Pigs and Chickens On Pasture Together
We’ve been experimenting with keeping our hens and grower pigs together on pasture. The pigs don’t benefit from the chickens much, but the chickens get a lot of help from the pigs. The details of managing it all aren’t worked out yet, so we’re watching carefully to know if we need to change things. We like what we’re seeing.
The chickens need predator protection (hawks, dogs, and coyotes are the main threats). An electrified net fence works for four legged predators, but hawks swoop in and fly out with a chicken dinner in their talons. We’ve noticed that the hawks never get near the pigs, so our hope is that the pigs will act as intimidators.
The chicken mobile home is parked just outside the pig fence. On three sides we’ve rigged up an electronet to ward off opportunistic canines, and the fourth side is the two-wire pig fence. The hens have no problems slipping under the wires to join the pigs. In the hen-only area, they have their feeder, grit, oyster shell (a calcium supplement for their egg shells), and water. The pig area has a feeder and a whey trough and about a half-acre of pasture with hedgerow along one side.
Our pigs eat a certified organic grain ration that is 50% corn and 50% mixed small grains (usually peas and oats, although this batch has some buckwheat in it). This would normally register as too low in protein, but the whey they drink compensates so they are all doing well. Hens need a bit higher protein level than pigs, but once we moved the chickens next to the pigs, they abandoned their expensive chicken feed showing a clear preference for pig feed. We’ve found that animals generally select appropriate foods, so if they weren’t getting enough protein from the pig feed, they’d go back to their feed. Apparently the plants and bugs they are foraging are supplying them with whatever they need. If we notice that the hens aren’t laying eggs regularly, we might need to restrict them from the pig feed, but we’ll wait and see.
The chickens are profiting from the pigs’ rooting. Hens do a great job of finding bugs and plants at ground level. They can scuffle up dirt with their feet but they can’t get very deep. The pigs are prodigious diggers. Since they aren’t methodical, they’ll tear up a strip of ground for a minute, then wander off. The hens are waiting in the wings. As soon as the pigs have left, they jump into the hole and find all the grubs and worms the pigs left behind.
Assuming the cross-feeding works out, the only other downside is lost eggs. Two of our older hens have been laying eggs in the brush instead of their nest boxes. The numbers might be higher if the pigs are eating the eggs before we can find them. We’ll see what happens. Better foraging opportunities and improved protection from predators might justify the loss of a few eggs.