Challenges and benefits of pigs on pasture

Written by Stephan Schwab on December 20, 2019

Today’s article is about what we did with 35 pigs to an area of aproximately 5000 square meters. We started in June with an area that has had low growth of pasture, quite a bit of thistles and very hard soil. There wasn’t much hope for this area to become fertile and support healthy grass plants without some major intervention.

Being located in the Pedroches valley and in the middle of “Denominación de Origen Los Pedroches” we needed to have iberian pigs on our farm. But there was a challenge. All the other farmers around here put some rings in the nose of the pigs so that they can’t dig up the soil. This practice is done to protect the pasture that is also used for cows and sheep. We didn’t want to do this as the nose ring certainly creates pain for the pig and impedes natural behavior.

Digging can also be a positive thing. Humans have plowed their field for thousands of years. However, lately a lot of information comes up about plowing or tilling is actually a practice harmful to the soil. But then again, sometimes there is no other way to get start with soil improvement.

So we decided to start an experiment with 35 pigs that have no nose rings and can dig as much as they like.

June

In June the group arrived. Each one weighted about 25 kg. The area was dry, dusty and had some grass stems left.

August

Shortly after the pigs arrived we had dug a pond for them and we were also providing them a lot of straw to play with. Over time the big bales of 450 kg got distributed and round patches of straw trampled flat emerged.

The remnants of vegation disappeared completely. There was hardly any rain so digging was difficult for the pigs but many little feet did make a lot of impact.

September

During September we kept adding straw. There had been a bit o rain and the pigs took advantage of the soil being a bit more soft.

Because of the rain we decided on September 19th to move them to a second area so that this first area can get some rest.

It turned out that the pigs didn’t want to leave the area. They were used to the electric fence and even it wasn’t there anymore, the door was open, they refused to step over the line. They are pretty smart and remember a lot. Their vision is poor but their ability to smell things is very well developed and so they smell where the electric wire is. Here is a video of our attempt to make them walk through the door:

I did read about that problem but as always one things “let’s see”. So we repeated the experience of others and ended up building wooden gates for all the paddocks where pigs will be at some point in time.

November

Unlike last year September was still a dry month with only a few sprinkles o rain. The water came finally my mid november. There hasn’t been much growth until then.

However, we noticed something interesting. The rainwater coming out from the areas with the straw had a brownish color. We do have a bathtub full of worms to make worm compost and the liquid that comes out of it has the very same color. My assumption is that beneath the straw some beneficial process is going on just as in a compost pile. The color is not from the pig manure as only the water leaking out from underneath the straw shows this color.

We found a lot of small clover plants. There has not been any clover at all in this whole area.

When it rains quite a bit the colors are not as bright as with sunshine but look: the whole area turned green.

December

By early December we had some significant growth of different forage plants. These species have been there before. I feel this time they might grow much bigger than before. All the animal action and manure must have an effect.

The grass coming out between the rocks has grown fast and is already at some nice 15 cm. That height is unusual for farms in this area. Because of that people like to plow between the trees and reseed every few years. They say the grass is loosing strength. It seems we’ve achieved the same but without burning diesel fuel and keeping a tractor.

After we had moved out the pigs we distributed about 40 kg of bean seeds and put straw as mulch on top. Now we have a lot of good looking bean plants.

Going forward

The beans will die off from the frost that we usually get during February. That is ok. We will have a lot of living roots in the soil and more biomass is added. Our plan is to plant forage for the pigs in the area from early March on. Before that we will move our 37 cows through the area to take advantage of the forage and then the pigs will return to root everything up and thus mix it all in order to prepare the area for planting.

Do you have any questions or thoughts you want to send to Stephan Schwab? You can send them to sns@caimito.net