'Let's get pigs,' she said. 'It'll be fun,' she said...
My long-suffering husband muttered playfully, shaking his head, as he stretched his aching legs out on the footstool. We were finally sitting down, and it felt. so. good. It was the end of one of the more grueling and demoralizing days we've had so far, here on the homestead.
That was the day we tried to load a 280lb hog into the back of our pickup. Just the two of us. I'll do that story justice sometime when my tailbone and my pride are a little less sore. We'll call that post, "21 ways NOT to load a pig in a pickup." For now, let's just say it's not on our list of things to do ever again.
As I sat there, swirling around a much-needed scotch, and feeling responsible for getting us into this (pigs were my idea), I thought over the things I'd do differently - if I ever raise pigs again. Please don't get me wrong. We really have enjoyed our pigs, and they've brought a lot of laughs to our farm this year. But man, there are a few lessons we learned the HARD way. And several things that, in retrospect, I really wish I'd done before we ever hopped in the truck to go pick up those three adorable little bacon bits. So I'm sharing them with you, in hopes this list might save you a little stress (and money, and sore muscles), in your own pig-raising adventures.
6 Things to do BEFORE bringing piglets home
1. Decide what you're going feed them. Then figure out where you're going to get it, and how much it's going to cost.
I'm a big fan of research, so although this post makes us sound totally inept, I really did go into this armed with information - several books on pig-raising (this one's my favorite), and a printed-out stack of facts and numbers. We felt confident, estimating how much food we should expect our three pigs to go through, over the course of 6 months. I also had ambitious plans for growing a big percentage of their food. In our 4,000 square-foot garden, we had plenty of room for growing extra forage - turnips, rutabagas, squash and corn. In fact, I already had about 2,000lbs of leftover blue hubbard squash from last year, to get the little oinkers started.
Facts and figures aside - that pile o' hubbards was a distant memory, LONG before anything was even thinking about ripening in the garden. Those pigs ate an unbelievable amount - probably in large part because of their huge pasture area that encouraged them to be super-active, and playful. They were running off all of those calories! We did grow a lot of their food, and gave them acorns and apples from our trees, by the bucketful. But we still bought much, much more feed than we expected. If you're contemplating raising pigs, I'd suggest taking the amount you estimate they'll eat, and multiplying it by 1.3, to be on the safe side.
2. Set up electric fencing.
We figured that with such a huge pasture area, the pigs wouldn't have a lot of motivation to break out, and we wanted to avoid electric fencing if we could. We bet that some good woven-wire fencing, with sturdy posts at fairly close intervals would do the trick. It was a bet we lost, miserably.
By the time we'd had the pigs for a month, I'd chased and cajoled them back into their pen more times than I could count. More often than not, baby Duncan was on my back, giggling delightedly at the bouncy ride. I knew it was only a matter of time before those little porkers figured out how to go visiting our neighbor with the perfect lawn - and that wasn't a conversation I was eager to have. We knew we needed to switch to an electric system. The relief - once it was installed, and they were trained to it - was immense. It would have been much, much easier though, to have had it fully set up and functional before they arrived. Next time, I'd have it all set up ahead of time, and I'd train them using the system described here, by the good folks over at Milkwood Permaculture.
3. Create a watering station that can't be tipped over.
In retrospect, I really should have, but I didn't see this one coming. With chickens, ducks, and sheep that all drink happily from standard-issue rubber livestock tubs, I just didn't expect to find my pigs greeting me at the fence, holding the water tub in their teeth like Snoopy. They were glad to drink from it when we first watered them in the morning. But then the tub would quickly become a plaything. They'd cram their bodies into it like a pool - all three at the same time. And once they'd displaced all the water, they'd play football with the thing...or a hilarious porcine version of ultimate frisbee. Funny as all get-out. But frustrating, since it meant refilling the tub multiple times, throughout the day.
We finally resorted to dragging into their pen an obscenely heavy old trough that we'd found, half-buried, as a flower bed in our yard. They still used the trough as a pool on the hottest days, but it was too heavy to tip over, and they couldn't displace all of the water out of it. So even in mid-summer, I didn't end up having to refill it multiple times. If I didn't have a free, obscenely-heavy trough, I'd follow this tutorial from my friends over at Lumnah Acres, and make a nipple watering system from a large food-grade barrel.
4. Make an appointment with the butcher.
Who knew that butchers book up MONTHS in advance? Not this girl! I thought I was so on top of the game calling in August to make a November appointment. HA! Turns out, at least in this part of country, you really need to make your butcher appointment as soon as possible. Seriously, before even picking up the piglets is not a bit too soon.
5. Build their shelter.
This was actually one of the easiest parts of the whole endeavor. If you're just keeping your pigs over the summer, and sending them to butcher before freezing weather, shelter requirements for pigs are not too rigorous. I've got lots of great DIY pig shelter photos and how-to articles pinned on my "Homestead Pigs" board on Pinterest. Check them out for some great inspiration.
Of course, if you end up waiting until the little oinkers are 5 months old to make their butcher appointment, and call every butcher in the state, only to find that January is the earliest anyone can get you in - you might need to beef up that shelter a bit. Do be warned - pigs ADORE playing with construction materials!
6. Make a plan for getting them to the butcher.
Hopefully you're fortunate enough to have a good, easy-to-load, trailer that you can use for getting your pigs to the butcher. If you don't, NOW is the time to start working on a good plan for getting them there. If you plan on training them to a steep-enough ramp that they can waltz right into the back of your pickup, you'll want to get it built now. If you're arranging to rent, barter, or borrow a someone else's trailer, you'll want to get on their calendar as soon as you set a date with the butcher. And maybe bake them a pie, just to seal the deal. It's also not a bad idea to have a Plan B up your sleeve just in case Plan A falls through.
All in all, we've enjoyed our foray into pig raising. I really expect that we'll do it again, though we'll give ourselves a year off, this coming season. I hope a few of these tips we've learned, might be helpful in your own pig-rearing endeavors. For those of you who've done this a time or two, or ten - what other tips would you offer to someone just getting started with pigs? Leave a comment and let us know!
Also remember to worm them if you want to put weight on them and learn how to butcher yourself . You will save a lot of money and have the satisfaction of doing it all from farm to table
Do pigs tear up the ground really bad to the point there are big holes? And would it be feasible to plant a garden in the area after pigs are gone?
Hi Brenda!! YES - even a half-grown pig really, really can tear up the ground. They love nothing more than to dig and root around. That said, letting them go to town on an area where you intend to later plant a garden works wonderfully, in my experience! They tear up the difficult sod layer, fertilize it for you, and make it VERY easy to just run over with a rototiller and plant! I put corn and sunflowers where I'd penned pigs in the previous season, and they did AMAZINGLY well. Heavy feeders like corn really do well in an area that's been well-fertilized! ; ) Hope this helps a bit!!
This post is deeply disturbing. All is sweet until it becomes clear that the whole purpose of you making an effort to raise and care for these sweet pigs was to eventually send them to their deaths. And make a profit. Photos of cute pigs roaming amongst flowers? My mouth dropped literally dropped. Your time and effort could be used in meaningful ways that do not involve the slaughter or innocent beings. It’s not longer a debate about what you believe vs. what I believe when it involves the slaughter of innocent sentient beings that are no one’s to own. Humans have done enough damage to the Earth and it’s beings. I would remove this post.
I’m sure you use nothing made from animal products, since you’re against slaughter. I’m not even talking about the obvious like leather. I bet you had no clue that most sugars are made with a material from animal ashes, or that crayons and plastic bags use animal fat.
Do you know how fast pigs Multiply. We have enough of a problem with wild hogs. If we don’t kill them then they would starve to death.
Kelly S says
We’re planning on getting pigs this spring. I’ve done a lot of research but this blog helped SO much!
Aw, Kelly - thanks so much for the very kind words!! And so excited for you - getting your first batch of happy little oinkers is SO MUCH FUN! You'll love it!! Best of luck!
I saw a video that suggested not feeding dinner the night before so they would be hungry in the morning. Then put their favorite food in the trailer and they just walk on in.
Ramps can be bought online for about $30 for big dogs. I wonder if they would hold a pig. My retriever is over 100 pounds and it holds him really well.
This was a great blog. Thank you!
We are looking at getting pigs. I would only do two as we are a family of four. I was thinking of offering to raise a pig for someone in exchange for them buying food for both pigs. That way we do the work, and they foot the food bill. Do you think that would be a fair exchange. We live in a city in Southern Ca, so very few people actually raise their own meat.
Thanks again for the great information
We only have one pot-belly pig as a pet....she is a handful too! Quite the escape artist! We had to do electric fence. And I would swear she just knows when it’s off!! Love pigs....and bacon! Lol
Darrell Reeves says
I have had the pleasure of having pot bellied pigs as part of the family since 1990. I do not eat pork and am horrified at people raising them for 5 or 6 months then slaughtering them. You bond with them as pets as you do with dogs. I have had Otis for almost 16 years and he and his late sister Petunia were celebrities and loved by numerous people and their children and grandchildren in our neighborhood.
We just picked out our two pigs to go with our 2 lambs (and chickens). Very excited to have a go at pigs. This is exactly the article I needed. All in one. Thank you for taking the time to write it. And after our experience with our 6 lambs last year... I already booked our butcher appointment. We don't feel the need to do our butchering again this year.... Or maybe we will.
Very informative! Thanks! This is our second year, just got our three lil' pigs two days ago! They are so entertaining!! We allow our Jerseys, chickens and pigs to roam together in the pasture. They share a pen with our baby Jerseys calves until they get bigger. You are so right about the appointment for butcher, here in Minnesota it was deer hunting season so by the time we got ours in they were a whopping 400 lbs. plus. Love the fact that we are blessed with a little land to raise our own food, God is good!
Lorraine, you sound like such a kindred spirit! What a soul-filling sight that must be - the cows, pigs, and chickens all together. You're right that God certainly is good, and we are SO very blessed!!
Wow- common sense fantastic advice. Thanks for stopping to share these thoughts. Did not know the butcher was such a challenge and much appreciate the heads up!
Amanda, thanks so much for the kind words! And best of luck with raising your porkers!! = )
THIS is the best post in raising pigs I have found! Thank you for taking the time to write and post it! ?
Well, Noel, you just made my night! Thank you so much for the very kind comment! So delighted that you found it helpful! All the best, A
What breed did you raise and what was your final take home weight in meat?
I'm debating raising but I'm not sure I'm up to the task of 3.
Hi Samantha! These were heritage breed crosses...if I have this right they were pure Hereford father x Duroc/Hereford/Old Spots mother. I'm hoping I have that right! One thing I LOVED was that they seemed extremely tidy by nature. I'm so sorry I don't have take-home weights, but I do remember the live weights were between 220-265 at 10.5 months.
You ate them ?
Darrell Reeves says
I was good with the article until it mentioned the butcher. I have have had pot bellied pigs as pets for the last 30 years. They are family.
Hi I loved this! I have a question though, we're planning on getting a pot belly in the next few weeks, just to keep as a pet. We have an outhouse that it'll be living in with access to some grass and mud. The area isn't penned off yet, we're considering how to do it. We're big into reusing materials, and we've got some 4x4 posts and corrugated tin sheets. My question is do you think if we lined the posts about 10" apart, and hammered the sheets to them it would hold? Would burying the sheets down a few inches help? Or my husbands idea was to cement the posts in?
We'll use an electrified fence if we have to, but with 3 kids under 4 I'm a bit apprehensive.
Rosy Hammond says
Go vegetarian and let those gorgeous pigs leave a long and beautiful life. Feed them because you love them not because you want to eat them!
YES! Pigs have feelings, as do all living creatures. We should let them live out their beautiful love filled lives.
Darrell Reeves says
I do. I have had the pleasure of having pot bellied pigs in my family since 1990. I love them and treat them as family they are all unique with different personalities.
This post cracked me up! It was like "I" wrote it! Lessons learned, we took a year off and were back at it last year. Now we are on our 3rd round. So chin up.... it gets easier ?
EdJustEd AKA Edward Phillips says
If you had a hard time loading you pig I will bet you tried to to drive you pig forward like you would any other animal on on the farm. Pigs can't kick like a horse or run like a goat or fly away like a chicken. In short a pig will not go where tou want him yo escape to unless he is facing you. A pigs defence is to face the threat and take a bit out of its attacker and back away. Back you pickup to a ramp and shoot that you have made out of two by six beside you pig pen and leave you pig with the option of escaping right up into the back of you truck. Try it out whenever you want to herd them. They will back up any where as if they knew where they were going as long as it look like a path to escape.
I LOVE this post! Our next project is a hog pen and this was really helpful with some ideas I had. Thanks for the advice!!
Karen Merhalski says
What a wonderful read! I laughed and felt your pain throughout the whole article! Those little "devils" sure look cute in your pictures, but I don't have any desire to raise pigs! I now realize just how much work and cost it is to raise your own. NEVER argue with the poor pig farmer about the prices of pork! They well deserve what ever they may charge per pound! 🙂
Lumnah Acres says
This post is AWESOME ! Such a great read for anyone looking to get some pigs.
Oh, thanks so much Al! That means a lot coming from you!! Always love your youtube tutorials!