Homesteading

Review: First Time Raising Pigs

It’s been a few weeks now since we butchered our pigs, and I’d like to do a review of our first time raising pigs. We added two things to our homestead this year that were complete game-changers for us: a new tractor with a loader bucket… and pigs.

I love all of the animals we’ve raised up until now, but pigs were on a whole other level. They were no more difficult to raise than chickens, they didn’t require lots of extra time or materials. Granted, we added meat pigs to the homestead, and not breeding stock. But meat pigs? So simple, and the best thing we could have done for the homestead. The verdict is that we will definitely be raising more pigs next spring. And by more, I mean both again and a greater quantity.

Day one bringing the pigs to the homestead, we were very, very happy with our decision. Scott and I both felt incredibly good about the decision, which honestly, says a lot. Sometimes one or both of us have a slight sense of fear or dread or nerves about some addition to the farm, but we both just felt so comfortable bringing them home.

At home with the new pigs.

http://springlakehomestead.com/piggies/I really don’t know how to explain the feelings we had in bringing them here. I was nervous going to pick them up and the whole drive home, but the second we put them in the pig pen, it felt right. Just seeing pigs in action, rooting up the pen and doing their piggy thing put me at ease.

There were some hiccups those first days. The temperature dropped, they were too small to reach the waterer and the feeder the first few days. They required a little extra TLC, initially. And I really didn’t expect to think that they’d be cute, but they were!

There were two instances during the 6 months we had them where escape was ever a risk. A month or two in, one of the pigs got between the two gates in the pen. I didn’t think we’d have any problems since they could have done this earlier on, but suddenly it happened, and I got a little concerned. We used cattle panel on the area of the second gate, so they were small enough to reach one of the larger gaps.

The second time was a couple of weeks before butchering. They had rooted everything up, keeping them fed was becoming harder, and they wanted to root the grassy area to the south of their pen. They were rooting at the base of the fence, and they bent it up pretty good. Initially, this pig pen was not a pig pen. It was our first garden area here, and so it wasn’t fenced for animals.

We had contemplated putting some electrical wire in the inside of the fence, but I was adamant that I’d read if we’d only make sure they had enough food and water, we wouldn’t have escape issues. And I was right. They were just wanting more food than we were providing near the end. It wasn’t that they were starving, but animals raised for meat eat a lot to keep up with the way their bodies grow.

The thing that I especially loved about the pigs was feeding them all of our scraps, leftovers, and garden refuse. It started small. They got the occasional leftovers from our meals. Scott cleaned out the fridge once a week, and the pigs ate anything we still had not. Unlike the chickens, they ate just about everything.

Corn husks and bare cobs were fed to the pigs.

Then I started to cook from scratch, and the pigs got all of the scraps from the garden-fresh meals. And then it was the scraps from canning. All the bean tips and tomato cores, carrot tops and apple skins. The pigs were absolutely loving it! It was even more rewarding when we could give all of our cider pressing mash to the pigs! Oh, were they happy about that!

Some friends and neighbors had fallen apples that were bad that we fed to the pigs, too. And when I remembered, things that were starting to go bad from the garden, a tomato with a bad spot, some beans that were too far gone to can, an overgrown zucchini, the pigs got it all. If I had been more on the mark during harvest time, I would have brought an extra bucket or two to the garden while picking food, and I could have put all of the bad stuff in a bucket to feed to the pigs on the way back to the house.

And as odd as this may sound, one of the most exciting things we were able to feed to the pigs were the offal from the chickens and turkeys. We boiled it all in the pot we’d used for scalding the birds at the end of the day of butchering, boiled it all for half an hour to an hour, and then fed it to the pigs. They ate it over the course of a few days. Not as exciting for them as the apples, but still. This was exciting for us because it’s a more productive way to use up everything. The pigs need the protein for growth, and we have to dispose of the offal somewhere.

For us, the pigs were better than composting. We are thinking of putting up another pen next to this first one next year so the new pigs can root up another area. Someday, would we possibly do pastured pigs? Yes, absolutely it’s possible. But having pens is the right fit for where we’re at right now. We’ve got so much going on, and with only one adult here full-time, it’s just more practical to keep the pigs stationary.

The recommendation to get an automatic feeder and waterer was really, really good advice. The pigs did knock the feeder around a lot, especially in the last two months. We screwed it to the post, but they’d still knock it off. I started to use a large wash basin at the end because I couldn’t keep the feeder upright, and it was beginning to be a bit of a problem. We’d really like to get a heavy trough for feeding them the food scraps in the future. But the automatic waterer was great.

The pigs with their feeder and waterer.

Honestly, I would have liked to have fed the pigs more than we were, but our budget was getting pretty tight. We’d used our buffer to buy the tractor, and then Scott’s car died and we bought him a new truck. The van needed new back breaks and calipers which cost a pretty penny, and the hits just kept coming. We relied on garden scraps to fill the gaps. In truth, having more area for them to root probably would have made a big difference, too. But I kept a watch for signs to make sure they were healthy and still happy.

I don’t know how much larger they would have gotten had we fed them more those last two months, but we were happy with the amount of meat we got from them. Plus, we’re very happy with the quality of the meat and the flavor from what we’ve tested so far.

I do want to note that near the end, the pigs were capable of eating a half a bag of feed a day. That would have been 3.5 bags per week. And the cost of pig feed went up over $1 per bag near the end of the growing season. That might not sound like much, but when you’re on a budget and you’ve got other animals that also need more feed, it adds up fast!

The timeframe during which we raised the pigs was also perfect. Butchering them in early November was the right time of the year, for sure. Any earlier, and we would have still been drowning in beans, apples, and chicken butchering. (The chicken butchering date was also perfect. Not too hot, not too cold.) Any later, and we would have been overlapping deer hunting. We ended up grinding venison and pork during deer season, and I was thoroughly exhausted.

If we had butchered pigs one week later, I would have been completely fried by now. As it was, I was dead tired every day this past week, and I only stayed up past 9 p.m. once. So, going forward, I think we’ll either always keep the first weekend in November as butchering weekend, or we’ll have to do some butchering during the winter or early spring. Summer would be a bad idea for sure.

The breed of pigs we got was good. They had a really sweet temperament. They were playful and always seemed happy. Their pen really only got a little stinky towards the end, and we could have thrown wood shavings or straw over their bathroom corner. We currently don’t have major goals for specific types of meat off the pigs.

Playful pigs

We were satisfied with the amount of meat we got for grinding, which is providing us with lots of sausage. The male pig produced a little more meat overall and a bit more fat, and he produced more/better bacon. The belly was much thicker on the male than the female, and I believe I got a few extra pounds of pork belly off of him. We’ve never really cooked with pork much in the past, so I’m interested to see how we feel about having so many chops and ribs and roasts. Granted, we’ll be giving some of this meat away, and if we raise extra pigs next year, it’ll be more about doing a pig-share kind of a deal.

I loved the noises and playfulness of the pigs. Just like the chickens add extra chatter to the barnyard, so did the pigs. There was such a sense of completeness to everything, having the pigs around. It feels like we’re closer to farming the way we feel it’s “supposed to be.”

As much as I loved having the pigs here, I am also grateful that there are less chores to take care of for the next few months. Maybe that makes me lazy, but I feel like having pigs year-round is something we’ve got to work our way into. Really, it’s a change in mindset. We didn’t grow up farming, and we didn’t do much gardening prior to deciding on this lifestyle, and on top of that all, we homeschool, and that’s always changing.

From late February up until December, life is pretty intense! It’s maple syrup season, cleaning the yard, working on structures before animals arrive, preparing the soil for planting, starting seeds, planting, weeding, tending, feeding, then canning and cooking and freezing and drying. Fall is for cleanup and butchering, more canning, making sausage, lots of cooking, shoring up structures, doing repairs and maintenance. Even winter has its own flurry of activity, and at least for this winter, I’m grateful to have a little downtime from the physical.

But all in all, the pigs were a perfect addition to our homestead. It felt like a very symbiotic relationship, having them here. There’s still so much I’d love to do on our homestead, but if pigs are all the further we go, I think I’d feel okay with that, too.

I’m sure pigs aren’t right for every homestead, but if you’re looking to go beyond chickens for meat production, I’d highly recommend looking into pigs. We felt that they were a very low-commitment animal, and home butchering was definitely feasible. I certainly don’t know everything about raising pigs, but if you have any questions about getting started, let me know!

Love and Blessings~ Danielle

2 Comments

  • Trudy

    I think you guys did well. I don’t think it’s ‘lazy’ to appreciate some downtime! Besides, you’re full swing into homeschooling and the holidays come up, and it gives you time to work on your crocheting and sewing. Not exactly what I’d call ‘lazy’. Enjoy the fruits of your labor this winter and look at your crocheting time and sewing time with renewed appreciation. Besides, it’s a great time to do deep cleaning and getting rid of stuff, because that’s not exactly fun to work on during really warm weather anyway!

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