Rotating pigs

By Tom Read

All piggies on deck! Almost all, anyway. That's the pallet feeder in the foreground, with bits of plywood attached for better piggy footing. The mobile pig house is back left, while you can see the modular fencing panels beyond. Eventually we'll put a door and a watering system on the pig house. The grass is gradually being transformed into fertilzed bare soil, after which we'll move the pigs, then plant a crop.

Last year’s initial pig-raising effort went so well here at Slow Farm on Texada Island that we’ve decided to try it again this year — but with a few differences.

First, we’ve taken on four piggies this time, compared to last year’s Spot and Pinky duo. The larger herd will help pay for purchased food inputs without generating much additional labour. Building on what we learned in 2009, non-purchased food inputs will continue this year. The pigs will spend their lives on pasture with ample feed grass and weeds, plus we’ll gather orchard gleanings, carefully screened food scraps from our own kitchen and leftovers from the Texada Island Inn’s restaurant (“the slops”).

Second, we’ve built an experimental rotational grazing system that we designed over the winter.

The pig house is the same recycled shipping crate we used last year, except that it’s been further modified for mobility by adding wheels, steel reinforced undercarriage and removable trailer hitch. The whole thing tows easily into tight spaces using our quad. We think it’s big enough for four 200-lb pigs, but if not, we’ll add another mobile unit as needed. Thanks to the creative scrounging and construction efforts of our friend Jim, we were fortunate to obtain the wheels, steel and trailer hitch for free from Texada’s “heavy metal dump” transfer station rather than have to buy new parts.

The fencing we started with last year was bare-wire electric, which alone did not quite work, so we backed up the wires with a stout pallet fence. This was effective but not mobile. This year we’re trying out a homemade lightweight fence consisting of eight-foot-long wood panels (made from scrap wood, naturally) with built-in electric fencing. Each panel fits with its adjacent panel by means of a slide-together wood connector, while carriage bolts and washers connect the electric wires between panels. So far, it’s working — but the herd just got here 10 days ago and they’re still a wee bit small.

We’ve also redesigned our watering and feeding approach as part of the rotational grazing system. Feeding and watering last year took place within a steel tray and rubber tub that the pigs easily upended at will. This year’s feeder is a modified pallet — it’s got shallow troughs on either side hinged for better clean-out, plus firmly attached scraps of plywood on the “deck” for better porcine footing when the inevitable mud comes along. It’s too big to be upended by a less-than-full-grown pig, yet can easily be lifted by two humans when the time comes to change pastures. Watering is currently done with just a simple tray, but our plan is to use a nipple waterer attached to the mobile pig house, fed by two water containers on top of the house.

I’m sure this current crop of piggies, so far unnamed, will find whatever weaknesses we’ve overlooked and thereby help us refine the system. Why bother with all this mobility stuff? Partly because I’m still determined to avoid using a gasoline-powered rototiller on our farm. Plus, we like the idea – and taste — of pastured pork.


2 Responses to “Rotating pigs”

  1. 1 Margy June 7, 2010 at 10:08

    A very ingenious system. I don’t think piggies would like living on the float very much. No good grass to munch. – Margy

  2. 2 Coral Saunders January 18, 2011 at 16:16

    We are new to the island (as well as to pigs!) and are also considering a mobile pig grazing system. I’d love to come up and have a look at your set up if you are open to company!

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