If you'd like to enjoy pork that costs only pennies (not dollars!) a pound and tastes far better than the plastic-wrapped meat you buy in a supermarket, you ought to consider raising pigs of your own. Just one of the chunky critters can produce a great deal of premium, low-priced meat for a homesteading family . . . and the four-legged garbage disposals can be fattened on a diet that consists of little more than garden by-products and kitchen leftovers!
What's more, if you begin—as many folks do—with already weaned piglets, you'll bypass the somewhat difficult task of hog breeding . . . and find that simply rearing the animals is downright easy. In fact, in the short space of the article you're reading right now, I'll provide you with all the basic information you'll need to produce healthy—and meaty—porkers from purchased, pint-sized piglets.
Recognize Your Market
You should be aware — right from the start — that
the best "marketplace" for your home grown pork will be your
own dinner table. Of course, if you eventually "harvest"
more meat than you can use, many folks will be willing to
buy (or trade for) some of your fine-flavored victuals . .
. but there's a world of difference between bartering off a
little extra bacon and competing in the commercial
A four- to eight-week-old piglet should weigh anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds and will probably cost you around $35. (Note: This price is a very rough estimate.) If you caretake the animal for about five months (until it weighs 200 to 220 pounds), the butchering-size critter will yield approximately 135 pounds of "retail" meat products . . . consisting of roughly 24 pounds of ham, 20 pounds of bacon, 17 pounds of pork roast, 18 pounds of picnic shoulder, 7 pounds of pork chops, 8 pounds of sausage, 7 pounds of "miscellaneous" cuts, 6 pounds of salt pork, and 31 pounds of lard. (You may also want to utilize some of the "extra" pig parts in the form of scrapple, sweetbreads, chitterlings, or "mountain oysters.")
Be careful, though, not to raise your animal to beyond that prime butchering weight of 200-220 pounds. Why? Because such a "market size" hog has reached the optimum stage of growth: Let the curly-tailed critter get any bigger and the animal's further poundage gains will be expensive (in terms of the feed required) and will consist of little more than extra fat.
By the way, each porker you raise to maturity will produce a large supply of manure ( about 1.6 pounds per 100 pounds of pig per day) for your garden, too. Of course, that kind of productivity can be a drawback for a few would-be swine raisers . . . because some communities have local ordinances against the ever-present "essence" associated with pig manure. (On the other hand, folks with their minds on their gardens—and wallets—become almost partial to piggly aromas.)
Build Your Animals House Well
There's only one really difficult chore associated with
raising weaned piglets . . . keeping the mobile pork chops
at home. Restricting a small swine's whereabouts may sound
like a simple enough task, but Mother Nature provides each
pig with a snout that's perfectly designed for assaulting
barricades. Any pig fence you build will have to be strung
tighter than the fifth string on a banjo—especially
where the barrier is closest to the ground—if you
expect to keep your porkies from prying their way between
You can construct a taut welded-wire fence, a sturdy wooden enclosure, or a two-stranded electric fence consisting of a bottom cable six to eight inches above the turf with a second line eight inches above that. (None of your restrainers will need to be more than 32 inches tall, though, because pigs can't jump very high.) You might also want to dig a trench under your barricade and fill that ditch with old logs or rocks . . . to discourage any porcine tunneler's "Great Escape" plans.
My own experience has convinced me that creating a truly hog-tight fence is no easy endeavor. In fact, I spent one entire summer chasing a batch of root-loving runaways out of my vegetable garden. I finally gave up and bought commercial hog panels to keep the piglets where I wanted them. (The 16-foot, quarter-inch steel grid segments have done the trick for me, but — at around a dollar per running foot — such pig-stopping walls are pretty dang expensive.)
In addition to fencing, you'll need to construct a shelter for the animals . . . and provide them with a way to cool themselves off. Just about any three-sided, roofed house (even an enclosure made from old hay bales, will protect your livestock from storms and winter winds. But since pigs don't pant very effectively—and don't sweat at all—you'll need to be absolutely certain each pork-producer has 15 to 20 square feet of shade (with the shadow-making object located at least four feet off the ground). It's also wise to provide a mud wallow or a sprayer . . . so that any "roasting" pig can cool off during especially sultry weather.
Buy the Best Animals
If you're not going to try to raise the finest quality pigs
available, you'd be better off — as far as both your
time and your wallet are concerned — not to rear any
swine at all. Of course, it may take a little practice
before you can recognize a premium porker when you see one,
but you can gain any needed instructional experience by
attending county fairs or local livestock shows, and
listening closely when the judges explain why they select
one hog specimen over another.
And once you learn how to pick out the best-looking pigs in a litter, do so! NEVER buy the runts of a piglet crop — even if the offered purchase price sounds like a bargain deal — because too many "tail enders" never grow worth a hoot.
You'll probably find that the best time to acquire a young barrow or gilt is at the beginning of your garden's growing season. You'll have plenty of leftover crop pickings for the hog around then, and in most cases you'll be able to expect to end up with a ready-to-eat adult pig by fall or early winter (which, conveniently enough, is the time of year that provides the best butchering weather).
Feed Your Critters Well
Water is the most important food you can give to your
porkers (or, for that matter, to any of your livestock). A
fattening pig guzzles as much as three gallons of liquid
per day. . . and the bacon bearers will consume a lot of
solid foods, as well. Fortunately, since the living garbage
recyclers will pack away almost anything (including
vegetables, fruits, milk, meat scraps, spoiled eggs, garden
clippings, weeds, and more), the critters can pretty well
balance their diets by themselves.
Still, a 160-pound shoat can handle around 60 pounds of such "garbage" a day, so you'll probably need to supplement your swill-swigger's diet with grain or a commercial ration containing 20 to 25% protein (the grain also helps the pig reduce paunchiness and produce firmer, leaner pork). In addition, you may want to keep a steady supply of vitamin and mineral supplements available.
Help Your Animals Prevent Their Own Disease
Pigs are extremely hardy beasts (their ability to revert
rapidly to the feral state attests to this), but—like
all animals—they can get sick. A good vaccination
program will, however, prevent most illnesses: Check with
your local veterinarian so you can inoculate against the
diseases specific to your region.
Since the snout-nosed beasts are continually rooting around in their own manure, pigs have a never-ending opportunity to acquire internal parasites. Your ground-grubbers will need to be wormed every four to six weeks (with the anthelmintic your vet recommends for your locale, of course).
External parasites—like the anemia causing hog louse—can also be debilitating, so periodically apply a spray, a dust, or a pour-on insecticide to ward off the blood-sucking pests (rotenone is a decent organic external parasiticide). In our area, folks employ such treatments every four to six weeks and then "bed down" any pigs that will be kept over the winter with two doses —administered three to four weeks apart after the first killing frost — of the bug killer.
And Next Time...
Well, that's that. We've covered all the basic rules for converting healthy piglets into full-sized freezer fillers. There are, though, a few extra tricks of the trade you'll need to know if you want to rear pork from "scratch" . . . so I'll provide information on breeding your own pigs in a subsequent article.