Courses/WorkshopsLandLivestockSwalesWorking Animals

Pigscavation to Help Water Penetration

Capturing water before it runs off your property is key to rehydrating parched landscapes. Building ‘swales’ or channels along contour with uncompacted mounds is one way of assisting water infiltration.

Building swales can also be an expensive exercise utilising heavy machinery which is expensive to transport and hire.

Nick Huggins, of Jacmarall Farm uses an innovative way of building smaller swales that is within the economic reach of most small farmers. Using pigs to do the bulk of the digging work, Nick calls this ‘pigscavation’.

Essentially, the penned pigs are fed a grain ration each day for their nutrients, but then allowed, in a pen of approximately 4 by 2 metres, to dig the soil, while searching for roots and eating the grass. The pigs dig down 2-3 feet in this process and effectively loosen the soil in the pen each day, being moved daily if not twice to fresh pasture.

The pigs are housed in a pen with fresh water, food and shelter from the elements, but it is quite a simply operation to fold back the shelter, separate it, move the pen and reconnect the fencing back up each morning.

Following the pigs, Nick manually shifts the dirt that the pigs have loosened and piles it up to form the mound part of the swale, mulching it with straw as he goes and it usually takes around 30min to complete the task.

Not only are the pigs having a great time, they are well looked after and happy, and they are also doing productive work on the farm — work (or natural instinctive behaviour) that is the expression of pigness of the pig.

Jacmarall Farm is outside of Tarago in the NSW Southern Tablelands. The farm is 100 acres of pasture which is in the process of being sustainably rehabilitated to a productive, profitable, regenerative enterprise.

Learn more about this process by joining Nick Huggins and Martyn Noakes at a weekend Earthworks Practicum at Bredbo Valley Farm on 24 and 25th November, 2012. For more information email info (at)


  1. Pigscavation, what a great idea Nick… so we could keep moving them on contour, or patterning similar to forests such that water will tend to infiltrate rather than flow over the surface. But do they really dig down 2 or 3 feet? I would think we would frequently end up with loose piggies. With my sheep, I had enough fencing for two paddocks, so I could just open one end and shift them onto the new area without leaving the enclosure. Looks like the pig fencing needs to be very sturdy. I see that fence companies like “Premier One” sell woven electric specifically for pigs, but perhaps in that confined an area these electric fences wouldn’t be a good option. I would love to hear more about using pigs this way-keep writing, Penny and Nick. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I had a similar idea of planting sun chokes on the swale path and then grazing the pigs after the chokes were ready to harvest. The pigs love sun chokes. Unfortunately I don’t own any land to try it out but if some one does please let me know.

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