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8 Tips for Grazing Pigs on Pasture and Forested Areas

Updated: Sep 27

Raising pigs on pasture is a heavily debated topic. This is because, left to their own devices, these animals can be quite destructive. However, under intentional land management practices, they can actually improve the soil structure significantly. Let’s take a few minutes to talk about how pigs improve land over time and steps that you can take to avoid issues with your rotational grazing system.



How Pigs Improve Land

“Pigs are the hardest working employees on the farm and they don't even know it.” Aaron Bradley of Colfax Creek Farm


Outdoor pigs on pasture and in forests can improve the land over time if they are managed properly. When you have pigs on pasture or in a forested area, their waste not only replaces a portion of the plants that they consumed, but they also add new nutrients from their supplemental feed.


The nutrients in the pig manure act as a fertilizer and their rooting disturbs the soil surface which stimulates new growth & aerates the soil, reducing soil compaction.


The use of pigs in land management systems is also beneficial in clearing overgrown land and ridding pastures of invasive plant species such as kudzu, buckthorn, knotweed, Virginia creeper, thistles, and whatever else is taking over your pasture.


 

Watch the Video Interview with Aaron Bradley: "Pigs Are The Best Employees: Pasture & Forested Pigs Improving Property."




 

8 Tips for Grazing Pigs on Pasture and Forested Areas


“Y'all, you gotta manage your pigs like people... with love and kindness.” -Rhyne Cureton


Grazing animals in an intentionally planned pasture rotation system helps to regenerate the soil and improve soil fertility over time.


If you are having issues with pigs destroying property or getting out of their paddocks, take a look into your management system before blaming the animals.


“It's about having a system, a management system that sets your animals up to be successful.” -Aaron Bradley of Colfax Creek Farm



1. Consider the Breed


You may have heard people say that some pig breeds don’t root, but that just isn’t true. What is true is that some breeds are more gentle on the land.


If you don’t want as much soil disturbance, then you might want to consider a breed that is known to root less, such as a KuneKune. However, KuneKunes will root if the soil is loose enough, especially sandy soil.



2. Let Them Root & Wallow


“Let pigs be pigs” - Rhyne Cureton


Rooting is a natural pig behavior that shouldn’t be discouraged, but managed instead. Allowing pigs to root while on pasture is good for the soil and for pig health.


Rooting aerates the soil, helps to get rid of invasive plant species, and opens up the soil surface to stimulate new growth.


All pigs root if given the right conditions. As the farmer, you will have to train your pigs to root less. Quicker paddock rotations will greatly help reduce rooting issues and cause them to focus more on above ground vegetation. Generally once that vegetation is gone, they will begin to root.


3. Use Discernment and Flexibility in Pasture Rotation


There is no easy answer to how long a pig should stay on a piece of land. You will need to decide how often to move your pigs within the context of your own operation. Your pig rotation system may not work the same as your neighbors so be discerning and flexible.


The main factors that influence the rate of rotation include:


Soil Type

Sandy and loamy soils can handle the weight of pigs longer than clay soil can due to compaction. Consider the soil type in your pasture when deciding how often to rotate your pigs.


Weather

Is it bone dry or has it been raining for two weeks straight? If the ground is saturated from rain, you may need to move the pigs sooner than originally planned.


Number of Pigs

The stocking rate of your pastured pigs will affect your rotational system. The more pigs you have in the paddock, the more often you will need to move them.


Breed of Pig

Breeds that are more gentle on the soil can be moved less than breeds that are prone to heavy rooting.


Pasture or Forest

You don't want pigs to be in one area of forest for too long and you may need to let forest ground rest longer. This is because vegetation takes longer to grow back in a forested area compared to an open field where they can get all the sunlight they need.



Tips for Pasture Rotation


There are some things that you can do to keep the soil changes even across the property.


1. Move Within the Paddock Daily

Moving the feeders and waterers closer to the next paddock each day can keep the pigs from overusing one spot and help to avoid a “sacrifice” area.


2. Don't Wait for Bare Soil

Move the pigs before the soil is bare. This will help to reduce erosion and stunted plant regrowth.


3. Keep an Eye on Them

Monitor the pigs in each paddock. If they are favoring one area over the rest, you may have to adjust the fencing to keep them from overusing the “favorite” spot.


4. Create a Wallow

Create one dedicated wallow area in each paddock. Reuse this same wallow each time the pigs come through to avoid compacting soil all over the paddocks.


Sandy soil wallows will drain within hours which is great for preventing permanent damage. However you will have to use more water to keep them hydrated and cool.


Clay soils will hold in water much better but your wallow will compact easily and will be hard to rehabilitate that part of your property.


4. Give the land a Rest Period

Let the soil rest for a few months before moving pigs back into a previously grazed paddock. This allows time for parasites to die off and for plants to grow back. If you are planting a cover crop, this rest period will also allow the crop to grow in for the pigs to forage.


If you are using a forest, it’s important to rest that area, when used, for about a year. This is due to low light opportunity in the forest, making it harder for vegetation to grow back as quickly as forage out in the pasture.


5. Utilize Cover Crops

Cover crops add nitrogen back into the soil, provide soil cover to reduce erosion, and can be foraged by the pigs for additional nutrition.


You can plant a mix of forage cover crops like clovers, peas, grains, and grasses along with root crops like mangel-wurzels.


As you consider which crops to plant, remember to check which ones are appropriate for the upcoming season and when to seed. For example: oats, rye, hairy vetch, clover, radishes, or turnips.


6. Feed Well

Provide feed sources that meet the nutritional requirements of the pigs. On pasture, they need good supplemental forage, feed, and constant access to clean water.


Some breeds will thrive off forage better than others such as heritage breeds. For example, the American Guinea Hog needs no more than 2 pounds of feed a day and can forage for a larger percentage of its diet than a commercial Duroc.


Be warned, heritage breeds will take longer to grow, will have a smaller carcass size, and may be more fatty than a commercial hog like a Yorkshire.


7. Train Pigs to Fencing

In order to get the most out of a rotational grazing system, the pigs need to respect the boundaries that you set up for them.


Portable electric fencing works great for moving pigs, but they require training before they can be turned out into the paddocks.


3-5 strands of hot wire can also be used as a perimeter fencing if your paddocks will always be in the same area.


Here’s is a (almost) fail proof way to train pigs:


  • Train them after they’ve been weaned

  • Keep them in a spacious area reinforced with one electric line within the perimeter while the outside is hog paneled (you can use something cheaper like plywood as well, it just need to be reinforced by a t-post)

  • Keep them in their training pen for two weeks to help reinforce the training

  • You’ll know it’s working when you hear a shock and a pig squeal… it’s a beautiful sound :)

  • If you have any pigs that after training still want to escape, that’s okay (it happens). Those pigs should never stay long on your farm because they will encourage similar behavior amongst your herd.


8. Don’t Overcrowd


Consider the size of your paddocks and how often you want to move the pigs to help you choose the number of pigs to keep in one section at a time.


Crowded conditions can lead to unhealthy pigs and an overuse of pasture. Remember that the more pigs you keep in more paddock, the more often you will have to move them.



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