Sunday 1 October 2017


The question is sometimes asked by small scale pig keepers if it is possible to grow and mix your own pig feed because feeding a pig is rather costly compared to most other livestock. In the past, before the availability of commercial pig feed, keeping a pig to fatten was not that uncommon and people got by as far as feeding their pigs was concerned. A couple of things have changed. One is that there are restrictions on what you are legally allowed to feed pigs. Gone are the days of the swill bucket. No catering (i.e. kitchen) waste is allowed. (Rules might be different outside of the UK/EU). A second issue is that consumers much prefer leaner meat than days gone by and without careful dietary attention pigs, especially the traditional breeds which smallholders tend to keep, very easily run to fat. The fact of the matter is that commercially produced pig feed conveniently provides all the nutrients a pig needs and despite its rather unappetising appearance (to us) pigs undoubtedly love to eat it and in my experience prefer it to anything else that might might be on offer.

Pigs are determined foragers and will spend much of their waking hours nosing their way through the ground looking for food (at least pigs kept free range outdoors will). You can, of course, supplement a pig's diet with vegetable offerings from the plot and even replace some of the commercial feed. The usually quoted conversion ratio is 4lb of vegetables equate to 1lb of concentrate.

Mangelwurzels provide a useful supplement to a pig's regular diet and give them something they can get their teeth into. Mangelwurzel is not something you will generally find in the seed racks of garden centres or indeed in the catalogues of most of the mainstream seed suppliers. It has largely been grown as a fodder crop for cattle, sheep and pigs. Although it is edible and some people make beer from it I'm not sure that it would be worth giving space to it unless you have livestock given that there are other quality root vegetables such as parsnip, turnip and swede available. 


When the beet is cut open it has the crisp white texture of raddish. You can taste the sweetness if you fancy taking a bite yourself. Because of the relatively high sugar content I would be wary of making this the larger part of the diet of pigs and prefer to mix it with other vegetables and apples.

Mangelwurzels (also commonly known as 'mangolds' or, less commonly nowadays, the 'scarcity crop') originate from Germany. I first came across them when I was doing 'o' level history. During the Irish potato famine one English lordship brushed off any concern by recommending the Irish "should eat mangelwurzels instead". 

It was known as the scarcity crop on the basis that it reputedly grows where other crops struggle and is therefore available when all else fails. However, the term is likely to have arisen from a mis-translation from German. Mangel (which was transliterated into mangold) means 'leaf beet' but also means a 'lack of' or scarcity. Wurzel means root, so literally beet root rather than scarce root.

I have grown four 20' rows of mangelwurzels this year as a fodder crop. The variety is 'Brigadier' which I got from a farm seed supplier. They were sown in 3" pots in April and I planted them out at the end of May. Direct sowing in May is fine but this is my preferred method. They are slightly frost-tender but are otherwise a fairly robust crop. However, as is so often the case on my sandy soil, in dry periods the green leafy top growth does begin to wilt and so at such times it needs some additional irrigation. I noticed that the surrounding fields of sugar beet, a near relative and an important crop in these parts, were also being irrigated at the same time. 

The beet grows largely on top of the soil with a spray of chard-like leaves. As they can be spoiled by freezing conditions they can't be left in the ground until needed like parsnips. They need to be harvested before the frosts arrive and kept in cool frost free conditions. I store them in the garage and cover with an old sheet. I've used them for pigs but many report how much sheep enjoy them so I will try them with mangelwurzel's too as the winter takes hold.


  1. I remember my Irish grandfather use to grow a row of Mangolds for the cart horse and cattle. He also grew giant cow cabbages for feeding to the cattle. I suppose the Wurzels chose their band name after the mangel wurzels? I have grown fodder beet and fed it to our livestock.

  2. I think you're right about the Wurzels. There was also Wurzel Gummidge on TV. when you say fodder beet, Dave, do you mean mangelwurzel or another type of beet?

  3. Hi there. I grow several rows of Mangel Brigadier for my pigs and you're right, the sheep absolutely love them too. Chickens are partial to them as well. Hoping you can help me as my only known supplier of Mangel Brigadier has stopped selling them. The only option I can find is to buy 50000 seeds! Where do you source yours please?

  4. Can I leave them in the ground over winter if I cover them with straw?