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Archive for March, 2015

Pig Tillers!

March 27, 2015 6 comments

This year we’ve decided to try something new and different – tilling with pigs.  Well, piglets really.  We still have our big tractor-mounted tiller that we used last year, but this method doesn’t use any gasoline, and we can eat them when they’re done working.  Try doing that with a tractor!

These little oinkers were born back in November, so that puts them at about 4 months old now.  They’re the perfect size for this, any bigger and we would need an enclosure that was twice this size, making it almost unmanageable.  After about a week, we can say this method is definitely the way to go for us.  We get about 60 square feet of ground tilled up each day, allowing us to plant along behind them as we go.  Not only do they do a great job of turning over the soil, but they also eat the weeds, and are finding all those pesky grubs that overwintered in the ground and devouring them as well.  Last night we were able to plant about 35 feet of snow peas, a nice kale patch, and a lettuce patch in the 2 previous areas that the piggies had turned over for us.

Here’s how we built it:

We used 3 cattle panels, 16 feet long each.  They’re fastened at the corners using cable ties to form a triangle.  At each corner, we drive a T-post and secure it with baling twine.  Then halfway between each corner we drive another T-post and secure it with twine as well.  The posts are to anchor the cattle panel to the ground so that the little piggies don’t accidentally root their way out of the panels.  For shelter/shade, we used some saplings, slipped them thru the top rungs of the cattle panels, and laid a sheet of aluminum over it, then draped some old upholstery fabric we got for free from Craigslist.   So 6 T-posts, 3 cattle panels, cable ties, baling twine, scrap aluminum roof, fabric – cost us $60 for the panels, we had everything else lying around.

Here’s how it works:

The piglets are moved every day – except today, we’re experimenting to see if leaving them 2 days they will dig a little deeper for a nice carrot patch without compacting the soil.  To move them, we cut the twine on all but 1 of the T-posts, leaving a person at each panel to keep the panels against the ground (and scratch piggie ears).  The T-posts are then pulled up, leaving the 1 in the ground that is still tied on with twine.  Their water container gets dumped out and tossed outside the pen.  Then we swing the whole enclosure around the remaining T-post, keeping the panels against the ground while moving it.  This gives the piglets fresh ground each day.  They’re very excited to get to the new ground and start tilling.  It’s hilarious to see the wagging tails, and listen to their little happy grunts.  After swinging the enclosure around to fresh ground, the 5 T-posts are pounded back in and re-tied to the panels.  This is the time they get fed, water filled back up, and the younger children will climb in and play with them for a little while.  Total time to move each day – about 5 minutes; then 15-20 minutes playing with them.

          

Benefits:

* Cost reduction.  Not only do we not have to put gas in the tractor, but we’re using a LOT less feed for the piglets as well.  We were averaging about a gallon of feed per day for these 2 little piggies, but we’ve cut back, as they’re not eating it all, and they’re putting on plenty of weight.  It seems they’re getting a lot of nutrition from the soil – the area they’re in now was a big sunflower patch last year, so I’m sure they’re finding lots of dropped seed there.  Plus all the grubs, weeds, and whatever tasty treats they dig up – probably some potatoes we missed in there too.

* Happy pigs.  This is about our 4th or 5th year raising pigs.  These piglets are the happiest and friendliest we’ve ever raised.  All of our little piglets have been tame enough to pet thru the fence, but since these are being handled every day, they actually come up to you and want to play, like a puppy.  You know a pig is happy when their little tail wags, and I don’t think I’ve seen these 2 stop wagging, except maybe when they’re asleep.

* Less garden pests/Less smell/natural FERTILIZER.  If you’ve ever raised pigs, you know after a while on the same ground they can develop a bit of a smell.  It’s not really bad, but on a 100 degree day when it’s 150% humidity, the pigpen definitely has an odor.  With fresh ground every day, these little guys have absolutely no smell!  Also, we can watch them eat the grubs, and root up and eat the crabgrass, morning glory, and all those other obnoxious pests that plague the garden each year.  With a tiller the ground gets chopped up and fluffed nicely, but all the weeds and their seeds are still there, along with other pests.  Of course like all animals, whatever goes in comes out eventually.  Pigs are actually very clean animals, and will not poop in their sleeping or eating area.  We’ve found that they will “go” in a corner of their enclosure, and it gets buried over the course of their 24 hour stay.  This gives us some nice fertilizer for our plants to thrive on.

Altogether, this system seems to be working out great for us.  The only problem we’ve had is the fact we keep kicking ourselves for not having done this sooner!  The time investment isn’t really any greater than what it took to go out twice a day and feed and water them, but we’re realizing quite a few more benefits than simply turning the pigs into the garden and leaving them.  We had some serious soil compaction from them staying on the garden over the previous winter, so I ended up tilling behind them anyway.  Moving them each and every day prevents this, but still allows the earth to be turned over and the pests done away with.  This rotational pasturing thing that we’ve been doing with meat chickens works just as well for pigs.  I guess using animals the way God designed them is something that we’re still learning, and probably will continue to do for a long time.

Until next time…..

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More on a “Land Sabbath”

March 20, 2015 1 comment

In a previous post I mentioned that our family was observing a land sabbath this year, based off of Leviticus 25; and not planting any gardens or other crops.  Well, after further study, prayer, contemplation and discussion we’ve modified this a bit.  Since we don’t have enough in our stores for a whole year for the 9 of us, we’ve decided to do a better job of rotation of gardens.  We have 6 or 7 different garden plots we use, so we’re going to let 1 plot lie fallow each year, instead of planting in all of them every year and taking a year off entirely.  When we studied Leviticus 25 a little more in depth, we saw that it was teaching stewardship of the land God gave us, instead of ritually following a 7 year break in all agricultural activity.  We were basing our understanding of the land sabbath by the Jewish customs, and not so much the natural cycles that God has put into place to increase the fertility of the land that He has given us to steward.

By rotating the garden plots, and letting one rest each year, we accomplish the resting of the land described in the scripture, and still are dependent on God to provide for our food.  Not only does the scripture outline a proper stewardship of the land, it also teaches that our sustenance comes from God.  If we did not plant anything this year, we would end up relying on the industrial food system – the one that we have been working to get away from for all these years – to provide for us.  Even if we wildcrafted and foraged for our fresh food during the summer months; we would still end up at the farmers market, or worse yet, the local grocery store during the late fall, winter and early springtime to feed our family.  This would be a complete contradiction of what the scripture was intended to teach.

I guess this goes to show that God reveals himself to us in His good time, sometimes a little bit at time, and we have to always be ready to listen and respond to his teachings and guidance.

Until next time…..

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Around here lately….

March 10, 2015 2 comments

Ok, let’s see; what’s been going on around here lately? Taya and the older children have spent the last several weeks remodeling the kitchen. They smashed the old concrete counters (yes with a hammer) and completely redid them using something called “feather finish”. Then she stained them with some old stain we had laying around. A fresh coat of paint, and lots and lots of pegboard to hang things on. I think it’s looking GREAT – what do you think?

New Counters

This is our first go of the concrete counters – using chicken wire and Portland cement. It didn’t hold up very well, and it was… well kinda gray.


We’ve been enjoying some almost spring-like weather, after our big bouts of snow.

Elijah in the snow

I came home at lunch time the other day to this blocking the driveway:

Uh-oh – detour on the driveway

Which led to this nice surprise –

Surprise picnic in the woods

– a nice surprise picnic in the woods. It sure was nice to get out and enjoy the sunshine, if only for a little bit.
The children have been busy down in the woods working on their “village” – basically about a 2/3 of an acre that we’ve let them develop totally on their own – they’ve built roads, paths, bridges –

Cool bridge – it even holds Dad!

– and even some dwellings. Here’s Ian’s yurt he made from some old fabric from the free listing of craigslist –

Ian’s yurt

We’ve gotten our first batch of meat chickens. They should be ready for harvest in just a few months.

Broilers

I guess that’s about it for us for the moment. You can always keep up with our life in photos as that gets updated in real time. Hope everyone is surviving the last gasps of winter, and looking forward to some springtime.

Until next time…..

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