Pigs in the Garden

Pigs in the garden are a bad thing, right? Nope! Pigs belong in the garden, and can help you make the most of poor soil, and your end of season scraps. Pigs are also really good for preparing soil for a new garden, especially where there have been persistent deep rooted weeds.

My education on pigs started when I was researching heritage breeds of farm animals. I ran across the description of one pig: "Useful when you need the services of a pig on your land for tillage, weed control, compost turning, etc.". The services of a pig? Who needs pigs, I wondered?

So I started researching. And found that pigs can be a great labor saver and soil enhancer. Since poor soil has plagued us in Wyoming, and is likely to challenge us in Texas, that sounded like it was worth studying up on.

Turns out that your traditional farmer used pigs to till up new soil, and to clear soil for new cultivation. Pigs were originally raised on pasture, and moved around as needed. Putting pigs into a house with a concrete floor and barely enough room to lay down is a modern invention, and not a healthy one. Pigs turned out to do their natural job are generally healthier, and can provide a useful function on the farm.

That doesn't mean just sticking them in a pen and letting them turn it into a mud bog either. It means putting them somewhere that their tendency to dig and hunt for roots ends up being a positive thing. Pigs naturally behave in a certain way - when you determine where you NEED that behavior, you suddenly have a terrific source of free labor, from those pigs who are gonna do that anyway.

They can be loosed into a new garden or field area, well ahead of time. They'll start to work the soil - pigs are natural rooters. They dig to get at every bit of vegetation, down a foot or more into the ground. They leave manure behind - which is NOT harmful, as long as you keep your pigs wormed properly. The rate at which they'll turn the soil depends to a large extent on the pigginess of the pigs, and the concentration of them on the land. Lots of aggressive rooters in a small space will do better than a few less aggressive rooters in a larger space.

When you are prepping new ground, they'll get in there and turn it over and remove any roots that are there. They'll also digest a good amount of weed seed in the ground as well, reducing the amount of viable seed in the ground.

Pigs are also useful after the harvest. You can turn goats or other foragers out to get the choice bits, but after they finish, pigs will do the cleanup that the other animals turn up their noses at. They'll eat stalks and roots, and clean things nicely for the next season. You can then let the ground compost over the winter, so the pig manure won't be harsh on next year's crops.

There are some other animals that can do similar things, but not quite so well as pigs. Turkeys and chickens will dig and scratch, and they'll eat roots if they happen to run across them - they are more opportunistic diggers. Their feet are smaller and don't dig to the same extent that pigs do, but they can be effective in some situations. Pigs will go looking for roots and grubs underground in a more determined way than poultry, so they end up doing a more systematic job.

By USING your pigs, you save on feed, save on labor, and end up with better soil. Everybody wins.

 

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