When you tell people you are going to raise pigs, it seems that everyone has an opinion.
“Did you know pigs can eat people?”
“They’ll tunnel under your fence and escape.”
“You need a barn for pigs.”
“Pigs wreck the ground.”
It seems that those most adamantly against pigs have generally never had them. If someone’s raised pigs before, they still have opinions, but their initial reaction is a little different.
“That’s awesome! I want to raise pigs again.”
So it is with us. We may have started out seeking really local bacon, but their antics, good nature, and simplicity to raise won us over. We’ll definitely fit pigs into our homestead again. This post presents a series of before & after photos, and discusses some lessons learned. Some might even call them “opinions”.
Wrecking the ground seems to be a common fear among non-pig raisers. My guess is that pig damage to your land is directly proportionate to the stocking density (porcine-per-acre?). Our two pigs had a roughly 80′ by 80′ area. They tilled over all the soil around their immediate pen, and did progressively less damage as they moved out from there. The two pictures above show that the grass behind our barn is still largely intact. It looks a little roughed up, but winter is just as much to blame as the light tilling and fertilizing it received.
Here’s another pair of photos showing land impact. If you give pigs dirt and weeds, they’ll be happy to convert it into mud and weeds. Still, the barren landscape in the second photo is notably absent of massive moonscape craters or fence tunneling. They dug up a lot of new matchbox cars, but sadly did not produce even a single man-sized hole. A simple hot wire 16″ off the ground kept them away from the fences.
Pig shelter is an area where some people really go overboard. I know someone who literally rebuilt his barn, poured concrete floors with drains, and sided the walls with expensive impact-resistant composite sheets .. just to raise 2-3 pigs a year. How many years will it take to break even on that project? (Hint: Never) Of course, once you add concrete floors you probably need to run heat-lamps 24-7 in cold weather, etc. The problems just compound.
No thank you! We looked at suggestions online from people who raise pigs, and after pricing calf shelters (too expensive in our area), we settled on the simplest solution that seemed to provide adequate shelter. The entire pig hut cost right at $100 and half of it is reusable (cattle panels, tarp). The straw bales will be used in composting the pig manure. The picture on the right shows the structure immediately after construction. During four months of use, our only change was to add some plywood scraps and loose straw to create an inner roof, and the pigs only change was to nibble on the straw and dig out the floor. In these simple accommodations, our pigs handled 17°F temps for a few nights and a number of 25°F days with no ill effects.
Feeding and watering systems can also get expensive quick. Our feeder was a standard one-door gravity feeder off Craigslist. People tell me that pigs can tear them off the wall and destroy them. To prevent this, simply bolt them to a solid surface using big washers, and keep the feeder full. (An empty feeder is a toy for hungry pigs.) I feel like we mishandled a number of things regarding feeding, as we changed the pigs over from a trough to a new feeder too quickly and slowed their growth for a couple weeks. Here are some points we learned in no particular order:
- Don’t move feeders. It confuses pigs and they’ll stop eating.
- Don’t place feeders in areas they dislike. Our original site for the gravity feeder was too close to a hot wire they feared, so they largely refused to eat out of it.
- Metal feeders need a separate rain cover to prevent food waste.
- You can remove the flip-up lid on metal feeders to initially train the pigs.
- A six month old pig can eat 8 lbs of food each day. Gravity feeders save you a lot of time that would have been spent scooping food into a trough.
- Having multiple feeders can prevent food aggression (our pigs developed a 40 lb weight difference), but seems excessive when just raising 2 pigs.
For as many mistakes as we made with the feeders, we were very happy with our waterer solution which we found suggested in a countryside magazine. We took a used $15 food grade 55 gallon barrel, drilled a hole, and installed a $20 gravity nipple. The piglets were already used to a nipple waterer when they arrived and took to their big blue water tank immediately. We refilled it perhaps 5 times in four months. It handled moderate freezing conditions without trouble. If we had days of cold weather we would have added an aquarium heater. The only problem, as can be seen in the pictures, is we did not expect the manure to build up almost 12 inches deep, and threaten to submerge the nipple. (We had to rake the poo away a few times.)
Speaking of poo, pigs really do pick a waste site and stick with it. Even when we gave them free run of their pen they always came back to their small pen to poo. In the future we will be sure to give the young piglets much more space so the can pick a waste spot far away from their food and water.
Okay, one more common opinion, “Pigs will kill your trees.” As this picture shows, pigs do enjoy nibbling on tree roots. I’d be concerned to leave them around small fruit trees and ornamentals, they aren’t going to put so much as a dent in a 90′ Douglas Fir.
This past Monday, 9 days after butchering, we picked up the uncured meat from the butchers: cut, wrapped, and frozen. One and a half pigs yields 8 grocery sacks of meat. We’re still waiting on the hams and bacon, so a future posts will discuss the total yield, as well as costs and a feed breakdown.