The unexpected solution came in the form of four piglets. When they arrived, I put them into a chicken tractor that had a watering tub. The next day, I walked out to feed them, and I found they’d eaten the grass underneath the chicken tractor— sod, roots, and all — and tilled up that entire space in a perfect rectangle. I watched in complete fascination as they kept noodling around in the soil. I decided to drag the pen forward a bit, and those pigs got right to work in the new spot. I realized these pigs would till up my garden beds without using a single drop of fossil fuel. Plus, the only feed I needed to give them was vegetable waste from local grocery stores and restaurants. And just like that, I saved $30,000 by not needing a tractor.
After a couple of days, the pigs began dismantling the chicken tractor, so I built a “pig tiller.” I made several versions, ending up with a pressure-treated wood frame and a cage made of welded-wire paneling, plus a wheel system that allowed me to easily move the pen. Then, I realized I could move the wheels forward and add a watering tub to raise a dozen or so turkeys inside — a cheap and quick adjustment. I added poultry netting around the ends and sides to raise broilers in the pen, and then I added a couple of nest boxes and roosts to house layers. Finally, I threw a full tarp over the top, leaving the ends open for ventilation so I could add a heat lamp and use the pig tiller as a brooding pen. It also makes a handy dog kennel, and last year, I covered it with clear plastic for a quick and easy low tunnel.
Tools and Materials
These instructions produce a pen that's 48 inches wide on the inside and 12 feet long, with a 10-foot wire cage. You can easily adapt these plans for different lengths. When cutting the paneling, make sure you always leave a solid edge to work with.
- 12-foot-long pressure-treated 2x6s (2), for frame sides
- 48-inch-long pressure-treated 2x6s (2), for front and back of frame
- 48-inch-long pressure-treated 2x10, for rear shelf
- 2x6 joist hangers (4)
- 5-by-16-foot welded-wire livestock panels (2)
- 1/4-inch cable clamps
- 3-1/2-inch mending plates
- 6-inch PVC end caps (2)
- 4 feet of 6-inch-wide PVC pipe
- 1/2-inch 14 NPT pipe tap
- Pig nipple waterer
- 1/2-inch PVC slip and thread adapters (2)
- 1-inch rubber plug
- 4-inch bungee cords (2)
- PVC primer and cement
- 1-1/4-inch exterior decking screws
- 3-inch exterior decking screws
Build It Yourself
Cut the front bottom ends off the two side frame 2x6s at an angle. Arrange the front, rear, and side frame boards to form a rectangle, with the front and rear boards on the inside and set in 12 inches from the ends. Connect the frame boards at the inside corners using 2x6 joist hangers and 11/4-inch screws. Attach the 2x10 shelf to the back of the frame using 3-inch screws.
Cut the two livestock panels to 10 feet long each. Then, cut each 10-foot panel horizontally into two pieces, one 32 inches wide for the top piece, and one 24 inches wide for the side piece. Clamp these pieces together to form the cage top and sides. From the remaining pieces of panel, cut two 4-by-4-foot panels for the cage ends. Attach the square ends as they are, or cut their tops to match the cage sides. (If you cut them, you'll need to weld 1/4-inch rod along the top edges of each panel to eliminate sharp ends.) Use steel cable clamps to attach the cage parts together.
Attach the cage to the frame, centering it so 1 foot of frame extends on either end. (I attached the cage to the frame using fasteners I made from 3-1/2-inch mending plates that I shaped using a bench vice and a 2-by-2-1/2-inch, 1/4-inch steel block.)
To make the waterer, use primer and cement to attach a PVC cap to both ends of the PVC pipe. Drill a 5/8-inch hole 2 inches up from the bottom of the pipe, and tap the hole with the pipe tap. Screw the nipple waterer into the hole. Drill another 5/8-inch hole 90 degrees around the PVC pipe, 2 inches up from the bottom. Tap the hole with the pipe tap, and then screw in a 1/2-inch PVC adapter, using primer and cement to prevent leaks. Plug the hole with the rubber plug. This way, you can use the waterer for animals that don’t require a nipple. In the top PVC cap, drill a 5/8-inch hole, and tap the hole with the pipe tap. Screw a 1/2-inch PVC adapter into the hole, securing with primer and cement. (You’ll use this top hole to fill the waterer.) Attach the waterer to the pen using bungee cords.
To use the waterer for chickens or other animals, set a water dish on the back shelf underneath the PVC pipe. Fill the pipe, and then quickly pull out the plug from the bottom hole and use it to plug the hole in the top cap. This will create a vacuum effect, causing water to trickle out slowly.
The easiest way to move the pen, as well as raise and lower it, is to install a welded wheel jack. (Check out my book The Low Tech Farmer for instructions on how to build one yourself. You can order the parts, along with other hardware for the multipurpose pig tiller, from Low Tech Farmer.) You can also add a door to the front panel to easily let animals in and out of the pen. To prevent predation, I run electric fencing along the top edge of the frame using 2-inch insulators.