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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The Benefit of Broomsedge

Broomsedge is listed as a "Noxious Weed" on the USDA website. It's a sign of low fertility and it's one of the most invasive weeds around. We have a ton of it on our farm. Several tons, actually. On our first visit to the farm last October we didn't even know what Broomsedge was. Looking out onto the fields we saw the image below:

Broomsedge in full glory

I don't know what this pasture looks like to the average untrained eye, but to my untrained eye it looked great. "Tall grass, something a goat would probably eat, fantastic." That was my initial reaction, I loved it. 

Over the next few months I discovered that the reddish/orage hue of our 4 ft tall fields were the result of broomsedge: A noxious and invasive weed that is a sign of low fertility. Not so great afterall.

Whether you've recognized it or not, Broomsedge makes appearances in our photos all the time. In fact, here's the last three photos I posted on Facebook, all highlighting the Broomsedge:

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Grazing in the Winter - Speed Up or Slow Down Rotations?

Willow grazing on a sunny November morning This is our first winter on the farm and the shift in seasons has posed a lot of new hurdles, including the grazing situation.

Over the past few weeks the pastures have slowly transitioned from bright, green grass to a brown, stemmy, seedy mess. The cows tend to seek out the green stuff, buried below the dead grass. The goats seek out cold-hardy “weeds”, such as rose, privet, cedar, and other small bushes/saplings. Both the cows and the goats are eating through their paddocks about two or three times as fast as in the summer. There's less available forage in each particular paddock and the animals need to eat more since they're burning more calories staying warm in the cold weather.

The rapid pasture consumption brings up the dilemma of rotating them through the pastures faster or slower. There's not as much good forage in the same amount of area, so you would think that rotating the animals more quickly would be the best idea. Generally, however, I would say that slowing down the rotation would be the best idea, if possible. You push the animals to get more out of each paddock and you also give the other paddocks a longer rest period. In the winter (and other slow growth periods) you want to increase the rest periods to encourage better regrowth and reduce pressure on the forage base. That's not a hard and fast rule, everyone has their own unique circumstances.

For instance, we have a small goat herd this year and lots of pasture that hasn’t been grazed in a long time, so I’ve been increasing the rate of rotation and waiting to feed hay. So far the goats are doing very well and we haven’t fed any hay on pasture. Depending on the weather I think we might be able to go close to the whole winter without bringing the goats hay. Another reason to rotate dairy goats more quickly is because you can't push them as hard as meat animals (i.e. beef cows or meat goats). The meat animals can be pushed to "do a job" on the pasture. The dairy animals have higher nutritional requirements (particularly during lactation), so keeping them on fresh pasture is almost always the optimal solution. That means I am moving the goats at least every other day (sometimes every day), whereas in the spring/summer I might go 5-7 days.
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