2021 - Volume #45, Issue #4, Page #20[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
They Let Rooting Pigs Till Their GardenInstead of working horses, Homer Walden has working pigs. They start with turf, then till and fertilize it into a garden bed.
Walden discovered “pig tilling” a couple of decades ago, when he put four 30-lb. pigs in a chicken tractor for temporary housing. The next morning, the turf it was on was completely turned over. He moved it ahead and the pigs continued to root, which solved his problem of not owning a tractor to dig up the ground for a garden.
The chicken wire structure was soon replaced with better materials and a design for a movable pen that Walden has improved several times over the years. He includes instructions on how to build pig tillers (for $500-$600) that can be used for multiple purposes in his book, “Low Tech Farmer.”
“The wheel system has been the biggest development. It works on a fulcrum with the axle attached with wheels. You pull the rope that lifts the pen in the air instead of dragging it,” Walden explains.
The 4 by 10-ft. portable pen is built with pressure-treated wood and heavy-duty livestock panels, and includes a PVC waterer that holds 7 gal. of water. It’s covered with a sturdy 8-oz. tarp.
Along with the pen, Walden has developed an efficient process that works well for him in North Carolina. In August, he starts with two 30-lb. pigs that learn quickly to help push the pen when Walden moves it. At first it’s daily, then moves occur twice a day, then more often as the pigs grow.
“They are digging 8-in. deep at 150 lbs.,” he says. “They really fluff it up.”
By March, the pigs are ready for butchering at about 250 lbs. He can sell one and put the other in his freezer. The meat is healthy, low fat and tasty, Walden says.
Along with using pigs for tilling, he developed a sustainable process - from obtaining free waste food for his pigs from a bakery, restaurant and school, to leveling the areas his pigs till and using landscape fabric, to prevent weeds from growing.
“The beds should get covered as soon as weed seeds sprout and composted for six months under the ground cover. This will sanitize the pig manure. Then uncover the bed and direct seed or burn holes in the ground cover to plant seedlings for a weed-proof garden,” Walden says.
He also adapted the pen for poultry that is moved about 2 weeks ahead of the pig tiller. The chickens leave behind valuable nitrogen for the soil. With just an acre of ground, it’s a process that can work for others, Walden says. He’s currently experimenting with a 6-acre circle where the pig tiller starts on the outside and works its way to the middle for continuous succession planting.
His website includes a short video of his tiller in action and other low-tech methods he has developed, plus his book and hardware kit for his pig tiller .
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Homer Walden, P.O. Box 672, Oriental, N.C. 28571 (ph 717 712-6263; www.lowtechfarmer.com; firstname.lastname@example.org).
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