Farming,  Homesteading

Pigs on the Homestead

Well, it’s official…We have pigs on the homestead! This is an incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking venture for us (particularly me). It’s a big step in a forward direction!

This has been a long-time coming, but it still feels like a snap decision in some ways. We wanted to get some kind of larger livestock by 2018, but then we had the fire, and then I got pregnant, so that plan flew out the window. We had to nix 2019 right off the bat because we knew we’d have a new baby, and I wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of extra workload.

2020, that was the new plan. But 2020 had barely come around when we decided we had to wait yet another year. With the events of The Great Toilet Paper Crisis, we needed to put our focus elsewhere. It’d have to wait until 2021. I’d research during the winter, and in the spring, we’d get pigs.

But then winter came. I ended up being busy in the house during the winter, and my reading load was weighed down with lots of extra reading not related to livestock. It was early March, and we decided it was probably going to be too late to get pigs this year, so we’d just have to push it out another year.

I felt a little defeated, honestly. We’ve been wanting to do something like this for years, and obstacles keep popping up. However, I was still going to research, and we’d just be ready for next year. I purchased Storey’s Guide to Pigs and started reading articles on pig-keeping. At least I’d be ready for 2022.

And then… we changed our minds again. I hadn’t completely given up on the idea of not doing it this year, and all it took was a little motivation to take those steps right then and there. Sometimes the hardest part of doing something new is to just get started… to take a deep breath and jump. Experience is the best teacher.

We were watching some homesteading videos about raising pigs that got us inspired. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, and we still have plenty of risk to take, we knew this was the year. But it prompted us to get our act together, get prepped, and set an ambitious goal of having pigs by the following weekend.

Bringing a few little piggies home!

We decided to just get whatever was available for feeder pigs relatively close to home. While it might not be the breed we’d want to raise in the future, if we’re just raising feeder pigs, it’s a short-term investment, and we can always get a different breed in the future. The more important thing is learning the ropes right now. We did research the breed mix that we’d be getting, so we knew a little about what to expect.

After deciding to go for it, we went out and bought a pig feeder and waterer, and we started to get ourselves set up. We decided to use the fenced garden as a pig pen, and that meant taking a few steps to prep it for pigs. The apple trees we grafted last spring are planted in the back part of the garden, so we fenced those off. This could admittedly be a huge mistake, because if the pigs get into there, they could totally destroy those. But, we’ll take a few steps to hopefully prevent that from happening.

The automatic waterer is mounted to the fence post. We might have to lower it down a bit to make it easier to use, but we put a pan underneath it with water in so that they know where the water is. They can drink from it as they learn to adjust.

We chose an automatic feeder and waterer for the pigs. The water is hooked up to a hose we’ve run from over by the house, and the pigs nudge the nipple to get the water that they need. The feeder holds 50 lbs. worth of feed, and has an adjustable slot in the base so that feed can be released based on how quickly the pigs go through the feed. It’s supposed to be water-tight, which should help keep the feed from getting wet and clumped up inside the feeder.

For shelter, I built a 3-sided structure out of some 2×9 boards that I ripped, and some steel sheets leftover from roofing the chicken coop to side and roof the structure. After we brought the pigs home, I put a tarp on top of the whole structure to keep wind out. The weather was beautiful when we picked them up, but the wind got crazy and the temperatures dropped over night, and now there’s a bit of cool weather coming and rain later in the week, so we’re praying they stay safe and comfortable.

Pigs are well-known for being rather destructive, so I was initially reluctant to get pigs when we started talking bigger livestock. We’ve talked about larger livestock over the years, we’ve discussed pigs, goats, cows, and sheep, and I have always gravitated to a cow, but Scott wanted us to work up to a cow with smaller animals first.

I was shy of pigs and goats because I know they can be a handful if they escape their enclosures, and I have enough on my hands with our 6 kids! Sheep are supposed to be a bit more sensitive to disease and pests, so we didn’t feel ready for that. Sheep, if we ever go that route, will be something we have to work up to.

Anyway, one of the things that I read about pigs destructiveness and escape habits is that it has a lot to do with making sure that they don’t run out of food or water, and keeping them with their friends/family. It’s when they get separated that they start to cause trouble. With only two pigs, and since we aren’t going to do any breeding, we hopefully won’t run into the separation issues. Plus, we hope by having an automatic feeder and waterer, that we’ll avoid those escape reasons.

We finished setting everything up by the end of Friday, and Sunday we were ready to pick up the pigs. I called the farmer and arranged an appointment for 10:30, and we all went to pick up the pigs. We got home with them around 12:30p.m., and then we got everyone adjusted to the new situation.

Happy pigs, happy kids! We put the tarp all over the back of the van, just to make sure that if they went to the bathroom it didn’t smell up or dirty the van.

The kids are feeling very excited. The pigs sure seemed happy in their enclosure when we let them loose! I’m not sure how Poppy feels about the pigs just yet. She is interested, and seems to want them as playmates, but it also seems she doesn’t know what to make of them. It’ll be interesting to see how the chickens react to having pigs next door. They were curious as to what the extra noise is, but haven’t paid too much attention to the pigs just yet.

Minutes after getting the pigs settled in, the chickens all ran over to their coop to get a better look at the commotion.

The kids fought a bit about who would sit by the pigs on the way home, and in the end, the pigs were surrounded by children. Immediately after the pigs were put into the kennel in the back of the van, the kids named them, Bacon and Sausage. Bacon is the boy and Sausage is the girl.

Bacon on the left, Sausage on the right. It’s funny… you don’t realize how accurate depictions of fictional characters like Wilbur or Babe or even Miss Piggy are until you observe pigs up close!

The pigs averaged around 25lbs. each. We got one barrow and one gilt (boy and girl). My original plan was just to get girls, but since the barrows were all castrated and we wouldn’t have to worry about that. The pigs are about 5 or 6 weeks old and were switched to dry feed about a week or two ago. We paid $85/ea. for them. The breed is a York-Duroc cross.

We did end up getting the name of somebody who lives closer to us that would have pigs available at the end of the month, but I felt really good about working with the farmer that we went with. He was patient, easy to understand, helpful, kind, friendly, and I just felt at-ease with him.

Miss Lady (and Cheeks) checking out the pigs. There’s some grass growing in this pen, but the pigs have their entire snouts buried in the dirt, not just grass.

Most people are generally good to work with, but sometimes people look at you like you’re an absolute idiot when you ask questions because you are new to something. He even said “We all have to start somewhere!” And before we left his farm, he said “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call me.” Feeder pigs are his focus, so he wants to have a good relationship with his customers, so that helps.

You can tell from the muddy snout how deed these little piggies will root, and they’re just babies!

We did not focus on organic or questions like “were they raised like this or bred like this?” Like I said, the biggest goal of this all is to get comfortable with the process. We need to start with the basics and work our way up if we should so choose. Just knowing that we’re going to have an active hand in the life of these pigs and that we’ll know what goes into them in terms of food and care is enough for me right now. We may do pasture-raised in the future or seek out specific breeds if this goes well and we decide to do it again in the future.

I was totally unable to visualize just how big or small the pigs would be prior to getting them. Turns out, I was pretty spot on. I have also not touched a live pig prior to picking these out, and I was surprised at how accurate my idea of what they’d feel like was. They feel a little more tough than I expected though.

Scott picked out the pigs, and since there were only a few left in the litter, he grabbed the smallest and the largest. Bacon, the boy, was the smallest. Sausage SQUEALED when Scott picked her up, and for a moment, I truly doubted our decision to get pigs. I thought “Oh my goodness, if she screams like that all of the way home, we’ll get into a car accident or just go deaf!” I know pigs squeal, but wow. That was a loud and ear-piercing squeal! She hasn’t been that loud since, though.

Doodles struggled to hold this pig, but he was happy for the little time he did.

Sausage doesn’t particularly like to be handled, and she squirms and squeals very loudly if you pick her up. Bacon is a lot more relaxed and doesn’t mind being handled. He seems to like to crawl under and over Sausage. If you’re curious about the names, the kids picked them. I didn’t really tell the kids this, but most folks who get pigs for butchering, if they do choose to name them, they name them food names as a way to remind themselves of the reality of the fate of these animals. We call all of the meat chickens that we get “Chicken Nugget,” or “Supper.”

Cheeks was VERY excited about the new pigs. He cried when I put him down for a nap after this, and only calmed down after I showed him pictures of the piggies before he went to sleep.

I know… it seems a little dark, but if you get meat from the store, those are still animals that start out as cute little babies. That meat was once an animal that somebody fed and watered and cared for and then butchered. We cut our the middle men, and that means more connection to the food which is a good thing, but sometimes harder. The first time of doing anything like this is always a little hard, so we’ll be reminding ourselves not to get overly attached.

Yesterday, they spent a lot of time rooting around in their pen and resting in the sun, and by about 6p.m., they were in their shelter for the night, buried in the bedding. Like I said before, it’s been colder today. I moved a bit of feed and water underneath the tarp into a corner of their shelter so that they didn’t have to go out in the cold wind, and they designated a corner for the bathroom. The first week or two of raising new animals (babies or not) is always a little bit stressful for me. I worry about if they are warm enough, well-fed, adjusting, comfortable… Lots of extra check-ins with the animals, for sure.

Adam is my bookworm, but he LOVES animals. If he’s outside, he’s often scratching Poppy behind the ears or playing with the chickens. He has been saying “I can’t get too attached. They’re gonna make delicious breakfast.” Hopefully, everyone handles this okay!

I know it’s only been a day, but something about having a larger animal on the farm makes it feel like a real farm. Scott said yesterday that it makes him feel like we aren’t “playing” homestead, that it’s for real. It’s definitely a game-changer, and like I said in a recent post, it feels like next-level homesteading. There’s no doubt we’ve had a true homestead all along, but this certainly feels different.

New friends on the farm!

We’ll give updates from time to time on this endeavor. Our plan is to butcher the pigs ourselves in the fall. We’ve done our own deer a few times now, so we know we can handle it, but we also know that the cuts are different, that the fat content is different, the skinning is harder, and that there will be a few other differences. Knowing we’ll have a tractor to hoist the body after the kill is helpful, as hanging the animal for quartering and such is one of the most difficult steps, and with an animal that will (hopefully) be pushing 300 lbs, it’s a real challenge. And we’ll share as much of that process with you as we are able to.

In the meantime, I’ve got more reading and research to do before that time comes, and I have to get ready for our egg layers, the turkeys, and then the boilers!

Love and Blessings~Danielle

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