All About Pig Farming

1 / 9
Learn to manage hogs on your homestead for meat, breeding and profits.
2 / 9
Yorkshire pigs.
3 / 9
Duroc pigs.
4 / 9
Chester White pigs.
5 / 9
Spot pigs.
6 / 9
Poland China pigs.
7 / 9
Common diseases infecting swine.
8 / 9
A farrowing pen will lead to greater success in breeding hogs.
9 / 9
Cost analysis of the Imig's hog farm.

Pat Imig, her husband (Richard), and their three
children (a girl, 11, and two boys, 3 and 1) live on an
eight-acre mini-farm approximately 30 miles west of
Lincoln, Nebraska. “This is the heart of agribiz country,”
says Pat, “and it’s almost impossible out here to find
information about the operation of a small farmstead. We
had to learn the hard way how to make just a few hogs pay
all the day-to-day expenses of our shirttail farming
enterprise.”

And learn they did! The pigs that the Imigs market each
year bring in enough money–over and above their own
costs–to support a cow, two ponies, two to three
sheep, 14 geese, 30 ducks, 30 chickens, a big garden, a bed
of rhubarb, some mulberry trees, and a cherry, peach,
apple, and pear orchard.

“Except for a few staples–coffee, flour, sugar,
etc–our little farm feeds us every bite we eat,” Pat
says. “We butcher a hog and a calf each year, eat a lot of
geese, ducks, and chickens, have all the milk and eggs we
want, and make good use of the garden and orchard. We even
have a few eggs and some holiday geese left over to sell
… and that miscellaneous cash income goes a long way
toward paying for the few staples we buy from town.”

To put it another way, the Imigs have all the same
expenses–a mortgage, taxes, fuel,
electricity–to cover with Richard’s wages as a welder
that they’d have if they still lived in town. All the
expenses, that is, except food. And thanks to the hog
operation they run, their tiny farm keeps the Imig
refrigerator, freezer, and pantry filled with good
things to eat … at no out-of-pocket expense at all.

“And besides that,” says Pat, “we also get to enjoy the
luxury of living in the country!”

Income! Income to provide adequate “store-bought” feed for
our livestock during the winter (when our pasture isn’t
good enough to carry them) so that we wouldn’t have to sell
our brood stock. Enough income directly from our eight-acre
mini-farm to cover all its upkeep, maintenance, and other
purely agricultural expenses. Enough cash income,
in short, to make the little spread entirely
self-perpetuating (over and above the rent or mortgage,
taxes, fuel, etc., that my husband’s wages as a welder
would have to cover anyway if we’d stayed in town) …
and , if possible, leave a “profit” in our pockets
of virtually every bite of meat, milk, eggs, vegetables,
fruit, and other food our five-member family could eat.
That’s the kind of income we hoped our tiny
“estate” could provide for us.

In 1973–when my husband, Richard (a former farm boy),
and I moved to our little homestead in southeastern
Nebraska–we were determined to make the small spread
“self-sufficient”. That is, we expected it to both pay all
the bills for its day-to-day operation (we couldn’t afford
to support a “hobby” farm) … plus feed our three children
and ourselves … plus buy us the luxury of living
far from the crime, pollution, and crowds of a city.

That, as we soon learned, was easier said than done. Within
six short months we knew that we’d either have to come up
with a regular cash crop of some kind–and
pronto!–or kiss our dream of living in the country
goodbye.

Now, three years later, we’re still “gettin’ by” out here
on our eight acres thanks to one of the most traditional of
all small-spread “mortgage lifters”: the prolific,
fast-growing, and efficient farmstead hog.

Know-How Was Hard to Find

Unfortunately, none of today’s agricultural “authorities”
seem able to believe that anyone would want to do what
we’re now doing (profitably raise and market a
homestead-size herd of hogs). Most of the literature
currently available about pig farming assumes that its
reader has six degrees from an “ag” college and enormous
amounts of cash to invest in 1,000-head air-conditioned
farrowing barns and completely automated feedlots. The
“little guy” (us) has been largely forgotten … and, when
occasionally remembered, is talked down to in generalities
that are, at best, vague and almost completely worthless.

We quickly discovered then, that if we intended to go into
a small-scale hog operation, we’d have to teach ourselves
most of what we needed to know to do it. So we did. And
now–after three years of breeding, raising, and
marketing a mini-herd of swine for profit
–we’ve summarized our experiences into our own
concise “A to Z Encyclopedia of Homestead Hog Production”.
Perhaps a review of our present knowledge will help you
avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made during the past 36
months.

How to Select a Breed of Pig

The accompanying table lists the seven most popular breeds
of swine now raised here in the United States.
Interestingly enough, though, most of the market hogs
currently produced in this country are crossbreeds that,
their herdsmen calculate, will achieve more efficient gains
in weight more economically than purebreds.

A good cross will, at least in theory, combine the best
qualities of several breeds. Our own small herd, for
instance, is made up of four sows (each a
Yorkshire-Hampshire-Duroc cross) and a purebred Duroc boar.
Although you may decide that you prefer an entirely
different cross (or that you want to raise only purebred
swine), we like our particular combination for the
following reasons: We feel that [1] the sows are, thanks to
their Yorkshire blood, more prolific and better mothers
than some others we’ve seen, [2] the cross contains just
enough “Hamp” to make their pigs satisfyingly chunky, and
[3] the bit of Duroc in the sows plus the 100% Duroc in the
boar produces litters that are both feed-efficient and
quite docile.

Our Mini-Herd

We maintain a breeding herd of four sows and one boar and
farrow (deliver) two litters of pigs–one in the
spring and the second in the fall–per sow per year.
We pay very strict attention to our hogs and provide them
with the best living conditions we can afford. We do not
believe in sacrificing good care for the sake of a few
extra dollars’ profit.

Breeding Pigs

1. A gilt (young female hog) will first come into heat at
approximately six months of age. Thereafter, unless bred,
her heat cycle will regularly span a period of about 21
days.

2. Young gilts generally have a better lifetime litter
production record if they’re not bred until they come into
their third heat (first breeding, in other words, should
not take place until a gilt is approximately eight months
old). It’s unlikely that a gift’s initial litter (even when
the animal is first bred at the age of eight, rather than
six, months) will be as large as her second and following
litters. Still, her chances of safely farrowing a medium to
large litter of healthy pigs is much greater at the more
advanced age. You’re wise to wait until a gilts third
heat before allowing your boar to breed her for the first
time.

3. It’s easy to tell when either a gilt or sow is in heat
(her vulva will redden and swell and she’ll become
unusually restless). The acceptance period in gilts will
last about 24 to 36 hours and will span a period of from 36
to 48 hours in sows.

4. Never use a large boar to service a young gilt. His
weight during breeding can cause her serious and permanent
back damage.

5. We use “companion breeding” whenever possible to keep
later litter deaths to a minimum. The size of a litter can
vary a great deal from sow to sow and from farrowing to
farrowing.

Baby pigs develop a pecking order very quickly and the
smaller piglets in a big litter can be squeezed out and
will soon die if there’s not enough good teats to go
around. If two or more gilts or sows are bred to farrow at
the same time, however, the “extra” pigs from an over sized
litter can be transferred to a mother with fewer babies. If
this is done within 72 hours of birth, neither sow will be
the wiser and you’ll stand a good chance of successfully
raising a baby or two that might otherwise have been
crowded out.

6. Introduce the boar into your breeding herd ten days to
two weeks before the first female comes into her third
heat. Leave him with the gilts through the next complete
heat cycle (21 days) to ensure that he successfully breeds
all the females.

7. A well-cared-for sow can produce strong, healthy, and
large litters for four or more years.

Hog Gestation

1. A sow’s gestation period is 112 to 115 days. Pay close
attention to breeding dates and maintain accurate records
for each of your mothers. Don’t get caught by surprise
litters. Moving a nested or farrowed sow can be both
difficult and dangerous.

Preparation for Farrowing

1. Worm each sow and spray her for lice two weeks prior to
her farrowing. (Commercial worm medicines and lice sprays
are available from feed dealers.) Vaccinate each mother for
erysipelas (see COMMON HEALTH PROBLEMS).

2. A puffy vulva and the accumulation of thick, yellow
fluid in the teats are good signs that a sow is approaching
delivery (look for these signals to become noticeable about
one week prior to farrowing).

3. Wash each sow with a mild detergent and warm water and
remove any plugs of dirt that she may have on the ends of
her teats immediately before you pen the animal for
delivery of her litter.

4. The sow should be penned from one week to three days
before she farrows so that she’ll have sufficient time to
adjust to her new surroundings and settle down before the
delivery.

The Farrowing Pen

1. The big, automated “pig factories” fasten their
farrowing sows in “crates” that are so small the mothers
can’t even turn around in them. This causes the animals a
great deal of nervous stress. As a result, the
sows–unless watched constantly–tend to lose too
many pigs when farrowed under such conditions.

2. On the other hand, it can be dangerous–to the
sows, their pigs, and to you–to allow your mothers to
farrow at random in a common lot. Under such conditions, a
boar and other sows (even the delivering mother) have been
known to eat the helpless piglets and–if
crowded–the other hogs will sometimes attack the
farrowing sow. Even if this does not happen, the delivering
mother and her babies probably will be unnecessarily
exposed to the elements and to various forms of infection.
Also, if complications develop during a farrowing in an
open lot, you may well have a great deal of difficulty in
“cornering” the delivering sow so that you can assist her.
And you may find yourself exposed to more risk than you’d
bargained for–from both the farrowing mother and the
other hogs in the lot–during that assistance.
Trying to allow a domesticated sow to farrow “naturally
” in a barnyard (which is not at all like the deep forest
that wild hogs live in), then, can be just as misguided in
our opinion as allowing the animal to deliver in a pig
factory crate
.

3. We shut our sows up for delivery in a pen (see
accompanying drawings) that is large enough to allow the
mother some freedom of movement but small enough to make
her easy to watch, handle, and tend. Such a pen causes the
animal very little nervous stress. Still, we never confine
our mothers in even these enclosures without due
consideration of their need for both exercise and
cleanliness. We maintain a very conscientious schedule of
two exercise periods a day (which consists merely of
letting the sow walk around outside for 10 or 15 minutes
and eat her mixed feed while we clean her pen) for each
confined sow and we keep fresh bedding in all farrowing
pens at all times so that we won’t unnecessarily expose our
mothers and their litters to infection.

4. Each farrowing sow should be given sufficient bedding to
allow her to obey her nesting instinct. Approximately two
inches of wheat straw is usually enough to cover even a
concrete floor. Too much increases the danger of the mother
lying on her pigs, while too little can expose the babies
to a cold floor, chilling, stress, and (quite possibly)
disease and death.

Farrowing

1. It is a MYTH that a sow with suckling pigs is like a
bitch dog with a litter of pups. The TRUTH is that
a sow is a domesticated animal BUT that she can in no way
be considered a pet. A mother hog almost surely outweighs
you, she can bite and tear you with unbelievable speed when
aroused, and she has a very strong and protective material
instinct. ALWAYS treat her with the respect she deserves
and NEVER try to handle her newborn pigs unless you’re
absolutely certain that you have the upper hand in the
situation.

2. Delivery is different for each mother. Some sows go into
a trance during labor while others jump up after every pig
is born. Watch your farrowing sow closely. If she becomes
restless, hang a heat lamp above her–out of
reach–and put the newborn pigs in their hover under
another heat lamp (where they’ll be both warm and safe from
trampling).

3. The actual delivery time will vary with each sow, but do
watch closely for prolonged delays between the births of
the pigs. As much as 30 minutes between deliveries can be
reason for concern. If a pig is left in the birth canal too
long, the result can be the death of that particular baby
and of the remaining unborn portion of the litter.
Be prepared, if necessary, to assist the sow by pulling a
pig.

4. If pulling does become unavoidable, use a medical
detergent to wash your hand and arm to the elbow before
entering the vagina. (A strong household detergent can
cause as much danger of infection as the use of no
detergent at all.) Then tuck the thumb under the fingers
and insert the washed hand slowly, palm down.

5. A sow’s birth system, from the vaginal opening forward,
is shaped like a “Y” The animal’s uterus is V-shaped and
pigs are delivered from either the left or the right side
into the common birth canal. (Don’t worry. It’s extremely
unlikely that you could accidentally reach beyond the canal
into either uterus.)

6. The pigs are delivered either head first or hind legs
first. Each is born in a sack, which can make pulling one
of the babies a rather slippery undertaking. If the pig’s
head is presented first, grasp the back of its neck and
pull firmly and slowly. If you find the hind legs
presented, lock them between the index, middle, and ring
finger and–again–pull firmly and slowly,
CAUTION: Don’t overreact, if you do find
it necessary to pull a pig. Give the sow sufficient time to
deliver the next baby normally before you convince yourself
that it must be pulled too.

7. It isn’t necessary to cut the umbilical cord of a
freshly born pig. The cord has a naturally weak spot and
will come apart with a tug or two. Many vets recommend
treating the navel of the new baby with tamed iodine as a
precaution against infection.

8. The afterbirth may be expelled both during and following
delivery. Some herdsmen–feeling that it enriches the
milk–allow their sows to eat it (left to herself, the
sow will invariably do so). Others, as a matter of personal
choice, remove the afterbirth.

9. As a general rule of thumb, a sow will stay down from
four to six hours after farrowing. She may then be fed her
regular rations at the next scheduled feeding and increased
to full lactation rations over a three- or four-day period.
The mother should be fed twice a day during lactation (see
FEEDS AND FEEDING).

10. Keep fresh, clean water available to the mother at all
times. A first-litter gilt will consume four to five
gallons of water a day and a sow will drink from five to
six gallons.

11. A lactating sow can produce six to eight pounds of milk
per day. Be alert for signs of mastitis, metritis, and
agalactia (see COMMON HEALTH PROBLEMS).

The Care of Baby Pigs

1. A baby pig enters the world with a strong will to live
and a natural instinct to find food and warmth. But what
nature gave him in intelligence, she took back in
resistance. Baby pigs have very poor thermostats and a high
susceptibility to stress. I can’t over-emphasize the need
for cleanliness and warmth during the first two weeks of a
piglet’s life. Like all babies, he can become suddenly sick
without any advance warning. We watch our newborn litters
very carefully.

2. A pig usually weighs between three and three and a half
pounds at birth. Wipe the membrane from his mouth and dry
him well with a clean cloth (this will keep the risk of
chilling to a minimum). Then put the baby under the hover
and maintain its temperature at 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit
to assist him in making the transition from the sow’s body
(which, remember, kept him at a temperature of 102 to 103
degrees).

3. Once the whole litter is born, dried off, and warmed, be
certain that all the baby pigs receive a share of the sow’s
first milk. This will ensure a transfer of antibodies from
the mother–via colostrum–to her offspring.

4. Newborn pigs, although pinch-butted and wobbly, are
aggressive eaters. So aggressive that we think it’s a good
idea to clip the tips from their needle or “eye” teeth at
birth to keep them from injuring their mother. The sharp
teeth are easily recognized because of their length and
should be cut–again, take only the very
tips–with a sharp, clean pair of wire cutters or nail
clippers.

5. Baby pigs are born anemic. It’s the curse of the animal
and it can be corrected with an injection of 2 cc of a
commercial iron product. Some large herdsmen also douse
their 14-day-old pigs with an oral iron medication and feel
it gives the growing animals an extra boost.

6. Place a filled baby pig waterer in each hover when the
piglets are one week old and, three days later, give them a
creep feeder filled with pig starter.

7. Castrate all the boars in a litter (except for any that
you intend to save for breeding stock) when they’re two
weeks old, and treat the wounds with tamed iodine.

8. Six-week-old pigs should be vaccinated for erysipelas
(see COMMON HEALTH PROBLEMS).

9. We never ring our pigs … since they never seem to root
a great deal.

10. There are a good many arguments about the subject of
weaning baby pigs. Some breeders take a litter away from
its mother when the babies are only three to five weeks
old. Others–less anxious to spend so much money on
commercial feeds–leave the pigs with a sow until
they’re six to seven weeks old. A sow reaches her peak milk
production 21 days after farrowing and, at that time,
begins a natural 21-day decline back to zero milk output.
Forced lactation after the 42 days tends to drag her down
and weaken her health.

11. At the time that pigs are weaned, they should be
transferred into a nursery that allows a minimum of four
square feet per animal. From the day he’s weaned (at
approximately 20 pounds) until he reaches a weight of 40
pounds, a shoat (young hog) is a very efficient converter
of food into meat. During this period he can gain as much
as one pound for every two pounds of feed he eats … but,
once again, this rapid growth coupled with the recent shock
of weaning can put the animal in a highly stressed
condition. Careful attention should be given to the
sanitation and proper ventilation of such shoats to avoid
compounding the natural stress of this portion of their
lives.

12. Pigs thrown together in a large group quickly develop a
social pecking order. If litters of widely differing ages
are herded together or if access to feed and water is
limited, you may find it necessary to transfer the smaller
animals in your nursery to a second nursery (otherwise
they’ll be crowded out at feeding time and their growth
stunted). Keep free choice feed and clean, fresh water
available to every member of the herd at all times.

Boar Management

1. A boar is responsible for 50% of the net worth of your
entire breeding stock. Individually, he passes the greatest
percentage of strengths and weaknesses to the offspring
and–therefore–should be selected with optimum
breed characteristics uppermost in your mind. (If the boar
you’re considering doesn’t exhibit good–even
great!–conformation, don’t buy him!)

2. NEVER buy a boar that is too small or too large for the
sows he will breed. NEVER allow a boar to breed before he’s
eight months old. And ALWAYS let a new boar have a 30-day
period of isolation in which to recover from the stress of
moving from his previous home.

3. Stress, as I keep emphasizing, can seriously affect a
hog’s performance. In the case of a boar, seasonal
temperature extremes can decrease his fertility. So can
internal and external parasites. His sperm may not live
long enough to impregnate a sow if either animal is running
a fever at the time that breeding takes place. Try, in
short, to eliminate any and every condition that might
adversely affect your boar. A little pampering can pay
large dividends.

4. On the other hand, always bear in mind that–once
he reaches breeder age–a boar’s breeding ability will
never increase. If yours throws small litters his first
year, hell always throw small litters. (A good general
measurement of a boar’s ability can be made in a single
farrowing season. If all his litters are small, it’s a good
bet that the boar is at fault. If–say–two out
of four litters are small and two are large, however, it
may well be half your sows that are at fault. And if all
the litters are big ones … hooray!)

Feeds and Feeding

1. Hogs will pasture but they cannot be raised entirely on
the grasses, clovers, and other such forage that will
fatten cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. Although swine
enjoy nibbling at and rooting up such plants, the animals
are basically grain eaters.

2. While the sophisticated feeding formulas used in “pig
factories” aren’t really practical for the small homestead
herd, the application of a few simple rules of thumb in
this area can make your hog operation both more efficient
and more profitable. (In short, a mixture of corn, oats,
and commercial supplement is actually all you need to feed
either your boar or open, gestating, and lactating sows.)

3. Although it isn’t necessary to grind the corn
you give your hogs, the animals will make more efficient
use of the grain if you feed it to them cracked instead of
whole.

4. Oats are a good feed for swine but should not make up
more than 50% of their basic ration.

5. While an open or gestating sow can be kept alive on just
three pounds of feed per day, most vets recommend a daily
five pounds of the grain-supplement mixture for open and
gestating gilts and ten pounds a day for lactating sows.
(In a five-pound feeding, the recommended ratio is three
pounds of cracked corn to one and a half pounds of oats to
one-half pound of 16% mineral supplement.) Work up to the
extra rations given during lactation by gradually
increasing a sow’s feeding over a three-day period. Then
cut the sow back to five pounds of feed on the first day
that you wean her pigs.

6. Five pounds of feed (the same amount given to an open or
gestating gilt) is about the right amount of the
grain-supplement mix to offer a boar every day. Five pounds
of the rations will keep him growing at his natural rate
… but isn’t enough of the mix to make him fat and lazy.
Overfeeding a boar can decrease his fertility.

7. Always offer commercially prepared pig starter on a free
choice basis. At the time the creep-fed ration is first
offered in the hover (when the pigs are 10 days old), the
babies will only nose around in the feed, since they’ll
still have a greater preference for their mother’s milk.
Change the feed daily and gradually increase the amount you
offer, as the pigs demand it.

8. NEVER change feeds at weaning time. The pigs will be
going through enough stress anyway … without the added
burden of adjusting to another feed.

9. A young pig will have consumed approximately 40 pounds
of feed by the time he reaches a weight of 40 pounds.

10. Finishing a 40-pound pig out to 220 pounds for market
will cost you about three pounds of feed for each one pound
of gain (or 540 pounds of grain and supplement for the
180-pound increase). Cracked corn and commercially prepared
supplement alone (in a 3-pounds-corn-to-1-pound-supplement
ratio) makes a satisfactory finishing ration. Or you can
buy a commercially prepared complete feed that will produce
the same results.

Marketing

Since there are few demands for tri-crossed breeding stock,
all the pigs we raise are sold as market stock in one of
two stages of their development:

1. A pig is considered to be “feeder” sized when he reaches
a weight of 40 pounds. It’s possible, at this stage of his
development, to sell the animal privately in a farm-to-farm
transaction … or he can be sold through a livestock
auction barn. In either case, the feeder pig is sold on a
“per head” basis.

2. At 220 pounds, a hog is considered to have reached
“finished” or “market” weight. He can now be sold directly
to a slaughterhouse or through a livestock auction barn to
the highest bidder. Finished hogs are always sold on a “per
hundred weight” basis.


Pat Imig’s Straight Talk on Farrowing and Baby Pig Care

The method of farrowing and caring for baby pigs that I
describe in the accompanying article is by no means the
only one that can be used. For overall performance on the
small farmstead, however, we feel that the techniques we’ve
evolved over the past three years are hard to beat.

Caging a sow in a farrowing crate the way the “pig
factories” do (so that the animal can only lie, sit, or
stand in the same spot for six weeks) may be “necessary”
for such automated operations … but we find it both
unkind and out of place on our small farm.

Richard and I have tried going to the opposite extreme and
allowing our sows to farrow in an open pasture. The pigs
born under such conditions did not do well at all. Though
they were delivered in the spring, the nights were cool
enough to chill the babies and subject them to unnecessary
stress. Furthermore, since the outdoor litters didn’t have
access to the warmth and creep feeders that we could
provide only in an indoor hover, the pasture-farrowed
babies were completely dependent on their mothers for
support during the first few weeks of their lives. This
both put a greater strain on the outdoor sows and retarded
the weight gains of their litters.

Sanitation was also a tremendous problem with the pigs
reared in the pasture. The dirt which accumulated on the
sows’ teats

between nursings opened the door to any number of
infections in the young pigs (we found that the same
problem existed when we tried farrowing confined sows
inside on an earthen floor).

Another “great” idea that we want nothing else to do with
is farrowing two sows in a single pen. The pigs favored the
mother with the most milk and mobbed her during nursing
periods. The resulting inactivity caused the second sow to
lose , rather than increase, her capacity to
produce milk. (We wound up feeding the double-litter a
powdered milk substitute, which was both expensive and
unsatisfactory.)

We’ve also tried turning our mothers and their pigs
communally out to pasture once the babies have passed
through their critical first two weeks of life. Suddenly
being dumped into this social situation only confused both
the sows and the pigs. The smaller babies in each litter
lost ground very rapidly and, in some cases, died from the
extra stress … while even the stronger pigs were set back
as much as a week making the transition.

We now farrow our pigs in pens as described in the
article–with controlled sanitation, heat, feed,
water, and exercise–because bitter experience has
shown us that such a system of delivering and rearing the
animals consistently produces superior–and
profitable–results


Common Health Problems

See the Image Gallery for a detailed chart of common health problems.

Although our hogs are much healthier than my preoccupation
with “what can go wrong” might make it seem … I would be
dishonest if I pretended that we never have a sick
pig. We do. I would also be dishonest if I pretended that
we’re never forced to call in the vet to treat our hogs. We
sometimes are.

Still, I think I should point out that the methods we now
use in the management of our mini-herd of swine tends to
keep our health problems down to an irreducible minimum.
And, when illness does strike the animals, we find
that we’re able to treat 95% of the ailments ourselves with
commercially available antibiotics.

Remember, then, that most of the small herdsman’s hog
health problems are caused by the animals’ natural
responses to the stress caused by mismanagement, farrowing,
and sudden changes in the weather. Guard against these
causes of stress, and you’ll be able to avoid much of the
sickness that might otherwise plague your pigs.

And, the first time you do run up against an
illness in your herd, perhaps a quick glance over the
following chart will help you identify the ailment and
prescribe an appropriate treatment. (While not exhaustive,
the chart does briefly run down the afflictions that are
most likely to strike your hogs.) Remember too: It’s
always a good idea to consult your veterinarian

immediately!for help in any
situation that you can’t properly identify or handle.


Pat Imig’s Straight Talk on Marketing

It isn’t impossible for a small farmer to finish out his
own feeder pigs to market size … but the economics of the
necessary five-to-six-month investment make it a little
impractical. The gain ratio I quoted in the accompanying
article (one pound of gain for every three pounds of
grain/supplement fed) is an ideal calculated for confined
animals. And the average small farm can’t afford to make
the investment in sophisticated sanitation facilities that
such confinement requires.

Richard and I tried finishing out one season’s farrowing
… and when we weren’t struggling to keep infection down,
we were battling to find the money we needed for the
purchase of the animals’ feed. For obvious reasons, we
don’t recommend finishing hogs out to 220 pounds on a small
farm.

The folks who study such things calculate the statistical
break-even point in a farrowing operation to be the sixth
pig per litter that is raised to 40 pounds. They also
figure, on a national average, that a fraction over seven
pigs per litter are raised to that magical 40-pound weight.

The odds, then, are just barely in your favor when you go
into the hog business. If you expect to make any real money
with the enterprise, you’re going to have to do it with
good management. And you’re going to have to enter hog
farming with your eyes open and with a commitment to riding
out market peaks and valleys with consistent production.
(There are too many variables in the hog business for it
ever to be a quick way to make a fortune.)

On the other hand, the situation is not necessarily as
bleak as those “average” statistics paint it. For today,
those figures are largely based on the big commercial “pig
factories” . . . where the animals are closely confined,
conception rates are low, and overhead is high.

To put it another way, we’ve found that–by raising
just eight litters a year (two litters each from only four
sows)–we’re already way ahead of those “average”
statistics quoted above. Since our pigs don’t have to fight
the stress of automated confinement, both their conception
rate and their live-pig-per-litter average is higher than
that of the breeding stock in the pig factories.

As a result, we operate with a much lower mortality rate
among our animals and with a much higher profit margin.
And, thanks to that profit, our little eight-acre farm’s
operation is able to pay its own way throughout the year
… buy our family the freedom of living in the country . .
. and put almost every bite on the table (free!) that the
five of us can eat.