Tuesday, April 9, 2013

It's like herding... pigs!

Spring around here is probably the most exciting and busy and stressful time of the year.  Especially since we have extra projects beyond simply operating the farm because we are just starting out and growing.  There are a lot of things that we have experience that is limited to the theoretical.

For Example: a new pasture system for pigs.

We have a section of pasture that's about a half acre to an acre or so. There is hardly any vegetative cover at all and even after an entire season of having nothing touch it it still grows just about nothing.  It needs to have fertility added in a big way before it will grow much and can really be called a pasture in the idyllic sense of the term.

We decided that the pigs and their noses would be great.  Do the tillage necessary, add major fertilizer, bring egg chickens behind to do bug control and further mix in the fertilizer and THEN plant it back to something.  Pasture is the obvious choice or we've talked about possibly just a cover crop or even a fodder crop.  All those choices depend on our long-term plans and access to land as a farm.

To accomplish this goal in a more controlled manner there were a LOT of steps to get the pigs physically on that section.

1. replace the fence.  this involved tearing out the 50-ish yer old fence AND the partially smashed out of the way 100-ish year old fencing already there.  Then we could replace it with our woven-wire and electric fence.
2. obtain a larger feeder.  As luck would have it we had friends liquidating their farming assets.
3. build the house.  I had chosen a hoop-house style hut made from cattle-panels and metal roofing on the sides.  The challenge? make it pig-proof.  We'll see how long this particular one lasts and then make re-designs for future houses.
4. build a wagon-wheel with a central feeding point.  Because this section is so small to start with, an odd shape, there are 16 pigs, and we WANT the pigs to till the area, we decided that three sections was what was going to work the best.
4.a. first we had to decide on our central point and sink wood posts to which we attach cattle panels.  I (Margaret) dug all four holes 3 1/2 ft deep and put in the posts all by my self.
4.b. Then, we had to decide exactly where our spokes would fit best and get gates set up that were appropriately placed and sized to fit a 10 ft wide house pulled by a tractor or truck and account for the appropriate turning radius.
4.c.  Put it all together.  Ronn helped a great deal in putting cattle panels on the feeding area, setting up gates and step-in posts for the electric twine.  Ginger put all the insulators onto the posts and set them at the right point for our two-strand electric fence.  Jason and Margaret filled the feeder.  Margaret ran the twine for the fence and finished the fence clips for the woven wire fence so that it wouldn't contact the off-set electric.  Jason set up the fence charger.

5. Get the pigs in.

That was... a learning experience!

Sheep follow a grain bucket.  Pigs... do whatever they darn well please.  In 16 different piggy directions.  And they don't really pay attention to sticks or a crook like sheep do either.

Our 16 little pigs have been living in a little corner of the barn with an outside run.  On the OTHER side of the barn from the new pasture. So for visualization purposes: around the barn, through the sheep pasture past the sheep side of the barn, the manure/bedding pile, up the hill, through the gate, down the hill past the chickens, through the gate that is against the fence and away from the feeder.

I finally remembered that moving pigs in facilities is typically accomplished by a light-weight physical barrier held and moved by the person at the pig's level.  Me bending over and shooing worked better than sticks.  my coat being waved side-to-side like a matador's cape worked much better.  So did scraps of veneer and a rubber feed tub.  Then we managed to get 15 pigs going in the right direction.

Then we had to go back and get our one straggler and get her through all that into their new area.  15 pigs, while is much like herding cats, move a lot easier with the right methods than one pig.

6. RUN back to the house and change clothes to go to work.

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