Using Pigs as Seed Drills: Interplanting Small Grains into a White Clover Living Mulch

Final Report for FNE09-666

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2009: $6,038.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Brad Marshall
The Piggery
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Project Information

Summary:

Triticale seeded into a white clover living mulch yielded poorly because of competition from the oat smother crop. Additionally, the hogs found the standing triticale grain unpalatable. The oat crop, however, made three complete growths in a single season without plowing and were consumed readily by the hogs in the milk and dough stages. Areas for future research involve trying to establish different annual crops into the mulch layer left by grazing mature grass pastures by seeding the crops in front of the hogs and letting the hogs trample mulch onto the seeds.

Introduction:

Farm Profile

The Piggery is a 69 acre farm specializing in pastured pork. We currently have 250 hogs and 30 fenced acres of pasture. Every week 8-10 pigs are slaughtered at a USDA slaughterhouse and butchered at our retail butcher shop/deli in Ithaca. The pork is sold as fresh cuts, cured products like bacon and deli ham, charcuterie such as pate and ready to eat items such as pulled pork sandwiches and carnitas burritos.

Participants

Brad Marshall is the technical advisor and co-owner of the Piggery. Cooperators are Dan Watson, former farm manager and Casey Oxley, current farm manager.

Goal

The Goal of this project was to incorporate grains into our pasture rotations that are planted by the pigs in the course of their grazing. Triticale was seeded in front of the pigs in the hopes that they would push the seed into the ground, promoting triticale growth which the pigs could graze off as grain in a later pasture rotation. Further goals were to estimate the amount of triticale grain grown and estimate how efficiently the pigs were converting this grain into meat.

Project Objectives:

We propose a low-tech, low start-up cost method of growing grains on farm by using pigs as seed drills to interplant small grains into white clover living mulch. We will “hog in” triticale into stands of native, ladino and intermediate types of white clover.

The general description is as follows: In the spring, clover will be established on tilled paddocks with a nurse crop of oats and to smother weeds. The oats will be grazed off when they are in the milk stage and clipping will be used to control any ungrazed weeds and to keep the clover vegetative. In early fall, we will begin planting these paddocks to triticale using the hogs as the plows by feeding them corn spread on the ground in these areas. Each paddock will be grazed 6 weeks after planting to ensure triticale seedlings are not being smothered by the clover.

The paddocks will be grazed again in late May, the next season. The triticale should be ripening in mid –summer in that season and we will use the hogs to harvest the grain. Production yield of the grain will be estimated by some hand harvesting and how well the hogs harvest the grain will be estimated partially on the growth of the pigs. An economic analysis and hog feeding trial will determine the cost-effectiveness of the strategy.

We will publish a summary of our project results on our blog and send it out in our newsletter. We will make a one page summary of results to hand out at our Farmer’s Market Stand and give to the handful of pastured pork producers that sell there. We will apply to give a presentation at the January 2011 Northeast Organic Farming Association conference. If the project is successful, we will submit our results to The Stockman Grass Farmer, an industry newsletter for graziers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Monika Roth

Research

Materials and methods:

Project Activities

In the fall of 2009 six acres were plowed to prepare a pasture for a spring smother crop of oats underseeded with white clover. The clover and oats were hand broadcast in March of 2010. The oats were rotationally grazed off by the hogs in July of 2010 in the milk and early dough stages of seed formation. Each paddock of oats was grazed for two to three days before moving the hogs on. Stocking rates were about 150 pigs per acre averaging 150 pounds each.

After the first grazing of the oats it was expected that the white clover would grow back as a living mulch. Instead the oat seed that the pigs had trodden back into the soil sprouted and created a vigorous regrowth of oats. Apparently dough stage oats are mature enough to sprout and grow if they get soil contact. The oats and clover were allowed to grow until September. Triticale seed was hand broadcast at rates of 50, 100 or 200 pounds per acre BEFORE grazing each paddock with each seeding rate replicated once for a total of six paddocks. Each paddock was then grazed for two to three days while the pigs ate the milk stage oats. The pigs trampled the oat straw on top of the triticale seed to create good germination conditions. The paddocks were then left to regrow until the early summer of 2011 when triticale growth was assessed before the paddocks were again grazed off. Interestingly, in the fall of 2010 the oats again made vigorous regrowth which seemed to compete with the triticale seedlings.

A major difference between our trial design and the way the experiment ended up being conducted had to do with the regrowth of the oats. We were expecting to be planting the triticale seeds into a white clover stand which has relatively little fibrous material. Instead, we were planting into thick oats which leave a thick mulch of oat straw on the ground when grazed. We decided we would actually get better germination conditions by broadcasting our triticale seed in front of the grazing pigs and letting them trample the oat straw on top of the seed.

Research results and discussion:

Conditions

Conditions for this trial were largely favorable. There were no droughts and all of the pastures showed excellent regrowth after each grazing. The vigorous oat regrowth from the dough stage was an interesting unexpected variable.

Results

The triticale stands were poor. We believe this was largely due to competition with the vigorous oat regrowth. There was not enough of a stand to assess yields per acre. Furthermore, the hogs showed no interest in the standing triticale grain, leaving it totally untouched after grazing the paddocks. We’ve submitted photos of the triticale stands that did grow before grazing and the ungrazed triticale stands after grazing.

Oats as grazing grain crop

The oat smother crop, however, was far more successful than anticipated. Although pigs do not relish oat grains, they really went after the milk and dough stage oats. They would graze the young grains off the tops of the stalks, chew them and spit out the fibrous hulls in little green balls. Furthermore, the oats produced three full crops in one growing season without plowing, all of which made it to the dough stage. All that was necessary was to let the hogs trample the formed seed heads into the thatch of oat straw left on the soil surface. Unfortunately, the experiment was not designed to measure feed conversion of grazed oats and so we are unsure of the value of the milk and dough stage oats.

It seems clear that oats are a better choice than triticale to add as an interseeded grain into perennial pastures as a grain supplement. Oats grow vigorously and are consumed readily by hogs in the dough and milk stages. Conversely, triticale did not compete well and the standing grain was unpalatable to the hogs.

Finally, we found that trampling standing grass straw or hay onto seeds will be a better approach to getting seeds germinated than trying to maintain a living mulch of white clover. It is simply unfeasible to maintain anything close to a pure white clover stand in our system, but it’s easy to grow hay. The oats that regrew so well were from the uneaten seeds trampled into the mulch.

Economics

Interseeding triticale into pastures did not produce enough grain to be of economic benefit. Oats grazed in the dough stage, however, may have economic benefit. Unfortunately, this trial was not designed to assess that.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Casey Oxley and Brad Marshall summarized the results of this trial at our 2012 NOFA presentation, “Mob Stocking Pigs”. A viewer of the presentation suggested that he’d had good luck seeding forage peas after hogs, so it was a beneficial discussion for us as well. As we continue to collect data on interplanting grain into our pastures we hope to eventually have enough data to give a full presentation on the subject.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

The practice of seeding triticale into perennial crops is not recommended on account of the hogs distaste for standing triticale grain.

Our most useful finding was that oats would regrow when trampled into the straw mulch. This summer we are broadcasting several plants in front of the hogs so that they’ll get mulched in – corn, peas, oats and sorghum-sudangrass. We hope to develop a 2-4 year rotation of annual crops mulched into perennial pastures.

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.