One common question I get is “What can pigs eat out of my garden?” The short answer to this question is pigs can eat pretty much anything, and a better question might be “What won’t they eat?”
In fact, pigs are such voracious eaters, it can get expensive to feed them, especially if they’re dependent on commercial feed for their entire diet. One option to reduce costs while still offering healthy food is to supplement with fresh fruits and veggies.
Pigs and chickens are omnivores, and love digging around for any fresh foods they can turn up. In fact, ours are so good at digging, that we love using them to break new ground or turn over a garden at the end of the season. When it comes to any leftovers they find (and the occasional bug) they certainly aren’t picky (except with peppers and onions. Mine are quite biased against both.)
I’ve found that one way to reduce feed costs on our farm is to grow as much food for our livestock as possible; pigs and chickens included. Over the years, we’ve started a livestock garden to keep our pigs and chickens in fresh foods as much of the year as possible, which we hope to expand.
What Can Pigs Eat that you Can Grow in your Garden?
You can feed your pigs pretty much anything that you grow, and the list of things you can’t feed your pigs is shockingly short. We purposely grow turnips, leafy greens, squash, and corn for our pigs. They also willingly gorge themselves on veggies at the end of the season that we don’t have time to harvest.
How to Start a Livestock Garden
This year, we’re planning on using a ¼ acre plot of land devoted to growing food for our livestock. If you want to start a livestock garden and are not used to farming large tracts of land, my suggestion is to start small your first year, then work your way up to a larger garden. It’s easy to start with ambitious intentions, but hot summer sun and other obligations have a way of derailing your ambitions.
Remember, growing some of their food is better than none, so start small to make sure you’re not overwhelmed your first year.
If you’re used to gardening a lot, then you might opt to grow as much food for your livestock as possible. Start by estimating how much your pigs and chickens eat in a year, then reverse engineer to figure out how much to plant. This is where keeping detailed gardening records helps because you’ll have a good idea of how many pounds of vegetables you can grow in a given area.
If you aren’t sure how much you can harvest from your garden, a good way to estimate a potential yield is by looking up national records online. For example, if you want to grow turnips for your pigs, then look up the average yield per acre, and use that as a starting point. I usually halve that amount to take losses into account. Many of those records are based on industrial farming, where farmers have a lot of experience and better tools at their disposal. They’re also slightly skewed by regional differences. For example, we’ve had farmers near us yield 300 bushels of corn per acre, but not everyone nationally can achieve that.
Choosing What to Grow
To start your livestock garden, think about what your pigs would like to eat. At feed stores, you can usually buy a pre-made foraging mix, which is a good option if you aren’t sure what to grow at all. These foraging mixes are typically meant for deer or other wildlife, but they will work well for hogs and chickens.
Typically, they contain different varieties of greens, turnips, and daikon radishes, among other things. You can see exactly what is in a mixture by reading the label, and the package will also have directions for sowing the seeds for success. Pigs especially love digging up the root vegetables!
If you would rather choose individual vegetables to grow in your garden, then there are plenty of options. Remember, if you’re wondering “What can pigs eat?” you can rest assured you’re only limited by your imagination and the plants pigs and chickens can’t eat.
Although poultry feed formulations are the easiest way to make sure your hens get a great diet, you can also offer veggies from your garden to supplement their meals. Hens love leafy greens, squash, tomatoes, and strawberries.
We like offering our pigs cabbage, potatoes, squash, and corn. Although pigs will willingly eat tomatoes, we’ve found that the other items listed get wasted less.
Growing Trees as Part of Your Livestock Garden
Foraging is another way to supplement your livestock’s diet for free, and one part of natural pig farming is finding food stuffs from your environment to give your hogs a varied and interesting diet.
Similarly, if your hens have to be in a coop or tractor all the time, then foraging, in addition to building a livestock garden, is one way to supplement their diet for free. If you like feeding chickens scraps but have run out, then foraging is a great substitute.
Although foraging brings up thoughts of traveling to meadows and forests off your property, you can also forage on your own farm and help maintain a livestock garden that nature has already offered you.
We forage from the forests on our homestead, and we’ve found that taking advantage of the trees that grow on our farm is another way to add to our livestock garden. On our farm, we have about 15 pecan trees that have been here for hundreds of years, but that still provide about 100 pounds of nuts each fall.
Our pigs love (and I mean LOVE) foraging for nuts come fall and winter. We’ve maintained these pecan trees, and have added dwarf fruit trees to our homestead to help supplement our farm animals’ diet in the other seasons.
This is another easy way to build a livestock garden for your chickens as well, although nut trees don’t make as much sense as, for example, apple or plum trees.
Starting a livestock garden is a fun and easy way to reduce your feed costs, and your pigs and chickens will thank you. If you want to read more about feeding your chickens, you can find more articles on my site FrugalChicken.
Do you plant a garden for your pigs or even your chickens? Let us know what you plant in the comments below.