Control of Buckthorn with Hogs, Cutting Feed Costs with Food Waste

Final Report for FNC10-838

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $5,979.08
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Nancy Lunzer
Farm / Ranch
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Project Information


Bear Street Ranch consists of 72.5 acres. There are 34 acres of hardwood forest, 26 acres of pastureland and 12.5 acres of cropland which is currently in alfalfa/grass hay production. There are several areas of sensitive wetlands including three ephemeral ponds, two permanent ponds and over 1500 feet of Groundhouse river frontage lined by lowland brush. An earthen dam on the banks of the river dates back before 1931 when loggers held timber in ponds for spring release. The Groundhouse river flows into the Snake River Watershed.

The west forty acres was purchased in 2003 and the east 32.5 acres in 2009. In December 2008, 30 acres of hardwood forest was entered into a Woodland Stewardship Program and 8.5 acres of woods along the river was added to the program in 2009.

Buckthorn was prevalent in the forest understory and I discussed the buckthorn control options with Tony Miller, DNR Forestry. I wanted to avoid herbicide use and the back-breaking labor of pulling the buckthorn by hand and decided to see if pastured pigs could dig up the buckthorn.

• Between 1988 and 1998, I co-managed a 500 acre row crop farm where I used no-till methods to reduce soil erosion and compaction.
• Between 1998 and 2003 I managed 65 acres of pasture for 30 horses. Pastures were mowed, dragged and inter-seeded to maintain forage.
• I use intensive rotational grazing on two acres to feed three horses and plan this pasture area to be used for sheep in 2013.
• In 2007-8 I used goats to graze buckthorn. But the buckthorn thrived with the frequent browsing and grew back even thicker.
• In 2010, I raised two feeder pigs on a small buckthorn infested area and the area is now shady pasture.

GOALS: Buckthorn is an exotic invasive species that causes long-term decline of a forest by out competing native species. It was originally introduced by European settlers who planted buckthorn for fast-growing windbreaks. Currently, Buckthorn infestation is a major ecological problem in Minnesota. It spreads quickly, mainly by seeds which are ingested by birds. The seeds cause a laxative effect and are spread as the birds defecate in the environment. Because of the laxative effect they have almost no nutritive value to the birds and the seeds remain viable in the soil for 4-5 years.

The sale of Buckthorn was halted in the 1930’s when it was discovered to be a host to oat crown rot, a fungal disease of oat crops. In 2001, it was discovered that Buckthorn is also a winter host to the soybean aphid, a new insect pest introduced in the US.

The target area of buckthorn consists of ten acres and has two main soil types: Brennyville Complex and Brennyville Wet Cebana. These soils are heavy, wet, mostly clay and very rocky. The area is level with slopes of 1-6 percent with a high water table. It has a predominately buckthorn understory and very few native woodland plants. The canopy is older Aspens and it has a very light secondary canopy of Sugar Maples and Oaks.

Traditional methods for controlling Buckthorn include; herbicide treatment, clear cutting followed by annual herbicide treatments and hand pulling or weed-wrenching. Costs for controlling buckthorn in our area typically run $170 to $250/acre for the initial mechanical removal with an additional estimated cost of $150/acre herbicide treatment (if landowner applies it) and $300 if contracted. It must be treated for at least 4 years until the seed bank is depleted. Controlled burning is sometimes used in savanna areas and open prairie.

I did not want to use traditional methods of controlling buckthorn because this area is home to 7 species of reptiles and amphibians, 10 species of mammals and 47 species of birds. The entire area of buckthorn drains into the wetlands and ponds and clear-cutting would remove the windbreak to the homestead and livestock areas. It is my goal to get rid of the buckthorn without destroying the windbreak and without leaching herbicide and silt into area wetlands.

I used Polydome calf houses for hog shelters and a paddle waterer hooked to a garden hose. The hogs up-rooted the existing plant life under the trees and the rich nutrients of the hogs’ manure was an ideal seed bed for grass seed. Expensive tillage, seeding and irrigation equipment were not needed. And compaction of soil and tree roots was avoided. Shade tolerant grasses were established and grazed by sheep to deplete the buckthorn seed bank over the next 4-5 years.

Hair sheep are browsers as well as grazers and forage on both grass and broadleaf plants. Sheep are different from goats in that they eat plants close to the ground. I chose St Croix crossed with Black Headed Dorpers because they don’t require shearing, de-horning or tail docking. They are also parasite resistant.

Most hog rations consist of ground corn and soybean meal. The cost of traditional feeds has sky rocketed lately due to global demand as well as widespread drought. But hogs can eat a wide variety of foods. Pasture hogs can get 50 percent of their rations from good pasture and woodland forages. The other 50 percent of their ration can be provided through non-alternative sources like food waste from grocery stores.

It is estimated that 40 percent of the food produced in America is wasted. Grocery stores throw out billions of dollars of produce and dairy products. All of this waste is hauled to landfills. Grocery stores are reluctant to donate out-of-date food for human consumption because of food safety issues. I wanted to see if hogs could be fed with the normal daily waste from the produce and dairy departments of a local grocery store.

Teal’s Market in Milaca generously donated the produce and dairy products for this project in 2011 and 2012.

I targeted the thickest Buckthorn areas which lined the two-acre meadow. Buckthorn is thickest here because of the abundance of partial sunlight along the open pasture.

I trained the pigs to respect fences by using permanent woven wire field fence and a low electric wire. It is important that the pigs learn to jump back when they touch the hot wire instead of running forward and pushing through it. Once the hogs were respectful of fences they were turned into small sections of buckthorn areas surrounded with Pig-Quik electro-web fence purchased at Premier 1. The electro-web fence was easy to install with one person and I could step over it to access the hogs.

I tried a variety of pen sizes and shapes and found that smaller paddocks resulted in better vegetation removal than larger paddocks. In larger pens, I found that most of the digging was done in the high traffic areas: feeding areas and areas around housing. The pass-through areas had narrow trails and the hogs used it for a dunging area. They rarely dig where hog manure is found.

We fed the hogs dairy products and produce from the local grocery store. We picked up food at Teal’s Market in Milaca six days a week. We averaged 200 pounds of food a day, though it varied from 60-700 pounds each day. We unpackaged the food from wrappers and containers and rinsed and stored the containers for recycling. The food was fed fresh or was refrigerated or frozen for later meals.

The hogs were fed fresh food twice a day. As weanlings we started them on a commercial pig starter ration but they soon showed preference for the fresh food. We provided a minimal daily ration to supplement the large varieties of foods they got from the grocery store. What the hogs didn’t eat, the free-range chickens ate and this wasted less food, kept the feeding areas cleaner and reduced the numbers of flies.

Food that came in moldy or rotted was composted and will be used for future gardening projects. In total, over 50,000 pounds of food from the grocery store was kept out of local landfills over two years.

Un-packaging the grocery store food was very time consuming. The packaging had to be rinsed and stored to be taken to the recycler in town. Many items were in single serving sizes with lots of seals and wrappers. Much of the plastic containers were not accepted in town and had to be taken to St Cloud for recycling. Produce was the most variable, depending on what was in season but by freezing the food for later feeding it kept down the waste.

The majority of the food was able to be fed fresh from the package. Fruit could be frozen while fresh and fed while still frozen. However, large quantities of vegetables like onions, potatoes, squash and turnips were wasted when fed raw. We found that boiling the vegetables for twenty minutes resulted in excellent feed and very little of the feed went to compost after that. The cooked food was poured into buckets and refrigerated for easy feeding before our day jobs.

Once the buckthorn thickets were hogged off and the sticks and debris picked up, the area was ready for seeding. But the summer and fall of 2011 was extremely dry and when fall rains never came I frost seeded onto the snowpack in March.

Frost seeding relies on freezing and thawing temperatures to open cracks in the dirt where seeds fall and have good seed to soil contact for germination. The seed is broadcast at a higher seeding rate than when broadcast seeding in warm weather.

I used a mix of fine fescues of Creeping, Hard and Chewings varieties with a mix of Kentucky Blue Grass varieties of Limousine and Baron. In one area with partial sun I mixed in orchard grass which produces more forage and tolerates shade.

Frost seeding worked well for the blue grass and fine fescues. But very little of the frost seeded orchard grass germinated and it had to be re-seeded in the spring.

The fall of 2012 was also very dry and we recently finished frost seeding the hogged off forest areas in March of 2013. Once these areas of grass are established we will have a total of 7.5 acres of pasture.

Fecal samples of sheep and hogs were used to determine the need for worming. The feeder pigs had significant parasite infestation. The pigs were wormed with Ivermectin and we moved them onto new dirt each month. Parasite levels were insignificant by fall 2011. In 2012, we wormed the incoming feeder pigs and did not need to worm again. The hogs were butchered each fall.

We used a rotational grazing system that alternates grazing with horses and sheep. The horses have been on a rotational grazing system for five years. In the past, we wormed every spring and fall with ivermectin. The fecal egg counts of the horse manure found no parasite eggs. It may not be necessary to worm the horses if parasite levels remain low. We did not worm the horses this fall and will re-test in the spring. It may be necessary to worm for Bots however since Bots don’t shed eggs into the feces and it is likely they are present.

The ram came from a farm that doesn’t believe in worming. Some producers believe that St Croix Sheep are naturally parasite resistant and they want to allow the genetics to do their job. However, the ram had significant parasite egg counts as well as high coccidiosis numbers.

The ewe lambs came from a farm that routinely worms with Ivermectin at weaning. The lambs had minimal parasite egg counts in the fall of 2012. However, since the ewes were pastured near the ram all the sheep were wormed with Strongid pelleted wormer and Corid for the coccidiosis.

The rams and the ewes had a second fecal egg count done in late February 2013 and there were no parasite eggs found. They were vaccinated to prepare for lambing which begins in late March. We plan to move the sheep onto new pastures frequently to keep parasite levels low as well as rotational grazing with horses. Parasites are species specific so alternating grazing species results in worms being picked up by the wrong species’ host and dying off. Future fecal samples will determine the need for worming for the horses and sheep.

Tony Miller from the Forestry Department of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been generously donating his time and expertise in forest management since he established the Woodland Stewardship Plan for this forest land in 2008. In 2009, I talked with Tony about monitoring this project to remove buckthorn with hogs and he has continued to monitor the progress of the program each year with site visits and input from professionals on this topic.

At the 2011 Site Visit:
? Susan Burks, Invasive Species Program Coordinator DNR of Minnesota
? Nick Solomon –NRCS/SWCD
? Michelle Martin, Ecological Classification System Program, DNR of Minnesota
? Tony Miller DNR Forestry Department
? Bobby Gajewski from the Minnesota DNR Forestry Department

At the 2012 Site Visit:
? Shannon Rasinski – District Conservationist USDA
? Donna Walters-Nelson – Soil Conservation Technician
? Will Bomier- Area Resource Conservationist – USDA
? Tony Miller – DNR Forestry Department

Many discussions resulted from the site visits:
• Would the hogs end up planting all the seeds in the soil and cause a flush of new buckthorn seedlings?
• Is grass seed necessary to compete with Buckthorn?
• Could some areas be left to grow back without grass seed to test whether grass was necessary?
• Would native forest species return after being grazed off long enough to thwart the return of buckthorn?
• Would using a weed wrench help open up matted root systems in buckthorn thickets to allow better access for hogs in difficult areas?
• Would sows weighing 4-600 pounds dig more especially foraging sows with piglets?

Buckthorn was removed from 5.5 acres of infested forest. Grass was established in the hogged off areas in 2012 and the rest was frost seeded in March 2013. A total of 10 acres was fenced with permanent fencing and will be used to feed the flock of hair sheep. The sheep will graze 2.5 acres of buckthorn that was never hogged off. Future grazing of buckthorn in these areas will determine what impact sheep alone can have on buckthorn infestation.

Typical costs to have 5.5 acres of Buckthorn removed would be $1375. Annual follow up spraying with herbicide for two years would be $1650. A total of $3025 was saved in two years.

No herbicide was used and there were no machinery costs.

More than 50,000 pounds of food waste and packaging was kept from area landfills. This also reduced the store’s garbage hauling costs.

Twelve hogs were raised on the grocery store food and fed 24 families. 110 chickens were raised and fed 5 families. Feed costs for meat production were reduced. In 2011, $262 feed costs to raise 6 hogs and 2012 $242 in commercial feed purchased.

It takes an average of 750 pounds of dry feed to bring a 50 lb feeder pig to butcher weight of 250 lbs. Commercial feed costs $30 per hundred pounds or roughly $200 of feed per pig. We raised 12 pigs on $504.00 of feed by supplementing with grocery store waste and woodland forage. We saved $1896.00 in feed cost. We also raised 110 chickens which followed the hogs. The hogged off areas of forest had good soil health and annual soil tests will be used to improve soil in adjacent pastures and hay fields using rotational grazing method.

• The advantages to using hogs to remove buckthorn is the reduced cost of herbicide, machinery costs and labor as well as raising pork with less feed cost.
• The hogged off areas were planted to grass and the canopy thinned to allow more light. These areas will provide forage for sheep, while putting pressure on any returning buckthorn seedlings. This increases the pasture acreage by 5.5 acres and utilizes areas of forest that were unusable.
• The windbreak trees were preserved and no herbicide was used in the process. Removal costs of herbicide, heavy machinery and heavy labor were avoided.
• The addition of 5.5 acres of pasture to the existing two acres will be enough pasture to raise a small flock of ten to twenty sheep. The establishment of perimeter fences adds to the secure livestock areas on the farm.
• The six hundred feet of temporary hog fence is used to divide the pastures for rotating the sheep and horses.
• The Polydome calf houses that were used to house the hogs are now being used for sheep housing.

Feeding grocery store waste is a viable food source for hogs and chickens if a farmer has the time to deal with the packaging. It might be too much trouble for a large producer but a small produce could supplement the high cost of feed with personal labor. We raised 12 hogs and 110 chickens on food waste from a single small town store. We only used food from the dairy and produce departments.

We provided containers at the store to collect the food. Care was taken to disinfect containers so as not to introduce pathogens like swine flu into the grocery store. A better method might be to collect food in cardboard containers and boxes and not allow containers to be brought into the store by the farmer. We re-used containers daily and pressure-washed and disinfected them after each use. We also made sure containers never came in contact with livestock or livestock feed pans or buckets.

We noticed many birds foraging on the hogs feed. We attracted robins, grouse, wild turkeys, chickadees, orioles and blue jays all feeding on the fruits and vegetables.

Hair sheep are a good livestock choice for a small producer. The advantages of not needing to shear wool, dock tails or remove horns greatly reduces the farmer’s labor. Sheep shearers are reluctant to travel to farms with only a few sheep and the wool is an insignificant profit source. The parasite resistance of hair sheep should respond well to rotational grazing methods and it will be determined whether using wormers can be reduced in this flock. Parasite resistance to wormers might be avoided.

Producers will be able to access the Power Point through the SARE website.

Employees from the DNR, the NRCS, the SWCD and the SCS helped monitor the site and will have the power point available.
? Susan Burks, Invasive Species Program Coordinator DNR of Minnesota
? Nick Solomon –NRCS/SWCD
? Michelle Martin, Ecological Classification System Program, DNR of Minnesota
? Tony Miller DNR Forestry Department
? Bobby Gajewski from the Minnesota DNR Forestry Department

At the 2012 Site Visit:
? Shannon Rasinski – District Conservationist USDA
? Donna Walters-Nelson – Soil Conservation Technician
? Will Bomier- Area Resource Conservationist – USDA
? Tony Miller – DNR Forestry Department

This is an excellent resource to provide producers with an opportunity to try out some of their good ideas for sustainable practices on their farms.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.