harvest_kids

Happy as a Pig in ……

Today I finally worked out where the above phrase comes from. Think about it, when would a pig be happy wallowing in faeces? Somehow I didn’t think so…. it is not healthy and definitely not sanitary, especially if you wanted to eat the pigs in the near future. Also, one would not deliberately poison your own food by putting a pig in such a situation.

Well this morning we put our five little pigs (O.K. they range from 30 – 70 kgs… not that little) into the stable to start the ‘pig-aerator’ process that Joel Salatin describes in his books. But first, a bit of background.

Our 30 odd Pedi sheep and two ‘tollies’ (aka Slaughter Oxen) currently named ‘Rudi’ and ‘Stew-it’ sleep in a stable every evening. The stables have a carbon bedding system where the stable is only cleaned out twice a year, once in spring and again in autumn. Every week when the cattle and sheep droppings start to pong a tad, we spread about 5kg’s of whole mielie pips over the old bedding / manure and then add on a layer of whatever carbonaceous material is available, it could be sawdust, bark chips, veld grass, bedding hay or even dried lawn clippings. We just put down another layer of dry material about 3-5 cm thick and let the animals continue the process of packing up the manure. We let this bedding get to anywhere between 30 and 50 cm deep.

Rooting down for a mielie pip
Rooting down for a mielie pip

A number of things happen in a process like this, some examples are; that the mielie pips start to ferment inside the bedding material, there is a healthy build-up of beneficial bacteria in the bedding, the bedding starts to compost and produces heat, which is great in winter as it helps the animals conserve energy and is more comfortable for them. A cool thing is that the stable does not smell at all, which I found most surprising. The manure does not lose the volatile Nitrogen and Urea that are so important in your garden, and at the same time this bedding material compacts into an almost impenetrable mass. This hard spongy mass is where the pigs come in.

People regularly break garden forks when trying to clean the compacted bedding material out of animal stables. So instead of traditional back breaking labour, after the 6 months of real life faecal compaction, we let the pigs in for two or three days. They then proceed to turn the entire compacted mass of bedding material in search of those little fermented flavoursome mielie pips, into a loose friable material that can be put straight into a final compost heap and then onto the soil.

I stopped counting after 150 wheelbarrows
I stopped counting after 150 wheelbarrows

Back to our Pigs in manure story. My wife Nicola and I spent in excess of 2 hours today just watching the pigs …. well, be happy pigs. There is nothing like watching a happy pig (or any other animal for that matter) and these pigs were shoulder deep in manure, not the wet stuff but dry caked manure that contained little nuggets of alcoholic mielies that our pigs were manure diving for. You could see the pure piggy pleasure as they chewed a 70% proof mielie pip. How did they feel? Well I have no idea but clearly they were in a pickled pig paradise.

It’s truly amazing what a little incentive can do. We love watching the process and to know that we can just go in there and shovel the stuff into a wheelbarrow and straight out onto a compost heap is a real pleasure. We also know when they have run out of food as they start to squeal (like pigs) whenever they see anyone, basically asking for food. So that is the sign for us to get them out of the stable and start shovelling….