The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Colonizing livestock: Pigs and goats

Pigs turn new ground into pasture

Although Megan didn't explain it this way, I divide her livestock up into two categories --- the colonizers and the maintainers.  Today, I'll discuss the colonizers, which are animals she and her husband turn into areas that have become overgrown with troublesome weeds or turn into woodland that's destined to be pasture.

Joel Salatin uses pigs extensively as colonizers, and Megan's four pigs certainly had a huge impact on their pasture in very little time.  Unless you put a ring in a pig's nose (did you know that's why pigs sometimes wear rings?), the pig's favorite method of feeding is to snuffle through the dirt and find tasty tubers and roots to eat.  You can think of pigs as plows, with all of the pros and cons that comparison entails.  Both plows and pigs will reduce weed pressure immensely and let you start at ground zero --- whether you want to start there is up to you.

Effects of pigs on pasture

Of course, you don't have to let your pigs graze all the way down to bare earth, and I don't think Megan and Erek actually intended that to happen.  At this time of year, there are so many parts of a farm where you just have to throw up your hands and say "The animals have food and water.  Everything else can wait until next year!"  I suspect moving the pigs to a new pasture was a bit like our vastly overgrown blueberry patch --- just too much to handle at this instant.  I'll talk more about rotating animals later, but I should mention here that Joel Salatin uses 30 to 50 pigs in eight paddocks per acre to kill off the perennial weeds while maintaining a ground cover of pasture plants.  Each pig paddock is only grazed three times per year, and the pigs are never allowed on pasture in the winter since they'll churn the ground up to mud.

Milk goatGoats are a less destructive (but slower) colonizer species.  They function more like repeated bushhogging, eating the aboveground portions of tall weeds, vines, and small trees constantly until the unwanted plants give up the ghost.  Salatin doesn't use goats in his system because he didn't have a market for their meat and milk, but to my halfway educated eye, goats seem friendlier to the earth.  On the other hand, goats need better fences than pigs and are more appropriate to smaller operations where you can put more time into each animal.

In either case, goats or pigs are used in a paddock for only a short time, then are moved on to the next trouble spot.  Megan walked me through last year's pig paddock, which now looks like a nice grassy pasture with just a few small patches of poison ivy.  The whole thing had been chock full of the troublesome vine before her pigs went to work, so Megan gives her pigs high marks for dealing with poison ivy.

Once the colonizers have done their work, the pasture is ready to be used by the maintainers --- the subject of tomorrow's post.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.

This post is part of our Salatin-style Pasturing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Great post Anna! I wonder if one could set up fencing in the middle of the woods and use pigs to build their forest trail system. It's cheaper than hiring a bulldozer! Fencing I guess would be the big issue since they'd be long, winding lanes, rather than big squares.
Comment by Everett Tue Sep 20 16:16:31 2011
Intriguing suggestion. I know from fencing in our chickens that pastures more than about twice as long as wide don't get utilized as effectively, so the long skinny nature of a trail pasture might be a problem. I don't know that I'd want to use pigs for creating a foot trail, but maybe for making a wider avenue?
Comment by anna Tue Sep 20 17:01:49 2011

So two thoughts - first our former CSA in the greater DC area would raise one or two baby pigs each summer season and built runs along one or two long sides of the main market garden area. He had found that deer would not jump through the pig pen to get to the vegetables.
second, what about geese as colonizing poultry?

Comment by Charity Thu Sep 22 16:09:42 2011

Your pig deer deterrents sounds like our chicken moat. I think that any linear pasture around the garden perimeter works to deter deer, regardless of the kind of livestock involved.

I have to admit that I don't know all that much about geese, but I would have thought they would have been maintainer livestock. I've never considered geese or ducks very utilitarian --- all of the bloggers who raise them seem to report that they don't lay all that much and that they're very tough to pluck, so they tend to turn into pets....

Comment by anna Thu Sep 22 17:02:23 2011

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