Cover crop otptions for foraging pigs

Discussion in 'Pigs' started by MGFarmVA, Jan 30, 2013.

  1. MGFarmVA

    MGFarmVA Member

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    Hello everyone, we are new to this forum and just added three pigs to our small family farm operation; one 9 month old Berkshire boar and two 11 month old Berkshire wilts which are now pregnant by the boar (so I guess they can be called sows now???). Prior to these three lilttle piggies, our family farm operation was limited to market vegetables, pumpkins and pastured layers and meat chickens.

    I've spent a lot of time reading posts on here before asking a question, hopefully to not ask a question that has already been asked. I've read that it is good to plant legumes in the pasture for pigs, among other things like rape and turnips. What I have not heard anyone speak of is if two of the main cover crops we use on our farm--buckwheat and sorghum (or sorghum x sudangrass) are OK for pigs to consume. By the way, I am aware that sorghum x sudangrass must be cut before the first frost or the plant tissue can have a buildup of prussic acid and poison livestock.

    I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on these two cover crops.

    Tracy
     
  2. highlands

    highlands Walter Jeffries Staff Member Supporter

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    Yes, legumes boost the protein levels and they suck free fertilizer out of the sky, depositing it in your soil. We also plant kale, rape, beets, turnips and other things out in our pastures. Caution on buckwheat for UV sensitivity and such. We also plant pumpkins, sunflowers, sunchokes and such in our winter paddocks which make next fall's forage.

    Cheers,

    -Walter Jeffries
    Sugar Mountain Farm
    Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
    in the mountains of Vermont
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/
     

  3. jstamper

    jstamper Active Member

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    You should be fine with buckwheat with Berks. As I understand it, only white areas of the pig are affected, and only if those white areas in question are exposed to direct sunlight, and only if they obtain a large portion of their diet from buckwheat grain.

    The problem I have with buckwheat is that it is only good for one grazing. I haven't let it set grain before turning the hogs in; I suppose you could do that but then I think you would lose the main advantage of buckwheat as a cover crop. Here, buckwheat can be ready for vegetative grazing in 3-4 weeks, which can be really helpful in a pinch. If you let it go to grain, you are looking at 70 days or so. If I had 70 days to establish a warm-season forage crop, I would lean toward a mix featuring a fast maturing cowpea (i.e. not iron&clay).

    Sorghumxsudan can also have prussic acid problems when the plants are young and growing, less than 18" or so. This would unfortunately also be the best time to pasture it with hogs. I have grown it for green manure and it makes unbelieveable tonnage, but I have been too uncomfortable with my ability to manage the prussic acid concerns and so haven't pastured it. I'm sure they would eat it just fine when it is young, I'm not sure when it gets 6' tall and pretty coarse. Dwarf pearl millet is somewhat similar esablishment-wise to sudex, is ready to pasture in no time, regrows great, and hogs love it.

    My go-to mix for spring is oats, clover, rape, and field peas (Austrian or Canadian). It is ready for grazing in 45 days or so (weather cooperating, of course). The hogs love the oats (I'm talking vegetative here, not grain), which are very high protein (as high as any legume) until they start to head. Depending on your stocking rate, etc., you can probably get two grazings before this happens. The oats also regrow really well until they start to head.

    At some point in the summer, the oats will give up, but by then you will have a nice stand of clover and rape that the oats/peas nursed along. As long as you don't let the hogs hit the paddock too hard, you can rotate them back to this off and on until winter.

    You could undersow most any vegetable crop with clover a la Eliot Coleman and have some great hog pasture after the veggie harvest.

    What do you use for cool-season(winter) cover crops? Any cool-season/winter cover crop that I have ever heard of makes great hog forage - rye, ryegrass, wheat, vetch, peas, crimson clover, etc. etc. It's the warm-season stuff (like the buckwheat/sudex you mentioned) that for me is a little more challenging.

    Whatever species you go with, the key is keeping the hogs either on lush, fast-growing, palatable, young forage, or on forage that has matured and stored it's energy in a palatable, digestible manner (i.e. grain or root crops). The in-between stuff, like typical mixed grass pasture outside of prime growing season, doesn't do much for growing hogs. Regardless, some hogs/breeds will gain better on forage than others.

    Sorry to go on and on, but I love to talk about this topic in particular.

    Top - a LBHxTam on oats/peas/rape/clover (+weeds) paddock about 60 days after sowing.

    Bottom - Some Large blacks on the clover sown with the oats, taken later in the summer (after the oats were gone, after mulitple grazings)
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2013
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  4. macly

    macly Active Member

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    Thanks for this great information! We're heading into our second year of pigs. Last year I let them graze on the already established pasture grasses. This year I would like to intentionally plant ahead of them to maximize forage. So a few questions from the newbie with limited experience. Where is your favorite place to buy your seed? Do you have a seeding rate or weight/acre you find that works well? Thanks!
     
  5. jstamper

    jstamper Active Member

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    For seed sources, Southern States might have everything you need. Here, there is a seed company that specializes in hydroseeding for construction and also sells a lot of seed for deer food plots, farming etc (Country Boy Seed).

    Seeding rates all depend on how much variety is in your mix. For oats in a mix, around 50-70 lbs/acre does the trick (80-90 lbs as a pure stand). Peas, as part of a mix, about 10-40 lbs. an acre. Rape and clover go in at 2-4 pounds/ac. You can vary this a lot to emphasize one thing over the other.

    I do one thing which probably isn't necessary; I mix only half of the rape and clover into the mix. Then, after broadcasting and harrowing in the mix, I go back over and broadcast the rest of the rape/clover on top, without incorporating.

    This mix can be planted as early in the spring as you can get the ground worked up (usually March/April here). I don't know how your winters are, but oats definitely winter kills here, probably would there too. So, in late summer through fall, you can substitute rye, annual ryegrass, or wheat for the oats and plant the same mix. It will grow through the fall, go dormant (but remain green) in the winter, and really take off in the spring. Depending on when you get it established, you can graze this mix year-round, but only very lightly in the winter and any time the ground is really muddy. If you can time the rain right to get it up in July/August, you can graze the wheat/rye a time or two in the fall, let it rest while dormant, graze the wheat/rye a time or two very early the next spring, and then graze the clover off and on all the next summer.

    The risk you take with a late summer planting is that if there is a lack of rain, weeds can hurt your stand establishment. If you have a really dry spell in summer, you can wait until September to plant. You will lose the fall grazing, but you won't have to worry about weeds, and you'll get a really good early spring plot.

    I don't know how much land or how many paddocks you're talking about, but I'd keep some of the perennial grass/sod pasture you have now to rotate the hogs back on to while you rest your annual plots. Ideally, you would also have room for a warm-season annual paddock or two, with cowpeas, millet, etc. or your buckwheat.
     
  6. gerold

    gerold Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Sundan grass, field peas,wheat,rape. These is what i have found to be the best and grow the best here in S.E. Mo. I plant more wheat than any of the others as it last into the winter mos.
     
  7. TomF

    TomF Member

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    What kind of clover are you using? About when do you plant these seeds? I'm in northern NC so I'd think our climate is pretty similar to yours.
     
  8. jstamper

    jstamper Active Member

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    I use a lot of red clover (red gold variety is what I have, but that's just what is avaialble here, any would work), some ladino, and in the fall, some crimson, though crimson is an annual and therefore is a little different. Red is the easiest to establish and comes on the quickest.

    For spring plots, plant as soon as you can work the ground (which this year, will be a while). I try to plant sometime in March. If you aren't tilling/establishing a while new stand of forage, frost-seeding clover and/or rape into thin existing stands works well right now.

    Where are you in northern NC? I am in Grayson County VA, right near the NC line. Will you need some feeder pigs this spring?
     
  9. linnell

    linnell Well-Known Member

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    We are in central VA, do you believe these mixtures you speak of would work well here also?