Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Small, cute pigs turn into huge pork chops just over the summer. We are a family of meat eaters, and with 3 growing boys I am proud and relieved to be able to provide a source of good meat for their active, accelerating bodies!
Every summer I acquire two pigs for raising and butchering. I usually pay $40 per piglet, just weaned and weighing approximately 25 – 40 lbs. Raising feeder pigs is a good easy start to maintaining your own meat supply. They are hardy animals and require little maintenance other than worming while they are young. It is true that boars will grow a little faster than gilts. After a summer of growing, though, boys or girls either one get big and fat, so I don’t worry about sex as much as others might. Pigs also thrive if you have more than one, and if they are fairly equal in size. If you have several and one is smaller, it will possibly have to be separated so that it can get feed. Feeder pigs require less of a set-up than would be necessary for breeding stock. Since they are not kept more than 6-8 months I find that a hardy shelter is not required. Our pen is made with stock panels and can even be moved. If they become adept at digging holes and getting out of their pen, securing lumber against the panel with some rebar works great.
In the hot summertime the pigs get plenty of garden scraps that are good for them, cuts down on my waste and keeps feed expenditures lower. They will eat just about anything you can carry out of the garden (those ripe yellow cukes for example!). Sweet potato plants on the edge of fall are one of their favorites! It is always fun watching them eat, root and play. They are such happy creatures that have an intense love of these simple things. You can give them spent green bean plants and grass clippings. They won’t waste anything you give them, if they don’t want to eat it, they will sleep in it! Besides all the unusable garden produce they can also have most of your kitchen scraps as well. It is unhealthy for pigs to ingest too much salt, though, so be mindful of the salt content in prepared foods. I also feed them a variety of bought grain, such as a pig grower which is (sometimes) a combination of soy and corn, chopped corn and whole corn that I like to soak in water for a day or two (they love slightly fermented foods). The most important thing in the summer is to make sure they have plenty of water. Pigs do not sweat, that is why the wallow. To stay cool, they need water for drinking and playing in.
By the fall of the year they are reaching 250 to 300 lbs. It costs me $40 each to get them slaughtered. The slaughterer takes them to the butcher where all the meat gets processed. This year my hog weighed 212 lbs (hanging weight), which cost me $124 to process. This included cutting and packing all the chops, steaks, roasts, breakfast sausage, Italian sausage and curing of the bacon, jowls and hams. I also ask them to save the leaf lard for me (the leaf lard is the better lard that is around the organs). My brother-in-law’s family buys the other hog. They pay for their kill fee and processing and pay me $1 per pound hanging weight on their hog. Some people I know have become skilled in butchering their own hogs, which can obviously save quite a little money and is a doable option for those who do not live near a processor.
Quality doesn't come cheap!
As far as overall economy, I am not sure there is. Store-bought pork and pork products are rising, yet it is still an expense to feed and keep pigs. I am happy to raise them for the quality alone and hope to break even at the most. It is satisfying to roast a ham that you raised on your own farm. The versatility of pork is fun, too. It is incredible that bacon, pork chops, Italian sausage and pork roasts all come from one animal. We love those little oinkers!