Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.
Our new daily routine includes twice-a-day feedings of our four American Guinea Hogs. Even when we don’t have food to give them, they still come up and happily accept scratches behind the ears, which is a friendly bonus of raising this docile breed. The photo above shows the A-frame we built for the hogs in the background, with our four barrows happily munching down some pasture grass in the foreground.
The American Guinea Hog barrows came to us at about 20 pounds each, and have since grown to about 40 to 50 pounds each. (As a smaller heritage hog breed, this slower growth is expected, as the pigs will top out at about 120 pounds. A more standard breed would be twice this size when finished, if not larger.) Our hogs have grown too large to continue to share the food pans we started with. So, Tyler sawed an old 55-gallon plastic drum in half, drilled in a few drainage holes, and screwed on small boards to the bottom to keep the trough off the ground. All four can easily access the upcycled trough, although a couple of the ornery guys keep climbing in and losing their balance on the rounded plastic surface. The ones that slip don’t seem to mind, though — they just keep eating from their lowered position and the others grunt their dissatisfaction with the arrangement. Another bonus: We no longer need Netflix for entertainment.
The hardest thing for us to find out was just how much to feed this breed. They are great foragers, so many people were claiming not to feed pastured hogs anything else except some table scraps. Other breeders gave feed, others hay, others a mix, and others slopped the heritage breed hogs with loads of garden and table scraps. The recent MOTHER EARTH NEWS article on the breed recommended feeding hogs 4 percent of their body weight. We’ve decided to follow that guideline, and to consider the fresh forage almost as a bonus (especially through winter, when the fresh forage is mostly frozen, dead forage). If they start putting on weight unhealthily, which is entirely possible with this breed known for lard and fatty meat, we’ll back off the additional feed. We’re all for lard, but we’d like some nice hams and shoulder roasts to go along with the fat when all’s said and done! We also want to be thrifty and put food scraps, and what would otherwise be compost or waste, to good use by turning them into healthy, pastured pork. In short, we wanted to be able to use a mix of purchased and free food sources in a way that was best for this unique breed.
We settled on keeping a pretty even mix of the organic, soy-free swine grower feed we purchase from Thayer Feed, organic alfalfa hay we bought from Juniper Hill Farm, and food scraps, including the compost we pick up from behind Limestone Pizza (a local restaurant that sources most of their real, whole-food ingredients locally and is dedicated to composting, recycling and generally operating a sustainable business — not your typical Pizza-Hut-style joint). We weigh the feed throughout the day to be sure we’re giving enough to keep the hogs growing well and to keep them from getting "hangry." Yes, this affliction affects hogs as well as humans, although our pastured pigs tend to express it through brutal ear biting during feedings. Also similar to omnivorous humans, who thrive on a diverse diet, our similarly omnivorous hogs are growing happily and healthily on their varied diet. In fact, we joke that they eat better than we do. Because the hogs are known to be thrifty foragers and thrive on grass and now that most of the pasture is dead from frost, we make sure that a good portion of their daily feed is the alfalfa hay, which they tear into with only slightly less enthusiasm than how they slurp and smack the unused pizza dough from Limestone (evidenced in the fuzzy photo below).
You may ask how in the world we figured out how much each pig weighed so that we could calculate how much food to provide. If you’re envisioning trying to keep a pig still on a scale or stand on a scale yourself with a squirmy hog in your arms, know that we had the same fear, but a scale isn’t required at all. You should instead envision a young pig farmer using a tape measure to gather the heart girth and length measurements of each hog while they are distracted by their evening meal. How to take the measurements, and the formula you enter the measurements into in order to deduce each hog’s estimated weight, is available from Oregon State University extension.
Top photo by Tyler Gill; bottom photo by Jennifer Kongs.
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Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer by leaving a comment below.