Hooray for the return of piggies to Milkwood Farm! Ahead of our illustrious plans for forested pig systems next season, we’re doing a micro-pig prepping job over winter. Pepper and George have arrived to help us prepare the suntrap for Spring planting.
The suntrap is our former top dam, which nearly failed rather spectacularly a while back and had to be moved along the contour. So now we have a north-facing amphitheater of subsoil instead. A fantastic canvass filled with possibilities, but lacking in topsoil and nutrients to get things growing. Enter the permaculture pigs!
Pepper and George are two 17 week old wessex saddleback pigs and their job this winter is to do what pigs do best – rootle around in the soil, turn over the current ground cover, stimulate the seedbank in the soil and add lots of nutrients in the form of manure.
Which is a not dissimilar task to the pig tractor we had down on the flat last winter to help prep the area for our market garden, which was definitely an asset to that garden’s initial fertility.
The pigs are hemmed in this time around with portable electronet fencing (which they are respecting nicely) and their hutch is a 1000L tote on its side with the top cut out, filled with straw. The amphitheater effect of the earthworks around them provides shelter from 3 directions and the forest at the top of our ridge provides protection from the fourth.
While the suntrap can get very hot in summer, in winter it’s one of the best micro-climates on Milkwood Farm. So it seems the perfect place to raise some pigs over winter, while adding nutrient to the space so that we can get some serious groundcover and pioneer trees growing in next season.
Our reasons for getting only 2 (rather than 10 or 20) pigs at this time of year include:
– It’s the middle of winter, and so there is not an abundance of pig-grade vegetables/greenery/seedpods etc coming off the farm to feed to them. While we can (and are) feeding them ‘pig pellets’ from the local farm store, it’s not our aim to have commercial feed as their main food stuff, so we’re keeping the numbers low till a time of year when there is more for them to eat.
– We’re still getting our act together in the scope of having a system that’s stable and bountiful enough to have stored enough foodstuffs to feed animals over winter – we don’t have a massive store of apples or honey locust pods or maize corn to feed them this year.
– Pigs take work! And this winter we’re focusing every inch of our beings on other important things (like completing + moving into a tinyhouse and prepping the market garden for spring).
– Pigs take planning! We have many acres of sclerophyll eucalypt forest over on our family’s farm that we plant to incorporate into a rotational forested pig system further down the track, but to do it well takes planning, prepping, capital and labor, all of which are energy inputs that we have to weigh up against our other current priorities…
Currently we’re feeding these pigs on ‘pig pellets’ with additions of any appropriate fresh stuff we don’t need or want for ourselves. This week it’s carrot tops and jerusalem artichokes. Next week it may well be pumpkins, potato peelings and scrumped apples – it depends what winter brings.
So while we’re still a ways off from serious (micro-scale) piggy action at Milkwood Farm, Pepper and George will be a great asset over winter to help is move the development of the suntrap system forwards.
And it’s also just nice to have them around. Which is an aspect of farmstead creation not to be underestimated.
That which makes you smile while out in the rain in the middle of winter is a good thing.
Many thanks to Craig + Susan from Morrigan Farm for the piggies! They sell wessex saddleback piglets that are trained to electric fences (a great asset if you want to rotate your pigs around the place without having to spend your days chasing them and putting them back inside the fence constantly) and are great local crew to boot.