In yesterday’s post, we talked about pigaerators a bit…how Polyface Farms uses them to turn their deep bedding into beautiful compost. Today I want to continue the tour and head to the pigs in the woods. In my quest for knowledge regarding animal husbandry, I’ve read time and time again how hard it is to confine pigs. I’ve heard of people using barbed wire at the top and bottom of wooden fencing, electric fencing at the top and bottom and all sorts of other homemade devices. How does Polyface Farms keep their pigs contained? Two strands of electric fencing. Again, simple but oh so effective.
Here is a picture of the pigs in the woods:
Sorry that the picture is a little fuzzy…my hands were trembling a bit from the cold. But here you can see that the pigs are rooting through the understory of the forest. You may be concerned that so much disturbance would disrupt the natural balance of the forest. But Joel informed us that there isn’t much that is naturally balanced in the forest anymore. When the bison and other herbivores roamed the land, they kept all of the undergrowth from taking over and allowed for perennial grasses to dominate the forest floor. Those days are gone and now the forest is filled with brambles and dense understory plants. By allowing the pigs to root and just be pigs, they are able to clear out much of the dense understory which in turn enables the perennial grasses to re-establish themselves.
Polyface Farms moves the pigs when they have eaten all of the feed that is in their feeder: it’s a ton…literally. They have discovered that when the feeder is empty, the pigs have rooted through the woods enough to prevent the brambly growth but not do permanent damage. I’m not sure how many pigs are contained in a given area or even how big the area is. At this point in the tour, my daughter was fascinated with the fact that her boots were making the sucking sound as she pulled them up out of the mud/poo mix so I was a bit distracted. And then she fell bottom first into the mud/poo mix…fun for everyone.
Joel told us that buy piglets for $80 and get $500 for them at slaughter. That’s over a 6-time return on their money. What’s your savings account paying these days? Polyface Farms will raise 1000 pigs between the main farm and the other 8 farms that they rent. That’s a lot of bacon.
The tour ended with my favorite part: the eggmobile. I don’t know what it is about the eggmobile that fascinates me. Maybe it’s the fact that hundreds of birds (800 if I’m not mistaken) work so hard to sanitize the fields. Or that they produce an entirely new revenue stream for the farm. But it probably has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t have to be slaughtered to generate income. Don’t get me wrong…I eat meat at least twice a day and I have total respect for the farmers that produce the meat that I consume. I’m just not sure if I can be the one doing the slaughtering. I’ll find out next Tuesday, May 1, when I go to Avery’s Branch Farm in Amelia to help process chickens. I need to know if I can kill an animal to feed myself and my family. And I need to push myself past my comfort level. Otherwise, I won’t ever know what I’m capable of. Do you ever feel that way? I’m sure I’m not the only one. Back to the eggmobile…
Polyface Farms runs the eggmobile behind the beef cattle but they wait three days before bringing the girls in to work their magic. The reason for the three day delay is that it takes that long for the fly larvae to develop and the chickens can procure a sizable amount of their protein from the larvae. They take a cow patty that is a 1 foot circle and scratch through it until it’s about 3 feet in diameter. This helps to spread the manure fertilizer around and also decreases the amount of grass that the cows avoid when they are moved back to the same paddock. Cows don’t want their lips near their own poo when they’re grazing and the chickens help to reduce the repugnancy zones.
The chickens are wonderfully friendly and seem to enjoy human company. They cluck and carry on and wander into the eggmobile to lay their eggs and then get right back to business. Here are some pictures of the girls:
I love the picture of my son standing in front of the eggmobile. He’s muddy and cold but oh so happy. I really think that he would be right at home on a farm. If there’s mud around, my daughter would be as happy as a pig in, well, you know. While Myles and I explored the eggmobile, Maddie explored a mud puddle with a stick.
When I asked my kids what their favorite part of the farm was, Maddie replied “the mud mommy” and Myles said “the poop momma”. I love my kids. My favorite part was the fact that I was able to experience Polyface Farms in all of its glory. I love the fact that the buildings aren’t perfect and so much of it is made out of re-purposed materials. Sure it was a cold, wet and muddy experience but the warmth that emanated from the staff and their animals was amazing. We are already planning our return trip…my husband and I joke that we’ll end up there once a month to attend the “Lunatic Tours”. And we just might do it. Oh yes we can!
I still have a bunch of pictures and short video clips that I didn’t use in these posts. We have a busy weekend planned but if I can find the time, I may post them over the weekend as a pictorial tour. If you enjoy this type of discussion, please leave me a comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list, become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!