2014 journal article
Effects of rotational infrastructure within pasture-raised pig operations on ground cover, soil nutrient distribution, and bulk density
JOURNAL OF SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION, 69(2), 120–130.
Interest in pasture-based pork products has increased significantly in recent years. However, nitrogen (N) losses resulting from these systems are common due to importation of feed, high stocking rates, and pig behavior. This study was conducted to evaluate soil inorganic N, soil-test phosphorus (STP), ground cover, and compaction changes as impacted by rotational shade, water, and feed structures in a pasture-raised pig operation over two 12-week pig occupations. Shade and watering structures were rotated weekly for 12 weeks within a rotational (mobile) scheme; data were compared to a stationary structure system as well as to a managed hay operation with no pigs. Soil samples were acquired from subplots and analyzed for distribution of inorganic N concentrations among main plot treatments, including nitrate (NO3), ammonium (NH4), and STP values. Soil inorganic N concentrations were higher in exterior subplot positions than in interior positions. This pattern was not maintained after a second pig group occupied the plots. Soil test phosphorus was unaffected by either pig occupation. Ground cover percentages were higher in control (hay) treatments than for pig treatments, however no difference was found between mobile and stationary structure treatments in either pig occupation. Soil compaction, as measured by soil bulk density, was found to be higher under permanent shade structure locations as compared to mobile and control treatments. Mobile and control compaction levels were not different for the second occupation, utilizing a more intensive sampling scheme, suggesting a benefit to the rotation of shade, water and feed infrastructure. The weekly rotation of infrastructure performed during both occupations was both labor intensive and time consuming. The observed lack of improvement in nutrient distribution to a rotational infrastructure may limit its utility in pastured-pig systems. However, further options are available that would allow the production of pasture-raised pigs while minimizing associated nutrient loading and pasture degradation.