Grazing pigs in the woods - Is it possible?

Working with a farm that is interested in having pigs utilize woods for pasture.  Has anyone had any experience with this?

My experience with pigs is that they may cause more harm in the woods than good due to rooting up tree roots.  They may also be more susceptible to more health issues from poisonous plants, stagnate water, etc.

Will be interested to hear your input, advise, experience.

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I'm trying to do some research on this topic as well but haven't been able to find much. Joel Salatin touches on the subject in his book "Folks This Ain't Normal". According to him pigs in low numbers (2-3 per acre) can actually be beneficial to forests. On his website (www.polyfacefarms.com) he says that he keeps them in savannah pastures in the summer and fall.

Hi Sara:

I'll get a copy of Joel's book that you mention, but do you know in what way the pigs benefit the forest? 

thanks,

Peter

I had young pigs year before last.  The first 6 months, they were fenced in an small wooded hill surrounded by about 2 acres of pasture.  I don't know about the pigs benefiting the woods, but the woods sure benefited the pigs.  On hot, sunny days, they seemed to prefer the woods as much as their wallow.  

That winter, I moved them into a more mature stand.  The humus or leaf litter seemed to provide a type of insulating effect to the ground.  They were able to root in the woods deeper into the winter as compared to pasture.  The ground below pasture would be frozen solid, and the woods was not so they could entertain/feed themselves deeper into the winter.  

I suppose the best answer about pigs benefit the woods (and I'm as green at farming as they come) is "It depends".  It depends on...how long will the pigs be in the same location?  What size are the animals?  What are your goals in the forest?  Aren't there times where the turning over of the soil will trigger seeds to sprout?  If you've thinned your stand to just keepers, that might be desirable.  I didn't see any damage to keeper trees, but I moved them after about 2 months in each lot.  I will say each time, I thought I left them in too long.  By the next year, you could never tell they were there.  Same with some of my meadows where I had pigs and ducks.  Totally destroyed.  This year, verdant and undamaged.  

On the flip side, if they are there permanently, 300lb beasties, in a small lot, I feel pretty confident they'll probably damage the surface roots of the trees and will compact the soil.  

We recently held a day-long workshop at the Stone Barns Center in Tarrytown, NY (lower-Hudson Valley) where they are successfully managing pigs in the woods.  I'll post some photos and comments in a separate blog.  Please post comments and questions here under this forum topic.

I was with Brett at the Stone Barns Center workshop.  They use Berkshire pigs.  Their sows and boars would mostly eat grass and forage the first week and root minimally in the leaf litter and soil.  Even after a couple weeks, the upper soil disturbance appeared to be minimal.  Other breeds reported to minimally root include large black, tamworth, and old spot (Gloucestershire).

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