Getting Started Raising Pigs
10 April 2015
Bill Wehlage, Bacon Acres Farm
So you want to raise some pigs? So did we! Before we share our experience, understand that pigs are not for everyone. Many folks raise just a few pigs and never continue. But what's not to love about pigs? Pigs are a thrifty, cute, fun-loving and tasty addition to most farms that do not require extensive capitol or time. With a little forethought and a few good mentors, you’ll be growing your own pigs and enjoying your own pork before you know it. Here are six simple steps to get you started.
1. Assess your Land Where will you put pigs? Do you have some forest area or pasture that can be fenced using hotwire or other containment systems? What are your water sources for animal hydration as well as mud holes for cooling in the summer? Do you have natural sources of food available to supplement your purchased feed, such as acorns and other forest mast? Also, consider rotation. Too many pigs kept for too long on too little land can cause serious soil erosion. Gradual hillsides make perfect real estate for pigs and provide a natural cleansing every time it rains.
2. Select your Breed Look over all the pig breeds and decide which breed you like the most. For us, we live on rocky soil and have to raise pigs with little or no infrastructure, so hardiness was top priority. We selected the Tamworth breed because of its vigor and ability to endure. We also wanted a ‘bacon’, rather than a ‘lard’ type pig that was known for great taste and good temperament. When you decide on a breed, stick to it and become its champion. Rare breed pigs need great farmers to raise them to keep the breed alive! Contact breeders who raise your breed and talk with them. Ask for references and then place your order. Start small with less than 10 pigs and you’ll have plenty in a couple of years.
3. Find a Processer This is a key point often overlooked. If a farmer wants to resale packaged pork at a local market or even from home, it must be butchered and packaged at a USDA processing plant. Start looking now. Contact plant managers and arrange to see the plant. State-inspected or ‘custom-exempt’ plants are fine and of some use. If a customer purchases an entire animal from you, he or she can pay you for the animal, then you drop it off at the plant for them. They then simply call and have the pig processed to their specification, paying for the processing themselves. This is a nice way to sell a pig, but most people in this modern age do not have the foresight or freezer room to acquire 150ish pounds of meat at one time.
4. Decide on a Containment System Fencing is peace of mind for a pig farmer. Believe me, very few neighbors will have patience with wandering pigs. Fencing is a significant expense and a continually maintenance issue. We choose hotwire, but pigs must be trained to this system. Untrained pigs will run through hotwire rather than backing up, so add a training program to your list. Field fences are great also, but pigs can burrow under or even over if they really desire. Our 700-pound breeding boar, Cletus, overcame a 50’’ cattle panel by climbing up the side and bending it over just to get a the girls on the other side. This same boar can be kept in check perfectly by one or two strands of 17 gauge hotwire.
5. Acquire Transportation How will you get pigs from farm to market? If you are picking up piglets, you can put them in a small dog carrier in the back of a pickup and they will enjoy the ride home. But within months, these pigs will require a trailer to be transported to the processer. A good clean used cattle or horse trailer is worth it's weight in gold with pigs. If you own your own trailer, you can park it in the pig pen a week before you ship pigs and allow them to eat out of the trailer. This will enable them to self-load and greatly reduce stress for everyone involved.
6. Secure a Local Source for Feed Many novice pig farmers are excited about non-GMO or organic feeds. I am too, I think they are great; but, very expensive. Non-GMO feeds sell for at least two times more than bagged feed and four times more than bulk feed. Start looking now for your feed source! Yes, Tractor Supply sells wonderful hog feed in 40 pound bags, which will feed-out hogs nicely. But at a rate of over 30 cents per pound, it will not take long for a hog to become very expensive. Local feed stores are normally a less expensive source for bagged feed. Just make sure it is fresh.
When you get a sustained herd of over 12 hogs, it’s time to begin looking at bulk feed options. Transitioning to bulk feed requires purchasing a grain bin, or, in our case, a 3-ton grain trailer which can be a significant up-front expense. When you transition to bulk, your feed bill will go way down. Our feed bill went down so fast that it only took 9 months to recoup the 2000.00 dollar cost for our grain trailer.
Oh, one more note on feeding pigs. Many farmers over-depend what I call ‘scraps & slop’ for pig rations. I know farmers who gather cull vegetables at local grocery stores or even rummage thru trash bins outside of Mexican restaurants looking for bags of chips. A wise man told me long ago, you don’t feed pigs to save money; you feed them to make money. Inconsistent diets effect digestion and therefore effect growth adding fat to carcasses that make no money. Scraps and slop are also an enormous bio-security risk, as pigs can catch viruses just like humans and from anything an infected human touched.
Raising pigs is not for everyone. We love them. In fact, other than our dogs, they are the only animal on our farm. They sleep late in the winter to conserve calories and graze early in the cool of the summer, so we don’t’ have to do early morning chores. They are forgiving and loveable. The meat is so good, it brings tears to my eyes and the added assurance of knowing the animal from farrow to table brings an at-home feeling of satisfaction.
15 April 2015
Bill Wehlage, Bacon Acres Farm
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