The benefits of raising pigs are obvious… Bacon, pork chops, sausage, roasts, hams… Did I mention bacon? The meat ratio for 60% to 75% second only to turkeys. You can see a very nice infographic here. So they are worth the effort, especially with meat prices rising. Pigs are easy to raise, they require the basics: food, water, shelter, and space if you have it. Here is what we learned about raising pigs.
We drove to Alabama to get our pigs. We were not willing to pay more than $50 for each pig, we weren’t looking to get a fancy pig, just a pig. At the time, we couldn’t find any locally. So we drove about an hour with a large dog crate in the back of the truck, found the farm picked our pigs and came home. It was simple, except that it was raining buckets the whole time, but it is ALWAYS raining buckets here, so if we waited for the weather to clear we would never get anything done, but I digress…
We have a large pen, enclosed with field fence, it took about 2 days for us to realize that we needed electric wire around the bottom.
We bought our pigs in later winter, spring would be a better time, pigs don’t have much to keep them warm. Plus they will put on more weight in the summer.
We had a lean-to for a shelter, and a baby pool for water and a store-bought trough. We thought we were set. However, there is a difference in knowing what to do and experiencing it first hand. For example, I knew that male pigs should be castrated, however, being there for the procedure was something I was not prepared for. It is one of those farm chores that is not enjoyable for anyone involved. So know what you are getting into, but know that magnitude of some things can’t truly be appreciated with experience.
Pigs Can get Lice
Okay, so I didn’t know this. And frankly it freaked me out a bit. Pigs can get lice! The common name is Hog lice (reference 1). They are big and easy to spot. No worries though because they don’t like humans or any other animal for the matter and they are really easy to get rid of.
You can use either ivermectins, diazinon, lindane or deltamethrin 1%. And with a little research, I discovered that the flea treatment we use on our dogs contains deltamethrin (reference 2). We had it on hand so I thought it was worth a try. It worked! We retreated in a few weeks and never saw another bug. Lice do not seem to be a common problem, so you probably won’t encounter this, but it is worth a mention.
They really, really smell. Yes, you may have heard that pigs are one of the cleanest animals, but they don’t smell like roses, that for sure.
It is not the pigs that smell per-say… It’s what they produce. Smells like a cesspool, especially after a good rain followed by a sunny day and light breeze. So you may want to apologize to your neighbors ahead of time and be sure to put their pen down-wind from your house.
Pigs Eat like Pigs
They love to eat, but they eat like, well PIGS. They chew with their mouths open and smack their food and drool. Imagine the worst table manners you can, pigs are worse. However, it is kind of cute when it is an actual pig.
they will eat anything… and a lot of it
Kitchen scraps, leftovers, weeds from the garden, grubs, questionable chicken eggs… They will eat it all and they will fight each other for it. Way better than a garbage disposal. It should be noted that potatoes are not recommended for pigs because it can give them worms.
Their daily rations consisted of ground corn, soy and vitamins/minerals that we got at a local feed store produced locally and designed with pigs in mind and all scraps a family of six could produce. Once a week I would clean out the refrigerator and pantry and feed them anything questionable. It was the highlight of their week.
Anytime I was working in the garden I would toss them any fallen vegetables and all the weeds I could pull and they would stand by the fence drooling, so I think they liked that too.
The kids would toss the pigs their orange peels and apple cores and the pigs would eat them right up. As a matter of fact, we had our pigs for a year (longer than I would recommend) and I never came across something that they would not eat.
they get HUGE fast.
Like I said we kept our pigs way to long. So they were massive when they went to the butcher. Typically your pigs should leave the farm at 250 lbs. Our pigs weighed between 300 and 400 pounds. they were huge. We got almost 500 lbs of meat back, but the cost of feeding them for a year was large. I don’t know the number, but they ate a lot.
When we first started raising pigs, they each ate about a pound of food a day, plus scraps. By the time they were a year old and 300+ lbs. they were eating about 10 pounds each.
Ideally, they should go to the butcher at 6 1/2 months. Hindsight being what it is, we kept them too long and fed them too much. We probably wasted a lot of money, but we got a lot of bacon and that’s something. Right?
Pigs are Destructive
They are freakishly strong, so if they see something they want, they are going to get it.
It didn’t take us long to realize that field fencing was not going to work. Two days. Pigs like to root around for bugs, roots, seeds, etc. and they are very effective. If the fence is in the way of what they want, whatever… They rooted a big enough space to go right under the fence.
We added electric wire to the inside perimeter of the enclosure and they learned very quickly that the yellow wire was not to be trifled with.
Our yard way protected but the pigs did not waste much time turning their yard into a mess.
I don’t have a picture of this before but it used to be a lovely patch of grass, flat and without blemish. Now it is a much less desirable piece of real estate.
This was a goat house originally, made of pallets, and it was fairly nice. You can see it here. It’s barely standing now.
As you can see we used what we had, but any shelter that keeps them out of the weather and will accommodate their rapidly increasing size will do. And this probably goes without saying but stronger is better.
I became attached
I never thought I was attached to these beasts. Frankly, they scared me because of their size and strength. But after they were gone I was sad. I worried about them their last couple of nights when they were away from us.
It was hard to leave them at the butchers. Maybe because they were the first animals that we weren’t with until the very end. It was out of our hands and it was unnerving.
We have always done our best to ensure our animals had a great life and one bad day… Swiftly and without suffering, but we were not equipped to handle two massive pigs.
Pigs are S-T-U-B-B-O-R-N
The hardest part of raising pigs, hands-down, is getting them in the trailer. Next time we are going to have a gate that is the same size as the trailer so we can back it up, open it up and they can go right in (theoretically). This time around, we had to herd them into a makeshift coral and create a shoot to lead them to the trailer.
I use the word “lead” lightly because if they do not want to go in the trailer, there is nothing you can do to coerce them. Our pigs were very suspicious of the trailer. And the more we tried to coax them into the trailer with their favorite treats the more suspicious they became. We actually missed our original butcher date by three days. That is how long it took them to get in the trailer. And I think it was only because it rained that night, they were closed off from their shelter and had no choice.
Find a Good Butcher
Raising pigs for your family’s consumption is not something that should be done lightly. They are dying so you can eat. Find a good butcher! Know their procedures, read reviews, and ask questions.
These are your animals, you were responsible for their lives and you are equally responsible for their deaths.
Raising Pigs Conclusion
I have so mush gratitude towards those two pigs, I have a freezer full to the brim with enough meat to feed my family for a year, maybe more. They have given us more meat than we could ever afford to buy at one time and it is the best tasting pork chops, bacon, roast, and ham I have ever eaten in my life. I do not exaggerate.
We raised these animals from little piglets and fed them every single meal and know exactly what went into them. We worked for them and with them. They now are nourishment to my children. They are beautiful and I love them for what they have given, even if they were big smelly, stubborn, destructive pigs. That is what having a farm is about. It’s not just mindlessly raising animals to slaughter. It is knowing them and appreciating them. It is about giving your all to them during their life because they will give all to you with their death.
- P. Junquera (2015 July 27) LICE on PIGS: biology, prevention and control – Haematopinus suis. http://parasitipedia.net/
- P. Junquera (2015 July 26) DELTAMETHRIN: Safety Summary for Veterinary Use. http://parasitipedia.net/