Homestead Hogs: Pork Production Basics

Farmers always have found many uses for the homestead hogs — a livestock animal that fits beautifully into the cycles of life on a small-scale farm.


| April/May 2004


Farmers always have found many uses for the homestead hogs — a livestock animal that fits beautifully into the cycles of life on a small-scale farm. One reason behind the enduring popularity of homestead hogs is the animals' willingness to eat practically anything, including kitchen scraps and garden waste. Large-scale commercial hog operations keep pigs confined indoors on a strict grain diet, but the animals are naturally omnivores that love to graze and forage for a broader range of foods.

Pigs also are hardy creatures that require a minimum of attention. When they were introduced to North America by European colonists, they routinely roamed free. Many farmers didn't even fence them in, opting instead to let the pigs roam the forests, feasting on insects, roots, fruits and nuts — even such small animals as mice. As a consequence, their meat took on more succulence and flavor than the supermarket pork most of us eat today.

If you're ready to start raising pigs yourself, one of the simplest ways to get started is to buy a few young pigs in the spring and raise them to market weight. Pigs are herd animals that are more content day-to-day when they have the companionship of their own kind.

"Typically a feeder pig starts at about 50 pounds and should be ready to butcher after four to five months," says Mark Honeyman, an Iowa State University animal science professor who also works with the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. "By then, they're 5 to 7 months old and weigh about 260 pounds."

Getting Started

To get started, you will need a securely fenced area with a few basics, including a feeding trough (allow at least a foot of space per pig), a water barrel, a small sleeping shelter, and water or mud for the pig to cool off in if shade is not available.

Any three-sided, roofed house will work for permanent shelter; you can buy pig shelters at local farm supply stores or you can build a shelter yourself from sheet metal and wood. Whatever type of shelter you create, it should be well ventilated. Put plenty of straw on the ground for the pigs to use as bedding.





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