Cam and Lisa Hodgins of Lenore hosted their first Open Farm Day last Sunday, Sept. 16.
About 40 people attended, seeing farm animals raised in a free-range system, doing what comes naturally.
One guest was from Japan, a couple others from Steinbach, another family was from Ontario; but most guests were from Brandon, Elkhorn, Virden and places in-between.
Cam Hodgins guided hay ride tours of the pastured animals.
He explained what appeared to be random growth - a polycrop field of sunflowers, sorghum, turnips, triticale and several other things. Growth on one side of the trail was much thicker than on the other side, the main difference being, the field where pigs had pastured was doing much better than the other area which had simply been disked and seeded.
“I don’t understand the biology,” he admitted. “To me, that says, those pigs are doing something to the soil. So we’re trying to use pigs to plough up the land.”
He explained that the idea came to him when he was breaking ground for seeding. He started thinking about how much pigs like to root up the land they range on.
“The pigs enjoy it,” he said adding that its his plan to cooperate with nature rather than fighting it.
Cattle will graze this land next. The main point, he says, is what the root crops add to the life of the soil.
Chicken graze too
An former cattle trailer has been adapted as a moveable chicken house. They enjoy freedom and fresh grazing as needed.
An automated door lets the chickens out into an electric fenced area in the morning. They go in on their own at dusk, and the door closes to protect them for the night.
Pastured pigs and sheep
Sows and piglets, most of them almost weanling age, find shelter among brush and willows around a dry slough, kept in by a four-strand electric fence. With good shelter, this is their home base, but they too are moved.
Running with the herd of swine is a small flock of sheep. “A few years ago, we had predator problems,” recounts Hodgins. “We put five or six sows with little pigs with the sheep. After that we had no problems with coyotes.”
He figures the sheep stay close to the pigs when predators show up. Coyotes “don’t want to mess with a 300-pound sow,” says Hodgins.
“I know, if I was to continuously run pigs in this bush, it would be wrecked.” They are continuously moved. “That’s the idea behind this temporary fence.”
Mother of invention
Hodgins grew up on the farm that he now operates, where he and Lisa are raising their four children. He seems to love the land and the livestock, but had to find a better way.
“When I was a kid, me and my brothers … and our sister – part of our job was cleaning out the pig barn. I said, ‘I’m never doing that.’”
Observation has taught him a lot. He says, “That’s where we’re trying to be with our farm, getting different systems to work together, to function within an ecosystem.”
With a stiff breeze and the temperature in the low teens, it was a cold ride on the rack. Back at the home base the garage felt cozy and hot coffee hit the spot. There was beef on a bun, drinks for kids, honey for tasting and for sale, along with a variety of naturally raised meats.