Rotational Grazing with Goats & Pigs
At our farm, we use our pigs and goats for land management. They both serve different purposes, and both need to be rotated through new sections of land to work effectively. Here’s a brief overview of why and how we use our animals, and the most effective ways to put them to work on your land.
Goats have a reputation for eating anything. While that isn’t strictly true - it’s more that they’ll taste test everything, but are actually picky eaters - they do eat a lot of things that other animals will not. Goats enjoy dead brambles and leaves, eat thorny things like roses and honeysuckle, and will chow down on poison ivy. They are also remarkably sure footed, allowing them to access areas of the farm that other animals or equipment could not.
Our land has many stone walls which are easily overrun with brush, including poison ivy. Managing them by hand is tricky, and not just because of the potential of getting a poison ivy rash. There’s a lot of land to cover with a weed whacker, and the goats work just as well! They can climb all over the stone walls, keeping them clear and enjoying all the various things growing there.
Pigs work a little more at ground level than the goats. They are rooters, so they turn over and dig up soil, as well as eating small trees and some brush. So the pigs work in areas that we’re trying to return to fields, that have become overrun with small brush. Pigs can also uproot larger trees with a little bit of encouragement, or help loosen stumps so they’re easy to remove.
Our pigs work through areas we’re turning to fields, would like cleared for potential future ponds, and can go through woods and help clear out the kind of brush that chokes out larger growth.
Rotating the animals regularly has many benefits. First of all, it keeps them amused with plenty to eat which reduces their interest in escaping. It’s healthy for them, allowing them to rotate out of spots where parasites might build up and boosting their immune system with different vegetation. And of course, it is how you get them to manage a large area of land in manageable chunks.
Both our goats and pigs currently rotate in 2500sq. foot areas. We have nineteen goats, and rotate them to a new section along the stone walls every 3-4 days. As we only have two pigs (at the moment), they’ll rotate every 3-4 weeks.
The key to all of this is good fencing. Moveable electric fencing allows you to easily move your fence line, it is light weight and easy to take down and re-install - it can be done by one person in a matter of an hour. But there are a few tricks to getting electric netting to function properly.
Make sure you have the correct charger for your animals. Goats require a .8 joule or stronger charger - we use a 1.2 joule solar charger for our goat herd. Pigs can be kept in with .6 joules.
The fence line must be clear so that the charge does not short out anywhere along the line. A short will render the whole fence useless. It is well worth taking a little bit of extra time with clippers and making sure your line is clear before introducing your animals to a new area.
Pigs can be kept in with two strands of poly wire, but I prefer netting because it’s less likely the pigs will throw some turf over the fence and short it out. Goats need netting and their fencing should be at least 40” tall so they don’t jump it.
You also need to ensure that your charger is well grounded. If you’re having issues with your fence, it’s likely the grounding of the charger. The depth of a grounding rod can vary depending on the type of charger you’re using, but make sure you drive it in as far as you can. The effect of the ground can also be influenced by the soil, if soil is very dry the ground will be weaker and you may get a better charge by watering the earth where the grounding rod goes in.
We use Premier1 fencing and solar chargers and below are affiliate links to the products I recommend. You may find some benefit in a few extra fence posts to keep your fence lines off the ground, and I also recommend investing in a fence tester (which comes with the charging kit linked) so you can identify if you’re having any issues.
Solar Charging Kit