Mid-August Pig Tractor update

The good news--  The moveable pig pen is effective, the pigs are ripping apart the briars. Everyday I move the pen forward 16' and leave behind tilled ground. Depending on the weather, I refill the water tote from our cistern and move it uphill from the pen. The feeder holds 350# of feed but at this point I only add 150#s at a time.

The not so good news--  The pen is on a slope so those pigs can take a running start and jump out of the pen. The pigs do not wander far and they come to me, especially when I shake the scoop with corn. Last night we set a swine panel over the top of the pen to prevent jumping.

The figuring it out news-- The rooting action of the pigs leaves craters in the field. I need to smooth out the rutted swath left by the pigs. Whatever method I come up with, I want it to follow closely behind the pigs so I can plant soon after the porcine disturbance; I need to manage it with my small skidsteer or Farmall Cub tractor; and I should not add considerably to the time spent managing the pigs and pasture.

Moveable pig pen, AKA the pig tractor

All the animals on the farm must do more than fill our freezer and grace our table. Beyond eggs,meat and broth,the chickens turn table scraps and pulled weeds in the compost pile, tend the next generation of poultry, and scratch and fertilize sparse pastures. The ewes and lambs repeated rotations through fields and orchard improve the quality of our pastures while filling freezers with delicious grass fed meat. Like the birds and sheep,the pigs must work for the farm. Last year's pigs lived behind two strands of electric fence in the woods that border the orchard. I increased the size of the paddock over the course of the summer and this spring sowed a pasture grass mix into the almost bare ground. Later this summer the sheep will graze in the improved woodland pasture thanks to those busy pigs' snouts.

In addition to providing meat and lard for the table,this year's pigs have a formidable task: to renovate the Hill Field,a worn briar patch of a pasture,across the road from a plug for a fence energizer and a yard hydrant for water. With profit margins close for small farm raised meat,the pigs management system must be efficient as well as effective.

Applying the knowledge we have gleaned from our moveable chicken pens,outfitting with built in feeders and improved water systems,a pig tractor seemed the sensible choice.

When planning our pig tractor,we knew the pen would have to be heavy to keep the pigs from lifting it,yet light enough for an old Subaru or small skidsteer to pull it across uneven ground;provide shelter;support our feeder (which holds 300lbs of feed) and  the gravity fed nipple waterers;and have a gate for easy access. Since we like pork and plan on raising pigs for years to come,the pen must be durable and house pigs of all sizes.

Our pig tractor is 8'x 16',set on 16' skids,with a metal roofed,rough-cut lumber sided shelter at one end. The short side, opposite the shelter, has two gates. Adding two heavy 4' x4' posts across the pen, supports the feeder we built last year and braces the frame to limit racking when we pull the pig tractor. Metal cables on each short side permits pulling from both directions

This is the gate end. The shelter end cables attach on the top of the cross piece.

The pigs are happy this first 48 hours of the pig tractor "experiment". We have successfully moved the pen three feet and will add the two nipple water founts on the weekend.

Field mowing

With the help of our 1947 Farmall Cub, I mowed the tall grasses in the North Field.

In the spring, the growing pasture grasses outpace the appetites of the grazing sheep flock. The stems of are tough and unpalatable to the sheep.

Mowing with the Cub is slow work,but just the right speed to observe the ground below. The density and variety of the plants in this field has improved since we started rotationally grazing; frost seeding and just mowing,not taking off the hay. From my tractor high perch, I can see that the best pasture is on the south end of the field, where poultry pens have left behind increased fertility. The grazeable vegetation at the north end of the field is sparser and covered in an understory of wild strawberry.

To speed the rejuvenation of this pasture I believe I should add more poultry. The hens in the eggmobile, protected by electric net fencing, would add fertility and scratch in the mowed stems of grass. Adding a batch of Ranger broiler chickens would also benefit the field and fill our freezer with more meat.

Discovering the sweet spot of livestock numbers and improving ground is my challenge, The seat of the Cub was a perfect place for concocting a plan.

Managing winter hay

Until we have more pastures fenced for a longer grazing season, we will be feeding hay in winter. Thanks to the farmer who hays our land and nearby fields, we can purchase hay without going to the Dewart auction. Using the forks on the front of the small skidsteer I tucked 23 round bales into the bottom of our barn. Since moisture can collect at the back of the barn in wet weather, I set the round bales up on pallets along the back wall. I have been carrying forkfuls of hay to the round bale feeder for the Belties and to the Katahdin's feeder twice a day. Once the ground freezes  and the wind turns cold I will fill the round bale feeder for free feeding. I have been averaging 4-5 days for each round bale so I estimate that I will need to buy hay at the beginning of February. Thankfully our farmer has plenty to buy. With the back of the barn converted to a lambing paddock, I will only have room for 4-6 round bales in February. As our flock grows we are planning keep the grazers on pastures longer and to store hay in the top of the barn in the space freed up by moving part of the woodworking shop back into the house.