Pig Power! Using Pigs to Prepare a Garden

| 10/13/2011 3:05:37 PM

Suzanne HeadshotMonths ago, while checking out GRIT online I ran across an article by Hank Will on plowing with pigs. At the time we didn’t have any pigs, but what we did have was one big mess of a garden!

When we purchased this property last fall one of the first things we did was pick out our “perfect” garden spot. This property was previously a third generation cattle farm. It was fertilized twice a year, and re-sown in pasture every 3 years. Which meant we had pretty fields, and one heck of a fight with a first year garden! In the beginning we were able to keep up with the grass and weeds, but after a three week period of non-stop rain many of our garden veggies drowned but those darn weeds sure didn’t! They thrived, to the point that you couldn’t see the crops for the weeds. It was a shameful site. We tried for a while to re-claim the gardens, but eventually lost the battle on all but one of them. We originally planted two 50 x 75 foot gardens, two 50 x 50 foot gardens, a 15 x 20 foot herb garden, and a 15 x 20 foot melon patch for watermelon. We harvested a tremendous amount of potatoes, a decent amount of onions, and a huge early season of zucchini. Then the rains hit again, followed by drought and extremely high temperatures. The rest of our crops were ruined. After all our efforts and expense, we ended up having to purchase produce from our local produce stands to preserve this year.

  So, my first thought when running across this article was how nice it would be to eradicate the weed threat before gardening season even began! I shared the article with my husband, who was equally impressed but for a different reason. Tractor fuel is expensive! And after all our repeated attempts to turn and till the gardens under before planting, then tilling the rows every so often to combat the grass carpets growing there, we had lost a good bit of money on fuel with nothing to show for it.  Now we had talked last year about eventually getting hogs to raise our own pork. When we mentioned it to our families though they had mixed reactions. My parents thought it was a wonderful idea, but they have never had pigs before. Andrew’s father, who was raised with pigs, was totally against the idea. He said they were difficult to keep in, smelly and ill-tempered, and just more trouble then they were worth. So we were unsure of whither pigs were a good idea for us. However, after the misery and embarrassment of our first failed gardening attempt here we thought maybe it was worth a shot.

  So Andrew got to work preparing garden #3 for pigs. We decided to use four strands of electric wire and erected a temporary summer shelter using materials already laying around the farm. This shelter was simply made, but pretty efficient. Andrew put four t-posts in the ground and then bent a 16 foot stock panel between them in the shape of a hoop house. This panel was secured to the t-posts using some extra electric fence wire and then a tarp was tightly secured on top and partially down two sides. The purpose was to create shade without creating a hot enclosed environment. This is the “Pre-Pig” garden. I told you it looked bad!

 Garden Before Pigs 

  That same week I was browsing a local sales site and ran across a pig breeder in the neighboring county. When we asked if they had any pigs currently available, they told us they had 40-60 to chose from! Andrew went on down to purchase two feeder pigs to grow out for slaughter. We had agreed that purchasing pigs to grow out instead of for breeding was the way to go since they would quickly grow to slaughter size and if we weren’t happy with pigs we wouldn’t have to deal with them long. We didn’t need two porkers in the freezer, but also didn’t want to keep one lonely pig so my parents agreed to purchase the second one. Pork Chop and Bacon were about 8 weeks old when they arrived. They were both Poland x Chester crosses from separate litters, and absolutely some of the cutest creatures I’ve ever seen! Pork Chop was a barrow, and Bacon a gilt. This was their first day with us.

Suzanne Cox
10/15/2011 12:01:13 PM

Hank we have had several people visit here who have just been amazed that we have pigs, and right next to the house and driveway, with no odor. They just don't understand why our pigs don't smell and others do. We have tried to explain why, but I still don't think they understand? Dave, I'm really attached to Boss Hog, the boar. Thankfully he's not intended for the freezer! The barrows we have all understood from the beginning that they are for Christmas ham. Thankfully, the kids have some previous experience with livestock intended for food. We started with meat rabbits a few years ago, we don't raise them anymore but we now put our "extra" roosters in the freezer. We also had that rowdy bull here this year that went to slaughter. I think it makes it easier on them when you tell them from the beginning, and they don't get surprised by what's on their dinner plate! And you're right, they do grow so fast!

Nebraska Dave
10/14/2011 5:04:58 PM

Suzanne, the only time pigs smell is when they are confined and don't have the room to roam and root as they were intended to do. I too agree that pigs, in my humble opinion, are the smartest problem solvers on the farm. When the mama sow has her pigs they can be a little testy so watch out for that when the time comes. One other thing. Don't love those pigs too much or there will be no bacon in the freezer come Christmas. :0) Have a great piglet day cause soon they will be hogs.

Hank Will_2
10/14/2011 3:51:14 PM

Isn't it great how the earth processes the manure and there is no smell at all? Also, I love the looks of your Duroc! Kelly Klober (author of Dirt Hog) raises old-line Durocs on pasture and writes about it. I am really tickled that you folks gave it a try!

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