How to Prepare for Your Pigs

After a lot of Google research and a terrifying first day (read about it here) we brought our three weaner gilts home.

Our homesteading experience has been quite an education! For all of you bacon lovers out there – here is the Cliff Notes version of what it takes to raise pigs.

Now to save you the embarrassment of not sounding like you know what you are talking about when you go to pick up your piglets (lessons learned from experience), lets start with some terminology:

Barrow– A castrated male pig

Boar– An intact male pig

Butcher Hog– A pig that has reached the market weight of 220-250 pounds

Drove– A group of pigs

Farrow– The process of giving birth to piglets

Feeder Pig– Any pig being raised for pork, usually refers to young pigs between 6-12 weeks old

Gilt– Female pig that has not given birth

Shoat– A pig that hasn’t reached 125 pounds

Sow– A female who has had a litter before

Weaner– A pig that was recently weaned and weighs between 25-40 pounds

We ended up with all gilts this round, but know that if you plan on eating your male pigs, you have to have them castrated to prevent the meat from tasting “boarish.” Most places will do this for you before you pick them up.

Fencing-

Although pigs do not require much space compared to some of their other meat producing counterparts, I don’t suggest confining them to a small area.  Many people create a “pig pen” for their swine that only measures about 10×10 per pig.  This confinement prevents the pig from moving in order for them to gain weight faster, all from a forced lack of exercise.  This was not our goal.  We wanted happy, healthy, lean meat from our new pink additions and fenced off a section that measured 20 x 50 and put it where our garden would be in the spring.   We used step in electric fence posts and four strands of electric tape fencing at 6”, 10”, 14”, and 24”.   A lot of references said that this would be overkill and that hogs only need a two strand electric fence, but after experimenting with our goats and electric fencing (read about it here) we weren’t taking any chances!  Luckily, they have been our only animals to not ever test the fence and have happily stayed in its confines.

Feed-

Pigs eat a lot.  I know, I know, it seems obvious.  But let me assure you that you are not prepared for the sheer quantity of food that they will consume.  Not only that, but as soon as they have scoffed down the delicious food you have provided, they will be back squealing at you for more.  And by the way, pigs are LOUD!  We have chosen a mix of table scraps (Not sure what table scraps are good for which of your animals?   Read about it here) spent grain, and pelleted feed. The internet is filled with pig owners that reach out to bakeries for day-old doughnuts, restaurants for food scraps, and other food waste products.  Although pigs make a great garbage disposal, remember that the point of raising your own meat is to control their treatment and how they are raised.  A pig raised on doughnuts is not the same thing as a pig raised on pellets and treated with pumpkins, garden scraps, and nuts.

Pigs are notoriously hard on anything in their area whether it be housing, the ground, or their feed containers.  To prepare for this we purchased rubberized feed and water buckets which have held up nicely to them playing with, lying in, and rooting through them.

Now that our tree pigs are over 130 pounds they are eating about seven pounds of grain each per day.  That means that we can go through a 50 lb. bag of food in almost two days, and in a week we go through about 150 pounds of food.  We buy a lean grower mix that is vegetarian and runs about $14 a bag and if we feed out our hogs another eight weeks we will spend around $350 more just on food!  The amount they eat is unreal y’all, make sure you are prepared for that expense!

Housing-

Pigs have very basic needs for housing.  A three sided structure filled with hay is adequate.  The hay provides warmth in the winter and the open side provides sufficient ventilation in the summer.  A closed off barn is good for neither you nor the pigs.  The lack of ventilation can cause a buildup of gasses and dust that can be detrimental to your and their health.

And that’s it!  Thus far, the pigs have been our lowest maintenance animals on the farm and we are looking forward to having them graduate to the freezer in February.  Now go to Tractor Supply and get ready for your own piglets!

10 New Goals for the New Year.

Our Goals for this New Year.

#1 Get internet – After three months of going to McDonald’s every time we needed to use the internet (seems a little counterproductive to what we are trying to do with food) we tried to get AT&T to hook us up.  Unfortunately, the service man came out only to tell us that we lived too far away for the internet to work.  Needless to say, order cancelled. We may have to get creative!

As penance for our sins, we promise to perfect a farm to table McNugget once things getting rollling.

#2 Milk our goat – Due to Ginger’s lack of widening over the last few months we are fairly certain she is not pregnant.  We haven’t noticed her coming into heat though either, so we could be surprised!  Gracie on the other hand is showing all of the tell-tale signs of carrying a kid so hopefully on March 1st we will be getting our first sip of goat’s milk!

#3 Mealworms – We are hoping to start a mini mealworm farm to help feed our chickens.  With the addition of 39 chicks in December we are going to need all of the wormies we can get!

#4 Outdoor lighting – We currently have no outdoor lighting.  Our Front porch light was broken within a week of our moving in and we have been using flashlights and lanterns ever since.  Seems like such a simple task to prioritize, but after putting out the daily fires associated with farm life it is easy to forget!

#5 Hatch our own eggs – We are hoping to be able to hatch our own eggs for our new Ameraucanas, Cochins, Buff Orpingtons, RIRs, and silkies!  We will have to see how our straight run chicks develop and try to supplement with more hens and roos as needed.

#6 Meat Birds – After a good friend let us borrow Joel Salitan’s book Pastured Poultry for Profits (a highly recommended read!) I felt empowered to make the leap.  We are already doing research on how we want to start 50 birds for our personal use and hopefully take orders to raise birds for our friends and neighbors!

#6 More Pigs – Michael has become quite the hog farmer and I am so proud by all of the work he has put into them.  He hopes to have 10 pigs next round and I am hoping to have 6.  We will see where the compromise is!  I have no room to complain since he carries the heavy buckets of feed every morning and night, fills their water, and scratches their ears, all while I sit in the warmth of the house watching.  There seems to be quite a bit of interest in this first round of happy hogs, so the plan is to scale up a bit!

#7 Our Garden – Our current pigs have been tilling and fertilizing our garden for us all fall and I am getting excited about the harvest we will be seeing in a few months!  Last year our garden was destroyed by a gang of heartless thugs (also known as groundhogs) so we will be taking extensive preventative measures this year.  We have ordered a fat envelope full of heirloom, non-GMO, organic seeds that I am excited to put in the ground.

#8 Rabbits – Michael is itching for additional meat sources to help push us on our way to sustainability.  With rabbits propensity for quick reproduction and development of lean meat, a breeding trio can actually produce more meat in a year than a steer would.  I am struggling a little bit with fluffy tails and cute twitching noses, but I have been promised to be spared from the butchering process until I feel more comfortable.

#9 Be generous – We are hoping to create enough food to be able to share! Once we’re getting some delicious return from this project we’ll be able to build some baskets throughout the season to spread the love with some folks. I think that the hard work we put into developing the sustainability of our practices is incredibly important. With that being said, I believe that sharing our food and our story is even more important when it comes to effecting the way that we, and hopefully others, connect to the food we eat.

#10 Get Married – Michael is the love of my life.  I could go on for pages with mushy feelings about his hard working spirit, his passion, his dedication, his wonderful hugs, how good he looks in overalls, and his sweet smile, but I will spare you!  Although getting married to your fiancé seems like a silly goal, as homesteaders (which double as fire fighters since there are always fires that need putting out) taking the time and money to separate yourself from your farming ventures requires effort.  We have already been engaged for 4 months with minimal planning and since Michael doesn’t want to budge on his dream date of September 2017, we have our work cut out for us!  I can’t wait for the day when we stand with only our immediate family in a beautiful outdoor location to pledge our lives to each other.

We would love to hear about your goals or resolutions for the coming year!  Comment below or send us a message to share, we would love to chat about it.