We are seeing results from our “Forest Hogs” already, and I am impressed. When they were just 9 weeks old, we turned the pigs out into a roughly 1/2 acre section of woodland, with a small section of pasture adjoining it. Here is what the land looked like when we turned them out: (Notice the fallen spruce tree in the center to give you reference).
Just 2.5 weeks later, I took this picture from the same spot:
Now granted, they had a little help. We turned 2 cow/calf pairs out with the pigs randomly, for a total of 7 days in the forest paddock. The donkey was out there for less than 2 days, and the goats for maybe 2 days. Although certainly not necessary, I figured all the animals would create some “mob” effect, which essentially creates natural competition and encourages them to eat more and faster. They’re just like my 4 and 5 year old boys, each of whom are convinced it is sole duty to NOT allow the other to eat more of some treat. Because so many different species are involved, their natural grazing/browsing habits complement each other. After 2.5 weeks, the brush was eaten from the height of the cows’ backs and down. There is almost no green foliage left. The next picture shows 2 sections of the 2.5 acre forest lot, with our electric fence netting dividing it into smaller sections. The right side of the photo used to look just like the left side. After 2.5 weeks, the pigs were moved into the left side paddock to eat it down as well.
Here is another view from the adjoining pasture area. The foreground shows the grazed down paddock and pasture, while the background shows a future paddock to be grazed. Notice the difference in the height of the grass, which shows where the electric fence ran. The animals graze right to the electric netting.
As you can see, they don’t just eat forage either. Pretty much everything that grows is considered edible. This photo shows the electric netting again, dividing the already grazed pasture portion of the paddock on the left, and the new pasture on the right.
I have seen enough photographic evidence to leave me no doubt that if I left the pigs longer, or if I decreased the size of the pen, or if I fed them less supplements, that they would literally clear that paddock down to bare earth. I have studied a number of pasture-pig farmers who do it that way, allowing the pigs to tear down everything, and then the farmer rebuilds his pasture from scratch. I decided I didn’t want to do that, though. I preferred to have the pigs “massage” the land, clean it up a bit, spread some fertilizer, and then move on. Then, if I have time, I can go in and manually whack down the remaining sapling and brush stems OR I can rotate the pigs through again in a few months. Waiting a while gives the slightly over-grazed pasture time to replenish itself while also allowing all the accumulated manure to break down and be absorbed in the soil without being overloaded. By the time the pigs will move through again, they will likely be twice as big, and therefore eat twice as much in the same time frame.
Although it isn’t necessary, I have chosen to supplement their forage diet. In a paddock like this, they eat not only all the leaves and grass, but also bugs, slugs, frogs, leaves, branches, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, and more. Pigs are not just vegetarians. They are omnivores, and require high protein levels to thrive. If I raised them strictly on forage, they would likely either take longer to reach an ideal slaughter weight, and/or be much leaner and lighter at slaughter time. Thus, I have decided to supplement with my excess goat milk. I sour the milk for 24 hours (apparently the extra probiotics are better for them), mix in some organic rolled cereal grains, leftovers from dinner, anything I want to clean out of the fridge or cabinets, extra eggs (complete with shells), and so on. They absolutely go crazy over the “slop” concoctions we come up with. This also means they come running every time they hear us call, in the hopes we are bringing that slop pail along.
An additional fact worth mentioning is that pigs are great manure spreaders! I don’t mean they poop everywhere, either, although they do that as well. I mean pigs LOVE cow patties as much as chickens. My chickens have stayed busy rotating through the the main pastures, helping us break down cow patties there, as well as waging war on the Japanese beetle crop in the orchard this summer. Meanwhile, I am loath to pet the pigs lately, as these warm….no, I mean incredibly, ridiculously, HOT….days have driven the pigs to desperate measures. They absolutely love to roll in those fresh cow patties. They roll, plow, dig, spread, you name it. Although disgusting to watch, it does a great service. It helps the manure break down much faster, and prevents fly larvae from accumulating, and subsequently hatching out of the patties. That’s always a good thing.
For the sake of my non-farmer readers, though, I took a cleaner picture to close with. Isn’t she cute?!