Tag Archives: pigs

How Does Your Garden Grow?

With the help of goats, cows, and pigs of course!

So here’s the grand plan.  We’ll see if it works…

Step 1 – Bring cattle and goats in to overwinter where we want a large garden next summer.  Done.
Step 2 – Let them eat hay in that area to keep them off fragile winter pasture.  Done.
Step 3 – When the cattle and goats poop, cover the manure with bedding.  Done.
Step 4 – Let them trample the oxygen out of the bedding/poop mixture to preserve it.  Done.
Step 5 – When the grass starts growing, move cattle and goats to pasture.  Done.
Step 6 – Bring in some young pigs.  Done.
Step 7 – Allow pigs to till up the manure/bedding mix and turn it to compost. In progress.
Step 8 – Once everything is composted, remove pigs, rake smooth, and plant.  In future.
Step 9 – Have a barbecue.  In future.

It may sound like a lot of work, but it keeps our pastures from getting pugged up and muddified in the soggy wintertime, lets us put all that manure and wasted hay to good use, lets the animals do all of the work to prep the garden rather than the farmer or the fossil fuel equipment, and keeps the animals going and growing while they work.

So without further ado, please allow me to introduce GLR’s newest residents – the pigs!

Pigs starting to explore their new environs.

These four strapping young fellows came with me from Bloomfield this morning from another farmer who thinks like we do – no antibiotics, hormones, steroids, nose-ringing, etc.  They are a cross between a Duroc sow and a Gloucester Old Spot boar.  Both varieties are known for having great meat quality.  3 of these boys are light red/orange with some black points and spots while the other looks like a straight-up dark red Duroc.  That last one is the smallest at about 45 pounds while the rest are over 55 pounds.  They are seven weeks old and have lots of growing to do while they prep our garden ground for us!  Nature’s plow at work.

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These little guys are solid muscle.  50 pounds packed into a real small space.

Scooter thought we brought him new friends.  He was quite intent on playing with the pigs, but we convinced him that wasn’t such a good idea.

And contrary to popular mythology, the little pigs did not go “wee wee wee” all the way home.

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Barn Raisin’

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We just finished a new barn on our property.  We needed a sheltered area for the goats and cattle for the winter as well as a predator-proof nighttime roost for our poultry to deter the extremely bold and clever minks.

We had one large barn from the 1940’s already but it leans pretty badly, is elevated off the ground (not predator proof), and doesn’t offer any sheltered areas for livestock that are secure.  We have 2 useful stalls that we use for quarantine purposes, but that old barn is really not useful for anything other than storage.

So with the help of Abe, one of our Amish neighbors, we designed a combination run-in shed and poultry roosting house to serve our purposes.  The completed structure is 20′ wide, 48′ long, and 8′ tall at the lowest point of the roof rising to 12′ tall at the apex.  The poultry roosting area is 16′ x 20′ (320 square feet) and the run-in shelter is 32′ by 20′ (640 square feet).

The poultry roosting section is completely enclosed with poplar boxing harvested from our woods at the top of the hill.  The boxing goes all the way up to the roof and spacers are attached to prevent any critter from climbing over the walls.  We also sunk hardwood boards a foot into the ground below the boxing to prevent digging critters.  As an extra measure of protection chicken wire will be stapled to the baseboards, buried beneath a thick layer of gravel planted with thorny cactus and multiflora rosebushes to form a (hopefully) impenetrable barrier to predators.  If any minks, raccoons, or stray cats can get through this, then we’ll just have to give up on raising chickens.  Inside the roosting house will be a bamboo roost, nesting boxes, and a feed bin with a rodent-deterring latching system all over an auto-composting deep bedding system.

The run-in shed serves as shade and shelter for the ruminants during stormy winter weather.  On the open front we will attach 2 16′ gates to span the open side.  One gate will open outwards and one gate will open into the shelter, allowing us to utilized the gate to help us corral goats for hoof trimmings.  We purposefully placed the shelter connected to the garden area to collect the fertility from the hay and manure for our crops.  Basically, the cows poop, we add some grain and cover it with straw or hay, the cows poop more, we add more grain and cover it with straw or hay, and the cows trample out all of the oxygen.  This binds all of the nutrients together and stores them until we’re ready.  No smell and no shoveling manure!

Once the cows and goats are back out on pasture in early April, we’ll buy a couple feeder pigs and turn them into the shelter and garden area.  The pigs will root through all that hay, straw, and manure in search of the grain we buried in there for them.  In the process, the pigs will inject oxygen into all that organic matter and the whole lot of it will begin to compost.  After a few weeks we will have a garden that has been fertilized and tilled as well as a couple of pigs to eat!

This shelter went up very quickly.  It took 3 men (2 Amish and 1 Geoff), 1 teenager, and 1 kid 5 days to complete it.  Very economical as well.  Abe gets good prices.  I priced out the materials at Lowe’s and the wood alone was only $700 less than we paid for the whole structure and the labor.  Plus, it’s built far more sturdily than I could have hope to build it alone.

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Livestocking Plans – Hogs

Large Black Pig

I’m from Arkansas, so naturally the Hog is one of my favorite animals – way better than Longhorns, Wildcats, Tigers, Gators, Gamecocks, Bulldogs, or Elephants!  Woooo Pig Soooie!  Razorbacks!

We’re looking at raising several breeds of hogs at Good Life Ranch.  Like with our poultry, we’re looking at the old-time heritage breeds of hogs that have better-tasting meat, far more flavor, breed unassisted, and can pretty much take care of themselves in our woods.  The ranch is 157 acres, and over half of that is mixed oak woodland that will be perfect for finishing hogs on acorns, pawpaws, roots, and tubers.

Just like our poultry, we want our pigs to breed naturally here on the ranch.  Our pork production will then naturally be limited by the carrying capacity of our woodlots.  The hogs will mostly be expected to free-range in the woodlot pastures they will be rotated through.  We will separate the breeders, the girl growers, and the boy growers and will have large paddocks in the woods for them to explore.  We’ll see how much supplemental feed they’ll need and I’m keeping my mind open and looking to experiment a little with that.  At certain times of the year, our pigs will also be utilized to till under cover crops or clean up crop residues in our gardens as well as turn compost for us in late winter and early spring.

Here are the breeds we are considering, and we will probably end up with a couple of them:

Large Black – This is a good breed for hams and bacon, and is more of a grazing pig.  Our large blacks will most likely be a part of our pasture rotation with our ruminants and poultry once our pastures have improved enough to support them.  Large Blacks don’t root around like other hogs do, so they won’t tear up the pastures.  The American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC) has the Large Black listed under their Critical category.

Mulefoot – Like its name suggests, the Mulefoot doesn’t have the cloven hoof of a normal pig.  Its hoof is more akin to a mule’s or a horse’s.  This mutation allows them to thrive in wet areas that causes footrot in other breeds.  Farmers used to put them out on islands in the Mississippi River and let them free range all summer until harvest time in the fall when they would go pick them up again.  The Holliday farm in Missouri single-handedly kept this breed from extinction, and the breed is still listed as Critical by the ALBC.  This breed fattens easily and are known for high-quality hams.  They are listed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

Red Wattle – Another hog breed listed as Critical by the ALBC, the Red Wattle has large fatty wattles protruding from the sides of its neck.  The origin of the breed is uncertain, but the current stocks descend from herds collected from the woods of east Texas by HC Wengler and Robert Prentice.  They are known for their dark, very lean meat.  Also listed on the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, they are good foragers, are very active, and have gentle dispositions.  They also have large litters of 10-15 piglets.

Mangalitsa – This is a European breed that has a dark, wooly, curly coat.  It’s a lard-type pig, and supposedly has some of the best fat in the world.  The fat also tends to be the monounsaturated variety, which is great!  The meat is also dark and marbled, similar to beef. Only 3 places I know of in the US have this breed of hog, and they are in south Texas, New York, and Washington state so acquiring them may become too problematic and expensive.  I’d like to give this large European delight a try, but if we can’t get ahold of any we’ll try to replace them with the Ossabaw Island pig.

Ossabaw Island – This is a smaller, American version of a lard-type hog.  These pigs are domesticated versions of the feral hogs left on Ossabaw Island during the Spanish exploration of the New World.  They are small (usually less than 200 lbs) and have large forequarters to maneuver through woods and brush.  The Ossabaws have similar meat characteristics to the Mangalitsa, but are just much smaller.  The Ossabaw Island hog is listed as Critical by the ALBC and appears on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.

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