Using Pigs as Seed Drills: Interplanting Small Grains into a White Clover Living Mulch
Goals: The goal of this trial is to establish whether pigs can be used as no-till seed drills in a cost effective manner. The pigs will be used to mechanically suppress a white clover living mulch and to “drill” triticale seed into the exposed soil with their snouts using whole kernel corn as a “bait”. The trial will be evaluated to determine whether this technique is a cost effective, scalable way of decreasing the grain bill for a pastured hog operation. Questions asked will include, “How much grain per acre were we able to grow this way?”, “Is the resultant grain/clover mix a complete protein source for pigs?” and “How efficiently did the hogs gain while ‘hogging down’ the grains?”
Farm Update: We currently have approximately 25 fenced acres of pasture and a herd with 8 breeding sows of various heritage breeds and an American Mulefoot boar. We raise all of the piglets to full butcher size on a diet of pasture and organic grain. The grain is our single biggest cost and we are highly motivated to find ways of reducing this cost. The total acreage is 70 acres and we have 1.5 employees per year. We have a state-inspected kitchen on the premises where we do all of the downstream processing of our pork products once we receive the primal cuts from the USDA butcher. All of the products are sold “fresh, never frozen”.
Acreage and crops remain the same. Our sales have increased over the last year, with the addition of our CSA program. Because of that, our labor availability and access to machinery have increased with the addition of a full time farm manager and the purchase of a tractor that is shared between us and another local farm.
Cooperators: Advisor is Monika Roth of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ithaca, NY. 607-272-2292, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Project so far: Our progress on this project has been dissapointing. The first step in the project is to establish a fairly weed free stand of ladino clover. We did not own a tractor in the Spring of 2009 and attempted to hire someone to plow under the pasture fields so that we could create a good seedbed to plant our nurse crop of oats underseeded with clover. Unfortunately, the farmer who had promised to do the job backed out at the last minute. I was able to borrow a tractor with a disc to try to disc up the pasture fields to prepare a seedbed. Unfortunately, we had a mechanical failure and were not able to do as good a job of discing up the pasture vegetation as we would have liked. Nonetheless, it appeared that in most of the field we had achieved fairly good pasture suppression.
We over seeded the field with the oats and clover, but the suppression of pasture vegetation was not as effective as we had thought. Although we got a good stand in places, the pasture plants grew back vigorously in others, leaving us with a patchy, weedy stand that we determined was not sufficient for the next stage of the trial.
In light of this, we will be starting the trial again from scratch.
Results: The result of the trial to this point is our further understanding of the limitations of relying on factors outside of our control to complete projects such as this one and farm work generally. Which is to say that if you want to reliably have fields plowed on time, you should probably have access to a tractor. Furthermore, we have found discing to be an insufficient technique for killing perennial pasture vegetation such as bluegrass.
This Season: As mentioned above, we have been able to hire a full time farm manager and buy a tractor. The farm manager is an experienced farmer and horticulturist who will be of great value in successfully completing this trial. We are now very confident that we have the labor, expertise and equipment to complete this trial successfully.
As I mentioned above, we plan to start the trial over by prepping two fields for seeding to clover and a nurse crop. In talks with our SARE grant coordinator, we have decided to alter the primary variable being tested. Instead of seeding triticale at a set rate into three different clover varieties, we will alter the seeding rates of triticale into Alice white clover. We will seed the triticale into the clover at rates of 100, 200 and 400 lbs/acre. The plots will be approximately one acre in size and repeated in triplicate, resulting in nine paddocks covering approximately nine acres of pasture. Additionally, we will use a combination of oats and peas as our smother/nurse crop for clover establishment to give us better weed competition and a higher protein forage.
Economic Findings: Not applicable at this juncture.
New Directions: Over the course of the year, we have discovered several new sources of information suggesting that hogs will almost certainly do better hogging off a triticale-field pea mixture than triticale alone. Field peas, being a spring planted crop, could be drilled into winter triticale in the spring. Alternatively, instead of establishing white clover as a perennial living mulch, you could establish an annual smother crop and drill in triticale and peas the next spring. A good crop for this might be berseem clover, which would establish well under a triticale-pea nurse crop. After the triticale and peas were hogged off, the berseem would grow vigourously through multiple grazings the next year and reliably winterkill, leaving a weedfree seedbed the next year to repeat the cycle.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Cornell Cooperative Extension
615 Willow Avenue
Ithaca, NY 14850
Office Phone: 6072722292