Development of an innovative forage crop system for pasture raised swine

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $8,303.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Ron Luce
Poppa Skinny's Farm

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: peanuts, sorghum (milo)
  • Animals: swine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed formulation, feed rations, grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: multiple cropping
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal summary:

    Statement of problem Hog production in the South has steadily declined over the last fifty years as cheap corn and soybean production increased in the Mid-west. Most of this production is now based entirely on GMO varieties and synthetic farming methods, which cannot be used in organic operations. Now, more of these crops are being used to produce ethanol and as a result feed prices are steadily increasing. The cost to produce organic pork is very high due to the large volume of expensive organic feed consumed by growing pigs. For example a 50-pound sack of 15% protein non-organic hog grower feed costs about $13, a 50-pound bag of certified organic feed costs about $28. Rapidly increasing feed and transportation costs are making it even more difficult to achieve a profit. There are not very many organic feed mills and they are often a long distance from farms adding to the transportation costs (there is only one certified organic feed mill in Texas and it is over three hours from our farm). Alternatively, growing typical feed crops on the farm and feeding the crop conventionally requires a large investment in harvesting, processing and storage equipment, once again increasing costs. In Texas we have been experiencing drought conditions for several years and long term forecasts indicate these conditions are very likely to continue (especially if one believes we are experiencing climate change). Conventional swine feed is made principally from corn and soybeans, which are not very drought tolerant; operating costs for irrigation of these crops is subsequently quite high. Organic sources for these crops are scarce and are also very difficult to find in our part of the country in low rainfall years. This will most likely add more pressure to increase prices.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Statement of Proposed Solution:
    Develop a system of organically produced dryland forage crops, well suited to the South and that can be grown on farm with the pigs. These crops would provide the proper dietary nutrients for health and rapid growth of the pigs. The farrowing and weaning of the growing pigs would be timed with the maturation of the crops. The crops will be highly palatable in the raw forage condition and work in rotation to sustain or improve soil health. Foraging the crop will reduce purchased feed, eliminate or reduce harvesting and storage while lowering transportation costs. It will increase profitability while
    dramatically improving the sustainability of the farm. Peanuts and milo will be planted in proportions to control the protein and energy
    available in the forage plots. The selection of these forage crops was based on three things: (1) The nutrient requirements data and composition of feed data in “Nutrient Requirements of Swine” produced by the National Academy of Science, (2) that these are crops that have historically been used for hog feed and (3) the crops are well suited to dryland conditions in the South. Typical modern feed for swine is composed mostly of corn and soybeans to provide the required energy, protein and amino acids. Corn and soybeans do not perform well in our area and soybeans must be harvested and heat processed in order for the nutrients to be digestible and metabolized. Milo is a highly
    palatable source of energy that does well in dryland conditions in the south as do peanuts which are a close second to soybeans for protein and the required amino acids but do not require heat processing, therefore the pigs can “root” peanuts up and consume them raw.
    Both these crops do well in dry land conditions when managed properly.

    Rows of peanuts will be planted in the same field, parallel with rows of milo. Access to cross-sections of the two crops will be controlled by temporary electric fence perpendicular to the rows. Otherwise the pigs will consume all the peanuts in the field before any of the milo (pigs LOVE peanuts!). The electric fence will be moved down the
    field allowing access to more forage as the previous section is completely consumed. This method will also apply manure fairly evenly across the plots as the pigs forage. All plots also have wooded areas fenced in them to provide shade for the pigs’ welfare.

    Crop rotation has also been carefully considered. Peanuts are a legume and when properly inoculated capture nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil. Milo is a large consumer of nitrogen in the soil. The crops will be rotated within the forage areas to take advantage of the plant processes. After the forage crops are consumed, the pigs will be excluded and cover crops planted to replenish the nutrients and add water holding organic matter to the soil. The pig forage plots will rotate with cash crop plots and cattle-goat grass plots in a three-year rotation.

    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.