Complete Costs of Raising Pigs

This post is the long-promised summary of the costs and yield of raising two pigs for meat. I collected as much data as possible throughout the whole process with the hope of compiling a more complete picture than is often found online. Additionally, I have attempted to presents costs from both a financial and an efficiency standpoint.

Final Meat Yield

Before we talk about costs, let’s answer the most common question: What do you get? When butchering or buying whole pigs, much of your cost will be based on “hanging weight”. This is the weight after the carcass has been skinned and gutted. As has been previously noted, it’s not the final weight of the meat. It is generally suggested that a hanging weight of 200 lbs maximizes the meat produced, so we aimed for that. Even with similar hanging weights, the feed types, husbandry, weather, genetics, and so forth can affect the final yield. The smaller of our two pigs was butchered with a focus on roasts, ham, bacon, and sausage. The final breakdown was as follows:

Interestingly, we bought half a pig last year from a local farmer and gave the same cut & wrap instructions to the butcher. The breakdown for that pig can be found here. Note that last year’s pig was 65% meat and 16% roasts, while the pig in the chart above is 83% meat and 24% roasts. The pigs we raised were leaner and produced much more meat at the same weight. I believe genetics may have played the largest role in this.

The large pig was butchered with a focus on roasts, ham, bacon, and pork chops. The final breakdown was as follows:

I think it’s interesting how similar these two charts are. Choosing to cut pork chops reduces the ribs and sausage, but all other categories remained about the same. The charts highlight something else important. When you buy or raise whole pork you really do end up with the whole pork: ham hocks, tenderloin, liver, and heart. Nobody has yet to create an 80% bacon pig–if they did, I’d be afraid to eat it!

Financial Costs

The final cost of the meat we produced was $2.34 per pound. The cost is affected both by the costs of raising the livestock and paying for them to be butchered. The following chart shows the relative costs that went into producing each pound of meat:

I must admit I am proud of our cost savings by raising our own pork. Last year’s half pig cost us $4.32/lb, so by raising it ourselves we saved almost $2 per pound. I would attribute the savings to greater meat yield, lower feed costs in 2010, and sweat equity.

An obvious message from this chart is that butchering costs were the single largest factor in the final meat price. It can be a little difficult to accept this. You spend 4 months buying feed, filling feeders and water tanks, fixing the pig shelter and monitoring their health and on the last day someone stops by for 30 minutes and doubles your costs. Ouch!

So, given that breakdown, I can think of a few ways we might reduce our costs in the future:

  • Home butchering/curing – Butchering is a huge hurdle for the novice, but gives you more control over the process and could reduce the final costs by almost 40%.
  • Reduce pig stress – Our pigs were off their feed for about two weeks when we changed feeders. If pigs aren’t growing they are still burning weight maintenance calories.
  • Better shelter – A warmer shelter would mean less calories burned staying warm. A calf shelter would be ideal.
  • Cheaper source of hay – Buying per ton in late spring would be cheaper than per bale from the farm store.
  • Cheaper source of feed – Buying supersacks from a local feed mill might save you money, but we couldn’t find an economic source nearby.

On the other hand, there are several factors which could easily raise our costs in the future. Pork production is heavily dependent on grain prices. If feed prices doubled, our overall cost of $2.34/lb would go up by 38%. This would negate any savings by home-butchering. Choosing a better source of feed for our pigs would also increase our costs. We used standard farm-store swine feed, which likely contained GMO ingredients. The closest mill that sold preservative-free non-GMO feed (not organic) required a minimum 2000 lb purchase at $15 a bag. This would have raised our costs by 34% and left us with 600 lbs of past-date feed. Finally, raising heritage breeds, which grow more slowly but can be better at grazing, would also raise our costs.

In addition to the immediate production costs, there are certain equipment costs which cannot be avoided by the first time pig raiser. For us, these included:

I feel like we did very well at minimizing these costs, as someone could easily spend many times more on basic equipment. Also, nothing was damaged during the first season, so the cost (an additional $0.33/lb) should technically be amortized across several seasons of pigs.

Efficiency

If you are a homesteader or an environmentalist, it’s important to look at the overall system costs as well. Even if something is financially viable, does it fit into my overall homestead? Does it consume resources I can produce locally and produce wastes I can deal with effectively? Can I create similar resources through more efficient means? Pigs have historically been recyclers, consuming human food waste, agricultural byproducts, wild nuts, and tubers. They grew slowly, and were valued for their lard production as much as for meat.

Unfortunately, the modern practice of feeding pigs grain is much less efficient. I have attempted to measure efficiency by two methods. First, by the standard livestock producer’s metric of feed conversion. This is a ratio of the pounds of feed to the pounds of meat produced. Commercial pork producers expect a 3.5:1 feed conversion efficiency. Of course, a pound of feed and a pound of meat do not contain the same number of human-usable calories, so I have also attempted to calculate the “calorie conversion” efficiency between the feed and meat.

Compared to a commercial operation, we did pretty well on feed conversion. Our pigs ate 3.8 lbs of feed for every 1 pound of meat they eventually produced. They were thus 9% less efficient than their industrially raised counterparts. Apparently, you can take a commercial breed of pig (Yorkshire), omit the low-dose antibiotics, the crowded living conditions, and the tail docking, and still achieve commercial levels of feed conversion. Many of the cost-saving measures listed in the previous section would act to improve feed conversion even further.

While feed conversion is useful as a general rule, I find the idea of “calorie conversion” efficiency much more compelling. Since our pig’s grain-based feed could technically have fed humans directly, how many calories are being lost in the conversion to meat? If you think humans wouldn’t want to eat ‘wheat middlings’ or ‘brewery grain’, you obviously haven’t looked at many food labels for processed foods. Efficiency aside, it’s useful to know the total input calories so that you can more realistically estimate the advantage of feeding your pigs garden produce or past-date food.

Unfortunately, swine feed bags are not labeled for human calorie content (surprise!) or even for TDN. I ultimately estimated the calorie content of our swine feed using two methods. First, I calculated the calorie content for an equivalent mix of corn, wheat, and soy flours using the nutritional content information from Oregon-based Bob’s Red Mill flours. Second, I sanity checked this estimate against swine feeds analyzed by the 1965 research paper, Energy Value of Various Feeds for the Young Pig. The estimate I arrived at was 1800 kcal/lb for most swine feeds. (‘kcal’ is simply a unit of energy. It is identical to ‘Calorie’ as seen on nutrition labels.) In addition to eating 1350 lbs of swine feed, our pigs also consumed 50 lbs of squash and 380 eggs, foods for which calorie contents are easily found. Similarly, we had already weighed and sorted all the meat for the yield charts, and calorie contents by meat type are easy to find. My final estimates for calories in and calories out are as follows:

And when you divide feed calories by meat calories the result is 6:1. The pigs consume 6 calories of feed for each 1 calorie of meat they produce. One has to admit that producing pork from grain is pretty inefficient. Another useful number is that two pigs consume 2.5 million kcal of feed to reach market weight.

Robin and I were happy that we could feed our pigs a lot of surplus garden produce: tomatoes, lettuce, collard greens, cucumbers, etc. Of the many supplemental feeds, only the squash/pumpkin and eggs contained significant calories. We had hoped these would reduce our feed bill. The numbers tell a different story:

One really gains a sense for how calorie dense grain is when you realize that 380 eggs and 50 lbs of squash represent the calorie contents of just 18 lbs of grain. All our boiling and peeling of eggs and watering of winter squash saved just $4 in feed costs. In fact, if you expect to raise your own pigs and supply a significant portion of their calories from home-grown supplies, think again! Here’s a list of common homestead foods and the quantities required to produce the 2.5 million kcal needed to raise two pigs:

I was shocked by this equivalence table. A successful homesteader really has to look at the numbers behind things instead of just trusting intuition. Intuitively, we should be able to raise a pig on home-grown potatoes and sweet corn. Practically, there is no substitute for purchased grain-based feeds.

Last, but not least, a word about manure. Manure is another useful bi-product of raising pigs (after meat and lard). In a world where fertilizer inputs are increasingly more expensive, pig manure definitely has economic value. I plan to build a huge compost pile with the generated manure intermixed with straw from their shelter. When it has broken down sufficiently, we’ll use the resulting fertilizer on fruit trees, raspberry vines, hops, etc. Pig digestion is too similar to humans for me to risk using their manure on a vegetable garden without much more rigorous composting.

Final Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about the conclusions to be drawn from this post. On the one hand, it is evident that pork can be produced on a small scale at a price competitive with the store. If you were to spend a little more for all-natural feed and handle the butchering and curing at home, I think the price comparison would work out even better. Furthermore, I assign value to knowing how my meat was raised and exactly what it was fed. Our pigs could run, root in the earth, eat garden snacks, and stand in grass. They were not the tortured victims of a factory farm.

On the other hand, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that pork produced in this manner is a product of cheap grain. Cheap grain is a product of cheap oil. Since the 70s, the American farmer has burned 1 kcal of fossil fuel to produce 1 kcal of grain. To produce the 1368 lbs of grain consumed by our pigs, 70 gallons of crude oil were consumed. As the price of oil rises, so will the price of pork. From this standpoint, pork is a luxury. The era of cheap oil is over. Few homesteads can produce an edible waste stream sufficient to feed a pig to market weight, and if you can’t use a pig for food recycling there are much more efficient livestock you could consider. If you have pastures, sheep and cattle can convert grass into useful human food with few outside inputs. If you have a large garden, you can reasonably grow sufficient field corn for meat chickens. Both of these homestead meat sources would be independent of the global markets for grain and oil.

This is not to say we will never again raise pigs if feed prices remain low. We will. Next time, however, we will keep them longer to maximize the yield of bacon and lard, and we will not delude ourselves into thinking that any amount of garden produce will affect their final cost.

End Notes

  • This post presents data gathered from the two pigs we raised. Your results may differ.
  • My discussion of pig feed considers calories but ignores proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. A complete pig feed program would need to meet all their nutritional requirements.
  • I’d be glad to provide additional data or debate my calculations in the comments.
  • My calorie conversion efficiency numbers omit the feed calories that went into the weaner pig. I have no way to calculate this number, but it would have a significant impact. My guess is that the true ratio is more like 8:1.
  • Thanks to Ebey Farm blog for his regular ‘Costs to Raise a Pig’ posts. Also, thanks for his suggestions on how to calculate human calorie counts for pig feed.
  • Pork feed conversion rates are from 2009 U.S. commercial meat production data.
  • Harpers magazine has published one of the many articles available online which discuss the relationship between oil and our food supply.
This entry was posted in Livestock. Bookmark the permalink.

148 Responses to Complete Costs of Raising Pigs

  1. WOW! Great job on collecting that much data. Hope you dont mind I shared the link to this post on our Facebook page.

    • lee says:

      Thanks. Link sharing is fine by me.

      • phillip smith says:

        i have never raised pigs. im gonna give it a try . im planting bout an acre of corn. how do u think that will affect total costs
        \
        \

        • lee says:

          This is well beyond my area of experience. It depends on the crop yield I suppose. One obvious point of confusion is that animal feeds are tracked in pounds but crop yields are tracked in bushels. Also, corn by itself is not a complete feed, so you’ll have to look into supplementing with additional foods, vitamins, and minerals.

  2. katiekate says:

    Very, very nice. Great jon on the break down and trying to account for as much as possible. I know how tedious it can be! But again, very nice job.

    • lee says:

      Yeah, I have to admit this post was a pretty big roadblock for me. Our blog silence lately has been a combination of me working on these charts in my spare time and being sick twice in the last four weeks.

  3. Will you come live at our house?

    No, wait a minute. Maybe not. Although we haven’t tackled pigs (yet), I’d be afraid to do this kind of analysis for the turkeys we raised last year. We lost count of the amount of feed our turkeys consumed, but it was at least 75 pounds each. That’s about 130,000 kcal input per bird. Gulp.

    You’ve put numbers on the idea that meat is a luxury. It’s a potent reminder, and profoundly interesting to anyone who raises animals. Thanks.

    • lee says:

      I’ve never tried to collect data about our laying hens either, but when we decided to raise pigs I was determined to put some real numbers on the concepts I talk about.

  4. katiekate says:

    And by *jon* I certainly meant *job*.

  5. Debbie Miller says:

    This is great, thanks for the excellent info you collected. Im thinking of two pigs this spring for the first time. (:

  6. Ron says:

    Really nice writeup, Lee, far better and more detailed than anything I’ve seen on the topic. You bring up some realities that so many gloss over in their admonitions that everyone should raise their own.

    A few dietary items that would make a difference in the calculations:
    1 – if a person had access to waste dairy
    2 – if a person could obtain restaurant or grocery scraps in bulk
    3 – in our case, hickory and acorn nuts are a fairly big part of diet, and are a dense supplement.

    I think the reality is basically what you concluded, though – raising hogs means an outlay of cash for processed grain/by-products feed. If you butcher your own, you can save a little money over the grocery store. Part of the motivation for raising my own, then, is that I feel the end result is far superior in taste and consistency vs. store-bought. Plus it’s fun to do. Money-wise, I figure it’s about break-even.

    For myself, I found that raising our own gave me a deeper appreciation for the factory system of ag, in spite of its problems. It’s easy for people who haven’t raised their own food to pine about the virtues and righteousness of growing it themselves but, once a person has experienced the growing side of things, I think there are realities that come to light. Not a bad thing, but unexpected since virtually no one talks about the realities in a frank and honest way. For me, those lessons have helped to refocus goals and ambitions.

    Could we live off the land? Yeah, but it wouldn’t be very fun. Our main goal is to grow better quality produce and meat than we can buy, for roughly the same or less money, and have fun doing it.

    Ron

    • Evan says:

      One other nut to consider is hazelnut. They are gaining traction in the upper mid-west and are an easy plant to grow. We are planning to plant a couple rows to use as wind blocking and pork finishing.

      • Ron says:

        Thanks, I’ll look into that Evan.

        Ron

      • lee says:

        I should have thought to list hazelnuts. We have a couple dozen volunteer trees (i.e. low-yielding), and I’ve thought about penning the pigs around them next time. My calorie equivalence calculation for hazelnuts suggests you would need only 880 lbs of hazelnut meat. They are also high in protein.

        Oregon grows most of the hazelnuts produced in the U.S. The Oregon extension reports that a mature hazelnut tree can produce 20 lbs of nuts each year, or 2000 lbs per acre at typical orchard planting densities. They also say squirrels and blue jays can eat half your harvest. (This is true.)

        Nuts are probably your best bet for putting a measurable dent in pig feed costs.

        • Ron says:

          I checked out hazelnuts, and I want to plant them now. They would work out very well on the fringes of our clearing, where it changes to more dense woods. The Missouri Dept of Conservation has a bundle of 25 for $8 (plus some other charges… probably $20 when all said and done).

          Unfortunately, they are sold out this year. Next year, I’ll get some. This year we’ll just plan on gathering nuts again and graze in the woods.

          Ron

      • Stan says:

        I have two Berkshire pigs and they currently weigh in at 350lbs. I am fortunate to have a 5 acre Hazelnut,”Filbert Nut orchard.” I also have several Walnut trees. These nuts are a great source of protein for any pig. They love eating nuts. If you have the property to allow them to graze along with swine food and pasta, collectively cuts your cost. I also use the 55 gallon water tank with nipple feeders during the winter months. My pigs are named Hoke and Ms.Daisy.

    • lee says:

      Good points Ron. I agree. There are many sides to look at, not just the costs and efficiency, but also quality, flavor, control over your food, the experience, etc. I’m okay with raising really good pork at break-even prices too. For our land, I think sheep or cattle should provide a much cheaper source of high-value protein, but there really is no substitute for ham or bacon or lard.

      Access to high value feed sources could certainly change the calculations. I’d add spent brewers grain to your list as well. I forgot to consider nuts as an option, although I’ve read of people using them. Ah well. The post had to end somewhere.

      Really, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a few luxuries. While I’d like to eventually feel confident that we could produce all the food we need for a year, there’s no reason to live an ascetic life when there are other affordable options.

      • Ron says:

        I agree… while I love my bacon and sausage, if we had to we’d simply forgo it. There are fish to catch and deer to hunt, too… they just aren’t as predictable. Not to mention chickens, squirrel…

        Heck, people in other countries eat crickets for protein, and we’ve got plenty of them. 🙂

        Ron

        • lee says:

          I’m always intrigued by the idea of insects as a food source. They are high in protein, easy to grow, and reproduce well. There’s just this little problem with palatability …

          You’re probably okay eating crickets, but make sure you cook your grasshoppers. The raw ones can give you tape worms.

          🙂

  7. Trish says:

    Thanks for the summary. We raised our pigs this summer for $1.97 lb (what ended up in the freezer and in the root cellar). Our costs included the piglets, the cost of electricity for running the well pump in addition to bedding and food. Here in Alaska, everything is more expensive, so we did several things to keep the costs down. First, the pigs cost $125 each at 6 weeks old. The only “cheap” grain available up here is barley. So I mixed the pig food myself from a recipe provided by the AK cooperative extension. It used ground barley and “pig concentrate” (basically soy, it was 40% protein). I purchased hog vitamins and added that to the feed based on the package recommendation. I didn’t like using the pig concentrate much, so I undercut that and supplemented in other ways. We purchased 1 55-lb bag of powdered whey to supplement when they were small. Subsistence fishing is a part of life up here so I cooked the fish carcasses for a long time with barley and water and fed them a small amount of that every day. We also cooked up all of our overwhelming abundance of moose liver and fed them that, in small quantities. And they ate garden scraps, weeds, eggshells from our chickens (we did not have enough to share actual eggs), and leftover dinners.

    You are right though about the butchering costs. We did that ourselves. Its about $1.20 a pound to pay someone else to do it up here. I had calculated that to buy hog food and pay a butcher would put the pork at over $4.50 per lb, so we decided we need to do all we could to cut costs. Our pigs were about 230 lbs live weight and 6.5 months old when we butchered.

    My parents (farmers) really argued against feeding the pigs meat scraps. But, the cooperative extension recommended fish protein, and we know lots of people up here who do it. We hear people in the lower 48 pay a lot for Copper River red salmon, and the pigs sure liked their share. Pigs are omnivores like people. And protein is what was missing from the diet (and calcium, etc). So we talked about for a while and decided that our wild caught proteins were the way to go for us. I was a little nervous it would affect the flavor at the end, but it didn’t. They taste great.

    I just thought I’d share my story because I learned something from your story. Alaska is at the end of many delivery routes and we always take a hit first when fuel costs and food costs rise. One advantage of raising livestock instead of relying on subsistence hunting is that getting meat is more of a sure bet. So we feel like we need to do what we can to try to raise our own food as cheaply as possible, without compromising quality. However, I think its going to get harder up here with the incredibly high costs of fuel. Thanks for sharing your breakdown of calories and costs.

    • lee says:

      Hey, thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed comment! It’s nice to hear how people raise small-scale pork in other parts of the country. I’d say you did very well for living in Alaska.

      I also appreciate your description of creating a complete diet from a variety of more affordable and available feed sources. It’s a good lesson for those of us in the lower-48 as feed prices continue to rise.

      • It’s fascinating to hear how people in other parts of the country are doing this! I simply cannot fathom living in a place where it makes sense to give your pigs Copper River salmon and moose liver (an abundance?!).

        If I were a pig, Alaska might be my domicile of choice.

        Thanks for sharing your piggy details, Trish — it’s really helpful to those of us thinking about following suit.

  8. ..Wow..great breakdown..mindblowing really. I have not seen that many graphs, charts and breakdowns since I went and saw Tron in December. I am more of a deadly-discs action Tron fan and not the drama-ish Tron from 2010..but I digress. I wish I had the gumption to log all of the things you did on everything I do but I do not for the most part as I usually am doing things to learn or for the future… One thing that I have read somewhere in this series of tubes that we call the internet is free-range/pastured pigs..maybe it was your site..I cannot remember now. But if memory serves me correctly the pigs had a large area to graze so feed costs were lower..I think I read that a free-range chicken can eat 60% of its food in the yard during the day..I wonder what it might be for pasture pigs. I am sure you would need a bigger plot then you have now..then you get into fencing off a large area, predators, feral pigs, etc… not saying that is what you should do.

    I think I had a point in there originally. either way great work..not sure if you ever saw ‘Deadwood’ but I am sure the feed costs in that town were very low..actually in many cases the pigs got paid to eat!

    also: If you are worried about power loss and all that wonderful bacon going bad I know of an address that might be able to put it to use..

    • lee says:

      Thanks. Yeah, I went a little graph-crazy. Pastured pigs is certainly doable, but the pig digestive track is much different than cows. They cannot derive nearly as much nutritional value from forage crops, and many breeds do not naturally graze. You may be thinking about something written on the Ebey Farm blog. In recent memory, he’s linked to two practical-sounding articles on pastured pork. One described feeding pigs 60% forage and the other almost 100% forage. Both methods required raising large quantities of high value forage. Neither seems to have been actually tested yet. There’s a lot of controversy in the realms of pastured pigs and chickens. Overall, I think people don’t keep very accurate records and are then inclined to overstate the nutritional value gained on forage.

      By the time we raise pigs next, I hope to already have some sheep on our property to gain more hands-on experience with forages. I’d be very interested in seeing how much we could reduce our swine feed requirements through a combination forage crops and hazel nuts.

      Oh, and thanks for the freezer space offer, but our power is quite reliable here at the moment. I’d like to think our bacon is safe.

  9. Thanks for the great analysis, Lee, and to Tamar for sending me this way.

  10. Buck says:

    Holy smokes, Lee, that is an amazing post.

    One thought came to me. You fed your pigs over 30 dozen eggs. If you sold them for $2 dozen, that would contribute more to your bottom line than the $4 you saved feeding them to the pigs. Not to mention the time you spent processing the eggs. Don’t know if you have the ability to sell eggs like that, but it is a thought.

    Again, exception post. Thanks.

    • lee says:

      Thanks! Yes, it was pretty economically illogical to feed eggs to the pigs, although I wouldn’t have guessed it was that bad until I worked out the numbers. So far, we only sell eggs to one neighbor, so boiling and freezing the surplus was our solution. Eating a few chickens would have been a cheaper solution. Robin has plans to expand our egg sales in the fall with a self-serve stand, but that depends on a few other things coming together.

  11. Phoebe says:

    I think Buck meant “exceptional post”
    We were discussing your post on the way to the scion exchange. I think you have done an amazing job on this subject and that you should think about turning it into an article. I think Mother Earth News would really dig such a thorough documentation and real life experience on raising pigs for the first time. Good job and thanks for doing the work for all of us!

    • lee says:

      Thank you for the complements! I wouldn’t have thought of submitting this as an article, but maybe I’ll look into it. That would probably require a lot of condensing than I’m used to. 🙂

  12. Chad Stamps says:

    Really enjoyed this. We have been on our farm for 3 years, with pigs as our primary income so far. We raised 20 feeder pigs in a 1 acre fenced area last year and will be raising 45 this year between 2 one acre fenced pastures. We have a deal with a local goat dairy and we get approx. 100 gallons of whey weekly during her production season. In addition to this we collect windfall apples by the truckload from ‘organic by neglect’ trees in backyards and public spaces where we can find them. This has offset our feed cost to some degree, though even if it were not a major cost savings the benefit in better health from the varied diet would be worth it. I had read a few articles on how different food sources effected the overall flavor of the pork with the example in the article being apples – we attempt to maximize this by reducing grain input and feeding the pigs on mostly whey and apples during the last two weeks before slaughter. Our pigs are also out in the sun which helps with overall health, and have lots of room to run around which contributes to the same lean carcass characteristics you described. We attempted to gather acorns, which the pigs loved and gorged on as soon as they were made available, but we’ll be grazing sheep on that land soon and acorns are toxic so that’s not an option going forward. Thanks again for publishing this data!

    • lee says:

      Thanks for the comments. I’d agree that apples “by the truckload” and whey in quantity could certainly save you some money on feed.

      You raise some good points about meat flavor and overall health. Both of these were outside the scope of my post, but the diet can certainly play a big role. Humans can subsist on a grain-only diet, but it would hardly be healthy. I would expect the same to be true for pigs. When we raise pigs in the future, we will continue to feed them our excess garden produce for this very reason.

    • Kim Roos says:

      I am a goat dairy who has raised 2 -3 pigs in the past but now have started with 6 I am really interested in your post about whey-is it safe to give pigs a large amount of whey? We dont know whether to add it to their food or keep it as free choice as possible and I love the idea of giving them blow down apples and whey the last 2 weeks. Did you notice a difference in meat texture. Do you have a link to any feeding suggestions using whey? Love this!!
      Thank you for this amazing article and so much detail, I will be reading and rereading this one!

      • lee says:

        Hi Kim – I’m glad you liked the article. Our comment system doesn’t have notifications yet, so I’m pretty sure Chad won’t see your question. His linked website is also down.

        You might want to check out Sugar Mountain Farm, as I know they feed whey to their pigs and are somewhat well known online for documenting so much of the process.

  13. Just wanted to weigh in that I’m an urban consumer [non-farmer] that butchers my own pork [I buy sides from local farmers]. My end cost is slightly lower than yours, and I don’t raise the animals! I highly recommend butchering your own – costs way less, and you get to cut it exactly how you want it in the kitchen. You might find this useful: http://www.kevinkossowan.com/?p=2611

    Really like this post – nice job.

    • lee says:

      Wow, that’s a really well done video! Thanks. I’m going to have to come back to this in the future. I especially appreciate all the labels when the camera lingers on something.

      Yeah, I know we could definitely save quite a bit of money by handling the butchering ourselves. I’m also interested in just getting a better feel for the carcass quality too. On the other hand, the transition from live pig to skinned and gutted carcase is perhaps the most intimidating part of he process. 🙂

  14. kirk says:

    Thanks so much for the detailed and informative post! In regards to the “calorie conversion efficiency” of grain-fed pork production, surely it seems inefficient on the surface, but keep in mind that pork meat and fat and bones (if all are properly utilized for lard, stock, etc) are MUCH more nutrient-dense than grain which are largely high in calories and fiber, but pretty poor in protein and minerals, especially when you consider how well the human body assimilates the nutrients contained therein. Also, as you mention, the traditional method which largely relies on “mast” crops (wild acorns, nuts, mulberries, etc) as primary feeds for the pigs with kitchen/garden scraps and perhaps a small amount of homegrown corn and/or whey and other “waste” products of the small homestead resulted in a highly efficient, low-cost production system which provided a high-quality source of easily storable meat and fat. J. Russell Smith’s _Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture_ is an excellent source of information on mast crops for pigs.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    • lee says:

      Yes, you raise some good points about the quality of nutrition. For the sake of analysis, it’s useful to boil it down to just one number, but that definitely doesn’t tell the whole story. The single number makes it easier to compare various animals as a meat source. Once we get familiar with raising sheep, I hope to do a similar analysis of the total life-cycle calories to raise a sheep for meat production. My expectation is that the ratio will be extremely low, because so few calories of human edible grain are required to feed sheep. (Really almost none, depending on the breed.)

      I agree that there is a huge difference in nutrition between pork and grain though (unless you are starving). Recent research has emphasized the enormous impact that the invention of farming had on our ancient human ancestors. The transition from a hunter-gatherer diet of game animals, nuts, tubers, and berries to the farmer diet of cultivated grains allowed the population to grow exponentially, but as a result humans became shorter, weaker, and less healthy.

      I completely forgot to consider nut crops in my analysis. They are perhaps one of the most practical routes to providing most of the required nutrition for pigs using only on-site food sources. I’ll have to look into the book you mentioned. The permaculture Forest Farm tomes are also on my list.

  15. Bruno says:

    Cool stuff, where did you find a $25 feeder?

    • lee says:

      Yeah, that was a lucky find on Craigslist. The galvanized single-door ones are about $100 at our local feed store.

      I’ve heard of people building large gravity trough-feeders like our chicken feeder out of 3/4″ plywood. You’d need to shelter it from rain, but it would be cheaper and last about as long as the metal ones. The secret to all feeders is to keep them full.

  16. Christine says:

    We nerly bought 10 pigs to sell. opps then found out the price of corn.

  17. Jeanette says:

    Thank you so much for putting this information together. We are halfway through our first “pig” experience and it has been positive so far. Your site/information was invaluable in my decision to try pigs. Thank you again.

    Jeanette
    5 Solas Homestead and Farm

  18. Beth says:

    Thank you for your analysis. We have raised Hampshire and Landrace pigs and found the experience to be dizzying in cost. While slower-growing heritage breeds may be more expensive at the final tally, spreading the expense over a longer period of time is much less painful for us and allows more time to supplement. (I can gather a few five gallon buckets of apples and pears from abandoned trees each week, but do not have time to do so each day. The same goes for gathering fish and crab protein – and feeding whey from the cheese making from our very small herd of dairy goats.)
    Heritage breeds are more expensive as piglets and are very hard to come by in my neck of the woods (Cape Cod), so I am investigating growing common breeds slowly. (I’ve heard of good results growing jumbo Cornish cross meat chickens more slowly than industry standard recommendations, though I have completely abandoned growing them at all.)

    • lee says:

      Sorry I missed your comment originally. We have the same problem of limited access to heritage breeds around here as well. At both the county and state fairs, it’s rare to see anything other than the standard 3 or 4 commercial breeds. When we next raise pigs, it will definitely be on more land and with the goal of using less high value food.

  19. DAVID WILSON says:

    GREAT POST..I had a friend that owns property in Hawaii about 3 years back she had a bad boar infestation so she put a add in the paper for hunters to come out n thin them out…They did a great job,she did not put a add up the following year but her phone was ringing off the hook from the hunters that had been there from b4,she was curious as to why all these people kept calling and sounded so dissapointed when she wasnt having them hunt this year…LONG LONG STORY SHORT,She asked the next caller and they went on to tell her it was the best meat they ever had the hunter made a comment saying it was like it was already marinated???so she thought to herself and come to find out all the hogs were eating on her property were PINNAPPLES..SO IF U CAN GET AHOLD OF SUM PINNAPPLES THERE SUPPOSE TO REALY HELP THE FLAVOR…

    • lee says:

      Ha ha! I guess I’m not surprised. Their diet during the last couple months is supposed to affect the meat flavor quite a bit. I’m not sure where we’d get a supply of pineapples around here, but with the right contacts I’m sure it’s possible.

  20. Patricia says:

    Thinking of raising two pigs. Want this to be a fun adventure. So afraid the cost will be too high. For a two hundred pound pig, two people eating, (DO NOT EVEN KNOW HOW TO PHRASE THE ?) Will it last a year or is that too long to freeze?

    • lee says:

      We haven’t had any problem with the meat keeping in the freezer. Our supply is about 14 months old now and we have quite a bit left to eat still. It’s important that it be wrapped properly and stay completely frozen. We keep all our meat in an inexpensive chest freezer which stays around 0°F. We only open it to transfer packages into the fridge freezer. This setup has worked really well for us.

  21. Mark says:

    Just started a small farm, Ive purchased 3 piglets that are now 1 yr old, A bore and 2 sows. The older sow is just about due on her first lay and her suitor (the bore) couldn’t be more rambunctious. The initial cost of the piglets were minimal less than 100.00 dollars and maintaining them have been kept to a very low cost level, under 70.00 a month. Ive asked local farmers markets to save their scraps such as fruits and vegetables that can not be sold for what ever reason and put them in a bucket and I drive around once a week in the growing season and once a month in the off season and pick them up. This has been very successful in subsidizing the feed cost of the hogs and at the same time very good for the hogs. I’m always open to new idea as to saving money and sharing what I know so far. Hogs are also a good pet too, so i have a increase of people that show interest in raising hogs. Still need to be penned and not so safe around very small children, but beyond that, very good as pets.

    • lee says:

      The problem with keeping one of the major breed pigs as a pet is that they eventually weight 500 lbs, and your feeding costs are going to be huge regardless of how much you supplement. I suppose a lot of pet pigs get turned into sausage because the owners did not realize that the cute little piglets in the anti-meat ads eventually become enormous animals.

  22. Russell Walsh says:

    I very much enjoyed this post. In fact this is about the 4th time I have read it over the course of a year or so. I have never raised a pig but have given a bit of thought to it in the last couple of years. With a little more attention to detail this time I tried to figure average calories per day per pig and it looks like it comes up around 6,800 calories?

    2,450,000 calories /(2×180 pig days)= 6805.6 Calorie per day. It’s possible that you held the pigs for only 4 months in which case calories per day would be around 10,000!

    I have considered raising several pigs and getting one of two paid for by selling another couple of pigs. As your post shows, someone would have to be willing to pay a pretty high price to do this with conventional feed rations. Skinning and gutting wouldn’t bother me, would be afraid of making a mess butchering for final cuts.

    Throwing a party with a pig cooked whole wouldn’t bother me at all!

    • lee says:

      I’m glad so many people have found this post to be useful, since it was quite a project to write.

      That’s an interesting thought about daily calories. I hadn’t considered it before. We had the pigs from Sept 12th through Jan 15th (details can be found on the pig journal). That is only 125 days … so it would be your higher estimate: 9800 kcal/day. Further, that’s just the average calories. During their last couple weeks, they were eating about 8 lbs of feed per day per pig. That would be 14400 kcal/day!!! No wonder they gain weight so quickly during the final weeks. If we had kept them another week or two, we might have ended up with a decent stock of lard too.

      When we raise pigs next, I’d like to try raising a true heritage breed. A friend of ours just got a breeding pair of American Guinea Hogs. The claim is that they can live mostly off pasture with only a small grain supplement. If that proves to be true, they would be much better suited to our homestead. I have no problem with keeping a couple slow-growing pigs for a year or more if they could derive most of their calories from free sources.

  23. GREAT post! Was wondering what your thoughts are now that feed prices have nearly doubled since about 4 years ago. (in our area, NC, anyway)

    We have found a pig that can be raised on home scraps and about 3 lbs of feed a day; give or take. Yucatan hairless pigs, known for their valuable lard – we have the size that get to about 200 – 250 lbs and they are phenomenally easy keepers!

    Thanks again for all the information, presented so nicely!

    • lee says:

      I haven’t been following the pig feed prices since we raised our pigs two years ago, but at the time people were already complaining about the cost increases.

      Your Yucatan hairless pigs sound like another promising heritage breed. I’m not sure if they are available in our area, but this is definitely the sort of direction we hope to take future pig raising. I hope these work out for you. Of all the common farm animals, I think commercial pig breeds are the least-suited to small scale operations.

  24. Jeff says:

    Hi Lee,

    Great post. Made me think of a semi-related post I just made on my own farm blog http://www.thoughtfulfoodfarm.com/2/post/2012/08/pig-feed-economics.html

    I’m going to be doing a post soon on some calculations I’ve been making on raising my own grain vs. the cost of rent. The long and short is that it’s very hard to beat cheap commodity grain.

    • lee says:

      Thanks. Looks like you’ve done a good job of keeping track of the costs. We aren’t commercial farming by any means (yet?), but I appreciate it when both homesteaders and farmers let hard numbers guide their decisions instead of just wild optimism. We really like raising pigs, but with the costs of grain continuing to rise we will have to consider all our options before we start another batch.

      I’m looking forward to your detailed post on raising grain. We’ve done very small trials of sorghum, amaranth and Indian corn this year, and next year I hope to grow some 2-row barley. The barley would be for beer. The rest would be for feeding livestock.

  25. Brianna says:

    Just found your post and I am thoroughly impressed by it. My husband and I really want to raise a pig but right now the costs seem too high to undertake such an endeavor. We’re both working full-time just about minimum wage and while we have a couple acres to work with we’d have to construct a makeshift home for the piggies in addition to the cost of the pig itself, feed, then the butchering costs.
    While we would most certainly consume more pork if it were from our own backyard (and having a surplus in the freezer during the “rough times”) I just don’t think it will be feasible until another year or so — or if I can find a friend without the land willing to split the costs.

    I appreciate your post breaking it down with the costs! I would have hated to spend the money for the set-up and pig, only to find myself coming up short when time to buy food or when it’s the ideal time to butcher! Thank you.

    • lee says:

      Glad to be of help. There are certainly ways to reduce your costs a bit, but pigs are a still a big cash outlay. One of our neighbors is raising two right now, but he’s going to do the butchering himself and he’s mainly feeding them waste food from a local school. I have mixed feelings about pigs raised on hot dogs, but it will certainly be cheaper.

    • Christina says:

      Brianna, “setting up” for pigs can be “almost” free.

      I would recommend “Small-Scale Pig Raising” by Dirk van Loon. It may help you out with ideas for feed options, cheaper housing and fencing, and includes a decent description for slaughter and processing.

      Craigslist and farm store bulletin boards can be a great source for free pallets, wood, tarps and inexpensive used cattle panels (welded wire type), horse no-climb fencing, etc. 7 free wooden pallets and a free weathered tarp will make a semi-portable shelter big enough for 2 butcher pigs, they will need a run, but I have seen a run made out of more wooden pallets, long ends up!

      They do not have to be fed in a drop/gravity/self feeder. I buy used large rubber feed pans, drill a hole in them, put a large eye bolt in, and attach it to a fence post with a chain. That way the pigs can’t bury it in the pen or hide it in their shed. I can put liquid or solid feed in them and they are easy to hose out. Other options are 55gal plastic barrels cut in half or, if you’re very handy, I’ve seen a lot of people use the guts out of a water heater as feed and water troughs. Just attach to something solid or the pigs will play with them and may even bury them just so they can watch you dig 25 gallons worth of mud out of their feeder in the middle of their wallow.

      Pigs can eat everything we can and then some. One of my co-workers brings buckets into work for people to take home for their unusable bread and produce.

      To pay for our butchering, and some of the feed, we sell our second pig. Depending on market we’ve gotten between $2.00 to $3.00# hanging weight. A 300# hog hung at 242#, but $2.00#. Our feed costs are still very high, about $465 for 3 pigs spread out over 6 months. This does not include fuel costs to get malt barley (free), sour milk (free), bread (free), veggie soup (free), wind-fall fruit (free), straw and hay ($2 bale), and pig feed. I did my “free feed” runs while doing other necessary driving.

  26. Josh says:

    Great Post. I’m looking into getting a pig or two next spring and am doing research now to figure out what the cost will look like. Excellent post, really helped show me some figures. Something I did earlier in the year when it was decently warm, was sprouts. I made a simple automated system, but its just as easy to put seeds in a bucket with tiny holes, and run water through the bucket twice a day. You can turn a 50 lb bag of oats, into 150 bag of sprouts, or more depending on your desired output. For chickens I use oats and black oil sunflowers as they are both cheap. Others use barely or wheat for cows and horses. Many commercial systems say you can increase your investment 8 fold, 50 to 400 lbs of feed.

    Anyways great advise and theres something that you might look into if you haven’t already.

    • lee says:

      I’ve looked into sprouts a little bit, but mainly for chickens. My concern is that sprouts don’t really increasing the calorie content of feed, just the water weight and vitamin level. Some sprouts will have more available crude protein, but they represent a net loss of calories, since the little plants are burning some calories to build their bodies.

      Weight gain in pigs is dependent on calories and protein intake, so while the net feed weight may go up by 8x I would expect the potential weight gain for the pigs to only go up a few percentage points (from increased protein availability). During their final months, our pigs were eating 8 lbs of feed a day. I don’t think they could have fit 8x as many sprouts in their stomach (64 lbs), so their rate of weight gain would have been slower. The longer it takes an animal to reach market weight the more calories are burned to maintain its existing weight and thus the lower overall caloric efficiency.

      I think sprouts could be a useful part of a feed system designed to raise healthy animals, but I’m cautious of any claims that imply that they will increase the efficiency of converting a calorie of plant matter into a calorie of meat.

      It’s good you are doing all this research up front. For a big project such as pigs, I’m a fan of planning ahead and then keeping records rather than just diving in and seeing how it turns out.

  27. Kelly Cotten says:

    Excellent data, well parsed! Thanks! Our family raises most of our own vegetables, all of our eggs (and then some) from 16 laying hens, plus 60 meat chickens a year, and are soon embarking on synergistic aquaponic tilapia and salad greens — all on a typical Dallas urban backyard lot. I’m considering the addition of either meat rabbits or two meat pigs in an enclosure at the back of the yard and this post was very helpful. Just a side note: if you haven’t read Simon Fairlie’s book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, I highly recommend it for its scrupulous analysis of the input/output balance of dietary meat and his recommendations for a total permaculture approach to meat raising.

    • lee says:

      Thanks for the book suggestion Kelly. It looks right up my alley. I hope my post didn’t come across as anti-livestock. Animals are an essential part of a sustainable food system. At the same time, I think it’s necessary to document the inefficiency of commercial pig breeds on purely grain-based diets. When we raise pigs in the future they will most likely be a heritage breed with proven ability to live on pasture.

  28. Patricia says:

    I’m so glad to find this post, and all the follow up. I really would like to do four pigs, one to eat and freeze and three to sell. I know little about raising them, other than generalities. We have 2-1/2 acres, but it’s high desert and the piggies won’t find much pasture to speak of. I would be able to grow a quantity of corn for feed. That said, probably 1/2 acre or so. I’m not sure what kind of yield that would give us, especially when you figure in the cost of water. Still, better grow our own than pay someone else for THEIR water.

    I have all kinds of reasons for wanting to do this, from ethical to gourmand. I want my pigs to live a good life, with affection and names and treats and good times. And when it’s time, I want them to die well and not alone. And I want to treat their meat with respect. I’m not giving them seats at the breakfast table (at least not during their lifetimes) and they WILL be eaten. I know of a great butcher who kills quickly and humanely and processes beautifully, all for a good price. I believe somewhere in the vicinity of $250 per piggy.

    One question. If you are raising pigs for sale, do you include the butchering and processing in the total cost, or do you break out the cost and give the customer other butchering options? As in $x.xx/lb an unbutchered half or $z.zz/lb including butchering?

    • lee says:

      Hi Patricia,

      I’m not sure where you are located, but in our area (Oregon) locally raised meat is listed as ‘$x.xx/lb hanging weight.’ I think I describe this term above, but it’s basically the total carcass weight after the head and entrails are removed. We can’t sell directly except via a certified butcher who will perform the kill, measure the hanging weight, and do all the meat cutting, curing and wrapping. Buyers agree to either a whole or half, and then they pay you and the butcher separately. If you are going to raise 4, my advice is to line up at least some of your buyers ahead of time as this seems to be one of the most challenging aspect of raising pigs for profit.

  29. Richard West says:

    Take it from a guy schooled by Texas A&M. You put too much money and effort into your project. You would would have came out ahead at the supermarket.

    • lee says:

      Nobody would grow vegetables, keep chickens, or raise livestock if their only goal was to beat the price point of anonymous mass-produced low quality food found at their local megastore. The last time we bought discount bacon we ended up throwing it away because neither of us could stand it. Similarly, supermarket pork chops are much like supermarket tomatoes–neither bears any resemblance to their home-grown counterparts.

  30. promise says:

    great job brother.this is helping me a long way

  31. todds poor farm says:

    we raised several hogs on my dads farm when i was a child. now i”m 32 and a dad myself. i’m now thinkin of raiseing a few hogs again. all the info here has tought me alot that never really knew about raiseing hogs. i now can’t wait to get started.. so one question i have is. ”’is pasture raiseing cheaper than pen raiseing since the hogs can graze and eat natural things??””

    • lee says:

      Well, we pen raised our pigs so I can’t give you hard numbers on that. In one the comments above I linked to two articles which described how pigs might be raised predominantly on forages, but that’s not the same as being raised on pasture. Pigs are not ruminants, so they can’t digest grasses with the same efficiency as cows and sheep. It should be possible to raise pigs predominantly on pasture, but it would help to have pastures with high grade food sources (a beet field or an Hazelnut orchard) or pig breeds that were suited to foraging and slower growth rates.

  32. J.Howe says:

    I am thinking of getting one pig this spring and doing a lot of research. I appreciate your article and got to thinking about what I could grow a lot of in a short amount of time and zucchini definitely comes to mind. I have the available space to grow a hundred or so plants, and another hundred pumpkins. Those two crops should offset quite a bit of feed. I’m new to raising livestock but have been an avid hunter and gardener, so butchering at home will also save more money. I understand electric fence is the way to go, but would barbed wire be any help or would one be so determined to escape to risk injury from the barbs?

    • lee says:

      I think barb wire has somewhat fallen out of favor with small producers because of its many disadvantages. My impression is that if an animal is going to force it’s way out of an electric fence, it may force its way out of a similarly constructed barb wire fence but with considerably more damage.

      Be sure to run the calorie content numbers on your zucchini and pumpkins to get a realistic idea of how much purchased grain they will offset. We fed our pigs 51 lbs of squash and it only offset about 3 lbs of grain.

    • Laurie Goodwin says:

      barb wire wont help and it will draw electrical current from the electric fence and reduce the intensity of the shock. Pigs don’t like electric fencers and will not cross them. they need to be low enough so they cant root under and use rolled wire fencing for outer barrier.

  33. Carol says:

    A very interesting article, thank you. I am interested to know whether you dosed your pigs at all (for worms etc)?

    • lee says:

      We did not have to medicate the pigs in any form. I believe they were wormed as piglets just before we got them. I’m not that familiar with the parasitic load on pigs, but if we raised multiple batches on the same plot I would look into it.

  34. Fawn says:

    Loved reading this my husband and I are thinking about getting a pig to raise for meat. couple questions I have…how much waste did the 2 pigs produce and what did you do with it? I’ve heard that pigs can get quite mean but my husband said that you if give them lots of land and treat them like a dog that they aren’t mean or aggressive at all, since I have 2 young children this is a concern of mine, any advice or tips there? Thanks so much!

    • lee says:

      I eventually shoveled most of the manure into a pile, and it was about 8′ across and nearly 4′ high. So, that’s about 2.5 cubic yards, if my estimates are right. They ate around 1.25 cubic yards of grain, so if you account for water content then ~2 cubic yards of manure seems like a good estimate. I know it looked like more when it was all spread out in the poo lagoon they created.

      Our pigs weren’t really mean, but they were curious and somewhat aggressive. They never missed an opportunity to chew on our boots. Temperament is breed and animal dependent so yours might be different. Pigs are omnivores and it’s not unheard of for them to eat people, usually when someone dies of natural causes in their pen. I’d keep young children out of their pen at all times, and away from the fence when unsupervised. I saw our pigs roll concrete blocks with their nose and chew through tree roots for entertainment–good signs that you should keep your hands well away from their mouths. You might also check out this article.

      I don’t want to discourage you from getting pigs. They are really fun animals to raise, but they do seem to lack the empathetic pack mentality of dogs.

  35. chuck says:

    One thing to add, swine pound for pound give you more meat for your money. You can generally expect 75 to 80% of your weight to be usable meat

  36. Andrew Moore says:

    We have 3 pairs of breeding sows here in North Devon, England and our costs are very similar to yours. We sell some of the weaners and raise the rest for pork. We have been doing this successfully for about 6 years, but I am not sure what will happen to the old sows when they can longer produce litters. We can’t afford to retire them and will need to sell them on, but are they still suitable for human consumption? Is there a market for old pigs? Would be interested to know what people do and how that affects the costings of the meat.

    • lee says:

      I believe most older pigs are turned into sausage. The spices can cover up boar taint, so the process should handle older sows just fine. Of course, whether you can sell that much sausage is another matter… 🙂

  37. Michael says:

    What a great post! Congratulations to everyone who has added such incredible data!

    I grew up raising a few pigs each summer. Aside from the chores, the thing that sticks in my mind was my dad frequently saying that the only way we could save enough money to make it worth while was to find an alternative feed source. (As a side note we used to butcher about half of them ourselves and pay for the other half. We saved a lot of money, but there are some things that are very difficult to do at home without special equipment.)
    For us the saving grace on feed costs was day old bread. The commercial bakery in the area had an outlet store where they sold items nearly expired. The items which didn’t sell there could be bought very inexpensively for pig feed. Sometimes this would include pastries and donuts as well as bread.
    (I must admit that as a kid I would always dig through the new truck load of pig feed looking for sweets. Things like twinkies and hohos that expired a couple days ago were perfectly fine for a 10 y/o boy who’s family budget didnt allow for the purchase of such items.)
    We certainly never did any calculations or vitamin content checks, but we raised pigs every year reached weight and tasted delicious on a diet that consisted primarily of day old breads. They got table and garden scraps of course, and the occational bag of grain, but I probably opened more bread bags each summer than most people do in a lifetime.

    • lee says:

      We don’t usually allow comments with commercial website links, but I’ll make an exception when someone writes in such detail about the livestock raising experiences of their childhood. Thanks for the reminder that thrifty pig raising isn’t a new idea.

    • Laurie Goodwin says:

      we have raised several pigs without grain, and only started graining after the kids left and we could afford that rather than getting scraps, etc.. we do have access to free veggies, milk, bread, scraps, and lots to forage. Many small farmers in maine do not use grain at all, but take advantage of free food
      Piglets are usually born early April here, sold in May and ready for slaughter in Oct. @ 200+ lbs. Buying a pig already 50-60 lbs for $125 reduces raising them by 2 months and can save a lot.
      We raise 3, and sell meat at $4 lb to pay for the whole cost, so it is free meat for us.
      It is best to raise 2 pigs together as well, they do better and compete for food, so grow faster.
      Some years our only fee is the process free, as free piglets are easy to get from people who mistakenly breed off season and cant raise them in the cold ( not good enough shelter) or afford to feed through the winter. Free pig food in the winter is also more abundant when no one else is raising them.
      We do all we can to get free piglets, food and only pay the process costs. By processing with a butcher, the animal is tested and the meat is USDA labeled and can be resold at a pretty good profit.

      • lee says:

        Sounds like you have a great system worked out for raising pigs. I really think food recycling is the ideal use case for pigs. Like most developed countries, the U.S. throws away an awful lot of food. Ideally, all of it could be turned into compost or pork.

  38. Asher Wright says:

    Great write up, pretty graphs. It would be nice if you reported these feed weights on a DM basis, or denote whether or not you did. All animal feed recommendations and nutrient requriements are on a DM basis and that would help the reader with using this information for their own systems.

    Also, how are your round charts showing the different weights of the animal calculated? I can tell you, unless I misread something, that a pig’s carcass will generally be about 30-33% Bone and Offal with the balance being edible meat and fat. That gives you a dressing percentage of around 67-70% which is really good! What your data tells me is that your pigs dressed out at 78-80%! No way! Help me understand your numbers or take a second look. Thanks for this great post.

    • lee says:

      Your next comment redacts the second paragraph above, so I’ll just address the first paragraph here. The 1350 lbs of feed referred to in this post was standard grain-based pig feed. I can see how foraging livestock are better managed using dry matter based calculations, but pigs are generally fed pig feed so that’s what I reported.

  39. Asher Wright says:

    Correction to my previous comment. I realize now that these are hot hanging weights, so I am not able to calculate your dressing percentage. I’m still surprised about the amount of bone you reported. I presume that is because you did not factor the bones that were in the roasts into that total percentage? Please disregard my DP calculation. Thanks!

    • lee says:

      Yes, these were hanging weights as reported by the butcher, after the pigs were skinned and gutted. We estimated the larger pig at 264 lbs a few days before butcher, so that would suggest a dressed percentage less than 74%.

      The two big pie charts at the beginning of the post are intended to show sample yields when you pay a butcher for the cut, wrap, and cure process. Small butchers charge based on the hanging weight, but some of that “weight” disappears in the form of waste. I asked the butcher to save all the fat and bones too, so the reported percentages for bones are based on the weights of the wrapped packages specifically labeled “Bones.” I didn’t try to estimate the weight of the bones in the roasts, ribs, and pork chops. The point was to show the relative percentages of familiar cuts of meat.

  40. joseph arko says:

    great piece of work done infact raising pigs in africa is not an easy task why normally food in take is high and pricing have not being helpful

  41. Christina says:

    I was wondering you you wouldn’t mind sharing your “cost factors per lbs of meat” with me? I raised pigs last year and tried to keep track of it and it didn’t go so well. So I am trying to be more proactive about it this time. Thanks!

  42. Pingback: On Keeping Pigs | Dun Rovin Farm

  43. Michael says:

    Ironically, since my last nastalgic post I have inheritted a small pig when my neighbor moved out suddenly. Although I doubt I’ll Find the bread truck to be such a willing partner I do have access to a small citrus orchard that doesn’t get picked.

    How much mixed fresh citrus can I feed them and is there any better way to prepare it than just throwing them in whole?

  44. Bo says:

    Hi, this was great reading. I am just finishing building a shelter so we can raise some hogs next year also. Thanks everyone for the great comments. One of the readers above wrote about their childhood and how they used day old bread. Ours was the same here. Every Sunday we would go and fill the back of the truck we had with side boards and go open bags for hours. Rain or shine. But great memories really. Grandpa had a small silo that he would fill with grain occasionally, but i’m sure that the wheelbarrows of bread each day really helped. We had 18 sows and sold weiners and butcher hogs. Now, I’m looking at doing a few for my family like my grandpa and dad did. This is a totally different perspective than I had when I was a kid, and a whole second learning experience. I am happy to be able to provide similar memories for my boys, and have good meat in the freezer too. cheers!

  45. AC says:

    Really interesting. Thank you for posting this. 🙂

  46. rick wilson says:

    I see one big error in your squash calorie calculation, you didn’t include the calories from the seeds, which is where the squash puts most of its energy. did you dig out all the seeds before feeding if so it was a large waste.

    • lee says:

      Actually, squash puts most of its energy into making squash, just as it’s been bred to do over thousands of generations. The calorie value of the seeds is small compared to the meat and the calorie value of the meat varies substantially between varieties. My estimate above of 120 kcal/lb is in the middle of the range of estimated calories for summer squash, pumpkins and winter squash. Unless you are growing pumpkins specifically bred for their seeds, the seeds are just noise.

  47. rick wilson says:

    you still haven’t fixed your miss representation for squash # a lot of people look at your blog and are getting false information. your information makes it seem like planting potatoes for pigs would be a waste of time however per acre harvest potatoes out provide wheat in calories in a 3-1 ratio 17.8 million callories per acre of potatoes vs 6.4 mil for wheat.. and then you see that an average yield for squash is a good 38 000 pounds per acre vs 2000 – 4000 pounds for wheat. still not providing as many calories but other nutrients aren’t even comparable to wheat such as vitamin A 980% per pound

    • lee says:

      I’m not misrepresenting squash. People are free to read the article and comments and make up their own number for squash calorie density if they prefer. Perhaps a seed-specific variety will generate 50% more calories (assuming it doesn’t hurt yield or have storage problems), but growing 7 tons of squash isn’t much easier than growing 10 tons.

      As for potatoes, growing them as pig feed is absolutely a waste of time. Yield per acre has nothing to do with it. Without specialized equipment for planting, cultivating, and harvesting it’s completely impractical to grow 7000 lbs of potatoes by hand. Have you ever grown potatoes? That’s a kilometer of potato rows to trench, plant, fertilize, water, weed, hill repeatedly, and eventually dig. Then you have to store the potatoes until they are ready to be eaten and finally boil them.

      And yes, you have to boil them (or roast, bake, etc). Potatoes are a Solanaceae and will make pigs sick if eaten in quantity in raw form. Our two pigs were eating 16 lbs of grain a day during the last weeks, so you’d be boiling 80 lbs of potatoes per day. (Incidentally, heating 80 lbs of potatoes to the boiling point would consume 5 lbs of propane a day.) Even if you assign no value to your time, all of this is likely to cost more in resources than just buying commercial feed.

      I know it’s fashionable to eschew grains as an animal feed, but sometimes hard numbers don’t agree. It would be misrepresenting the facts to tell people otherwise. The point of this article was to highlight how incredibly resource intensive it is to raise pork on human-grade food sources. By comparison, sheep, cattle, and geese can be raised almost entirely on pasture and require minimal time investments to manage. Pastures are also more ecologically friendly than tilling up a half acre of sod to plant a giant squash monoculture.

  48. Rick says:

    First of all I would like to say that I love this post and you break it down pretty well. We started with pigs after we quit raising goats because the market for goats kinda fell out and we sold them off. We used goats to clear some land and it was much more effective than roundup…and less expensive.

    Anyway we have been raising hogs for about three years now and feed cost have always been a problem. We have a local produce stand that gives us their unsold produce and it helps but we still have to buy some grain and this is the first year we have started keeping records on cost. Since October 23 we have spent fourty dollars on grain and it is now November 9th. and we have a fifty pound bag of grain stored.

    We started keeping records when we split Bruno with a friend. He went 524 on the hoof and 345 hanging weight. We had to get rid of him because he was eating way too much and babies were on the way. He was uncut and taste great.

    As far as feeding goes we are begining to learn a few tricks. We have just gathered about 180 gallons of acorns (thirty gallon trash barrels) That we will feed the two sows until they get through bring up the little ones. Then they will be going to “Hog Heaven” We have also planted turnips, collards, rape, and clover for the pigs and our cow. The turnip, rapeseed and collrds go for about a dollar a scoop and a scoop is about a thousand seeds. The turnip greens should be ready (along with the turnips) about the time the little ones are weaned so we hope to buy less protein. And we won’t have to buy weaners because we plant to keep all of our gilts and sell the barrows.

    Since we are keeping track of everything I hope to post later on exactly how much feeding out 4 market ready hogs wll cost.

    We are going to buy one intact male to breed our gilts but we can tape weigh them.

    I have found that since we eat a lot of meat it is less expensive to feed our pigs than it is to buy meat every week…there are four of us.

    • lee says:

      Thanks for the comment. Sounds like you have a good plan, including timing crops to meet livestock demand. I hope you write a follow up when you have the final numbers.

      When we raise pigs again, it will be along similar lines. I have a source for heritage breed pigs that are good at grazing and I’ll plant some easy root crops to supplement them. We’ll also do the butchering ourselves, both to save money and because we were very disappointed with the mobile butcher service.

  49. Pete says:

    What did you use for your graphs.

    Good post, you are on the right track on how to figure these things so far as forage vs. feed and whatnot. But your price numbers are meaningless. You’ve only got cash outlays. To properly know your raising cost you need to include labor, overheads, land, vet costs (if applicable) and more. I do see you have the start of calculations for equipment depreciation costs.

    Conventionally they say feed represents about 70% of the cost of producing an on the hoof pig (before transport). But that assumes you’ve got a barn full of a thousand of them. Your labor will make up a larger part of that.

    • lee says:

      The graphs were generated in LibreOffice Calc, which is part of an opensource (free) office suite very similar to the expensive Microsoft products. A few of the graphs were adjusted graphically in Gimp (also opensource, similar to Photoshop). I highly recommend LibreOffice.

      You are right that I didn’t account for labor. That’s a key difference between homesteading and farming. In farming the goal is to produce food for a profit, including labor and hidden costs. With homesteading, the goal is just to produce food. The labor is (hopefully) something you enjoy. If I let labor costs influence every decision, I would live in a small condo in town and buy all my food from a coop or local groceries. Small scale and low tech is terribly inefficient.

      It’s a good point though. If I compile data for a project like this again, I’ll try to track the labor investment as well.

  50. Annie says:

    Excellent analysis. Slightly depressing, esp when you got to the food value of garden excess lol. Will have to re-read a few times. We are almost five months into raising our grower pig (pig scramble catch at the county fair!) and finding it very expensive to feed her. Using a non-GMO feed which elevates the cost a bit, too – almost $20/50 lb bag. And she is probably eating about 7lbs a day. Wanted to process her earlier but not up to doing it ourselves and there’s a wait now until January. The cost is not all I consider in the value of raising her. We now have a friend’s boar in with her for their last few weeks before processing and it’s fun to see them together. I’d do at least two next time. I am learning a lot and hope to do pigs again soon, but also want to look at a breed that could gain – slowly would be fine! – well on pasture. But I’m not sure of the quality of our pasture.

    I searched the comments and didn’t see mention except of people collecting excess milk from others. I wonder how the cost efficiency would look if I had a cow who lactated well on pasture and then fed excess milk to our pigs. About 2400 cal per gallon…

    Hope I’ll get email notices if there are more comments to this great post!

    • lee says:

      Sorry, we use WordPress for the blog and it doesn’t have an easy facility for e-mail notification.

      There are a number of smaller pig producers that use milk byproducts, such as whey, as part of their feed system. If you can sell the milk directly, it’s probably not a cost effective plan (and somewhat labor intensive), but if you have excess you might as well feed it to the pigs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *