When I was growing up on a homestead we always had pigs and I guess I took for granted just how important they were to our family and our property. Pigs are a great permaculture homestead animal but there are a few things you should know before you get started.
A few things you need to consider when getting started raising pigs are infrastructure for housing, containment, food, and water. You also have to determine which pig breed will best suit your needs and how you will care for your animals. Also, keep in mind the purpose for which you are keeping pigs and familiarize yourself with ideal processing weights. Knowing all of these things before you get started will make raising pigs a much better experience.
Install The Infrastructure
Having an improper setup for your pigs can make caring for your animals very difficult and at some point may make you wonder why you ever started down this path. So make sure you are ready with your infrastructure before you bring your pigs home. Here are the things you need to consider.
How Much Space Do You Need?
Pigs actually require less space than most large livestock, most of the literature out there recommends a minimum of 20 square feet per pig. You can do that but remember that the less room you make available for your pigs will intensify the smell and clean-up duties and a pig raised on pasture will be healthier and have more muscle.
I’ve also found that giving a pig too much room (like several acres) makes them have feral tendencies, making them more skittish and harder to work with. However, raising pigs in this way can have many benefits to a permaculture homestead when it comes to land management.
You Need Strong Fencing
Probably the most important infrastructure when it comes to pigs. Pigs are big pushy animals that require heavy-duty fencing. 16-foot hog panels are common fencing to use but remember that these are only as strong as the posts and securement method you use, so make them solid. Electric wire is another common way to keep pigs in but they have to be trained to fear the wire inside a solid fenced pen. A pig’s natural tendency when shocked is to go forward through the wire instead of backing up when they are first introduced to the wire.
Have The Proper Housing
A barn stall the pigs can come in and out of might be ideal but outdoor pig hutches are great too. These hutches don’t have to be anything fancy, the requirements are that they supply a dry area for pigs to sleep and shade during sunny days. The pig hutch should have good ventilation to prevent moisture from accumulating inside. Making them portable is nice as well in case you want to move your pigs to a new location occasionally. One of the great things about pigs is how clean they keep their house, they won’t use the bathroom where they sleep so cleaning hutches and stalls are easy as you just need to swap out or add to bedding material.
You Need A Place To Store Hay, Straw, and Feed
With pigs, you’re going to need to keep lots of hay, straw, and feed around and you need a dry place to store it all. This is not a problem for most people but some homesteaders are pretty limited on space and outbuildings so if that’s the case for you it is something you will need to consider.
Supply Plenty Of Clean Water
Pigs require lots of clean water so whatever system you set up to water your pigs must be able to supply this. You will want to be able to have plenty of water for your pigs but you will also want to design a way to change out the dirty water with clean water as easily as possible.
Watering With Troughs
This is one way and a common way to water pigs but probably not the best way in every situation unless you are able to clean them and fill them very regularly. They can be heavy and awkward to dump out if you don’t have the equipment to help you pick them up if they are large. If you are going to use troughs you will probably want large, heavy ones so the pigs can’t lift them up with their snouts and tip them over.
I think these are the better option in most cases. There are several different designs out there for automatic waterers so pick one that will work well with your infrastructure. Some are Large Stainless Steel Waterers that automatically fill as water levels drop and others are a Stainless Steel Pig Waterer Nipple design. Both of these designs, as well as others, have their pros and cons so find the type that will best fit your needs.
One of the big bonuses of raising pigs on your homestead is that you get to decide on what you feed your pig in order to have the healthiest meat available. As permaculture homesteaders, most of us are trying to escape the mass-produced, unethically raised, and unhealthy meat available in most grocery stores and restaurants but if you feed your pigs the same way they do it will have many of the same problems. So you have to consider how and what you will feed your pigs.
Choose The Right Feeding System
First of all, you need to decide how you will be feeding your pigs. This can be as simple as a trough or as complicated as bulk feeders. This depends on how much time you have to do the feeding and how much money you want to spend. Troughs are pretty inexpensive but if they are not large and heavy enough a pig might be able to tip it over. Bulk feeders are a great option and can be purchased at your local farm supply stores.
What To Feed Pigs
Scrap fruits and vegetables from your garden are great to feed to your pigs but they are going to need a lot more than that. They need a high protein diet if you want good meat. The problem you are going to run into when you’re trying to find a good pig feed is that most of it is medicated so you are going to want to call around to some feed stores to try and find non-medicated feed or find out who will custom mix your feed.
How Much To Feed Pigs
For feeder pigs (not lactating sows or pigs that will be kept through winter and grown larger) a good rule of thumb is to feed 1lb of food each day for each month of age, up to a maximum of 6 lbs per day. All feed should be cleared up within 20 to 30 minutes, if it’s not then you should reduce the amount then increase gradually as their appetite increases. Doing this will maintain a good meat-to-fat ratio on your pigs and save you money. Splitting this feed amount into two feedings a day, especially when the pigs are young, is also a good idea as this will reduce waste.
What Is A Good Size To Butcher A Pig?
Ideally raising a pig to a size of around 220 to 250 lbs will give you the best meat for the money, any larger and there will be much more fat and the feed to meat ratio starts to go down. Raising freshly weaned feeder pigs to this size should take 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 months. A pig at this ideal size should yield about 140 lbs of meat products.
You can estimate the weight of a pig without a scale by measuring the pig from the base of the ear to the base of the tale to determine the length. Then measure the girth around the pig just behind the front legs. Multiply the girth by the length and divide by 400 and this will give you a surprisingly pretty accurate weight of your pig.
Which Pig Breeds To Choose
There are not huge differences between breeds, all do well depending on how you raise them although some may have traits you desire. Commercial pigs are generally Duroc, Hampshire, Berkshire, Tamworth, and Yorkshire and if you’re just buying feeder pigs, you’ll probably take whatever’s available.
You will also have to choose between gilts and boars. Gilts may grow a little slower and with boars, the question is whether or not to castrate the pigs, most would recommend castrating boars. If you don’t want to castrate and don’t want to risk boar taint, gilts might be a good choice.
Where Can You Get Your Pigs
Finding and getting to know some local pig raisers will probably be your best way of purchasing some healthy feeder pigs. As a bonus, building a relationship with them could be helpful down the road when you need some advice or come up against unexpected problems.
Sometimes you can find great deals on feeder pigs through local farm papers and in places like www.craigslist.org. I just did a search on Craigslist and found 12 ads for feeder pigs for sale in my area for prices ranging from 50 to 100 dollars each.
Livestock Sale Barns
This is a viable option but I would make it my third choice because many times the worst of the litter ends up at the sale barn but not always. Look for active healthy pigs when you’re trying to decide on the ones to bid on.
Things To Consider
Pigs Can Hurt You
Never forget what you’re dealing with, pigs are large and can bite so don’t ever put yourself in a position where you can’t get away quickly if you need to.
When you raise pigs on pasture they will tear it up pretty good, it’s how they are designed. The snout of a pig is a powerful muscle with amazing digging abilities and they will plow up the ground.
Keep In Mind The Purpose
You are raising pigs for meat, not pets so you have to constantly keep that in mind. Pigs are smart and can have great personalities and it’s easy to start looking at them in a way that will make it hard when it’s time to process your animals. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy them but remember the goal is to give them the best pig life we can give them with just one bad day at the end.
Sickness Can Occur
Be ready for emergencies. Go ahead and have a plan on what to do when a pig gets hurt or sick. Are you going to use antibiotics? Do you have the number of a vet on hand that has experience with pigs? Are you prepared for the possible expenses? These are things to consider before getting a pig.
It’s a lot to consider and do before getting pigs and you might decide it’s not right for your permaculture homestead after reading this but it’s better to know that before you start. I believe pigs are a fantastic animal to raise if it’s done in the right way and it can be a real blessing to a family and a farm. So if you think it’s right for you then dive in with confidence that you can do it and enjoy the benefits of raising pigs.
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