Friday, April 03, 2009

What Worked ... And What Didn't

With the new pigs on the farm I thought it would be a good time to share some of the things that we will be changing with this group. All in all we were pleased with the way that we raised them and will follow much of the system as before, but there are a few things that will be changed. Most of the changes are just are a part of the continued journey to the place that we would like our livestock systems to be at. But, some of them are really based on what I didn't like about the first group.

Change #1: The most obvious change that we have made is a location change. This change was based on a couple of things. First of all the original pig pen was meant to be turned into a garden, I'm not completely sure if that will happen this year because we ended up keeping the pigs longer than we wanted to and thus we didn't have a chance to prepare the garden last fall (spring mud is not good for the plow, disc, and tiller). But, we also moved them because we wanted some fresh clean ground for them. Hopefully our perimeter fence will make an appearance soon so that they can have that clean flesh ground more often.

Change #2: At least to begin with I'm going to be feeding the pigs twice a day (we will see how that goes) by hand instead of with the bulk feeder. I would like to them to get a little more used to me being around and amongst them in hopes that it would help with loading and moving in the future. But, it also allows me to try some different things with feeding.

Change #3: I am going to be building a feeding platform on skids soon (once I get some oak from the sawmill). I still want my feeding area to be portable, but the place where they eat is a place that gets torn up the most so I would like to try this out for a while. Also, it would be nice to build a slightly bigger platform for the water (another place that gets really torn up).

Change #4: Since our new sow is due to farrow in June we will need to have an adequate farrowing hut for her. I have researched many different hut plans and I can't say that I have come to a conclusion yet, but she will have something more than a steel hut (unless I can find some English style huts ... I may use one of those).

Those are a few of the major changes that we are going to make. There will be others though I am sure because we are still learning a lot (I don't see the learning subsiding anytime soon)!


Jean said...

Changes sounded fun to me! :-) All part of living a life on this temporary earth. We all do learn from "changes" and go on with our life. Humm, about the garden- you STILL could turn that former pig pen into garden? I see nothing wrong in working up ground as soon as it is fit. You couldn't plant anything out there yet anyhow? Wanna extra early plants? How about creating mini raised beds using bagged boughten topsoil / potting soil for things like lettuce and radish. This will require extensive square-foot gardening practices. Garden still NOT ready when it comes to planting starts... Especially end of this month? Again, bagged potting soil comes to rescue. Poke holes in bag and plug in seedlings. You can use 5-gallon buckets filled with good soil for some plants. Once you are done using all these dirts, you can work it into your wife's future kitchen herb / flower garden right beside house to help enrich 'new construction' dirt. That dirt tend to be not very favorable for gardens (very little topsoil). Just couple ideas from me.

Rich said...

I've always thought that a new garden should be initially planted with a succession of cover crops (also called green manure crops) to build up the organic material and help with compaction issues.

Most cover crops can be easily planted by simply broadcasting the seed and then either tilling shallowly or dragging something like a harrow (or a section of fence or a cattle panel) to lightly cover the seed. Actually, only easy to plant cover crops should be planted.

Buckwheat is relatively easy to grow (it can also become a weed), it reaches the bloom stage quickly (so it can be quickly followed with another crop), it makes phosphorus available to following crops (I think), but it might be hard to find inexpensive seed.

Blackeyed peas are cheap (just buy them at the grocery store), are easy to plant (just broadcast and till), they fix nitrogen, grow quickly, and are edible (as either dry beans or 'green' beans) if you let them reach maturity instead of 'plowing' them in'. Pinto beans, black beans, navy beans, etc. are all suitable substitutes.

Turnips will help break through a compaction layer, are easy to plant (usually just broadcast them and water them in), produce a tremendous amount of organic material if they are allowed to mature (or overwinter), but might be hard to find in bulk amounts.

Don't forget things like sunflowers, sorghum (also known as milo), oats (more suited to fall and spring), peanuts (make sure they aren't roasted), or any combination of the above.

Just spend this summer broadcasting seed, letting it grow for a month or so, tilling it under and immediately following it with another planting, repeating the process until winter comes (or planning a final winter wheat/clover mix planting in early fall).

Think of it a dual-purpose undertaking, while you build the fertility of your garden by cover cropping it, also use it as a test bed to help figure out suitable plantings that could be adapted for livestock grazing.

Ethan Book said...

Thanks for the ideas ... if we could actually get some drying weather (not completely likely in April ... I think I could work it up enough.

I do like you green manure/cover crop idea Rich. That would add a lot to the soil in this spot and help future gardens ... Might see what I can do about that.

Walter Jeffries said...

It will be a good garden. Run the chickens in there for a couple of weeks. Then start with high, off the ground produce heavy feeder crops like broccoli, corn and such. Beets, long radishes and turnips will grow and break deep well but best save them for the pigs' winter feed as the area is so fresh. Then next year lower crops can go there.

See this article:

for a hut we just made that has been working well for farrowing.


Sugar Mtn Farm
in Vermont

Jena said...

Sounds like things are going well, I'm glad to hear you've had some time to enjoy the new pigs. I hope you will post about your feeding project. I still can't picture a lot of the different setups mentioned in Dirt Hog and a google search wasn't very fruitful.

Ethan Book said...

Walter - Thanks for the ideas. I like the idea of corn in that area ... gives me a good reason to have lots of sweet corn!

Jena - What kind of things are you trying to picture? Let me know and I'll see if I can dig something up for you!

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