It has been over a year since we were flooded by a very rapid two meter swell of the Waikawa stream which flows through the farm. That night the stream broke its banks and caused a flood throughout the lower paddocks. Myself and a number of very helpful neighbours spent the night catching black pigs in the darkness and bundling them into trailers and higher ground.
The very next day we fenced the only suitable piece of high ground that would hold the pigs, an old horse arena. Since that day the grower pigs have lived in and around the horse arena.
Keen not to be caught out again over the winter I decided to not let them back into the lower paddock until the threat of flood was over. The problem with the lower paddock is that the only road in and out of the paddock passes through a ditch that overflows during flood. What I needed was an emergency exit for the pigs and so the 'Bridge of Swines' was born.
Its taken me a few months to put the bridge together, mainly because of so many other things to take care of and the terribly wet winter that we have had. I wasn't sure that the pigs would even use the bridge once built, they are not used to walking on solid ground. But I knew that if I needed too I would be able to herd them over a bridge with some encouragement. As the winter went by the horse arena (made of sand and designed to drain quickly) became too small and muddy for the pigs so we started to allow them access to the paddocks around the arena. This gave me an idea.
Behind the arena there is another gate into the lower paddock, but to access the paddock you have to cross through another section of the large drainage ditch, this would be perfect for a small bridge. This bridge would allow the pigs permanent access to the lower paddock and they would still be able to come back to the arena for feeding and sleeping. This meant that feeding would be quicker and easier as they are all in one area and I would also not have to worry about the pigs in the lower paddock at night.
Building a bridge.
It's amazing what you can find online, in fact it's daunting. The amount of images and videos and ideas about building farm bridges was simply too much to decipher so I reverted to an old farming book from the 1930's. This book had simple line drawings of simple bridges that could be made simply by a simple person, me.
When we moved onto the farm most of the flotsam and jetsam that you normally find on a farm had been removed except for a few aluminium beams that used to be part of a lean too. Without the plans and the rest of the structure they have sat around unused for three years. At just over seven meters they were perfect for the structural beams of the bridge.
Having decided that the bridge would be 1.2m wide I calculated how many planks I would need for the span, how many cuts from 4.8m lenths and the total amount of wood required. After all that complicated maths I quickly learnt that pre cut 1.2m palings were actually cheaper that cutting my own (I can never understand the mind of the retailers), so I bought a whole bunch of them and got to work.
After bolting over 40 planks onto the metal frame we had a perfectly good bridge with no sides and a very serious bounce. Given that I already knew the pigs would be wary of crossing the bridge it was very clear that if the bridge was too bouncy a 60kg pig would never use it.
So after a bit of research I realised that I need to strengthen the bridge with either suspension or a simple handrail. Given that wood is so much easier to work with, the handrail structure was the answer.
So the final bridge looks like this, it is a bit rudimentary and still has a good bounce but the electric wires help to strengthen it and of course ensure the pigs don't fall of the sides.
Yesterday was the opening ceremony and whilst a lot of pigs turned up for the show they were not too keen to cross the bridge. As always with pigs you always have one brave soul and getting that one over the bridge with a little bit of pig feed temptation would mean the rest would follow.
They have had access to the bridge for over 24 hours now and I am please to say that most of them are actually happy to cross the bridge (in both directions) giving them access to new pasture and their safe home. Its been a long time in the making but the pigs are back home in the paddocks and its good to see.