It turns out American Guinea Hogs deserve their good reputation. They have been a great introduction to raising hogs and we have slop buckets of funny/gripping pig stories now.
One of the most important things we have learned from raising American Guinea Hogs is how important water is for pigs. There is a lot of information online about hydration for commercial hog operations and for pet pig “parents” but less about homestead scale pig production, though it does show up on homesteading discussion boards. The bottom line is: Pigs need water. This is not surprising, yet creating an effective watering system can get lost in the shuffle, especially if you are overextended as a new homesteader.
Rubber pans. We started out with rubber pans for feed and for water. These work fine, especially when the pigs are small and you have only a handful of them. However, ratchet up the numbers and the pig size and the rubber pans become sludgy, mucky messes that get flipped over and suctioned into the mud.
Plastic barrels. We moved to small, 15-gallon plastic barrels cut in half for feed and rubber pans for winter watering. In winter the ability to pull the pans out, flip them over and dislodge the ice is a necessity, because we don’t have a heated water system.
PVC pipe with nipple. The summer water setup has been developed with even more trial and error. We read online about using 6-inch-diameter PVC pipe capped on the bottom and wired to the pens. By drilling a hole and siliconing in a metal pig-watering nipple, you could have an effective watering option. We built three of them and promptly began hating them.
I found them too difficult to adjust and move around on the pens since there were no handles and they don’t stand up on their own. After we filled them with water, they were too heavy to allow us to easily move our mobile pigpens. Additionally, we bought high-pressure pig nipples which only work when attached to a pressurized water system, not a gravity flow set up like we had built (oops).
In the end, the pigs were thoroughly disgusted with the waterers and wouldn’t touch them because they couldn’t suck anything out of them. The PVC got slimy and gross and eventually I got so frustrated with the things that I just unscrewed them from the pens. That was an expensive mistake (times three) and those waterers are sitting in the garage waiting for inspiration on what to do with their useless PVC carcasses.
So back to the rubber pans we went, but in the hot weather we needed to be out re-filling pans three times a day to ensure that the pigs had water. There is nothing so aggravating as watching two thirsty pigs vying for a water pan, step on the lip and flip it over and lay in the mud while waiting for you to get them water to drink.
At some point that summer, someone explained the difference between high-pressure and gravity-flow nipples — wow, that was a game-changer for us. However, I had no interest in wrestling with the PVC monstrosities hiding in the garage to change out the nipple. Instead, during a moment of inspiration, we grabbed a flat-sided, 5-gallon horse bucket from our barn, drilled and sealed a gravity-flow pig nipple into the flat side of that bucket and tried to hang it on the pen.
It took about a week to figure out how to seat it low enough on the side of the pen for the pigs to easily reach the nipple and allow the 2-by-4 frame to support the bucket. While we were jiggering around with placement, we used two short bungee cords to hold the bucket in place. We also discovered that if we hung the bucket along the back edge where the roof overhang drained the rainwater, the buckets could magically refill themselves with just a tenth of an inch of rain.
It was brilliant — and our pigs ignored them. They remembered the useless PVC waterers that didn’t work so they decided these wouldn’t either. We coated the nipples with honey, with peanut butter, with cream cheese and then in a final moment of desperation, I told the kids, “It’s cloudy today, they have plenty of mud to wallow in, don’t fill their pans just yet.” By that evening, you could hear the sounds of happy, slurpy sucking from across the yard.
The system worked wonderfully until winter when we stored the buckets in the barn until the next spring. The process illuminated a few key lessons that have held true across the board for all of our livestock endeavors. First, no matter what you see or read about, keep trying until you find a system that works for your needs, since what works for someone else may not work for you (and also maybe build one before you build three).
Next, if you try something and it’s not working at all, there’s usually a good reason — don’t get discouraged, get curious. Keep asking questions until you feel you understand what went wrong (and be prepared to keep learning, your first theory may be wrong or only partially correct).
Finally, we realized that we inadvertently taught our animals a “bad” lesson. If so, you’ll have to patiently persist until they re-learn what you need them to know.
Ultimately, the goal is to minimize the time, energy, and frustration that daily chores can involve. A good system is one that is working for you, meeting your animal’s needs, and doesn’t break the bank. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade our early experiences for anything. I am glad we went “hog wild” and took risks but I am also glad we have learned a few things since then.
Nicole G. Carlin is a Northwest Pennsylvania homesteader and educator who has taught internationally and in her home state on a range of sustainability topics, including green cleaning. She and her family raise heritage-breed livestock on their 22-acre, restored Singing Wren Farm. Connect with Nicole there and at Smoldering Wick.
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