As I spent my Christmas Eve stringing wire, untangling rope fencing, and stepping fence posts into the hardening winter ground, I forgot for a few moments that I don't consider myself a farmer. I forgot that I am a business woman and that I love my high-heel boots, lots of bling and sassy hair styles.
Instead, my mind was focused on knowing that as I worked on my little pigs' pasture, I was again acquiring new skills. With each experiment I undertake here on our little homestead, my repertoire grows. Each year, I discover new ways to feed my family, and families in our community. (Big shout out to Mother Earth News for this month's article on raising pastured pigs!)
Today's blog post will be about fencing. I trained the pigs to the fence by first fencing in a small area. Down the center of the paddock, I cordoned off a section with hog panels (about 1/3 of the paddock), and then strung the fencing around the bottom (about 6 inches off the ground).
I used a five-acre horse fencer, which gives LOTS of zap for this small of an area. I wondered why we had one that snaps (goes on and off) and was reminded that if it was a continuous flow of energy the pigs would become 'stuck' if they touched it. (Silly of me, but I really didn't know that.) I used a smooth 20 gauge wire and then strung white horse tape fence on top of it for visibility. (Something I gleaned from the Women in Agriculture networking day I attended the week earlier.)
Day one of having the fence on, I found that the pigs tested each side a few times, but eventually ignored it. (However, I will say that as time as gone on, I hear squeals regularly, so they ARE testing it.) I did find that the fence needed to be higher in some places - like in front of the gate where the ground is soft and just right for rooting around.
Many times I would go up to the shed to find that they had pushed the dirt up and over the fence, which shorted out the entire area. Not good.
I had considered the possibility that the pigs might break through the fencing at some point, so you'll notice that the 'hot' wire is actually inside of our fenced paddock area. I'm doing this for two reasons, 1. the paddock is already attached to the shed, and 2. while the pigs are training on the fence, I want them contained if they happen to break through the hot wire.
Once the pigs were trained on the small area, I had planned on putting them out into the woods. But after attending a Women in Agriculture symposium, I learned that it's best to finish the pigs on the acorns in our oak grove ('finish' refers to the last month or two before butchering). After seeing what an amazing job of plowing they were doing in the small paddock area, I decided to let them have the entire paddock for the winter. I reasoned that this will give me a prepared patch where I will plant our garden next year. (Plus side to that - it's already fenced in, which will keep it safe from chickens and ducks.)
You'll notice that even as I gave them the entire paddock, I kept the hog panels in place, and bent one to the side. This gives me a 'gate' - I also kept the electric fencing in place down the middle so that I can use a fencing handle to pull it back across if I want to - that way I can put them back into the smaller area if I need to.
They are very happy with their new area. Within seconds of being turned out, they were munching on weeds and grass. Last I looked, they were rooting under the chestnut trees - I'm sure they are finding some tasty treats there!
Now, my biggest concern was this: will generic white pigs eat hay on their own? (These are berkshire crosses, not heritage pigs bred to be out on pasture.) Once the snow flies, there won't be much in the way of grass out there. Will they eat hay? Will they have to be taught? Will I end up having to buy feed? Remember, my goal is pastured pigs that are fed a diet that is primarily dairy and hay. Stay tuned for that episode, coming next week.