When I first got into Mulefoot pigs a friend recommended that I ring their snouts or risk ruining my pastures. I decided to forego the ringing and use the pigs to plow up new growing spaces. Take a look at a pig and watch it root -- you'll no doubt agree that their snouts look and act very much like chisel plow shanks as they tear up vegetation, turn the soil and eat all the grass roots, weed roots and grubs they can find. One day, while watching them root, it occurred to me that using pigs as plows would be a great way to break a little sod, get rid of the pesky grass and fertilize the ground in preparation for planting gardens, small fields of small grains and even mangle beets -- that the pigs would happily harvest themselves come fall.
So when I laid out the pigs' wooded pen, I fenced in a dogleg of fine Kansas sod that would one day make a great place to grow corn, wheat and forages that would support the pigs themselves, such as the giant mangle beets whose tops are every bit as palatable as their 20-pound roots. My ancestors used pig-harvested corn and mangles to help make the bacon, so I figured why not try it for myself. Last weekend I fenced the pigs out of the dogleg and planted some crops that will soon support my efforts in the kitchen and that the pigs will also enjoy.
Mulefoot pigs are most definitely not the other white meat. They are a heritage breed and they prefer to live outdoors -- which is where they thrive -- not in confinement. They have loins that are too short and far too much body fat for the modern hog industry. But these animals know how to look after themselves and are awesome when used to plow up ground for planting.
Mulefoot pigs don't like getting shocked so they learn to respect smooth wire electric fencing in a heartbeat. Mothers teach their youngsters -- and most pigs only get zapped once. In spite of that, since the pigs formerly had direct access to this planting area, I fenced it off from the main woodland pen with two strands of electric (perimeter shown in foreground has 3 strands) wire -- one at 6 inches and the other 15 inches from the ground.
I used my favorite cultivating tool, the Hoss Tools wheel hoe to loosen the soil and make the growing patch more or less fit for planting. I took this opportunity to remove the few large chunks of limestone the pigs unearthed. To the east of me (in the background) the farm falls off in what can be described as a grass-covered limestone scree slope as it transitions to the 110 Mile Creek drainage.
My relatively new Cole Planet Jr. plate planter is one of my favorite walk-behind planters. I used two different plates last weekend. One for the mangel beets and one for the Mandan Bride flour corn.
We've used pigs to plow up smaller planting patches and plan to use them for a future small-grain field. I'll let you know how the experiment works out this year. Stay Tuned.
Photos Courtesy Karen Keb.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.