“I’m thinking of changing from pig farming to worm farming, need as much advice as possible, I’m a complete beginner” ~ Debby Waterlow
It is really interesting that you are thinking of switching from one type of farming to the other. Who says the two need to be mutually exclusive?
Why not do them both?
I personally see worm farming as an excellent side business – something that basically represents one piece of your overall income-generation puzzle. This is not to say that you can only make a tiny amount with worm-related businesses (some people are able to earn a full-time income for sure) – it’s more the fact that worm farming can tie in so well with other businesses. If any sort of organic ‘waste’ is involved, there should be some potential for growing worms.
One prime example is rabbit farming. There are numerous cases of rabbit farmers starting up side worm businesses (with the worm operation sometimes becoming more successful than the rabbit business). No longer do they need to worry about disposing of their rabbit “waste”, and even more importantly they end up with beautiful compost and LOTS of worms! The great thing about this sort of approach is that there is no dependence on the worm business to pay the bills – it just gradually grows over time, and how far you take it is totally up to you.
Now let’s talk specifically about your situation. I won’t pretend for a second that I know anything about pig farming – I certainly don’t! But I DO know that pigs produce lots of rich manure!
I also happen to know that pig manure is a fantastic food stock for composting worms (some say ‘the best’), and that academic research has demonstrated the superiority of pig manure vermicomposts when it comes to stimulating plant growth.
Bare minimum, I would at least keep some of your animals so they can provide you with lots of ‘food’ for your worms. Pig manure tends to be high in ammonia and inorganic salts (both of which can be harmful to your worms), so you will definitely need some sort of ‘pre-treatment’.
If you happen to have a liquid slurry manure handling system this will help to wash out or at least dilute some of the harmful compounds. Regardless, pre-composting is highly recommended since – aside from making the manure more worm friendly – it will also help to reduce the chances of your worm beds overheating, and will result in faster processing times (since the manure will ready for consumption).
In addition, it helps kill any plant/human pathogens, along with any weed seeds that might be in the manure.
Generally, a pre-composting period of 1-2 weeks should be sufficient to prepare the manure, without significantly reducing the nutritional value of the manure (the longer it composts the less value it will offer your worms). Mixing the manure with lots of carbon-rich material will also be very important. Straw works well, and tends to be readily available in farming regions (in fact, perhaps you bed your pigs with straw?).
In terms of getting things started, I’d recommend building some simple wooden worm beds for yourself – preferably inside a building so they are sheltered from the elements.
Make some ‘bedding’ for your worms by following the ‘pre-composting’ instructions – you may want to compost for 3 or 4 weeks instead just to make absolutely sure the material is worm friendly (since this will be your worms’ habitat). Once the bedding is ready you can add it to your beds, along with some composting worms. Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) will definitely be a good choice.
I realize this probably isn’t as thorough a response as you would like, Debby. Unfortunately I’m somewhat limited by the scope of these newsletter responses (don’t want to make them TOO long).
Needless to say, any additional help you need can be provided in the forum. Hopefully I’ve at least provided you with enough info to get started.