Okay, sometimes pigs can stink, but like the old farm adage goes “it smells like money!” Go to the local grocery store and price a ham, and you’ll begin to truly appreciate that sentiment. However, if kept in clean conditions on a small homestead, pigs don’t stink nearly as much as they have a reputation for. Everything about the back-to-basics method of life is about better care and better quality, and those things make a huge difference when compared to full-scale factory farming. The fact is, if you ask people who have raised pigs for any length of time, they’ll tell you they think the pigs actually enjoy their stinky reputation—considering the fact that there are few other uses for pig keeping other than filling the freezer, the more people the pigs can convince it isn’t a good idea, the better!
In reality, raising pigs is not only a good way to make meat for your family, it’s relatively easy. There are a few choices to make (any of which work well) but that make it possible to design a system that works best for you.
When It Comes to Pigs—Size Matters
The first thing to consider is the size of the animals you will be dealing with. Knowing what to expect will give you an idea of the method of pig raising you want to employ. There are two types of pigs: full-sized breeds and pot-belly. Most people are at least vaguely familiar with full-sized pigs, but few who haven’t had personal experience with them realize how very large a full-grown pig can get. The average sow (female breeding-age pig) will weigh in at around 800 pounds, and a full-sized boar (male breeding-age pig) can get as heavy as 1000 pounds. That’s a lot of pork, and at times can be a dangerous amount of pork if you aren’t familiar with handling such large animals.
While pigs are typically not aggressive, boars can be a real handful during mating season, and have been known to even tear down fences and barn walls to get to their target. Make no mistake – if you are in between them and a sow in heat, you are going to get torn down.
Sows may have a little bit better disposition, and are very easy to get along with, except when they have a litter. Pigs are extremely protective of their young. Even getting in a pen with a litter of pigs when their mother is around can get you tossed out unceremoniously on your bottom side. If you pick a baby up and make it squeal (not hard to do – touching them can make them squeal), mom will definitely come to their rescue. At that point you are a predator that requires aggressive action, and an 800-pound sow who is protecting her young is nothing to mess with unless you know what you are doing.
Pigs can also be aggressive at feeding time. In a large group, or even alone, they can trample a handler in an effort to get to their food.
Am I scaring you off pigs? If so, the keeping of full-sized breeding pigs is not for you. The above isn’t really meant as a scare tactic as much as a warning of what you need to know. Pigs are not unmanageable, and in fact, are very intelligent animals. They can be playful and hilarious to watch and interact with under the right circumstances. However, if you decide to go for a full-size pig to breed for grow-out piglets to butcher, these are things you have to be aware of. You must have the proper facilities constructed to handle large animals, and you need to develop shoots to move them without getting in with them.
If reading the above is enough to make you re-think pigs, consider other options for pork production. You do not have to breed your own pigs to get great, affordable pork. If you have a pig farmer nearby, you can buy shoats from him (weaned baby pigs) and raise them to slaughter age. Pigs reach a good slaughter weight amazingly fast in the right conditions.
Spring is the best time to buy shoats for raising as feeder pigs. The weather is mild and not too cold, so they don’t freeze. You need extra accommodations to protect them, as it it can’t be too hot or they won’t gain weight. A piglet will grow from weaning age to slaughter weight in as little as three to four months! That’s FAST meat production. In fact, as feeder livestock goes, they are the most efficient conversion for the least amount of dollars and work.
Thinking Small for Big Pork Production
Another option for raising pigs for meat is going small. Pot-belly pigs have a wide reputation in the United States as pets. Being pigs, they are very intelligent and fun to be around. People often are unaware that those cute little piglets will grow, and even though never attain the same weight as their full-sized brethren, will get as big as 300 pounds at maturity. All of the same attributes that are stated above with full-size pigs apply to pot-bellied pigs. However, they will not get as big should you decide to breed for your own production of livestock.
Pot-belly pigs, in spite of their American “pet status” were originally developed from Vietnamese wild pigs to produce pork in a smaller setting, one perfect for the homesteader. You may get half as much meat as you would with a full-sized feeder pig at slaughter time, but it will be just as tasty and produce much the same cuts including pork chops, steaks, hams, and yummy bacon.