When raising pigs on pasture it is important to know that pasture alone is not sufficient to meet the pigs’ nutritional needs year-round, and supplemental feed will be required to ensure your pigs receive adequate nutrition. Other things to consider should be the adoption of rotational grazing, if done properly, this can improve pasture and pig performance. Pigs raised outdoors are more susceptible to parasite infection and can potentially cause a food safety risk, therefore managing parasite and pathogen load is essential for the success of outdoor pig production. Second be aware of potentially poisonous plants such as redroot pigweed, cocklebur, and black nightshade. You can find picture and symptoms of these plants under the feeding your pigs section.
Other things to consider
- Select forage varieties specific for pigs.
- Rooting destroys pasture.
- Pasture rotation is key to reduce pasture damage, erosion, and parasite risk.
- The longer pigs stay in one area, the greater the risk of pasture deterioration.
- Rotation allows for adequate vegetation regrowth and avoids excessive damage to the forage stand.
Pigs raised on pasture have an increased parasite risk. Parasites present a human health and food safety risk, therefore disease and parasite management is essential for health and welfare of your pigs in addition to your safety. Four most common parasites are pork tapeworms (Tenia solium), large roundworms (Ascaris suum), Trichinella, and Toxoplasma. Work with a veterinarian to develop a parasite management plan.
Rotational grazing involves selectively moving animals (pigs) in a planned manner designed to improve soil, plant, and animal health. Pasture movements need to be planned ahead of time, and based on forage availability and environmental factors, namely rainfall. Ideally, pastures should be divided into smaller paddocks, allowing a small area to be intensively grazed while the rest of the pasture is rested. This allows grazed plants to fully recover prior to being grazed again. Electric fencing can be used to create smaller paddocks within the pasture, however, a pig-proof perimeter fence should be used around the whole pasture. Last but not least it is essential to have a source of shade and water in every paddock. The length of time a paddock is grazed will depend on the size of the herd and the size of the paddock, in addition to specific local environmental factors (e.g. topography, rainfall).
- It is better to keep pigs in a smaller area and rotate them more often (even daily), rather than keeping them in a larger area for a longer period of time.
- Forage height (within a paddock) should be used as an indicator for rotation, or assess the amount of time spent rooting versus grazing and other activities.
- An increasing in the amount of rooting signals that rotation is required.
- Rooting will destroy your pastures, reducing pasture productivity.
Maintaining a higher vegetation height can minimize soil damage, erosion potential, and encourage faster plant regrowth. Pigs should be moved when vegetative cover (forage availability) drops below 50 to 75% (i.e. more than 25% of the ground is visible). Overall, pigs should be moved to a new pasture based on the assessment of plant availability and forage regrowth potential. For example, years that experience low rainfall and slow pasture growth will result in pasture capacity (number of pigs and/or time on it) being reduced. It is important to allow for adequate regrowth to ensure the longevity of your pasture and performance of your pigs.
How often do I move my pigs?
Subdividing a 20-acre pasture into 1-acre paddocks will provide you 57 days of rest for each paddock when a single paddock is grazed for 3 days (19 resting paddocks x 3 days = 57 days of rest). This may seem like a long amount of time but the amount of rest required for adequate plant recovery will vary from year to year. Recovery is dependent on grazing intensity and weather-related growing conditions throughout the year.
Impacts of Poor Grazing
Improper grazing management reduces plant tolerance to stress, cold, drought, and disease. Excessive grazing results in desirable forage plants being replaced by less desirable species and reduction of surface litter (soil protection), resulting in larger areas of bare ground and increasing the risk of soil erosion. Water and mineral cycles could cease to function efficiently, and overall range and pasture productivity would decline. Overall this results in poorer pasture productivity and possibility less balanced nutrition for your pigs.
- Wallows are used for cooling and sun protection.
- Provide enough space for twice the number of pigs it is intended for — this enables more submissive pigs access to the wallow.
- Wallows should be more liquid than mud.
- Prevent wallows from drying out — add water if necessary.
- Sprinklers can be used in a concentrated area (of the pasture) to create a wallow.
- Provide a supply of clean water for drinking, separate from the wallow.
- Do not allow wallows to become stagnant — this can lead to infections.
- Cleanliness is important. To help manage parasite and pathogen load, move to a different location when manure starts to build up.