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Pig Tillers!

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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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 30, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Great idea will try this in Tasmania (Australia) Love raising our pigs 🙂

  2. Dean
    March 31, 2015 at 2:40 am

    Great article, i have turned most of my homestead into mobil pens. I have not let our pigs hit the garden yet as there digging rocks and black berry root from An old clear cut. This is very harsh land with mounds of honey suckel vine and stumps. 90% clay and they clear it out. Ditto on no smell with good rotation. They have done more in a week then my tractor did last year, and like you said when all is said and done its dinner time. Have you thought about making a mobil rabbitry there more like grass mowers but great for a yard.

    • March 31, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      Hi Dean – thanks for stopping by! We haven’t tried rabbits for a while; my eldest son raised some rabbits 5-6 years ago, but it wasn’t exactly a success. He got too attached to them to butcher, then we lost them when it got too hot. We may try rabbits again in the future; we all like the taste, and now that the children are older it shouldn’t be such an ordeal at butchering time. The 3 oldest boys all help when it’s chicken butchering time, and my oldest daughter has even jumped in a little on that. I’ve read (Joel Salatin) about how rabbits and chickens really complement each other in sort of a closed-loop permaculture kinda thing. Rabbits are probably in the future, but our big focus is on poultry and pork right now. We’re building up a pretty good customer base with that.
      Guess we’re in “breakfast mode” 🙂

  1. April 6, 2015 at 7:47 pm
  2. April 21, 2015 at 2:45 am
  3. November 19, 2015 at 5:29 pm

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