Joel Salatin workshop part 4 – Pigaerators

Pigaerator Pork is Joel’s term for the pigs he uses in a couple of ways on his farm. Joel is famous for his use of “stacking” various enterprises on his farm, and the pigs are a classic example of how he does this. If you break the word down – “pig” and “aerator”, you pretty much know what their primary function is on Joel’s farm – I should end the post here! But I’m not going to – I have plenty of notes to share:

– Polyface buys weaners (piglets to be raised for meat) and raises them to about 300 lbs
-their first function is to aerate the bedding pack after the cattle leave the hay shed in the spring and go back out on pasture. This is accomplished by adding corn to the bedding pack when they are adding more carbonaceous material. The pack can get as high as 4 ft.  The hay gate is on pulleys so it can be raised to accomodate the bedding pack.

-120 days before the corn in the bedding ferments into nothing.  If you put it in the pack in January, you have to get the pigs in there by the end of March.  70 lb corn per cubic yard of bedding (note:  this seems like a lot to me – any input anyone?).

-a dairy farmer in Ontario using pigaerators grow long stem barley, harvests it with the seed head left on, bales it up like that.  Uses it for bedding, and when the pigs go in, they’re after the grain.  The farmer gets 800 bales/acre of 8ft tall barley.

-10 pigs for 3 ft deep bedding.  Give them an area of about 200 sq ft for 30 days.  They don’t get other feed at this point.   If the area is larger, you can use more pigs, but you have to break them into groups with pipe gates or else only a few do the work and the rest lie around.  When they can’t find more grain, they start to lie around a lot, and you have to move them out.

-deep bedding needs  to be at least 7″ deep to start.  The active biological community layer that makes deep bedding so beneficial starts when the middle is about 3″, with the top and bottom layers, 2″ each.

– Carbon:Nitrogen ratios are important.  Wood chips in the summer have a C:N ration of about 200:1, in the winter, they’re about 350:1.

-about 18″, the biological commuity kicks in and starts to ease up the carbon issue (when you first start, you have to keep adding carbon frequently, as it seems to absorb so quickly).  Don’t open it up – the microbes will exude antibiotic qualities.  Open it up after the animals have gone out on pasture.

– if building a structure that will have deep bedding, design it to accomodate 4ft minimum (wood wall will rot quickly).  Concrete tilt up panels might work (idea from audience). Pipe gates are very handy – to make chutes, to make temporary pens.

– leverage the resources you have.  If you have a woodstove, put wood ash in the spreader with the bedding going out to be spread.  Do the same with minerals that you’re adding.

– be creative with structures – bylaws vary.  Polyface built a hunting camp to accomodate their interns, because a hunting camp was permissible, while a living accomodation building wasn’t.  Someone mentioned that building without permits can be risky in this age of Google maps and aerial views – a definite issue in BC and Washington state.  Joel agreed, suggested painting the roof in camo – someone yelled – “Stealth barns!”.  Big laugh.

-When training pigs to wire to prepare them for living in the woods, use 10,000 volts.  For the woodland paddocks, use 2 wires and physical non-wire gates – once trained to hot wire, the pigs won’t go near a wire gate.  Polyface uses polyprop rope to tie to trees and loop around the electric wire.

-pigs benefit the forest by clearing undergrowth, fertilizing, disburbing the soil.  Joel showed several pictures of areas where pigs had been that were now grassy meadows, thanks to the pigs disturbing the dormant native grass seeds that may have lain there for who knows how long.

-Polyface uses a 10 pigs/acre density in the woodland paddocks – they are in a paddock for about 3 weeks, 1 time a year.  They aim to put them out there when they’re 200 lb – they’re easily controlled with a single wire then.  Everytime they eat the 2T feeder, they get moved.  Grow them out to 300 lb – takes about 2 months

-in addition to the cow shed, pigs are used in the hoophouses after the hens are out.  In some cases they can be in with the hens, but the pigs have to be small for this, because as they mature, pigs are happy to eat chickens.

For more info, the role of pigs on Polyface Farm is mentioned in practically every book by Joel Salatin, also in the many video clips of Joel Salatin and Polyface in Youtube.  Head Farm Steward over at Chism Heritage Farm has written a few great posts about raising pastured pork on a smaller scale.

In summary – I’ve always thought I couldn’t really use this part of the Polyface model -we don’t have woodlands, we will never have the cattle shed set up that they have – but discussion during this section opened up some possibilities.  Joel mentioned that one of the neighbouring farms they have an arrangement with is a horse stables…and he’s always thought it would be great to have the horses on deep bedding, rotate them through stalls and then have a pair of pigs follow in the rotation to churn up the bedding, ready for composting.  Turns out an attendee from Bellingham area does just that – she joked that it’s because she’s too lazy/too busy to clean out the stalls properly, but Joel was thrilled, and so was I, because my barn is set up with stalls from when we boarded horses in my childhood, and I was stuck in my head with the scale of the Polyface model.  But of course it can be scaled down.  Lightbulb moment.