the way deep into the woods.
This is a view from the central paddock down into one of our pastures. There will be a gate between the first two posts (at the most narrow part of the pasture). The pasture then fans out like a pie slice all the way deep into the woods.

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!

Someday soon, this will be a pig's eye view from the woods looking out into their open pasture field.
Someday soon, this will be a pig’s eye view from the woods looking out into their open pasture field.

5 Responses

  1. October 30, 2014
    Reply

    It all sounds very exciting. Twenty years from now you’ll be looking back on where you were and how far you’ve come along. You’ll be able to share with others all you’ve learned about farming, pigs, etc. and how to build a successful farm and business.

    I don’t know a thing about pigs or farming, but look forward to learning about it through your blog. Enjoy the journey!

  2. October 30, 2014
    Reply

    You guys are in such a good place to really make a bang from the beginning with your pastured hogs. Great post too!

  3. November 6, 2014
    Reply

    […] it would be this picture perfect plan where we would finish building their farrowing pen in the new rotational pasture system then move the gilts in there and they would magically all drop their litters in sync. That is not […]

  4. November 27, 2014
    Reply

    […] more like mass pasture destruction and walking farts. We’ve made a lot of headway in our intensive rotational grazing pasture system and learned a lot along the way. Here’s some of our first lessons in pasture raising […]

  5. November 11, 2015
    Reply

    […] on, don’t think that we’ve forgotten about our pig pasture project. This summer was so wet and rainy that it ended up setting this project back about six months. But […]

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