Pig Tractors


Pigs in Vietnam
Photos © Craig Mackintosh unless otherwise indicated

I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. — Sir Winston Churchill, British politician (1874 – 1965)

Like Winston Churchill, I also like pigs. They are intelligent, highly social, are fun to watch, and make awesome tractors!

The use of animals to clear and manure land in preparation for planting is a well known permaculture approach to agriculture that can reduce the need for machinery, eliminate the need for artificial fertiliser, and provide pest control. The classic example is the chicken tractor for preparing veggie beds or the use of ducks for pest control once the veggie garden has been established.

The use of pigs enclosed in a movable pen or ‘pig tractor’ is a great way to clear large areas of land, or help break up hard packed, or clay ground.

As pigs are social creatures, to keep them happy it is best to have more than one. In addition to keeping them happy, this will also get the job done even faster.


Piglets having a ‘domestic’ in Vietnam

Pigs have a natural tendency to dig. If not restricted to the area you want dug, they will quickly turn a nice garden into a quagmire! This is why a lot of pigs sold as pets come with a nose ring as they use the tops of their snouts to burrow and the ring is supposed to prevent them doing this by inflicting some pain if they try. I think this is cruel and it really only works for a short while as the pig usually rips the ring out after a while.

Enclosing the pigs where you want them to dig is important, but be aware that pigs love to explore and wander far, so a decent size enclosure should be built. Once contained, it is possible to get pigs to dig in hard ground or around particularly difficult to dig out boulders by sprinkling some grain around the area you want them to concentrate on. In their frenzy to get at the grain (pigs really love their food), the pigs will dig boulders out in no time.

A ‘tractor’ can be built in similar fashion to a chicken tractor but on a much larger scale. Or, simply fence the area you want pig ploughed. A simple single electric wire fence constructed at snout height can keep pigs contained, is quite cheap, and is easy to relocate. However the pigs need to be conditioned to be wary of the fence (start when they are young), and the fence needs to be one that gives quite a strong zap if they touch it, otherwise they’ll just barge through.


Pigs in Slovakia

I found that once the pigs are conditioned to know the electric fence will bite, they pretty much stay away from it. So if there are periods when the power to the fence is out (for whatever reason) the pigs should still stay contained. Although, I have noticed that they test it every now and again (evidenced by an accompanying squeal), so try not to have the power out for too long.

If building a normal fence, then dog wire or normal fencing wire will keep pigs in. They will try to lift any wire to get under it so ensure it is taught and low with strands close together.

Getting pigs to move to a new tractor can be a challenge as you can’t just put a collar on and drag them with a lead like a dog; try moving a 150kg pig that doesn’t want to move! However, most will readily follow a bucket of food anywhere. Mine love biscuits, crackers or chips, so will follow the crackling sound of the packet if given one or two treats along the way. Anything sweet will also do the trick as, like most mammals, pigs love their sweets.

Pigs may be slower at ploughing than tractors or horses, but they do a more thorough job. They turn under and rip up sod and eat it. They eat weed roots and seed heads from thistles. Pigs will trample weeds and uproot small trees — resulting in ground that is open, aerated, and weed-free.


Pigs chillin’ out in Australia

It is a good idea not to keep pigs in one area for too long. Although I have read information to the contrary, I have seen evidence that, over larger areas, pigs will tread the same paths which will compact the soil in that area. It is better to move them between small sections that take them a week or so to till up than to leave them on a big section that takes them months to work over. Once you move your pigs to another area, follow them with your chicken tractor. Your little ladies will scratch the pig poo into the ground, even out the lumps and bumps, eat any pests, and add their own poo into the mix.

When running a pig tractor be aware that pigs can create a lot of mud and leave lots of poo. There may be situations where these nutrients can run off into water systems, such as if the tractor is on a hill or close to a creek. This is not an issue I’ve ever had but thought it worth mentioning as a caveat to this article. Not all systems are suitable for all areas, so, as with all things we do in permaculture, observe carefully and of course do no harm.

Some well known pig tractor advocates are Sepp Holzer and Joel Salatin.

Please look after your pigs. In the long run they will be cheaper than running a fossil-fueled tractor, and definitely better for the environment. Make sure they are well fed, with easy access to fresh water that they can drink and make a wallowing hole with.

If a pig loses it’s voice, is it disgruntled?


Marty’s pig, Kevin, behind electric fence
Photo© Marty Miller-Crispe

Related

Popular

12 thoughts on “Pig Tractors

  1. Wholeheartedly agree with everything here – incredibly useful animals if managed well…incredibly destructive if they’re not.

    Just take a look at the destructive force of a pig gone wild by looking at the feral pig problem in the Southern & Southeastern US…an estimated 2 million of them runnin’ wild:

    https://dsc.discovery.com/videos/pig-bomb-pig-epidemic.html

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ntKyFWOoNI

    Some of these animals hunted and caught in the wild have weighed in excess of 500 kg.

  2. we have a big problem with wild pigs in Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia they come out of the jungle and eat anything that’s not truly well fenced in. They are quite intelligent. On Wei Island here, they pick up fallen coconuts, take them to a soft rock and crack the coconuts so they can drink the coconut water then crack the nut right open and scrape out every little bit of the coconut meat. and they love young coconuts & other young trees so young trees have to be fenced in for years until they are tall enough to have a really high hard stem or the pigs will eat the lot, they even learn to burrow under fences so the bottom of wire mesh fences has to be buried and regularly patrolled. The local Acehnese are strict muslims and don’t want to touch anything contaminated by the pig. So anyone who wants some pigs is welcome to come here and catch the lot if they can.

  3. Hello interesting article, I work close with feral pigs here in FNQ (Far North Queensland). We have an estimated “feral pig” population of 4-6 million in Queensland with 3/4 said to populate FNQ alone with and an estimated 13.5million pigs Australia wide.

    Roughly 3-4 per square kilometer, people are largely unaware of the damage caused by these animals due to the ability to adapt to the many landscapes available in Australia and more specifically FNQ. These “feral pigs” are descendants of the original 49 European hogs landed on Australian shores in 1788, i suggest people take extra precautions in housing pigs and ideally use 100mmx100mm steel reinforcement sheets as fencing, as scents can travel long distances and attract aggressive boars that will charge straight through electric fences so get to your domestic sow.

  4. Nice article. Maybe someones know something about the size of area that is required by one Vietnam pig for living on it all year. I am vary interesting with so “tractor”, but it will be more useful if “fuel” for it will be gotten by itself.

  5. Great article. Help me to decide that I want to get pigs for this purpose of digging the ground. Now any idea what is the best species of pig for rooting the ground?

    I have read that Kune Kunes do not root much compared to others. Does anyone know what is the best species?

  6. noticed a remark about the difficulty of trying to move a pig where you want it to go…. hold it by the tail and for extra “grunt” poke it in the buttocks with a stick. it will go where you point it!

  7. We have a few places we move our mini pigs in between. They are remarkable rooters and transform the landscape.

    I’m wondering if there’s some seeds I could toss in their empty paddock now that would grow into a delicious and nutritious treat for them come spring/summer.

    thanks

  8. i’ve been using pig tractor for a couple of years now.
    i’ve found that it’s great for digging but it leaves the ground very uneven. i haven’t managed to sow properly once they’re gone. so far i have to rototill before i can sow. has anyone got any keys on what can be done to sow effectively without using fossil fueled machinery?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *