Rain is forecast for the next week or so, which is this farmer's cue to get out there and plant seeds. The pigs were all moved a week ago and some seeds were sown then, but a week long cycle of showers is too good an opportunity to miss. Pictured above are some seeds I got at the dollar store, 4 packets for a buck. There aren't a lot in there, but when it comes to melons, squash and pumpkins, not much is needed. The cowpeas came from the grocery store for $1.38, less than I pay at the feed store for a pound. The buckwheat that they are resting on was purchased in a 50# bag at 0.97/lb, which saves me 0.30 above the bulk price. More on that later. I had work to do!
This is paddock #5, and at a casual glance, it looks unimpressive. As a matter of fact, except for being greener, it looks a bit like it did when we moved here. The pigs don't visit it in the usual rotation. It is reserved for overflow or to rest the other paddocks if we need it. It also serves as the last rotation for the month before the hogs go to be processed. It has nut trees and good shade. I plant extra special things in it, like lima beans, cowpeas, melons, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, and buckwheat. In a month, this area is going to look very different. The trailer is already there, so it won't be a strange thing that they see on the day. They get a fair bit of exercise walking from here to their stall or the water tank or the feed trough in the evening. There are thistles there that they will kindly root out for me and they will enjoy eating the root. They will fertilize it well, too.
Part of the challenge of sowing seeds for a diverse pasture is thinking ahead. It is springtime, but my sowing schedule projects 1-3 months ahead to the heat of the summer. .Meanwhile, seeds planted earlier this spring and some even planted last autumn are showing up out in the field. The peas are using the spent stalks of rye and turnips as a trellis. Pumpkin and squash seeds, undigested by the pigs last fall and nestled through the winter in their fertilized nest, are emerging with the warmer days. Turnip seedlings, tiny and green, are popping up all over.
This latter bit is important - the plants from last year have reseeded and are carrying forward to fill the pasture this year. I won't have to buy turnip seed or clover this year. I don't have to sow much squash or pumpkin, either. Last year's plants had their seasons of growth and fruiting, faded and died away, only to return this spring.
Promoting this cycle is an important part of the system of farming here. After 2-3 years, very little sowing will need to be done because the plants or the pigs have done it for us. After that, sowing to fill in bald spots or to add some other plant to the mix will be all that is required. Allowing the plants their full cycle benefits the soil (added material for the tilth in the form of plant matter, manure or nitrogen fixing by legumes), the plants, and the hogs (who are actually rather picky about what they eat when given the choice. They will eat a plant at its peak of flavor and/or nutrition rather than just eating it because it is green and available)..
It's good for the farmer, too, because it helps the bottom line. Feed costs are a major demand on the pig raising budget. Sowing seeds helps offset how much concentrated feed the sows and hogs require. I make a point of trying to save a dollar or two a day by improving my farming practices (but not at the expense of the pig). This offsets, just a little, the days that I spend $100 or more on feed or equipment or fencing. Call it a game, if you like, one that challenges me to improve my farming skills.
In the examples in the opening paragraph, I buy seeds from the dollar store because I don't require many of those to serve the purpose needed. You can also buy seeds like this when their usual gardening season has passed and the packets are marked way down, or go through the seed stash, if you are a gardener, and throw the out of date seeds into the pig pasture. The black eyed peas, which are indeed a cowpea, are needed in slightly larger quantities. I can buy them at the grocery store (make sure they are pretty fresh), same with the lima beans, which provide much needed lysine to our pastured pigs. If I bought these in bulk (by the pound, not the bag or bushel) from the seed store, I'd pay a lot more. If I bought them in 50# bags, there would be more than we could use. and the seed would go to waste. The buckwheat is sown generously in all paddocks and across most of the growing season. The pigs love it and eat it before it can seed out. It makes sense to buy it by the bag because it will be used by the end of the season and it is discounted. (You may have heard that buckwheat isn't good for pigs. It causes white pigs to sunburn, so it is fine for our black and red pigs. Don't sow much of it if you have white, spotted or blue butt pigs)
As I write this, there is thunder and rain outside. The plants in the paddocks will take off on a growth spurt thanks to it, and the seeds will sprout. In due course, they will feed the hogs well, and the hogs will fertilize the soil for the next round of planting. In another month or so, the red hogs will go into the fifth pasture and finish their time on this farm eating and living well before they fulfill their purpose feeding the families who have purchased them. As farm cycles go, it's something I can feel good about.
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.