Pig Pens or Pig Pastures
Pigs on the Farm
The latest animal species to arrive at Timber Creek Farm is the pig. Three hogs arrived one day after my son decided this was the animal for him. He purchased three feeder pigs, two female and one male. He had done the prep work already and had pens ready for them to start this new life. They had baby pools, straw bedding and a large stall to stay warm and dry.
The pigs promptly made a horrible muddy mess out of their pens. Walking in to feed or clean or just play with them left you with mud halfway up your leg. The mud threatened to suck up our little piglets! There had to be a better way.
Pig Pens or Pig Pastures
Doing some research, further backed up what I had read in Forest Pritchard’s book, Gaining Ground. Pigs do better on pasture. Well, we really don’t have pastures. We have fenced in paddocks with tall overgrown weeds and ground cover. Our property was at one time, completely wooded. The areas we have cleared are sufficient and suitable for the animals we raise, but lush, green pasture will be a long time coming. It can also be like farming in a swamp. But we make it work. So the fence line was completely enclosed with electric wire, the posts reinforced, gates added, and the pigs were let “free” to roam the “pasture.”
During the late fall and winter months, the pigs were allowed to roam the abandoned vegetable garden area. They ate all the leftover produce, the stalks, the vines and tossed the ground up better than a rototiller. They ate leftover pumpkins from the local grocery store and even planted some seeds for us to find this summer.
We have more volunteer pumpkin plants producing pumpkins than ever before. Only problem is they are all over the place! The garden had the richest deepest colored earth ever this spring. Well fertilized and ready to grow our spring and summer veggies.
How is it Working out?
Fast forward one year later. The pigs are thriving in their combination living arrangement. They have shelter from the weather, but plenty of room to roam around, with electric run around different fields. They can root around and eat any vegetation they want, but we also supplement with some grain to make sure they keep their weight up. When the gilts farrowed for the first time, we had areas set up for the blessed events plus a way for momma to still have some time rooting in the fields. The babies soon learned to follow momma and I was amazed at how early they begin to imitate her behavior.
I was worried that the babies would separate from the momma pig and stray outside the fence but this appears to have been unnecessary worry. The babies keep an eye on their momma and she seems to know just where they are at all times.
Since our pigs were raised to be handled frequently, the gilts did not mind us interacting with the babies too much. They did keep a watchful eye on us but we had no incidents of aggressive behavior. We usually gave the mom some food to eat while we inspected the piglets.
There is still a fair amount of mud in our pig pens. I am not sure you can have pigs and not have mud. But having them free ranging, so to speak, cuts down considerably on the mud. The vegetation seems to be regrowing regularly and the pigs have not cleared it completely.
With the free ranging pig set up we were not sure of exact dates of mating and had to rely on other signs of impending delivery. Luckily, advice from other pig owners and research helped my son determine when the ladies were ready to go into the birthing stalls. The deliveries went off perfectly and in both cases the piglets arrived without help or human intervention.
Layla threw us off our game a bit by only having one piglet. I was sure there must be more stuck inside, but we waited and watched and that was it. One healthy perfect piglet, named Reba. Mariah made up for it by delivering nine healthy bouncing piglets two weeks later.
Our first year into natural pig keeping has been a success. Charlie missed roaming the fields with his ladies but he and Layla have been reunited now that Reba is weaned.. Almost all of the babies have been spoken for and will leave for their new homes when weaned. The circle continues, pasture raised pigs and natural pig keeping, on our family homestead.