Rotationally Grazing Pigs

You've probably noticed that we're big fans of rotational grazing. The goats, the cows, and now the pigs are all rotated around our property inside their own electric fences. While gaining in popularity, this method of livestock management is very uncommon. Yet it makes a lot of sense, if you have the time and resources to make it happen. 

Rotational grazing ensures that the animals are not living and eating amongst their own excrement. It also ensures they have fresh grass to eat everyday. In addition, the land benefits by getting some rest in between grazing periods. The farm (and the farmer) benefits by having healthier and happier animals. It's an all around winner, but it takes the time and motivation to make it happen.

Rotationally Grazing Pigs on Pasture

Rotationally grazing the pigs makes a lot of sense. Those little rooters will get their snouts running and completely destroy perfectly good pasture in no time flat. They have to be moved frequently and the land needs a long time to rest and recover.

Currently, our two gilts are rotating through new pasture every 2-3 days. They are allocated a small parcel of pasture that is dense with unwanted forages (i.e. broomesedge and other less-nutritious 'weeds'). As you can see in the pictures, they literally eat everything in sight. People seem to be surprised that a pig would clean it up that well.

First, the pigs start with the roots. They slowly unearth the entire plant and then proceed to munch down the roots. Next come the stems and leaves. After a couple days the paddock will turn into a mud puddle, especially if we get a little (or a lot) of rain.

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Bucks Get a Grazing Paddock

The two buddies, grazing together in the forest, makes me happy

Today was a big day for the bucks (and us too). They got a paddock outside of their pen so they could browse and graze in the forest. Prior to today, I would chop down saplings and bring them fresh forage. Now they can harvest their own food.

With the bucks there's some worry about them escaping. We keep them outside the perimeter fence, so if they were to escape we're not too sure where they would end up. At least with the other animals we know they would be somewhere on our property. These boys could end up down the road if they got out. They are also much more difficult to control than the female dairy goats, so we generally keep them in their pen.

However, over the past few months they've gotten more comfortable and I've learned how to manage them a little bit better. I felt I could trust them not to run down I-40 to Nashville and am confident they would remain in or around their pen if they did escape. In fact, one time they busted through the fence and I found them right outside the pen browsing on some trees.

I set up a four strand polywire fence, ran a little chute out to their grazing cell and attached the wire to the electric fencing we ran across the top of their permanent pen. That way they always have access to their pen if they want it.

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Rotationally Grazing Through the Drought

The drought takes its toll. The bottom of a "pond" dries up.

Right now our area is anywhere from 30-50% behind average annual rainfall. The ground “crunches” when you walk on it. There’s still plenty of green rose bushes, lespedeza and other plants that can tolerate the drought, but all the fescue, johnson and orchard grass is dead. At least we have some grass though. Not many people in our area do. Literally every person we know that raises animals in our neck of the woods is feeding hay right now.

Feeding hay isn’t typical in June and the beginning of July. There’s generally enough pasture to go around. Our neighbors say they’ll sometimes need to feed hay at the end of August or early September if the fall rains start late (or never come), but very rarely do they start feeding hay this early in the summer.

When we drive to town it’s pasture after pasture of bare dirt. Cows and horses eating hay off tens, or even hundreds, of acres of dirt. A few months ago those fields were lush. And there’s a high likelihood that those fields would still have some grass if the farmers started rotationally grazing.

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