One of the newest additions to the ECHO Global Farm is the Natural Farming Pig System, located in the Tropical Lowlands area. This system was developed in Asia and showcases an innovative method of harnessing the impact of “good” bacteria, enhancing both crop and animal production systems for the beneﬁt of the small-scale farmer. Either commercially derived or produced at home, good bacteria can improve soil quality, enhance health of crops, minimize livestock odor, and aid in the fermentation of animal feed.
ECHO’s Natural Farming Pig System is comprised of a deep-litter pen in which hogs are raised atop a one-meter deep layer of bedding comprised mostly of sawdust, rice husks and ground charcoal. By excluding rain, and preventing excessive spillage of feed and water, the bedding remains minimally moist, offering the pig relief on hot days. On cold days, the pig can comfortably burrow itself into the bedding. Wastes are mixed into the litter by the pig’s natural rooting instinct and subsequently broken down by the bacteria. After eight to 12 months of use, the nutrient-rich litter can be removed for application as compost on the farm.
The pigs are fed twice a day with silage made from sliced banana stalks fermented with small amounts of brown sugar and salt. Contrasted to the labor-intensive, traditional method of harvesting, slicing, and boiling the banana stalks daily (as is commonly practiced in Southeast Asia), the silage stores well for over a week. The ECHO silage ration is mixed with a much smaller amount of commercial pig feed and fed along with excess ECHO fruit, vegetables and forage. This method decreases reliance on commercial feed and lowers overall production costs. Additionally, we have observed at our ECHO Asia Regional Impact Center that balanced, silage- based diets create sturdy, leaner hogs which are thought to taste better.
Learning First Hand
Working with the deep litter system has made pig rearing much easier than I ever expected. When we first got Tiger (pictured above), I was worried about ending enough food for him. But, with the ample supply of banana stalks we have as a side-product of harvesting banana bunches, I had plenty of material to ensile (to make into silage).
One of my favorite things to do with our guinea hogs (Humperdink and Groot) in the deep litter is to bury sugar cane pieces or corn into the deep litter and then watch them use their noses like shovels to dig the treats up. This rooting also helps aerate the litter, saving me the labor of turning my compost.
Our hogs have been really enjoyable to work with and even train. They love when people visit and talk to them, enjoy belly rubs and scratches behind the year, and will always accept treats.
- Stacy Reader (ECHO Intern)