Pig Farming on the Homestead

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The Keener Memorial A-Frame served as a pig shelter.
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Pigs are hearty eaters and have enjoyable personalities.
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A traditional, V-shape pig trough with three sections.

Himself and Herself gave us a glimpse of what it is to
be a pig. When they rested, they were out straight. . .
sometimes half submerged in mud. When they scratched
themselves against a corner of their shelter, their
enjoyment of the itch and the scratch was both comic and
complete. Shower baths from the sprinkling can on hot
summer days made them all but sigh with satisfaction. Both
pigs had the sense to step on a cornstalk to make it easier
to eat and it wasn’t long before they learned to recognize
the peculiar clank of their feed pail handle (as opposed to
the clatter of the goats’ pans). The shoats would always
come running, snorting and hollering, when they heard the
bucket’s hopeful sound.

Last summer we raised two pigs on our acre. We had no barn,
fancy feeders or waterers. No pasture either. What we
did have was plenty of weeds and garden leftovers
. . . and what we ended up with was plenty of pork. Yum.
The real stuff, lean and delicious, and it cost us an
average of only 37¢ a pound.

We had several things in mind when, bumbling amateurs that
we were, we decided to have a go at raising our own pork
chops:

1) (And carrying the most weight) . . . We’d read enough
about hormones, antibiotics and heavily sprayed feed given
to commercially raised animals to want something better for
our family and friends; 2) We wanted to see how fully pigs
would use up the by-products of gardening, canning and
foraging; 3) All we knew about hogs was what we’d read . .
. we wanted to see how they would respond to us and each
other;

4) We thought we might even save some money.

Our plan was to buy shoats (feeder pigs) in early spring,
fatten them up over the summer at the slow but steady pace
of whatever was available and have them butchered and
frozen in the fall. That’s pretty much the way it worked
out.

While getting ready for our venture, we did a lot of
reading. The most down-home, reassuring sources were parts
of COUNTRYSIDE Magazine, an article by Victor Croley in the
November 1968 issue of ORGANIC GARDENING AND
FARMING and a small green book we found in a secondhand
bookstore: HOME PORK PRODUCTION by John Smedley
(Published by Orange Judd Publishing Co., N.Y.,
1946).
 

We also found two helpful pamphlets at the local feed
store: “The Purina Hog Program Book” and “Jasper, an Inside
Look at a Modern Meat Hog”. 

Your local county agent probably can round out your
hograising library with other useful publications.

Buying a Pig

To raise a pig, of course, you must first get one and we
began scanning the want-ad sections of the local newspapers
in early March. Feeder pigs were few and far between, so we
called a farmer from whom we had once bought persimmons. As
it happened, the man had an odd pair of shoats that were
out of step with the others . . . a gilt (young female) and
a barrow (castrated male). Each weighed about 40
pounds and we paid $14 apiece for them. No
bargain, but we’d rather give the profit to a family farmer
than to a mass producer.

In April and again during the fall—after we’d bought
ours—we noted a number of newspaper ads offering
suckling and feeder pigs for as little as $11.00 . . . but
we had no real regrets. If we’d been too hasty in making a
deal for our porkers it had only been because we’d been
anxious to get started and make our first mistakes.
Besides, if we’d purchased one of the bargain babies in the
autumn, we couldn’t have kept it over winter without a
barn. (We were tempted to get one and keep it the
summer kitchen, but we didn’t. Perhaps it’s good to run out
of pork and get hungry for the next batch.)

Although most everything else on our homestead has a title,
we agreed from the beginning not to name the pigs. We
didn’t want to raise them to 250 pounds only to have to
keep them on as pets. Still, we had to call them
something . . . and “Himself” and “Herself” were
as close as we came to acknowledging Pig Soul.

Feeding Pigs

Since we had decided to raise our own pork to save money
and to produce meat as free as possible of harmful
residues, we substituted hand-cut weeds—mostly
plantain, dandelion, lamb’s quarters and amaranth—for
much of the bagged feed we would otherwise have had to buy
the animals. After coarse chopping the wild salad, we
moistened it and dumped it in the shoats’ trough.

When we first offered the scavenged greens to Herself and
Himself in April we mixed a handful of ground pig feed into
the leaves to convince the shoats that the salad really was
for them. The hogs caught on fast and spent most of spring
and early summer devouring burlap sackfuls of the bountiful
weed crop we gathered from unsprayed roadsides and
hedgerows.

Our home-grown comfrey came into season in May and we were
soon cutting, moistening, sprinkling with feed and
presenting our little bottomless pits with one-half bushel
of this fast growing, high protein crop a day.

We also grew mangel beets (a large, coarse variety for
stock) and fed the vegetable chopped and mixed with greens.
The beet that yielded best for us was Golden Tankard, from
the Olds Seed Company (Olds doesn’t charge for packing and
handling . . . good folks).

Then there were the garden extras: the odd beets and
carrots, flowered broccoli we’d somehow missed, squashy
tomatoes, bolted lettuce, old corn, extra soybeans . . .
and all the vegetable trimmings, banana peels and melon
rinds. Down the hatch! You could just see the cycle of it
all. Fabulous.

The processing that went on in our big rangy farm-type
kitchen during the summer produced additional buckets and
pails of byproducts: tomato pulp, apple pomace, coarse beet
leaves, pea pods, cabbage leaves, berry rejects. The pigs
eagerly turned it all into pork. About the only two things
we found they didn’t like (and believe me, we tried lots of
different menus!) were mashed elderberries and sauerkraut.

At about that same time, the summer spurt of egg-laying
enthusiasm on the part of our hens was filling our baskets
and pockets to overflowing . . . so on more than one
morning, the shoats started their day with eggs just as we
did!

In August, when many weeds were going to seed (and were
therefore less useful as fodder), we continued to feed the
pigs well on other sources we had up our sleeve.

From our goats—Annie and Sonya, who had freshened in
the spring and whose kids were weaned—there was loads
of milk. On days when the fridge was full, I’d bypass the
filtering and cooling processes and take the morning’s
milking straight to the pigs. Their enjoyment was noisy and
delightful.

Our summer and early fall foraging jaunts yielded baskets
full of windfall apples and pears. We ate and preserved the
best ones and fed the others to Himself and Herself. Twice,
we found free-for-the-picking fruit advertised in a local
paper. In both cases, after plucking what we wanted from
the trees, we stayed a few extra minutes to get the drops
on the ground. Raking seems to be a nuisance that the
orchard owners want to avoid and our porkers thrived on the
soft fruit.

By September, many of the weeds that had gone to seed were
surrounded by colonies of young; tender greens and
dandelions appeared on our pigs’ menu again.

During October and November, we did lots of stubbling:
gleaning dropped corn that had been missed by the
mechanical pickers in our neighbor’s field. (Of course we
asked permission.) We found it best to husk the ears as we
picked them up, for often they were damp and might
otherwise have molded when we stored the crop in bins in
the garage. We talked about making a little homestead size
crib by wrapping our rototiller crate with fencing, but . .
. well, we’re still talking about it. Fall came on fast.
The pigs got their money’s worth from each ear of corn we
gave them when the ground was hard . . . but when their
enclosure turned to thick, slurpy mud after heavy rains,
too many cobs went to China. The only thing to do was to
feed the grain shelled in the trough.

Lucky for us, a mill in the nearby village of Rheems sells
feed without hormones, antibiotics or preservatives. We
bought their hog chow by the 100-pound bag even though we
scarcely ever fed it straight. Mainly, we used the
commercial ration to thicken whey left from making cream
cheese out of yogurt and to dress up the salad greens . . .
which allowed us to raise two pigs on less than the amount
of commercial feed ordinarily needed for one. Our
home-grown fodder and wild greens, table and garden
surplus, milk, eggs, foraged corn and apples made the
difference.

Pig Care

Mineral supplements helped the shoats make good use of
their food. We tossed wood ashes to the hogs and from time
to time added a trace of mineral powder to their diet. The
rooting instinct helps to keep swine well supplied with
micronutrients, too. Fresh good soil abounds in trace
minerals and natural antibiotics.

We had no way of computing the daily protein intake for
Himself and Herself . . . maybe we sacrificed some
efficiency in feed conversion, but ease is important to us,
too. We just tried to make sure we offered a healthy
protein serving each day . . . usually from more than one
source: comfrey, eggs, milk, alfalfa leaves left by the
goats, whey, soybeans. We felt that such a wild variety
eaten over a period of days would strike some kind of
balance.

The goats, chickens and rabbits—much as we love
’em—have their own persnickety appetites for scraps
and no other animal on the homestead is so wholehearted
about leftovers of all kinds as pigs. When our hogs were
suddenly gone in November I really missed their guzzling,
gobbling enthusiasm for our mixed offerings.

Admittedly, there were days when we felt we
existed for the pigs rather than the other way around.
Especially in August, when they were getting large and
hungry.

Pennsylvania’s wettest summer in years—and the mud
that left the hogs’ corner awash and well-seasoned with
indelible pig manure—made caring for the animals all
the more exasperating. When Himself and Herself saw me
coming with the dinner pail they’d slosh their way to the
trough and spatter me with the gooey mixture. It turned
into a race to see who could get there first. Made us all
look pretty silly. Finally, I took to wrapping a burlap
sack around me at feeding time to help cut down on the
extra wash.

Annoying as it all was, it still hasn’t turned us off on
porkers. Mike plans a network of ditches around their yard
to divert runoff from the slight slope above. And we
couldn’t possibly (or could we?) have another summer with
so much rain!

If we’d been able to keep our shoats on a solid surface,
with straw bedding, we would have lost much less of the
manure. Hog manure is heavy stuff, any way you look at it.
We mucked out some for spreading in the corn patch and
around the rhubarb but there was lots more in there, all
mixed with mud that we still don’t know how to handle. Any
suggestions? Yeah. We could grow corn there . . . but it’s
the only place we have for keeping pigs.

The odor of Essence of Hog, by the way, wasn’t the problem
we had thought it might be, even though the pen is within
50 feet of our home. It’s downwind and the northwest breeze
blew it away. Plus . . . we weren’t in the house very much
anyhow!

Butchering Pigs

We decided to have the barrow butchered in September, even
though he was slightly on the small side. This would give
us more of a spread between the two and, therefore, fresher
meat and less trouble fitting the supply into our
freezer.We considered dressing the animals out ourselves,
but felt we weren’t quite ready for that. As far as we’re
concerned, the butcher earned his fee.

“Was it hard,” you ask, “parting with an animal you’d cared
for?”

To be honest, it wasn’t really the heavy feeling we’d
expected. The arrangement between us and the pigs
(admittedly a unilateral agreement) was—from the
beginning—good care, food and occasional conversation
in trade for meat. And we were so busy with garden, goats,
haying and canning we really didn’t have time to make pets
of Himself and Herself as we had thought we might. After
the half-hour struggle to get Him on the truck, all the
while keeping Her in the pen, our feelings were more those
of relief than regret! “

We had planned to wait until December to have the gilt
dressed, but the weather turned very cold, meaning that
feed would go mostly to maintenance, and the butcher told
us he’d be too busy with deer after Thanksgiving to do it
then, anyway. So we had Her—all 280 pounds—done
in mid-November. The butcher said, “They were nice pigs.”
We felt we’d been praised by an expert.

But the best reward has been in the eating: lean
pork . . . meaty sausage . . . unbelievably fragrant ham .
. . spicy scrapple . . . abundant lard. The meat was
perfect with Mike’s homemade sauerkraut and small bits and
pieces of it made scrumptious soybean casseroles, omelets
and Chinese dishes with mung bean sprouts. Having our own
soybeans, eggs and vegetables helped us get more mileage
out of the pork, too.

We figure our pork cost an average of 37¢ a pound.
That’s allowing for all roasts, bacon, ham scrapple and
sausage . . . but not counting the lard, which is thrown in
free. Free or not, homestead lard does have value.
Our daughter, Mary Grace, made enough soap from the first
lard to last us a year and we kept the second batch handy
(stored in our cold summer kitchen) for cooking use all
winter.

Was it worth it? I suppose the best answer is to tell you
that we’ve already embarked on our second adventure with
walking pork chops. If we can do it, lots of other
improvisers can too! Enjoy!


Keener Memorial A-Frame

Our pigs lived in the Keener Memorial A-frame, so named
from the inscription on several of the old boards that went
into their house. We can’t see that their dignified label
made any impression on the porkers, but it sure saved us
money when we were building their quarters.

 

Mike made the structure from boards and beams that were
being discarded by a gravestone company (hence the
inscription), and by a man who had dismantled his old front
porch. Both sources were glad to have us—rather than
the trash man—take the excellent wood they didn’t
want . As we carried it away, our salvage
stuck way out the back of our VW squareback. We hung a red
flag on it and sang all the way home.

 

The A-frame is 6 feet long and stands 4 feet, 2 inches
tall on a base 5 feet wide. It’s closed on three sides and
partly open to the south. The piglets were cold when we
first got them and they coughed (an oddly human-sounding
cough) so we piled bales of straw in and around the A-frame
for them to burrow in. Herself and Himself were so thorough
about this tunneling, for the first few days we’d often
think they had escaped . . . until we heard them snorting
contentedly under the bedding.

 

The shoats’ cottage was set in the same fenced-in
enclosure that surrounds our goat shed and rabbit hutches.
We call it the Peaceable Kingdom. To keep things peaceable
and a little less muddy, we partitioned off half the open
area for the new babies with parts of old gravestone crates
and such.

 

The 5-foot fencing, hooked to steel posts, that
surrounds the hog lot is strong but fairly open at the
bottom. We’d been told that a ring in the nose would
prevent each pig from rooting, but somehow we didn’t have
the heart to do that so—at first—we put beams
and logs along the lower edge of the barrier to keep
Herself and Himself from nosing under. Then we bought a
secondhand electric fence charger for $10.00. From then on
a single strand of live wire a few inches above the ground
on the inside of their enclosure kept the shoats in their
corner.


Pig Facts

To produce one pound of protein for man, a hog must eat
8.3 lbs. of protein while a steer must consume 21.4.

 

(From DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET by Frances Moore
Lappe)

Fair average gain for a pig up to 225 lbs. is one pound
a day,
full fed from birth. Cost of gain increases
with age, as in other farm animals.

 

One pound of feed daily per 100 lbs. live weight is
needed to maintain a hog at constant weight.

 

Young pigs need more protein than mature hogs.
 

High oil feeds—such as soybeans, peanuts,
etc.—produce soft pork when fed heavily.

 

(Above four points from PORK PRODUCTION by Wm.
Smith, DVM, McMillan, N.Y., 1952.)

Signs of Health in a Pig 

1. Eyes clear and bright2. Tail carried
in a curl
3. Hair smooth, lying close to
body
4. Skin relatively soft, elastic
 

Good Meat Conformation 

1. Rear legs set far apart2. High tail
setting
3. Slight groove down top of
back
4: Well arched ribs5.
Wide in the chest
6. Long, uniformly arched
topline
7. Trim jowl and head

 

Pigs do well on pasture and can forage 20-30% of their
feed requirements. Rape, clover and alfalfa make good
forage. One half acre is enough for one or two pigs with a
rotation plan and some extra grain fed. The manure they
leave is worth several dollars an acre.

 

A good mineral mixture:
10 lbs. steamed bone meal
10 lbs. limestone or wood ashes
5 lbs. salt

 

Cook all potatoes and peelings fed to pigs and the
animals will eat more. Don’t feed ’em potato sprouts
though.

 

We fed Himself and Herself at least three times a day .
. . with snacks of odd tomatoes, fresh-pulled weeds and
such tossed in between. We’ve since read that overfed pigs
use slightly more feed per 100 lbs. of gain than those who
receive just an adequate diet. So I think we’ll take those
desperate grunts a little less seriously next time. On the
other hand, porkers have such small stomachs, when bulky
greens are being substituted for more concentrated food
they need to eat more often.

 

Swine suffer from heat and need plenty of water in
summer.

 

A hog’s appetite and digestive tract is more like that
of a man than most other domestic farm animals.

 

Pigs will leave their droppings in one corner of their
yard if given a chance. They try very hard to keep their
sleeping quarters clean.

 

Meat conformation standards from “Jasper, an Inside Look at
a Modern Meat Hog”, published by American Cyanamid Co.,
1971.
Most other Pig Facts from HOME PORK PRODUCTION by
John Smedley, published by Orange Judd Pub. Co., N.Y.,
1946.


Pig Meat

The barrow weighed 218 lbs. and dressed out to 134 lbs.
of meat, scrapple, sausage, etc., not counting lard.

 

The gilt weighed 280 lbs. and dressed out 170 lbs., not
counting lard.

 

TOTAL MEAT . . . . . . . . . . 134 + 170 = 304 lbs.
Plus 60 lbs. free lard

Any way you figure it, the meat cost us $.37 a pound.
(What does ham cost in your stupormarket?)

 

NOTE: The Purina Modified Complete Program, for
producers with some grain, states that it should require
678 pounds of their feed to raise a pig from 50 to 250
pounds. We fed less of the commercial chow (600 lbs.) to
raise two hogs from 40 pounds each to an average of 249
pounds each. Foraging and recycling leftovers really does
pay!

 

ALSO . . . Using our procedure and costs, but doing
your own butchering, you can nearly halve our costs. . .
yes, you can raise your own pork for $.19 a pound! (304
lbs. for $58, the cost of 2 pigs and the bagged feed.) This
is a case where keeping things small saves money (if you
had a lot of pigs, for instance, you couldn’t gather greens
for them yourself. You could put them out to pasture,
though, if you had the land).

 

OR . . . A compromise . . . butcher your own hog and
have the ham and bacon commercially cured at a cost of $.10
a pound. For 90 lbs. of ham and bacon this would raise your
cost to $.22 a pound.

 

JUST . . . Borrowing or bartering the use of a truck
for the trip to the butcher (at least in our case) would
have shaved costs to $.35 a pound.