I am new at this so…I share with you my experience. The big question is whether containing pigs solely on hot wire or not it is possible/repeatable. I really hope it is because it has been a great experience!
What I know- at least what I have gleaned from sources and now bank as ‘truths’:
- Pigs surge forward when first exposed to electric fence
- Once pigs fear the wire they respect it- for life
- Training requires both a hot wire and a physical fence
- A drift of pigs running up to to the fence to greet you- without getting near the wire- priceless!!
- You will shock and awe friends, family and yourself!
We want to produce ‘powerhouse pork’ which means that these pigs are not single purpose porcine. We are trying to reclaim unused land, spread compost and fertilize a bit. We chose to run them on hot wire to accomplish these goals. We thought about a moving pen set up but couldn’t visualize easily portable housing with piggies in -15 F degrees weather outside. Instead we built a house of straw and a fence out of 2 wires and plastic posts (trust me- I am nervous all the time about this set-up). We figured we better try pigs on hot wire before we know any better or we would never try it.
Constuction of the house took about 20 3-string wheat straw bales. We cross stacked a perimeter of bales to leave a 4’x8′ interior. We went two bales high (except only one bale high at the door- a decision I would soon regret). We then laid 2″x4″s across the top and covered them with corrugated roofing. We thought the corrugations would give some ventilation but still keep the body heat in. On top of the corrugations we placed another course of bales. We shoved fiberglass rods in to tie the bales together and pin them to the ground.
Overall- I love the house. Before we put the roof on we put down a couple of inches of compost followed by an couple of inches of straw. The pigs took to it and there have been no complaints. I have crawled in a couple of times and all is well on the inside. We plan to only have pigs over the winter this year and will blend the house into the garden after butcher day. I hear straw bales will get infested with lice if you try to use them over and over- not our intention. I am concerned about the doorway being only one bale high- I can always dig it out a bit if worse comes to worse.
Alright- back to the hot wire.
From the house we extendended bales as wings and attached a 16′ horse panel (hog would work) to the front. On this panel I attached two aluminum hot wires: the first at about 6″ from the ground and the second 10″ above that. Keep in mind the pigs were about 70 pounds at this point. They sniffed- checked it out- got zapped- several in a row- zap, retreat, zap (different one), retreat. We kept them this way for a week. The day before we removed the panel I put a little bit of their feed next to the horse panel as a test. They never touched the hot side- any food that had slopped near the wire stayed there all day!
We thought they were ready and Saturday morning we removed the panel. We were fortunate to have nice weather and could spend all day outside with a watchful eye- all the stars were aligned. With the panel gone and the feed trough in the ‘outside world’- nothing happened. The pigs were not going to cross the line where the panel used to be. Enventually the call of breakfast was too much and one by one they crossed the line. For the rest of the day when they went in for naps they paused, sniffed, and then eventually crossed the line. Today- they are fine with it.
We were a bit worried that they would know that the old threat of being zapped was gone- but would they know there was a new boundry? To check, I fed them on the other side of the wire one brave piggy took a sniff and got zapped. No one else tried it- no one else has gotten within 2′ of the wire. Content that they would not try the wire again I moved the feeder over the wire and they gobbled it up. For two days I kept an eye on them- the third day I left for hours and all was well. Tonight Hazel and I took turns chasing each other and the piggies around the compost pile. Hazel got down on all fours and called them her ‘wild brothers’ while crawling around with them.
Watching pigs run, wrestle, root, play king of the hill is truly ‘better than cable TV’ (Joel Salatin). Did you know when pigs play-run they bounce around on thier front feet- kind of like a dog on one of those agility courses with the zig-zag posts? Did you know they like to dig a trench and then lay in it….then dig another? Did you know they like lie perpendicular to the sun all lined up next to each other? Did you know they are happy to see you- even if you don’t have feed bucket in hand? I didn’t. We raised pigs when I was younger and didn’t know these things.
So far so good. The pigs are free to be pigs- a fundamental objective of the farm.