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.
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.
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!
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!