When deciding what to do with the land we had been given, pigs and chickens instantly came to mind. However that was the easy part – working out how to keep the two on the same property would require a little more thought. After hours of research we came up with some criteria we had to meet:
- Both the pigs and chickens had to be free ranging using the strip grazing technique
- The chickens had to be protected from foxes
- The whole operation had to be chemical free
- Everything had to be fairly mobile as we don’t actually own the land
With this in mind we started devising a plan. Typically pigs are kept in one paddock, the chickens in another, and never the two shall meet. However i came across the concept of grazing chickens in the paddocks the pigs have just been in. Their relentless scratching helps break up the pig manure, which in turn helps the paddocks recover faster as well as breaking the pest cycle. This idea intrigued me and raised a question; What was stopping us from grazing them in a single paddock?
Being an avid believer of the permaculture principle of everything serving more than one purpose, i did some more research and found farms in the US that free ranged their pigs with several types of meat birds in the same paddock. They found that the pigs deterred predators like coyotes that would normally have the birds for lunch. Pigs will generally leave chickens alone if there is plenty of food for both and as long as the chickens can’t get cornered, they have no trouble outrunning a pig.
We decided to put a safety net in place anyway which also serves several functions. As our chickens are going to be used for meat and eggs we are providing a mobile chicken coop with nesting boxes, known as a chicken caravan. The birds can come and go as they please during the day and then they will be locked up at night. This will also house food and drinking troughs so the chickens don’t have to compete with the pigs. The caravan will be placed in the centre of the paddock with a single strand of electric fencing wire around it to keep the pigs from getting in to the coop. The centre paddock will also provide a safe zone for the chickens if one of the pigs does start to get a bit rough. The overall size of the paddocks will be 500m² and the pigs will spend one week in each, before being moved to the next. This will give each paddock at least 3 months rest between grazing. The pasture is currently quite poor – to remedy this we are hoping to sow wheat, barley and some vegetables, like pumpkin. Once harvested the vines will make a tasty treat for the pigs.
This is a basic layout of how the paddocks will be set up:
This is the first paddock ready for the pigs
We have provided a movable shelter for the pigs to to give them some permanent shade and to protect them from the wind and the rain
As you can see this paddock has wire mesh as well as the electric fence. This is to provide a physical barrier while the pigs develop a mental barrier to the three strands of hot wire. Once they have learned to respect it the wire mesh will be removed.
In around a month the first batch of chicks will be ready to be put onto pasture. I’ve almost finished building the chicken caravan for them from an old trailer and other recycled materials I have salvaged. In the mean time hopefully the pigs will enjoy having all that room to run and all that grass to eat!