Swine has a filthy historic connotation, and most modern industrial hog production systems are enormous polluters and the source of much animal suffering.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have been interested in pigs grown on pasture and woodland, and am thrilled for the opportunity to partner with Chris Hansen to make this happen at Fern Rd Farm.
The field his pigs are on is not pasture exactly. It is a sod of tall fescue grass, originally sown to produce seed for the lawn and turf industry (e.g., for football fields and parks). As Fern Rd Farm is converting to organic food production this field, perhaps 35 acres in expanse, is a modest liability. It is expensive to remove tall fescue, which has tough stems and deep roots.
So bring on the pigs!
Pigs instinctively root into the dirt, searching for bulbs and small animals to eat. Their noses are both very sensitive to touch and smell, and strong, being the primary digging tool. They also create wallows, or shallow depressions that become muddy, and use the mud as sunscreen and cooling agent.
I have included a link to a less than 2 minute video I took of a few pigs. They were especially giddy at the time, obviously playing with each other and glad for some of my attention it seemed. This file will take a few minutes to open and be ready to play, but is well worth the wait. (Towards the end you may see two pigs collide. Don’t worry, no pigs were injured in the making of this video! They are just having fun.)
The hogs filmed are still pretty young, weighing about 60 lbs. Finish weight is between 200 and 300 lbs, and they go from birth to that size in several months. All the pigs at the farm now are in small staging paddocks of 2000 sq ft. Chris will soon set up larger runs on the field and put 20 pigs in half acre paddocks for about a week at a time. They will move to fresh ground frequently, avoiding the buildup of waste in any one place and reducing the risk of fecal-oral disease and parasite cycles.
It takes more time and more labor to produce pigs this way, but it avoids burdening the environment with concentrated urine and manure, reduces the need for antibiotics that enter watersheds, and gives pigs a good life where they can carry out instinctive behavior.
And from a farm management perspective, I am pleased to see this tall fescue field be rooted up by the pigs. It may lower the cost of conversion to real pasture as animal power supplants some fossil fuels used for tractor work.