Using pigs to dig swales

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Using pigs to dig swales

Postby andrew_k » Sun Nov 03, 2013 9:40 pm

I've just got our first pigs -- pair of sisters, wessex saddleback with a dash of berkshire from the boar's side -- and thought it might be valuable for me to bounce my ideas off y'all since there are a few past and present hog-keepers on board...

I want to plant out or back acre with walnuts and compatible trees, but it's dense black former floodplain with a water table a couple inches below the soil in winter, and no moisture anywhere in summer.

Yesterday I used a ripper on my little old david brown 880 to rough in a contour swale with 4 more parallel to it as in keyline. A dash of lime, and planted with soaked dun peas, turnips, red clover and sub clover. Once they've established, I'll move our two young pigs onto the area, vaguely resembling an intense managed rotation. Keeping with permaculture's "small, slow solutions" principle, I've just prepared these 5 lines for now to see how they perform.

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The girls have already demonstrated they have good digger genes; they moved out of their training pen yesterday and I've seeded it with squash and forage for their later enjoyment. Here's a pic from ~10 days ago. They've put on substantial bulk since then.

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Any tips warmly welcomed :)
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Re: Using pigs to dig swales

Postby matt walker » Mon Nov 04, 2013 2:03 am

They are a beautiful pair Andrew. I think your location, as you describe it, is a perfect candidate for swales to help alleviate the extremes of your moisture variations from season to season. As for the pigs helping, in my experience they are invaluable for loosening and amending soil you want to work. With regards to them working those specific keylines, well, I have my doubts, although I don't have a ton of experience. I did something similar, planted beets in rows I hoped they would cultivate. In the end, I ended up less with furrows and more with lumpy ground with a few low wallowing depressions. That said, the ground was very easy to work once they had loosened it, and for sure had a lot of fertilizer added that I was able to work in with my eventual contouring.

It does look like you have quite a bit of ground there, so I would say for sure use some sort of intensive approach to focus their efforts or you will end up with them browsing lightly and "high-grading," eating the good stuff and leaving everything else. I imagine you have a plan for that, but I would encourage you to start them in a small part of the area you wish them to work and see how they do.

Take all that with a grain of salt, just some thoughts on the subject. I'm certainly no expert.
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Re: Using pigs to dig swales

Postby andrew_k » Mon Nov 04, 2013 7:28 am

Thanks Matt, my own concerns and expectations pretty much echo yours.
The probable rotation is that they'll be confined to 1/3rd of two "swales" at a time, likely 2-3 weeks per spot.
I've hand-dug the keylines wide enough to get easily get their snouts in there. I expect at the very least they'll widen each swale by 100% or more, which would be enough for me to consider the experiment a success. The rip lines go down 1ft, with 3 passes per.

I'll try to get a pic of the sidewalls of the rip lines I did a month ago. It shows grass growing out of clay so solid it's shiny where the ripper has cut through it. A month ago the soil was a dense sludge that would hug a spade and make a slurping sound as you try and retrieve the spade from its grasp. Now it's already so hard that I had to pick-axe starting holes for the ripper, else it would merely slide along the soil surface :?
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Re: Using pigs to dig swales

Postby George Collins » Fri Nov 08, 2013 1:05 am

My hogs have produced berms of dirt around the perimeter of every pen I've ever put them in. The next pen I construct will, at his request, encompass Youngblood's garden spot which sits atop a hill. When I erect the fence, it will follow the contour line that will allow the totality of his garden to be included therein while staying above the point where the hillside goes convex.

In addition to the perimeter berm, all of my hog pens have been heavily contoured. One hole they've excavated is so deep, when dtanding in it my 11 month old boar is visible only if he holds his head as high as possible. Even then, all one can see is eyes and ears. (Ill try to post a picture. It's actually quite funny to see him in his "fort.")

That said, the purpose of swales is to facilitate water infiltration. Thousands of shallow ponds courtesy of your pigs would achieve the same effect.

Here is one of the berms:

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