I wouldn’t want to raise pigs if I couldn’t move them around my property. I know some folks have deeply held opinions about things such as concrete pads and indoor hog operations, and you can count me among that lot. But beyond criticisms of conventional farming, seeing pigs rush headfirst into the overgrown grass of a new pasture and start chomping and rooting around just makes me smile. Happy animals are, to my way of thinking, an important marker for livestock-farming success, and a fresh pasture makes pigs very happy.
But therein lies a significant challenge, too. When you pasture pigs, you have to move them often, which means you continually need to fence in different pieces of land to prevent the drift from drifting off. Swine are highly trainable to electrified fencing—I’ve watched a sow who I know can tear the siding from a barn scream at me from the other side of three strands of hot wire—but when your best piece of land is at the back of your property or a silvopasture plot buried in the woods, acres away from the closest wall socket, how do you get that training shock to your hogs?
Early on, I made copious use of close-to-the-house land and strung-together extension cords, but upon visiting the farm of a self-professed “lunatic farmer,” my wife and I stood for a long time watching a herd of pigs traverse a piece of forest far from the homestead. I followed the strand of wire demarcating the animals’ boundary to its source, then pulled out my phone and began snapping pictures of the setup. It turns out the answer had been in front of my face all along—or, rather, above my head.
I’ve already discovered solar-powered chargers—our broilers’ electric netting gets its volts from the sun. But pigs like to wander, and they need sufficient incentive to ignore the neighbor’s soy field. I’d not found a solar charger at the local farm store that I trusted with my precious mortgage lifters, so the discovery on that high-profile farmer’s piece of land was a welcome bit of information.
The setup isn’t anything crazy, just a solar panel that charges a 12-volt marine battery, which is in turn hooked to an energizer connected to fencing. But when you add the kit that mounts the solar panel as well as houses the marine battery, things get portable.
I purchased most of the supplies (minus the marine battery, which I picked up on sale at a big-box store) at Premier 1 supplies, a farmer-owned Iowa resource whose tagline “equipment that works” I’ve found to embody truth in advertising. Premier 1 has a range of all-in-one fencing systems, including a handy-looking pig netting that’s built to withstand rooting, but I decided to piece together components based on tight budget requirements.
For the solar panel itself, I’ve found that my family’s central-Kentucky farm receives enough light to keep the battery charged on a 20-watt panel (purchased with a 10-amp regulator), even during the winter. The panel attaches to brackets that mount it atop the energizer support box, inside of which hides the massive marine battery.
You can choose whatever brand of energizer you like—the model just needs to be powerable via battery clamps. Because I closely followed the example set by a man known for functional frugality, I purchased the same model I observed on the inspiration farm: the Speedrite 1000, a low-cost energizer with built-in strength indicators that can operate on battery power. I’m not sure whether it mounts to the energizer support box or not, because I like to hang my energizers from a t-post so I can easily glance at the strength indicator lights to determine whether the fence is working or I need to go find a mound of soil nosed up onto a bottom line.
When the time comes to move pastures, I just turn off the energizer, pull the grounding rod out of the soil and move everything to our new, fenced-in pasture. The setup is, admittedly, very heavy, but the energizer does have a handle for portability; a hand truck also works if you’re not up for powerlifting. After positioning the solar panel to receive maximum daylight sun, I drive the grounding rod, hook it and the battery to my energizer, clamp the energizer to the wire, then let those piggies onto fresh, untrodden soil. Oh, and I smile—I always remember to smile.