Time to borrow some pigs…

| Farming, Gardening, Market Garden, Pigs, Uncategorized | 14 comments | Author :

Pigs are something we’ve wanted to experiment with at Milkwood for ages. Piggies are way cool. They dig up and turn over ground, they provide valuable manure, process organic waste, and they’re great fun to watch!

But with all our other current agendas at the farm, designing a system and setting up the infrastructure for pigs permanently is not on the cards this year. However we do currently need to prepare the ground for our market garden. And why plough when you can use biology to do the job? Enter the pig tractor system!

Nick herding Milly the pig with red 'pig boards' towards the pig trailer, with the help of James Caspar

Fortunately we have friends of piggish persuasion. Georgie and James Caspar run Ormiston Free Range Pork just over the hill from us. And so we took the plunge: Er, Georgie and James, can we borrow some pigs?

Huzzah! Milly (a black berkshire) and Sausy (a white cross) the pigs have come to stay for a month or so. Their mission, which they seem to have accepted, is to pig tractor all 400 square meters of our market garden area in four weeks.

Sausy and Milly finally in the pig trailer, and ready to be borrowed!

To do this, we’ve divided the market garden area into four quadrants, which the pigs will take on one at a time. They’re kept in by the boundary fence which has an electric wire attached at snout height, and by temporary electric fencing (that we also use to crash graze sheep) that defines the quadrant.

Following Joel Salatin’s suggestion, we’re running 7000 volts through the electric fence, which is a goodly amount to ‘train a pig’. They only need to get one or two shocks at that intensity to learn to stay clear of the fence…

Our new market garden fence, with electrified anti-pig-escape technology

And what pig wouldn’t want to stay in, with the luxury provided them… strawbale lodgings, fresh water, and all the grain, scraps and whey they can eat…

A pig tractor is a great way to prepare ground that needs a serious going-over, as the pigs literally turn the soil upside down, eating all the starchy roots of the grass as they go.

That the pigs condition the ground with rich manure is a serious bonus. We’re hoping they’ll do the trick for prepping our market garden space.

Milly and Sausy, installed and ready to tractor
Milly digs into her welcome banquet

James and Georgie also lent us some funky mobile pig shelter structures – essentially cages made of re-bar that fit raw bales inside.

These are great for our scenario – they keep the pigs warm, the cages means the pigs can’t knock the rawbales down, and they take about 10 minutes to move to the next quadrant. Simple, cheap. comfortable pig shelter solution.

Pig shelter cages, ready to be filled with raw bales. After we remove Ashar, that is.
Completed pig shelter, perfect for it's temporary purpose.
And after only 24 hours, Milly and Sausy are already hard at it. Go piggies, go!

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  • Love your pigs! I have read/seen chicken tractoring, but not pigs, but it looks like they’ll be very effective. You will get some of the best produce out of the smelly muck they’ll leave you!

  • Man, they’ll be loving that! They’re amazing to watch, aren’t they?

  • Hi folks,
    Must be the time of year for it, we have 3 little pigs hard at work prepping our future market garden site (hope to be planting in it by October). However our soil is somewhat wetter than yours (by the looks of it) as we have had over 200mm of rain so far this winter.
    They do love their mud and my morning chores take that little bit longer as I get caught up watching them frolic. I need to get some good footage up on our blog as I love the conversations they have.
    cheers guys, your blog is inspirational.

  • wow what a great idea…

  • Sigh… one day I’ll have enough land to have a few pigs! Until then I’ll just have to make do with my hens. Much more suited to my suburban block.

    Looks like they’ll do a great job for you.

  • Erin

    Two words… OR. SUM. Now I want pigs, damnit! Thanks for the great blog, milkwoodians.

  • I have had a chicken tractor for a few months now. All ways amazed at how quickly my girls can prepare a bed. The wonderful thing I like about this approach is the animals don’t consider it work. My girls are always excited to take the tractor for a spin.

  • So much less work if you can get an animal that enjoys the work to do it for you. Its definately on the cards at our place, as we are planning on growing our own grain crops next year.

  • celia

    My Charlette and Bounce are digging their way around my 15 acres of ex orchard, leveling out the humps and hollows that were running down the hills, funneling moisture and nutrient to my neighbour. It now only takes 1 pass with the cultivator instead of several to ready the ground for beds or swales on the contour. And they are beautiful, sweet cheerful souls! They love their toys (tied to a stake so they don’t roll down the hill) and sharing their space (but not their food!) with the chookies.

  • Kimberley

    Fabulous idea with the portable hay-bale pen things. Any chance I could get in contact with the makers? Could you please email me their details? Many thanks, and concur with the other post – your blog and story has been an inspiration for a couple of years now.

    • Hi Kimberly, the porta-bale structures are a home-made job, just using re-bar (the re-enforcing bar in concrete) that comes in sheets, bent into shape and some simple welding for bars in between – you could probably get away with ropes instead of the welded cross-bars actually – have a go!

  • Nicole Sadlier

    Even more great reasons to visit Milkwood…piggies! I was very excited to see you have free ranging piggies on the farm. I’ve always had a think for these snouty, curly tailed farm friends and then really fell in love with them at a rare breeds farm on Kangaroo Island. Good to see they’re working hard for you. Great idea for prepping the market garden…nice work guys.