Eating Like a Pig
This is a year of adventure here at Bertrand Farm. We are pasture raising pigs which is becoming popular on small farms around the country. Pasturing pigs is by no means a new idea. Our ancestors, both recent and ancient, developed the method and used it for centuries. However, with the rise of industrialization, population booms, and the invention of food factories, it became less attractive to the business person to raise pigs in this manner because it required plant and land diversity, hands on management, and decentralized production; all opposites to the industrial ideal and cultural values of the time. So the engines of evolution drove us in new direction, but that is a different story. We have not lost the ancient wisdom; up and coming farmers are interested in diverse systems that are rich with information and nutrition, of which pasturing pigs can be an integral part. We are beginning to integrate ancient knowledge with a scientific understanding of nature in order to further the sustainability of our agriculture. Pasturing pigs is one example of this.
Pigs will eat most anything they can reach but have a good sense of what is poisonous and will avoid it. If allowed only to forage they can subsist very well on root crops, greens, and fruits(including vegetables and nuts). This diet will keep them healthy and growing without packing on pounds of fat. The meat that they give us will be lean, and healthy. We will be supplementing our pigs with organic grain as they get older especially to put a bit of fat on our bacon.
Before pigs After pigs
Pigs will turn up the soil in some places and compact it in others. They are very efficient at clearing land because they are constantly trampling, wallowing, rooting, and eating. We can fit this behavior into our food production system. The pigs can be used to plough land for planting crops, clearing weeds to prepare for a succession planting, or compact soils to create permanent water sources. Pigs can be very beneficial in mature orchards but will damage roots within the drip-line of trees so they must be confined to lanes between them. The eatable layer of the orchard floor should consist of legumes, grasses, broad-leaf greens, and root crops(peas, beans, clover, pasture grasses, comfrey, lettuces, chicory,). All of these need to be well established before the pigs move in. Once the pigs have foraged the entire area the land needs to rest and anything left in their wake allowed to re-establish if possible.
We have uploaded a youtube video of our pasture planting here:
Here at Bertrand Farm we have an established fruit orchard planted in lanes with clover at the tree bases and lawn grass in the lanes. We tilled up some of the the grass in each of the 4 lanes with a rototiller and planted root crops, lettuces, brassicas, and some grasses came in from before. These have been maturing since early spring in expectation of our pig family to arrived. Two of our pigs, Tammy and Roxanne will graze in the orchard lanes and cycle through them one at a time rooting and wallowing. As they move to the next orchard lane, the one they leave will be replanted and waiting for their return in a month or so. The back pastures, which would typically house our annual fruit and vegetable production, have been planted to the same delicious pig pasture and will house our other 10 swine friends.
We will have to be careful of the wallowing- it packs down the soil and could make it hard for the next pasture planting to grow and the compaction could have a negative effect on the trees growth in the coming years. Pigs wallow, or roll around, in their water to stay comfortable. I think we will start moving their water dispenser daily to lesson the compaction affects.
Something to think about; I have been making salads all week with the pasture that is growing outside the pigs pen and throwing bacon bits on it because I love the salty taste of irony. After eating it, I feel really good. Almost like running or working some more, kind of happy, talkative and not weighed down or lazy. I imagine this is how the pigs feel in their pasture, and it shows because they do an awful lot of running and socializing. Isn’t this kind of giving a new meaning to the phrase “eating like a pig”? When we eat pork, we are eating what the pig ate and incorporated into its body as meat. Animals have ingredients just like any other food. I really like the idea of knowing what those ingredients are. These pigs will be made of greens, grubs and grain. You can count on that.
I believe that we can always improve on food production, making it healthier, more sustainable, and affordable for everyone. We can find ways of doing this by connecting with others and sharing experiences. Today, many small farmers are testing these older methods of raising animals. Please share any thoughts with us. We would love to hear from you.
The pigs are coming….