Pinky, Red, and the unfinished pig cabana with a comfy mattress. Photo by Jo deVries
In an article in the Ottawa Citizen on October 31, 2020, titled “Vineyard Menagerie”, I read about the various animals used to help out in vineyards around the world. It tells of a winery in California where sheep munch the weeds, while donkeys and Spanish mastiffs ward off coyotes and mountain lions. Owls deal with the destructive gophers, and chickens scratch the earth and devour bugs.
In Patagonia, some growers keep armadillos to eat the aggressive ants that damage the vines and leaves. Some winegrowers are experimenting with non-venomous serpents to help restrain the population of rodents. In South Africa, ducks forage through the rows of vines looking for the invasive white dune snails. Napa wineries use falcons to ward off hungry birds, especially aggressive starlings.
Horse, mule and oxen driven farm equipment is found around the globe. In some countries, donkeys and camels are depended on, to carry heavy loads over difficult terrain. Many times, the decision to use animals to work on the farm is a financial one. Sometimes there is simply no other option. Occasionally, it is a firm ecological choice.
Putting Chickens to Work Preparing their Coop Area
In some cases, the animal is being raised for another purpose — the fact that they can be put to work, is a bonus. I am wanting to add an outdoor addition to my chicken coop. The area behind my coop needs to be excavated down to the solid rock. I decided to put up a temporary fence of chicken wire around the area, and let my chickens have a go.
They are getting the job started, scratching up the earth, exposing rocks and digging up small roots, while eating the greens and insects. These chickens are beneficial for many reasons. They provide offspring to sell as chicks, a beautiful selection of colourful eggs, and quality meat. They eat insects, and now they’re working the land. I’m all for getting them to work for their keep; raising chickens isn’t cheap these days. I can buy a cooked chicken from the grocery store for less than half the price it takes to raise one. nd besides, many feet make light work.
Pigs Put to Work Digging Roots
In some cases, an animal will do a far better job than any piece of equipment. The soft nose of a pig is the best option for cleaning off a beautiful rock face, that might otherwise be permanently scarred by the scraping of metal instruments. At present, my pigs are doing a job that can’t be done with machinery.
They are digging up the earth and leaving only the Elderberry, Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod, and Cow Parsnip. I will relocate the Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod to the natural perennial flower garden I’m making. After just discovering that Cow Parsnip is edible, I’ve now got plans for it too. The seeds are presently ready for harvest, to use as a spice, and I’ll have a healthy crop of young greens next spring. No piece of machinery could dig up all the other roots and only leave certain plants; plants that are all beneficial to me. Pigs are best suited for this job, by far.
Over the years, I’ve bought two or three pigs in a season, to clear an area of land. Any more than three pigs, is a gang. Pigs require very strong fencing, especially if confined to a small area. They will try to go over, under, or through most fencing, and are often successful, if their desire is strong enough. I’ve heard of pigs bolting right through a fibreglass cap of a pick-up truck on their way to the slaughterhouse.
In contrast, I’ve had three pigs thoroughly enjoy their 45-minute back-road excursion in a flimsy enclosure I built in the back of my truck out of 2-by-2s. I’m sure it never crossed their minds to escape. They had food in their bellies, and the wind in their face. That’s the key: keep your pigs happy. And pray before doing stuff like that.
My pigs have recently acquired superb sleeping accommodations. They are enjoying the luxury of sleeping on a mattress. This idea occurred to me when I saw a large selection of mattresses at the dump. They were being collected for their steel. I picked up a fine-looking single mattress, after being assured I could simply return it in the fall; regardless of condition.
For two weeks, the pigs seemed truly grateful. Then they started tearing it, and the springs started pocking out. When I turned the mattress over, it looked as good as new. Later that day, I gave Pinky heck when she attempted to bite it. She stopped, and so far, the mattress is fine. Perhaps she realized the consequences of her actions; people keep telling me how smart they are. I just wish they could behave when food is served. They totally lose control of themselves at feeding time. Hence the saying “He eats like a pig.”
Clearing Land with Pigs
Raising pigs has proven to be another incredibly practical and financially responsible decision for me. Pigs will clear land (even eating poison ivy), and provide pork in as short as six months. My pigs will pay for themselves when I sell them in the fall. Grass-fed pork is hard to find and will fetch a higher price than strictly feed-raised pigs. Each year, I raise pigs, the grass and weeds will be kept down in the elderberry grove, and their selling price will help pay-down the fencing expenses.
To fence an area approximately half-an-acre in size, cost me about $2,000.00 Canadian. 80% of that was for materials: steel fencing and posts. Due to finances, I had to get the job done in two stages. A fourth-generation fencer answered my ad. Glen did an amazing job with surprising speed, making both me and the pigs very happy!
This was a good investment in sustainable living, which should pay for itself in less than ten years. After that, I’ll be making a profit while harvesting an abundance of incredibly healthy, native fruit, each year.
The materials for phase-two of the steel fencing job were purchased sooner than expected, when I discovered that retailers were running short of stock. Suppliers were also not able to guarantee future delivery dates; I panicked and bought what I needed; thankful for my credit card.
Trying to keep up with Mother Nature’s growth rate on this property is tougher than I originally thought. The clay-based lowland is heavy with nutrients and water, and plants and trees grow incredibly fast. Having the pigs is a huge benefit for me and offers them a great quality of life. They have sun and shade, and endless greens and roots to eat. They can roll in the dust or lay in the mud; whatever their heart desires.
And at the end of the day, their hard work is rewarded with a second high protein meal and a comfortable bed. They won’t have a long life, but they sure have a good one. And isn’t that what’s most important?
Jo deVries(Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author ofDoes Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect withJo of the Woodsand read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.
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