Back in the day, pigs used to be let loose in the nearby woods to forage and fend for themselves all year, then harvested in the fall/winter. They were referred to as “mortgage lifters” due to the low input to high output qualities. Our woods are far away and there’s a creek in there with salmon restoration measures in effect that preclude any livestock whatsoever.
We are raising pigs on pasture, which means corralling the herd with electro netting and moving them as frequently as possible–known as rotational grazing. But with 40+ inches of rain per year and clay-ey soils, it isn’t easy to keep the pasture . . . pasture. American Guinea Hogs (AGH) will mow quite nicely, tearing mouthfuls of grass left and right, but when they find soft spots of thick buttercup, they quickly utilize their spade nose to dive below grade.
I haven’t fully worked out what all they glean down under, but I’m sure they grab a healthy amount of worms, grubs, roots, and tubers. What you end up with are depressions, bowls, wallows, and other such ankle breaking formations. They are superb at tilling!
Due to 10 inches of rain in October 2016, the pigs were destroying our pasture. We don’t have a tractor, so tilling, harrowing, and reseeding is a major undertaking that we’d like to avoid. So we moved the herd to an isolated area on high ground. This is known as a sacrifice area, because other than the most established perennials, you are sacrificing any and all vegetation. In order to cover the earth and avoid pugging the soil (or, completely pressing out the air), we started with spreading hog fuel (ground up logging debris), then have been adding hay and straw consistently.
AGH are a small breed, so their hoof-print is fairly light. But, man can they poop! Believe it or not, we are scooping the poo and composting it regularly to keep the nitrogen/carbon ratios in balance, which has the added benefit of destinkifying the sacrifice area, much to the appreciation of our neighbors.
Because the pigs decimated the grass in the sacrifice area very quickly, we’ve been feeding fermented grain, alfalfa, and barley as well as giving kitchen scraps throughout the winter and early spring. But, now that the spring growth push has begun, the pasture has come back to life. The grass is growing fast, but the ground is still too wet and soft to put the pigs on it. They can still do too much damage.
But these pigs thrive on grass, they love it, and we have it in abundance. What to do? Bring the grass to the pigs. The porkers have been getting a fresh cut salad pretty much daily. For this I use a scythe to slice swaths, then rake it up into a cart or wheelbarrow, drive it over, and shower the piggos in green gold.
They eat up probably 80 percent of it and trample the rest which then becomes food for all those underworld critters. So far, they are easily keeping up with the piles. It is quite satisfying to watch them chew and grunt in contentedness.