Korean Natural Farming with Pigs
Pigs – you gotta love ‘em. Or hate them. Kama-pua’a was a pig-god to old Hawaiians, associated with Lono, the god of agriculture, and also was a lover of Pele. He was a shape shifter, capable of appearing as a handsome young man or randy, rascally hog with super powers of fertility. The epic story of Kama-pua’a is a wonderful example of ancient Hawaiian’s oral mythology and literature. Pigs were a special food for ancient Hawaiians and are still the centerpiece of a baby luau or graduation imu.
A pig can also be a voracious pest that devours a field of taro or pineapples in a night. One of their favorite foods is earthworms (protein-rich snacks) and they’ll turn over your yard or field to get to them. And their smell! Brace yourself! Right? Well…no more. Pigs may once again get the respect they deserve. Korean Natural Farming methods with piggeries have been used for over 40 years and with these simple techniques pigs can be raised in a confined area, with virtually no smell and no flies.
Inspired by a visit to an odorless, fly-free piggery in Korea, Mike DuPonte, who is the Animal Specialist with CTHAR Cooperative Extension Service in Hilo, Hawaii, came home and started a Korean Natural Farming (KNF) piggery. Mike was well versed in bureaucratic regulations and delays, and worked with the Department of Health for two years just to get his building permit. This involved many tests to see if the deep litter had any seepage or waste run-off, which it didn’t, not even a drop. As a result of Mike’s efforts, the USDA has recognized KNF piggery methods as, “Best Management Practices.” It also complies with the EPA’s new, stricter, livestock operation regulations. This is a real milestone and has gotten attention from people in Hawaii and across the nation. Many piggeries on the island, small and large, are now using indigenous microorganisms to immediately abate the smells and raise healthier, happier pigs.
Mike has just four pigs, two boars and two sows, and one litter of eight piglets, in his “model” piggery, the piggery he built to get USDA recognition. He is now building a larger facility, which will house 30 pigs, next to the original building. KNF uses waste management technology that addresses odor and flies, and results in stress-free, contented pigs, that dig and root in the deep litter. The piggery uses self-collected indigenous microorganisms to inoculate the litter, which is basically 4’ deep green waste. The building is strategically positioned to benefit from the sun’s drying and heating to promote aerobic conditions in the litter. The building also has 10’ walls and a 14’ vented roof, which allows the trade winds to cool the building and release heat from the microbial fermentation in the litter.
The first facility was required to have a concrete slab, but the new building will only be required to have a 40 ml plastic liner at the base. This is a small victory in itself, because of the high cost of pouring a large cement floor. Hawaii, by the way, is the only place in the United States, so far, that doesn’t require a concrete floor.
The bottom layer of the pen has bio-char mixed with cinders. Next, a layer of logs, at least two inches in diameter, cover the floor completely. These logs can be as large as one likes and be touching each other. The next layer is the green waste, layered with banana leaves or coconut fronds. A few weeks before the pigs are introduced, a thin layer of IMO #4 is spread lightly across the green waste, one pound for every 50 square feet. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB), diluted at a 1:1000 ratio, is sprayed several times over the first 2-3 weeks. A slight yeasty smell indicates the microbes have been activated and the pen is ready for use. If necessary the LAB can be used to ‘spot check’ any smelly spots in the pens, but it is generally not needed.
Heavy logs are placed on top of the green waste for the pig’s rooting pleasure and to facilitate IMO formation. Boars, especially, like to dig, and the logs may need to be periodically replaced. These logs also keep the pigs from digging to the bottom of the pen. The charcoal and logs provides aeration and food for the microbes.
This set-up is virtually care free; it stays in an aerobic state and never needs to be cleaned out. Every time the pigs urinate or defecate, the microorganisms kick in to immediately digest the waste. The pigs get their water from a nipple and their feed goes into a small trough. The litter is slightly acidic, 6.5 pH, which flies don’t like; and it also stays dry, too dry for flies. Each adult pig gets a 17 square foot pen, instead of 8 square feet, which is the norm. Piglets can be raised to wean-off-size in the pen with the mother.
Mike has had his pigs for 4 and half years now and has never cleaned out the pens once. Pigs will eat some of the green waste, so the litter doesn’t build up, but rather, goes down, and needs to be reloaded with green waste every 7-8 months or when the log layer becomes exposed, but not inoculated again. I witnessed no flies in the pen or building and, amazingly, no smell.
The pens were totally clean – no visible excrement. As soon as the excrement touches the inoculated green waste, the IMO’s kick in to digest it. Pigs will habitually defecate in one spot. Their excrement shouldn’t stink normally, unless they have an unbalanced diet or are on concrete floors, which is an unnatural environment for them. KNF mimics their natural environment in every way possible, resulting in mellow, un-stressed pigs.
Mike feeds his pigs off-grade papaya, sweet potato, guinea grass, banana stumps and a little grain. Macadamia nut shells are available for litter on the Big Island, but Mike doesn’t use these because the pig’s urine wouldn’t soak into it – the shells are too hard. And the high oil content of the shells may cause problems when spread on the fields.
The new piggery building will have hollow-tile concrete walls, with the pens separated by wire fencing. Two inch plastic tubing on the bottom provides extra aeration. A raised walkway will facilitate easy access to the pig’s troughs. This design is scalable, you could have one pig or 1,000. KNF animal husbandry methods can be used with other livestock also. For chickens, you only put down a 3” layer of green waste and follow a similar protocol. For cattle and horses, you put down a 1” layer, but their pens need to be cleaned out every week, because of the quantity and volume of their excrement.
Starting in 1965, Master Han Kyu Cho of South Korea perfected these methods with his colleagues. KNF livestock facilities have been built across Asia, in the Philippines, China, Thailand and Vietnam. Most of the Chinese army now raises its pigs using these methods.
These practices need to be taught and shared across the globe, especially in huge cities like Cairo, Egypt, where people keep swine to help consume their waste, which would otherwise build up in the city streets. These city pigs can become a health nuisance because of flies and smells and contribute to the spread of diseases. Confined Animal Feedlots can also be re-structured and re-purposed using KNF methods to mitigate the enormous environmental and public health threat they pose now. KNF is an easy and available alternative to these destructive industrial practices.
For more information on Natural piggeries and Korean Natural Farming methods, go to http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/sustainag/news/articles/V3-Duponte-piggery.pdf , or www.naturalfarminghawaii.net or www.kalapanaorganics.com
Jacqui Prell has been practicing and writing about Korean Natural Farming for the past five years, after being one of the original pioneers in bringing that method to Hawai'i Island. She currently lives and farms at Kalapna Organics in Puna.