Pig Power! Using Pigs to Prepare a Garden
By Suzanne Cox
Months 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!
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.
didn’t take us long to see that two little piglets were NOT going to be getting the job done quickly. So we started talking about getting a few more. We had Pork Chop and Bacon for two weeks at this point, and had absolutely no trouble at all with them so far. They quickly learned to respect the electric fence, and were actually pretty sweet little things. It took them two days to figure out when feeding time was, and they happily squealed and wagged their stubby tails when ever they saw us.
Well my parents had made a few visits since the piggy’s came home. Mom and I soon agreed that we just couldn’t eat Bacon. Our new plan was to go back and purchase a boar for breeding her with, and another barrow to replace Bacon as a slaughter hog. So back to the “Pig Man” we go. Now, here is where I must say we have been extremely fortunate to have found a family who raises quality livestock and is not only knowledgeable about their stock but also takes the time to answer our questions and help guide us in the right direction. Kelly, Leah, and Clay Prater from Prater Show Pigs have absolutely been a God send to us! This time, Kelly sent us home with a registered Poland boar for breeding and another Poland x Chester cross for slaughter. Andrew named the boar Boss Hog as soon as he saw him. A fitting name, considering his attitude! The other little porker we named Sausage. Bacon wasn’t to sure about the new additions at first, and had herself a little stand off with Boss Hog when they first met.
Going into August the pigs were starting to make progress. It was very dry though, and the ground was hard. They were doing well at eating down the weeds and grass, but had not started rooting very well yet. They had become pretty efficient little garbage disposals though for all our fruit and veggie scraps! Especially during apple processing time. I’ve always hated wasting food, and we used to compost most of our scraps but I find much more pleasure in giving them to the pigs. They are always so happy and thankful about it! Here they are enjoying five gallons of apple cores and peels.
When September rolled around so did some wet weather. We were lucky to have just enough showers to soften the ground and green things up a bit. After several weeks in a row of short sporadic showers, the pigs had made tremendous progress is rooting up the ground. By the last weekend in September, they were ready to be moved into another garden! Here is the final result of 11 weeks of piggy power.
So now that the weather is getting cooler and the pigs are growing larger, some modifications were needed to their new space. Andrew bush hogged the five foot tall weeds off garden #1 and this time set up a two strand electric fence around the perimeter. At 50 x 75 foot, garden #1 is a good bit bigger than their previous location. Here they are a few days after moving into their larger space. As you can see, the first thing they did was find the row of potatoes we left in the ground and root them out. Within 10 days, they had completely rooted out the remaining potatoes in three rows, as well as digging up what remaining carrots were in another two rows we somehow missed.
The shelter also needed some re-design to accommodate our growing pigs as well as provide more shelter against wind and rain. We took our previous hoop house type design, added another stock panel and larger tarp, and spread the panel wider to make the opening shorter and the floor space larger. This time 6 t-posts were required. For insulation, we stacked hay bales around the three closed sides until the open space between the tarp and the ground was covered. Fresh hay was also laid inside the shelter for bedding. We had a friend ask us why we used hay instead of straw. Well, simply because we had an extra 100 bales harvested here on the farm and straw is currently $5.00 a bale at the Co-op! The pig’s do nibble on the hay bales, but as they get eaten down we can simply replace them with more from the barn. As the weather gets cooler, we plan to raise the hay bale sides a little higher, and enclose more of the front to create a warmer space. All of this was done with materials we already had on hand, so it didn’t cost us a dime!
With the pigs settled in to their new location and a freshly “plowed” field available all that was left was to plant something in it! We headed to the co-op for winter wheat seed and Andrew sowed the entire garden in wheat. Hopefully this will grow well over the next few months and we can use it for pig feed once mature. We also broke out the tractor to plow and till garden #2 which the pigs haven’t been rotated to yet. We divided this garden into quarters. In one quarter, my parents planted a winter garden. In another quarter we sowed more wheat. The bottom quarter was sown in mangel beets, more winter food for the piggy’s. And in the remaining quarter Andrew and I planted fall crops for our family. Hopefully we will have plenty of peas, beets, radishes, turnips and greens, and carrots soon. Here part of the fall garden week number two, with the wheat sown garden behind it.
Now we are at the beginning of October. Guess what was scheduled for October 1, 2011? The Prater Show Pig 1st Annual Show and Breeder pig Auction! Well, of coarse we had to go. We were hoping to find another female to add for spring breeding, but really didn’t go with intentions to surely buy anything. While we were there, Macey fell in love with a little girl piglet just 6 wks old. She is a registered Poland China and has much of the same markings as Boss Hog. We won the bid on her, and stuck around to watch the last few lots in the auction before paying and heading home. Well in comes a litter of Poland x York cross piglets. In that lot was an adorable little pink female who looked like she had blue shorts on. Of coarse we had to buy her to, so the little Poland girl wouldn’t be lonely. Both girls are staying with the breeder another few weeks until they are a little bigger and the weather isn’t quit so fickle. We will take pictures of them as soon as they are home.
So this summer we were pigless with gardens full of weeds. Now, we have the makings of a breeding program, pork that should be ready for the freezer at Christmas, a nice fall garden and winter wheat sown. Our embarrassment has turned to excitement, and we are looking forward to spring time piglets and gardening season!
For more updates on what’s going on at ANS Farms, find us on Facebook at “Ans Farms!” There are many more pictures and we try to post frequent updates on our newest adventures.
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