Raising pigs on pasture and forage is not a new concept. In fact, farmers have been raising hogs in meadows, orchards, and woodlots for hundreds of years, and not just in America, but all over the world. Pastured pigs have been raised and finished on forage and grass from coast to coast.
In the not so distant past, farmers would turn a few hogs loose in their apple orchards from fall until spring. The pigs would eat all the fallen fruit, root out the mice, and fertilize the soil, providing a cheap source of meat and extra income. For the diversified homestead, raising a few free-range pigs was an excellent financial decision.
Sadly, the tradition of raising pigs on pasture and forage was lost in the late 20th century when farmers began confining their pigs in indoor hog barns. All those centuries of hard-won wisdom and knowledge were abandoned. A farmer who’s interested in learning how to raise pigs on pasture these days is going to have to do some searching to find the information needed.
Pastured pigs with access to sunshine and fresh air are much happier, too. They are living a life that is the closest to their natural habitat as they could possibly be while in captivity. Healthy, happy pigs will produce tastier meat, so it’s a win, win for both of you.
What are the Needs of Pastured Pigs?
One of the most significant benefits of raising pigs on pasture is the ease of care. Basically, all you will need to do on a daily basis is to provide fresh water and feed each day. Every week or two, the pigs will need to be rotated to a new area of pasture. They will also need a portable shelter that can be moved from place to place where they can get out of the sun, wind, and rain. A bedding of straw should be kept in the shelters to help keep the hogs warm on chilly nights and to keep the interior of the shelter dry.
Why Do I Need to Rotate Pastures?
Pigs left on the same land all year round will destroy it with their rooting. They will create giant wallows that fill with stagnant water, and the grass will never have a chance to grow back. If they are provided with fresh pasture regularly, they will actually graze. That means you won’t have to provide as much grain.
Although the pigs will still root, once they are moved on to a new spot, the pasture will recover, as long as you don’t disturb it. Thanks to the freshly applied manure fertilizer, most pastures will begin to recover in about a month’s time.
Rotating pastures also helps to prevent problems with parasites. Leaving a piece of land undisturbed for 28 day breaks the parasite cycle, but the more time you can give each piece of land to recover, the better. Try not to put your pigs back on a piece of land until the grass is at least knee high.
Another benefit of rotational grazing is that it spreads the manure around more evenly. That means there’s less, or maybe no, odor, which is one of the most common issues with confined pigs.
Do I Still Need to Provide Grain?
Yes. Even pastured pigs should still be provided with a hog feed with about 12% protein. Pasture and forage will not be enough, but if your field is thick and lush, they will eat a lot less grain. Giving them your kitchen scraps or extra milk will help to reduce your feed bill, too.
What Type of Fencing Should I Use to Separate the Paddocks?
Pigs do very well with electric fencing. They are very smart, and they learn to avoid it quickly. A single strand of electric fence with step in posts or portable electric net fencing will both work very well.
How Much Space Do I Need?
One expert, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, raises 50 pigs on 5 acres with rotational grazing. His five acres are divided up into half-acre paddocks, and he rotates his pigs based on the amount of grain they are consuming. His pigs are fed free choice grain and then switched when they begin to run out of forage and consume more grain. This system works well because it allows for variations in the quality and quantity of the forage available.
Of course, if you’re just starting out or you have a small area, you will want to scale this system down based on your needs. You’ll want to set up your paddocks so that you can give each area at least 30 days of rest with no animals on it. The best thing to do is start out with just a couple of pigs and slowly increase the number until you have your system just right.
• Pasture-raised pigs are happier, which means better tasting meat.
• You can significantly cut down on feed costs by putting your pigs on quality pasture and providing plenty of fruit and vegetable scraps.
• Rotational grazing leads to fewer parasites and healthier pigs and pasture land.
• Rotational grazing ensures that all areas of the pasture land get fertilized equally.
As you can see, many of the issues associated with raising pigs on the homestead can be resolved by rotational grazing your pigs on quality forage. If you’ve been hesitant to have pigs on your homestead because you were concerned about the smell, cost, or ruined pasture spaces, consider giving this tried and tested method a try. Sometimes, old-fashioned methods turn out to work the better than new ideas.