And this little piggy: Day 1

Robin and I arrived home from an 8 day road trip late last night, and spent today getting ready for pigs. A pig pen, waterer, and feeding systems had all been on our todo list before we left, but between the garden drip irrigation, the chicken waterer, and camping preparations we didn’t get around to the pig items. (Yes, some of those other topics deserve blog posts too. We have a backlog of things to write about.)

One of the great things about having weeks to plan something and only hours to build it is that the simplest solution always wins. We built a small 16′ square pen inside the larger “chicken pen”. The piglets will stay here for a few weeks until they get adjusted and grow a bit. Then they will have the run of the whole former chicken pen (mostly).

The piglet pen is made from 4 cattle panels, recycled T-posts, and wire ties cut from aluminum conductor wire. There is no gate. Instead, one corner is connected using snap clips (like the end of a dog leash) and we left out a T-post. We can open the clips and bend the panel to gain access if we need it.

The piglets we bought were born about a mile from our house. We drove over in the truck and brought them home in a dog crate.

The piglets weigh 40-45 pounds each. They squealed like crazy when they were picked up, but only grunted quietly when the crate was picked up. We positioned them at the opening to their new pen, but they took their time getting out of the dog crate. Having been raised on concrete, their first experience with dirt was apparently very exciting to them. Within minutes they were plowing back and forth with their snouts.

The pig waterer is a recycled food-grade 55 gal drum, into which we installed a gravity nipple. The piglets were already familiar with nipple waterers. We talked about staking the barrel into place, but instead we filled it with 440 lbs of water and called it good enough for now.

Their feeder is a simple trough feeder that connects to the cattle panel sides with metal clips. The bottom is held down by a chain to prevent it from getting flipped. This is by far the simplest arrangement for feeding we could find and much cheaper than the $100+ metal gravity feeders which are typically destroyed by your first batch of pigs. We shall see how well this feeder handles abuse.

Robin and I are very excited to have two piglets at our homestead. These are our first animals raised only for meat, and the first experience with pigs for both of us. We hope they will have happy and healthy lives while they are here.

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18 Responses to And this little piggy: Day 1

  1. Ron says:

    Congrats! Those pigs look great. We love pigs here… such practical enthusiastic critters.

    Ron

  2. lee says:

    Yeah, it’s really exciting. I want to keep going out and checking on them to see what they are doing. (Nestled in the hay next to each other right now.)

    I’ve been looking through some of your older blog posts on pigs too .. trying to decide whether to hire out the butchering or attempt it myself. Any words of wisdom? I’ve never butchered a deer, or anything larger than a chicken really, but I have a neighbor who claims he’s done pigs before and would help (probably give him a half for the assistance). From a learning and saving money standpoint I should do it myself. From a it’s-just-simpler standpoint I would hire it out. Not sure. They charge about $200 a pig around here for farm kill, cut, wrap, and cure. Kind of sad to be thinking about butchering on the second day of owning pigs, but the only remaining local company that does this is probably already booked out through the end of December.

  3. Benita says:

    So, with this being late summer, and the piglets look pretty small, how old are they going to be when you butcher them? Are you doing it yourselves or taking them to a locker plant to have it done?

  4. lee says:

    Benita – My plan is to butcher them about mid January, maybe a little sooner. They will be less than 6 months old and a little over 200 pounds. (Hopefully.) From what I’ve read, anything over 225 lbs and they start putting on much more fat than meat. This is such a late litter that it will already cost us quite a bit more in feed to keep them warm during the first months of winter.

    Haven’t quite decided on the hired or do-it-yourself route (see my back-dated comment just above yours), but we will definitely be butchering them on site. I don’t like the idea of terrifying an animal on the last day of it’s life by hauling them to a butchering plant. We have a small local meat company that does farm-kill and clean, then hauls the carcass off for cutting and curing. They do a good job.

  5. Leigh says:

    How exciting to finally get those pigs! There are so many good things that come from pigs. I’m looking forward to your experience with them. It’s probably wise to be considering the butchering aspect even on the second day. Things like that keep reality of purpose foremost in one’s mind.

  6. Charity says:

    How are you going to be able to eat those cute little piggy’s?? I think I would probably get attached.

  7. lee says:

    Yes, they are pretty cute, but all the bacon you’ve ever had started out similarly cute. I believe the trick is that they get bigger and less cute and you need to keep their purpose in mind. Food related names are best. Robin has proposed calling one ‘Baconetta’. We don’t have a second name yet, but we also can’t reliably tell them apart. Maybe they are both ‘Baconetta’.

    It’s a valid concern though. On one blog I follow, he recently bought back a pig that a couple had bought for meat and then got too attached to eat.

  8. charity says:

    Perhaps you could call the other Porkchops? They are way too cute. Layla was quite excited to see them and said she saw them in a movie.

  9. charity says:

    Oh yes, and the bacon I eat I didn’t have to feed and care for before I ate!

  10. Pingback: Porcine upgrades: Day 4 » Farm Folly

  11. Ron says:

    Ahhh, well… what can I say? Maybe I should post our first butchering experience…. if you are serious about butchering your own, I will.

    Well… personally, I never would have been satisfied hiring it out. I know most people would be happy to offload such a thing, and I don’t begrudge them that. I just didn’t want to. Well, I did want to. I just have some issues with having others do things for me, mainly due to my life experiences (which I fully realize are a warped perspective). And the thought of hauling my lovingly-raised hogs to some guy to do the deed for me, returning me some wrapped cuts, just didn’t seem right. To me. At the time. In our circumstances.

    My thoughts are this. Hauling the animals is stressful to them. The main thing is to kill it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Then, if the weather is cold, the rest is downhill. Hack the meat into pieces that look good, and grind up everything else. A cold smoker is pretty easy to improvise. That’s the basics. The rest gets easier with subsequent attempts.

    The killing part… yeah, it sucks. Especially the first time. Use a bigger bullet than they say. A heart will continue to pump after the brain is dead, so ignore those *dumbshits* who say to use a .22… use a bigger bullet. I emptied a .22 revolver into my first pig and it didn’t do much. Didn’t even pierce the skull. I’ve used a 20 caliber shotgun *slug* with very good results. A 1″ hole in the head, and you know it isn’t feeling any pain. Roll it over, sever the neck arteries, and jump back… the death throws will bruise you.

    All that said… yes, it is a major undertaking. I’m glad I know how to do it, and I don’t really consider hiring it out to be an option… but if I had a local butcher I was comfortable with, that equation might be different.

    I wouldn’t judge anyone for choosing to hire out the butchering. I eat plenty of store-bought meat. Going through the whole process gives one a lot of perspective on factory farming and all of its “evils.” There is some raw reality of eating meat that most nowadays are sheltered from. For better or worse.

    The first butchering experience I had with something bigger than a fish was when a neighbor called me up and asked if I wanted some meat. 🙂 He had just hit a deer. We hacked it up in the pole barn, hung from a PVC pipe with duct tape to hold the legs in place. After that, I didn’t really see how I could do worse. 🙂

    Ron

  12. lee says:

    Hey Ron,

    Wow, that bad huh? Well .. I’d definitely read it, but I’m still not decided, so do what you’re comfortable with. No pressure.

    Robin points out that we’ll have to hire out at least one of them (for liability/legality reasons), as we’re going to sell at least a half, maybe two (at cost, to relatives or neighbors). I have no plans of hauling them though. Our local company comes to you, which is better for the animal, but explains the cost.

    So that leaves just the one that we are raising for ourselves. My reasons are similar to yours. All that time and concern, and then somebody else does the dirty work and drives off with your animal’s carcass. But .. I do have a decent local butcher. Robin has suggested that I just schedule it for both of them and check if there’s a fee if we decide to only hire out the one.

  13. karl says:

    We are taking these most recent two pigs to the butcher, AGAIN:( I have wanted to butcher my own for a couple of years. My position was especially reinforced when I read Rons butcher experience. It was amazing. We will farrow our pigs here someday too.

    My main obstacles are I’d like it to be cooler weather and have a smoker built. These next two pigs we’ll get should be ready to butcher during cold weather. I’ll likely slap a smoker together out of pallets. Next time… That is what I said last time though.

  14. Ron says:

    That’s great that you have the option of having someone come out there. It’s a big decision. On the one hand, I think a person can go to the grave without experiencing such a thing, maybe for the best. Maybe. On the other hand, I really, really love a good pork chop and bacon, and will probably live for another couple of decades or more… so it was something I was determined to learn.

    It sounds like you would have a wonderful opportunity to observe the whole process by having at least one of them done. Then you can decide what to do next. I’m assuming they will gut it onsite too – beyond that, the rest is really pretty ‘easy’. Our initial experience would have been easier and less stressful by orders of magnitude if I had something more than a black-and-white book to go by, and gobs of conflicting Internet advice.

    I can say this – the 2nd year was a piece of cake. Smooth sailing. No stress, no incidents (well… I should have used de-wormer…). I motorized an antique meat grinder for the 2nd grind and it saved me a little bit of work. Next time, I’ve got the Waring Pro so it will be even easier.

    Since you have to schedule in advance, I think Robin has a good plan… might as well schedule both and then you can decide after the first one. My two cents.

    (I can’t wait to get pigs next year, Karl, enjoyed seeing yours :))

    Ron

  15. lee says:

    Karl – Hey, thanks for weighing in as well. I appreciate the feedback from people that have raised pigs before. Nice to hear you hired it out. Getting all the right equipment around to do something is always a problem. We at present don’t have a great place to butcher anything and have no protected outdoor storage if we want to let the meat age for a day.

    Ron – I think, having weighed both sides, that we will probably hire it out this year. I’ll definitely observe to get a feel for how it’s going to be. Not sure how much I’ll learn from watching–I’m told these guys are really fast. I’ve called up and scheduled a butcher date for some time in mid-January. They’ll call me back to get specifics. I told them it was for 2 pigs, but confirmed that there is no additional fee if they only do one pig. (I believe they can also just do the butchering and leave the cut, wrap, and cure for you to handle.)

    This whole process is very important to me, but I suppose there’s no crime in easing into it instead of just diving head first. Back in 2007, I first started reading about the meat industry (for that matter, the whole food industry). I realized that cheap meat is extremely expensive: unspeakable cruelty, environment damage, economic ruin for many (both in our country and elsewhere), etc. None of this is on the label of those sterile looking little cellophane packages at the meat counter. I can understand why people become vegetarians. (Not vegans, mind you.) At the same time, animals play an important role in farms and I believe that animal fats and proteins are important to good health. My conclusion was that for me to be a honest omnivore I needed to raise my own meat. I need to be responsible for the animal’s life, and its death, its food, and its waste. How else can you know that it was worth the costs?

    We’re not there yet, but we are making progress toward that goal. We have our 9 chickens, and we will eventually butcher them. And now we have two pigs, and they will be butchered in January. We’ll probably raise about 20 chickens for meat next year, so even if I’m just an observer for the pigs, the whole job for the chickens will fall upon me.

    The weak point in all of this is that our chickens and pigs are dependent on purchased feed which could have been used as human food (the starter feed for the piglets smells like coconut cookies!). So our livestock are converting a certain number of useful plant calories into a much smaller number of meat calories (with a byproduct of useful fertilizer). This is why my ultimately goal is to keep sheep that we raise partly for wool and partly for meat. Sheep turn grass, which is not edible, into lamb and mutton, which is edible (some people may beg to differ on the mutton). They do this without wrecking the land on which they graze. If there was truly a “green” movement in this country, the miles of feedlots and endless miles of corn would be replaced with herds of well-managed grass-fed cattle (or better yet, bison, which do much better on most western range land).

  16. Ron says:

    Sometimes, I wish I had opted to take the blue pill and remain living in the Matrix. 🙂

    Ron

  17. lee says:

    Yes, but then what would we do with all that free time? 🙂

  18. Lynn says:

    What a very interesting post, Lee and Robin. First of all, let me say the piglets are so very cute. I would have a tough time not getting attached. Especially after all the piglet movies and such which personalize them.

    I think you made a good call by deciding to hire out the butchering of the pigs onsite until you learn more about the process and are prepared. I agree it’s a good thing to not stress the animal by transporting it on it’s last day to the butcher. Ron’s experience sounds awful! You would think a .22 would have done the job, but I guess not. Wow.

    Anyway, I’m back after 3 weeks of travel, and will be back to reading your blog again!

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