Pastured Pigs Clear Out Invasive Buckthorn

Minnesota farmer uses Berkshire and Duroc hogs to clear acreage of the invasive buckthorn plant.

| May/June 2015

Thanks to six rooting hogs, Nancy Lunzer reclaimed a woodlot that had been overtaken by buckthorn. The invasive species had choked out the native plants on about two acres of her Ogilvie, Minnesota, farm. The healthy 1- to 2-inch-diameter plants were too big to pull, and grew back if cut.

Instead of opting for the costly herbicide option, Lunzer decided to try Berkshire and Berkshire-Duroc hogs, which are known for being good foragers.

“I fenced off a small area (about a quarter acre), and six hogs took it down to the dirt,” Lunzer says. Once an area was totally dug up, she moved the hogs and fence to another area. It took one to three weeks per area. She had to pull buckthorn only in the “bathroom” areas, where the hogs wouldn’t root.

She had been told that rooting wouldn’t work because buckthorn berries — often eaten by birds that spread the seed — would reseed in the worked-up ground. She speculates the hogs must have eaten the berries, too, because reseeding wasn’t a big problem.

After the hogs worked up the dirt 6 to 8 inches deep, Lunzer broadcast shade-tolerant grasses, including fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and orchard grass. After the grass was established, she rotationally grazed it with hair sheep in the fall to keep new buckthorn in check by stripping the seedlings so they dry out and die.

Lunzer received grants from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, and used part of it to purchase 2,640 feet of woven-wire fencing for the perimeter and 600 feet of PigQuik Electro-web for the portable fence. She highly recommends it — and it also works well for sheep.

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