Pigs on the Premises

We’ve been pushing our way through this cold, slow spring– peas, roots, onions, and brassicas are green in the field; the chicks are growing by leaps and bounds; and little sprouts are poking up in the pig forage plot. But until yesterday, something was missing. It somehow just didn’t feel like a farm yet. After weeks of anticipation (and some preparation), our eight Mulefoot piglets finally arrived. They came from two litters– both around two months old– on a farm about half an hour south of here. The pigs arrived in a cat carriers in the back of a truck, and though we had a non-electric backup fence set up to receive them into, they didn’t flinch when we unloaded them. They set right to grazing the second we let them out.

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IMG_2808While most pigs would race for the pan of grain, these kids spent the whole afternoon munching happily on the fresh green grass in their pen, or napping in a pile under the hay in their house. Each pig took a turn sitting in the water tub, as it was a warm afternoon, and only occasionally they would nose through the grain in their trough. IMG_2833

When we let them out into the big electric fenced yard, the piglets took turns testing the fence (ouch!), then went back to grazing enthusiastically. They seem like wonderfully good-natured little pigs, and their excitement for the green pasture gives us hope that our planned forage will work well with this breed.

With the pigs in the pasture, it really feels more like a farm around here. We’re excited to see what the season will bring with these new pigs– for now we’re just glad to have them around.

Progressive Pork

img_1368.jpgIn the Madison area, pasture raised pork seems relatively easy to find. I wonder though if most people understand the difference between pasture raised pork and grass fed beef. Although cows, as ruminants, can (some say should) thrive on grass alone, pigs are omnivores just like humans. A pig can’t live on grass alone much better than a human could.

With the rising price of organic grain, our goal is a pasturing system for pigs that offsets the feed bill more than grass and roots alone. This year our hog pasture will look a lot less like rolling grassland and a lot more like a vegetable garden. Our plan is to plant high energy and high protein crops in succesion for the pigs to ‘hog down.’ The first planting will include turnips and a mix of spring grains like oats, barley, wheat, and triticale. We’ll add clover to that mix for later in the summer. The early fall planting will be field corn with clover in between the rows. Late fall will look a lot like the first planting, but with winter grains like winter rye and wheat replacing the spring grains with the turnips.

Essentially we’ll be growing cover crops that the pigs will eat and uproot, adding to the fertility of the soil and preparing a seed bed for future crops all at the same time, with a fabulous bi-product: pork! Of course, this is still a hope and dream, so stay tuned.

Wish us luck in our experiment. If all goes well, we’ll cut our feed bill considerably and have superior meat that is something more than free range or grass fed–and I think we’ll be able to taste the difference.