Break Rules —Learn Something
Once pigs are trained to an electric fence, they won’t cross where a wire has been. I know this from the first time I raised hogs a few years ago. I’d try to get them to cross where I’d just rolled up a dividing wire and they’d halt their snouts on some invisible force field. If I tried to herd them from behind, they’d trot toward the new paddock and pull a squealing u-turn right where the wire had been.
“Pigs will let you know when you’re doing something wrong,” my Dad says. Most pastured pork producers recommend setting up a non-electric gate between paddocks divided with electric fence. Attaching a hog panels—a heavy-gauge wire fence section—between two steel T-posts works well. Pigs will explore the perimeter of their new space to find their boundaries and learn that the panels are safe to rub against. Swing open the panel between paddocks and they all come through the gap.
Polywire electric fence is easy to put up and take down. Fiberglass posts can be pushed into all but the hardest ground and several hundred feet of fence wire only weights a few pounds. This time around, I knew to put up panel gates in my pasture system, but installing hog panel gates to divide every section added significant labor. Messing with all the extra weight of panels, steel posts, a post pounder, and a post puller every time I wanted to build or tear down a divide started to wear on me. I put my pigs in paddocks just large enough for them to cover all the ground evenly in three days. That leaves each paddock more time to recover compared to using bigger sections for longer periods. With such rapid moves, I wondered if I could skip the panel business and just get them to cross where wire had been. That contradicted what I’d read, what I’d been told, and my own experience, but it would save a load of time if I could make it work.
The first time I tried it, rolling up a wire to let them into the next paddock, they grunted for fresh clover but stood where the fence had been like it was the line of scrimmage. As I dragged their shelter across the line, they cautiously stepped behind and beside the moving shelter like grunts shadowing a tank. For a week or two, they only crossed to new pasture in the wake of the “magic shelter.” Now they don’t even wait on me or the shelter. As soon as I roll up the wire, they snuffle up to where the wire had been, check both ways, and boldly stride across like students jay-walking University Avenue. They fan out, frolicking around and chomping fresh clover.
Pigs will let you know when you’re doing something right too.
Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
Odyssey Farm, LLC.
The Odyssey Farm Journal
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Dane County 2022 Climate Champion
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