Pigs are actually very fastidious animals who will give you a lot of help in keeping their areas clean. They earned the unfortunate reputation for being dirty animals from those who see them briefly and notice only that they can be covered in mud. Pigs do not have a great deal of body hair, and what they do have is thin and doesn’t protect their skin very well from the sun, especially the lighter colored breeds. Pigs roll in mud as a survival instinct because mud keeps them cool and also provides a natural sun block. This brings up another subject of homestead pigs: which ones make the best keepers on a small farm or urban setting?
Breeds Best Suited to the Homestead Lifestyle
The best breeds of pig for homesteading tend to be mid-size, hearty, and, most of all, colored so they have a better resistance to heat and sunlight. While the all-white Chester White is a favorite in the commercial industry for their heavy meat-to-carcass ratio, they burn easily in the sun and can be difficult to manage on a small homestead. The next most popular commercial breed is the Hamshire. They make good homestead animals for those looking for a good conversion, but care must still be taken. This breed has a white band around its belly that is subject to burning. By far, the most popular homestead pig breed is the Duroc. This breed is very manageable in temperament. Their medium-sized, solid red bodies make the Duroc a very easy to keep animal with great production capabilities.
You do not need big, complicated barns to successful raise pigs on a small homestead. For full-sized pigs, you will just need some form of shelter for them to go in to get out of wind, rain, and heat. Your shelter can be nothing more than a simple lean-to building. If you have a garage you wish to “convert” into a barn, this would work as well. A pig pen can be erected easily out of strong lumber (2×6’s) or, best of all, hog panels. Hog panels can be found at your local lumber yard or ordered online. They are made from heavy wire, but don’t think that they are very moldable or cut-able. It is very difficult to cut the wire on hog panels, even with bolt cutters (I know for a fact)!
When you are looking for hog panels, you may also see cattle panels. You can use either type, but hog panels work best because they have an extra line of wire running along the bottom to make the openings smaller. This helps to keep young pigs inside the pen. If you use cattle panels, be sure to run a 2×6 along the bottom to keep your young pigs inside until they are too big to get through the openings. Hog panels are also shorter in height than cattle panels. Hogs can’t jump too high, so the need for a five foot high fence isn’t as necessary as it can be for cattle. No matter what kind of shelter you construct for your pigs, you will need hog panels to make an outside run for your pigs.
If you use a garage for housing, make sure there is a way for the pigs to easily get out into the run. Raising pigs on a homestead can be clean and odorless, but if you keep them boxed in a small indoor pen, it will be much harder to keep clean, and it will surely stink!
Giving your pigs the proper room to move around and the ability get outside will allow them to show you how neat they can really be. Your pigs will typically choose one area to defecate, making cleanup a breeze. They do not like to defecate anywhere near their feeding area or where they sleep, and they won’t unless forced to.
Bed your pig shelter with straw or wood shavings. Straw is better for keeping warm in cold weather, but shavings are easier to clean up. In the best of all worlds, use straw in the winter and shavings in the summer. One warning: if you are going to breed your pigs and raise them from birth, don’t use shavings in a shelter where the pigs are born. They can inhale the shavings when they newborns and it may cause breathing problems that can become fatal. Switching back to shavings a few weeks after birth is usually fine.
Accessories to Make Pig Keeping Easier
The simple fact is, you can feed your pigs in a bowl on the ground and give them water in a shallow trough, but you’ll find yourself doing a lot more work if you do. Providing a proper pig water tank is one of the best investments you will ever make. A pig water tank looks a lot like a large horse trough, but it has a square opening at the bottom with a nozzle that lets out enough water to fill a small dish. That keeps the water in the trough clean. If you provide a shallow water dish for your pigs, they will certainly enjoy it as a place to bathe!
A feed dispenser isn’t absolutely necessary, but one benefit is that you can fill it up to last for several days and it will automatically feed them as they empty the bowls. A flip-down lid keeps the food clean and dry.
Remember that if you choose bowls for either water or feed, pigs do not have long necks. They cannot reach deep dishes. You must give them a bowl that is shallow enough for them to get their heads over and reach the bottom. A depth of no more than six or seven inches is good. You can get heavy rubber feeding bowls at your local feed store or farm supply.
Pigs are Not Hogs
Pigs eat a lot and often, but they are not the “hogs” you might think they are. While they can do a good job of cleaning up kitchen scraps, they do not eat garbage. You can supplement a good feeding schedule with peelings from your vegetables and table scraps (avoid pork, that’s just mean), but it should not be their sole source of food. You want a good, balanced, nutritional feed for your pigs so they grow well and fast.
If you buy commercial pig feed, feeding pigs is easy. If you make your own from produce grown on your farm, you will need to plant corn, soybeans, oats and flaxseed.
Free Range Pigs
If you have the land, you can construct moveable pens using hog panels and t-posts. With this, your pigs can get the benefits from the natural plant life around your farm. If you have land to clear, you have your bulldozer right in your barn. Pigs can unearth small trees, dig out roots, and eat up the vegetation faster than you will believe, and they won’t leave anything behind.