Raise Your Own Pigs

Raise your own pigs for better meat and porcine 'tiller power'.

| April/May 2004

If you want to produce your own delicious, chemical-free meat, look no further than the homestead hog. Pigs can be raised on pasture as grazing animals; they thrive on a varied diet that also can include table food and garden scraps, extra milk or whey, and whatever other edibles are available. Pigs' natural rooting instincts can be tapped to help with a variety of farm chores, too, as many delighted homesteaders have discovered. Any way you look at it, raising pigs is an interesting way to opt out of the inhumane industrial meat production system.

Joel Salatin, an innovative farmer and author of the books You Can Farm and Family Friendly Farming, finishes more than 200 hogs a year on his diversified Polyface Farm at Swoope, Va.

Some farmers keep sows and breed them each year for a "crop" of piglets, but Salatin buys "feeder" or "weaner" pigs from such folks. He purchases the animals when they are 2 to 3 months old, feeds them until they reach market weight and sells them for meat.

The varied diet pigs enjoy at Polyface produces pork Salatin describes as superior in taste to the conventional product. "Our pork is very firm," he says. "It actually weighs more per cubic foot than industrial pork. It is also rose-colored — not white. Pork should be a nice rose color, not an anemic white."

And on Polyface Farm, feeder pigs earn their keep. "We use the pigs two different ways," Salatin says. "One way is to do our composting." Frequently in winter, he brings his cattle indoors, which creates a large quantity of straw bedding and cow manure that must be prepared for composting in the spring. As he applies fresh bedding material, he adds some shelled corn. Then, rather than use an expensive, fossil-fuel burning tractor to turn the materials, Salatin moves his pigs into the barn.

"They go right for the corn," Salatin says, "That's their paycheck." As they root for the grain, the pigs chum up the packed manure and straw, mixing it together and breaking it into smaller pieces. After several weeks, all the bedding in the barn has been thoroughly mixed.

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