A Moveable Pig Pen That Saves Money

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PHOTO: JOAN R. CHAPIN
 A moveable pig pen allows hogs to practice their natural instincts to root and helps with garden work.

Because pigs seem to produce more edible meat per
pound of feed than do other four-footed animals, we’ve
found that the critters represent a relatively secure and
profitable homestead investment. As an added advantage, the
porkers — if the need arises — can be butchered at
any age, without regard to their stage of growth and meat
preparedness.
We became concerned, however, that our swine were able to
wallow idly during a good part of the year, while the grain
they consumed was costing us more by the month. In fact,
our frustration over rising feed costs inspired us to start
thumbing through back issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and scanning the
feed grain sections of seed catalogs in search of
some money-saving alternatives.

How to Save Money While Raising Pigs

Our solution was developed (after a good bit of head
scratching) from ideas we found in Gary Nelson’s article
Pigs Plow My Garden,” which
suggests putting the animals’ snouts to work as rototillers and in an R.H. Shumway Seeds catalog, which listed
an “Annual Hog Pasture Mixture” containing 11
different seed varieties (field peas, soybeans, hairy
vetch, clover, rape, sorghum, millet, turnips, barley,
oats, and rutabagas) that are ready for grazing in six
weeks.
We concluded, therefore, that if we set aside some pasture
for pork, our pigs’ grain consumption would be less for at
least six months of the year. Also, as they ate,
the animals would automatically “till” the fields for
subsequent plantings. The idea became even more appealing
when we realized that pasturing pigs, whether young stock
or pregnant sows, makes excellent nutritional sense. It
seems that most green foods — especially
grasses — provide carotene, which is converted to
vitamin A and stored in the liver. Shortages of this
vitamin may cause piglets to be stillborn or to die shortly
afterbirth. (Furthermore, if pigs receive only the bare
minimum requirement of vitamin A, they may still suffer a
retardation of growth: In a short time the pig’s head
becomes too large in proportion to its body.)

Make a Moveable Pig Pen

As we mulled over our brainstorm, a
different — and larger — problem began to take
shape. Our “Big Sally,” you see, weighed at least 450
pounds. If the notion came upon her to head for a spot
where the grass appeared to be greener, she’d make short
work of the pasture fence. We had visions of her rooting up
small outbuildings at a single snort!
Lovable as they were, our grown pigs would need very
strong pens. Leave it to my semi-retired
husband to design enclosures made from steel! Once Paul sat
down with a drawing pad that snowy February evening, poor
Sal never had a roaming chance. He sketched and doodled and
finally worked up a plan for a 10-foot angle-iron enclosure
with steel wheels and a draw bar. In other words, a
movable hog pen.

And, as we tossed his idea around, we quickly came up with
a number of fine reasons to build the rolling cage. It
would, of course, keep a pig secured so that such things as
parsnips, beehives, coops, and picket fences would stay
intact. The pen would also protect pregnant sows and at the
same time guarantee that the ground would be worked exactly
where we planned. In fact, the more we thought about the
concept, the better we liked it.

Rolling hog enclosures, we figured, could accomplish the
spring plowing, in addition to turning up new ground while
leaving the stones on top. We could then renew the pasture
by moving the pen forward each day and sowing seeds
directly behind it. This would permit the
pig to pasture in that same area within a few short weeks,
thanks to our fast-growing feed crops. (Remember, though,
that it’s inadvisable to let pigs graze in the same field
for more than two years running, because some parasite
eggs — including Ascaris suis — are particularly
resistant to cold weather conditions and can accumulate,
causing an area to become what’s known as “pig sick”.)

Locate Scrap Metal

Once Paul had settled on a shape for the pen, he had to
locate a source of material. Some farms have antiquated
equipment left in the hedgerows, where trees grow up
through the iron while the woodwork rots and falls out. A
few of these relics are collector’s items, and other pieces
are worth something simply for their weight as junk. But, the old hay-loaders from the days of loose hay don’t
seem to hold much value for most folks, and we found that
the machines could easily be transformed into hog
carts.

Actually, any strong and relatively lightweight material
(such as wood or pipe) can be used to construct a traveling
pigpen. We found that 8-by-10 feet is the optimum size for such
an enclosure, and an angle-iron “fence” around the bottom
of the assembly (set about 6 inches off the ground), with
its edge turned inward, helps discourage the pig from
rooting under and outside the barrier. A vertical sliding
door, which can be locked in either extreme position with a
pin, allows the pen to be brought up close to the barn for
easy loading and unloading. Be sure to provide a shade
at one end of the enclosure, and fasten water and feed pans
inside.

Approved Pig Pasturing Methods

After using these pasturing devices for several years
(moving them, as necessary, two or three times a day),
we’re sold on the idea. By planting our combination pasture
seed as early as possible — while the caged porkers are
still turning up our garden plot for us — we’ve cut our
feed bills and improved the health of our stock. As a
matter of fact, we’ve found that after their litters are
weaned, we need to feed our sows only half the grain that
was necessary in the past. The result is a very economical
livestock operation.

Perhaps best of all, our animals’ natural
rooting instincts are satisfied, while a good bit of what
used to be hard labor for us is accomplished without our
ever starting the gas-consuming tractor. Actually, it seems
that our pigs were ready and willing to work for us all
along … we just hadn’t given them the opportunity!