I hope this missive provides you the reader with insights and useful knowledge to raise your own pigs. I’m not a farmer, just a regular guy with five acres and the desire to eat healthy food our family raises, save some hard earned bucks, and be as self sufficient as practically possible. My intention is to provide a complete 1st hand account in order to convey the pertinent details so you can make your own determination as to pig raising and it’s feasibility in regards to your particular circumstances. It is hard work at moments, but as pigs are a most useful and efficient meat animal, so too can the methods employed in their keep. I pretend no specialized claim to swine husbandry, this just one families factual successful account.
Truth being told, I have found pigs are easy going cost effective animals requiring minimal attention compared to beef and chickens. The old timey nickname for them is “Mortgage Lifters”, as these are wondrously efficient consumers of food. No other meat animal is as cost effective to raise on the homestead as swine. They are good natured creatures, curious, and can be most friendly when treated with respect due them. Given only water you would drink at their choice, quality feed on timely regular basis, a mud wallow, basic shelter for shade and dry refuge from weather, a pig will thrive. They have few ailments outside parasites of the digestive and respiratory track. They have great respect for electric fences, and require companionship of another of their kind for well being. Pigs can be rather intelligent. They appreciate a scratch from a rake and treats like table scraps, leavings from home canning and all manner of garden refuse. Come apple season much weight gain and desirable meat flavor can be added by use of picking up road apples, and drops of chestnuts, and the likes. Nothing goes to waste with a pig around. Your rejected garden corn, stalks and all are greedily consumed. Pumpkins, squashes, etc never go to waste. If you have space, pigs are consummate rooters. Free ranging in forest duff or a fallow garden spot yields a quality of meat and fat of unparalleled flavor and tenderness. It comes as no wonder as to why in times past the Kings wild boars where such a coveted prize feast. Another useful trait is pigs make for a fine 4 legged garden tiller. They root out weed seeds, tubers, and roots, will seek out every insect vermin and pest in the form of grubs and eggs, they can root easily to depths of a couple of feet or more of every square foot, and leave behind natural manure for next seasons garden.
Keeping them in requires about 2-3 feet height of fencing or pig grating, and a couple of strands of electric wire to keep them from rooting under fencing and escaping. Once loose some pigs can be quite the adventure to catch. We make our fences in portable and modular sections.
If you have bears, it is advisable to put two strands of electric wire on the outside of your posts at mid thigh and waist heights. Bears will back out of a wire like greased lightning, have a tendency to break a wire in it’s thrashing, so a second strand is proper backup. Use steel for bear wire. Get a 100 mile fence controller if you can. Even if you have only a tiny pen. It’s the wallop of the shock you need. Our neighbor lost their 750 lb prize boar to a monster of a black bear. One swipe of its claws and the boar’s head was hanging from skin. They didn’t employ an electric fence. We’ve had bears tear up the wires many occasions, but has kept them out as of this writing.
Simply stated, Pigs are simply an amazing source of food. A 350 lb pig will keep a family of four in pork for a year. “Market weight” of a pig is 235 to 275 lbs. Raising past 350 lb weight reduces cost savings, they are more difficult to process, and the ratio of fat to muscle increases. Though fat back can be be luxurious and of the highest quality at this weight. A plus when rendering for lard, and for manufacturing soap.
With a little hard work and timely attention to detail a pig provides an abundance of high quality sustenance. One of the great aspects of raising your own pork is how efficient a pig is in regards to conversion of it’s feed to yield of meat and other products one can use daily.
Pigs well kept and treated with attention to it’s well being, quality of life and kindness it deserves for the bounty it ultimately provides for your family, can not be exemplified enough.
Depending upon ones pallet and the lengths one is willing to go to butcher and process their pigs, there can be little waste from a pig. No other animal, on a pound for pound basis, yield of wholesome and toothsome 1st rate meat, is as economical to raise as the swine. Add in to your piggy husbandry, home butchering, curing and smoking, and you acquire meat and other useful products costing approx a high of $1.50 per lb using commercial feed stock, to as little 25 cents, or even less depending on costs of your own grown feed.
If you choose commercial custom butchering, added costs run about 50 cents a pound hanging weight, (killed, gutted, skinned, halved, on a hook), usually a “kill bill” and fee for waste is accompanied, around 50-75 bucks, sometimes a wrapping fee, and if you desire bacon/hams, a smokehouse fee is added. It figures out to at least 1 dollar a pound non added value to go this route. Add in fuel costs for getting your pig to and from the slaughter house, the ordeal of catching the squealing little guys, (and if one so inclined cares), your pigs end up in a strange place and their care and timely demise is at the hand of strangers.
For our family, it is a strictly personal matter of being responsible to our pigs. As our pigs provide our family with abundance, it seems proper and moral they are treated with every kindness till their end. An aside being, a happy pig is a great tasting pig, it seems counter productive to raise your own, and then cart the poor thing off where who knows what happens to your beloved food source. But that is my personal point of view, and no disrespect intended to hardworking butchers who provide such vital service and folks who can not home butcher. Many good meat shops exist. Good shops reputations proceed them and your neighbors usually can attest to reputable meat cutters. Each his own. Liberty right?
As home butchering/processing is a game changer cost wise, it is a worthy consideration. A pig is a simple animal to reduce to freezer and smokehouse. The muscle groups are well defined, thus the cuts of meat you choose become self evident. Your first pig is a learning curve. But not to worry as even a mistake in cutting is not any loss because the meat will still be tasty and healthy if proper cleanliness in the processing is followed.
The question of all who butcher is to skin or not to skin. Personally I skin. This eliminates the scalding and scraping process required for edibility of retaining the hide for consumption. It is a matter of your personal tastes and if retaining the hide is of importance to you. (Traditional real cured aged hams require skin be left on.) Requirements for tools and equipment are basic and minimal.
More on butchering further along.
Okay, here is the skinny of the whole nine yards, start to finish, raising a couple of piglets acquired from a farmer who sells you a couple of the little squealers.
2 freshly weaned piglets require about 1 square of pen area, 10ft x 10ft. A warm dry place, some clean hay and or wood shavings to bed down in and to keep their pen sanitary. If you live in cold climes, a heat lamp as hypothermia can kill a just weaned animal. A simple home made v trough with wide feet at each end, or nailed to your pen wall for feed and a low sided water container. The little heathens will run through, stand in, fight over and flip everything.
A pig nipple, (stainless steel watering nipple made for pigs, activated by the tongue, fastened to something sturdy, gravity tank or pressure fed types, 12 to 30 bucks, highly recommended), is a real time saver and beneficial sanitary practice. But it can take a few days for some piglets to discover.
Get two piglets. Costs generally run $50 to $75. Add shots and castration (“nutting”), usually $20 to $30 dollars per piglet, if the seller provides this.
As they are very gregarious creatures, they fare much better with pen mates. You can sell one if 2 pigs is more than needed. You can recoup a considerable portion of your grain bill on both animals this way. You can also require a prospective buyer to put the cost of piglet and grain bill up front and the balance of costs at time of butchering. Do the arraignments in advance as finding a last minute buyer can be difficult.
Using mostly store bought feed at single bag prices, the last 2 years have averaged around $300 for 2 pigs of approximately 350lbs live weight, including all but expense of piglet and meds. This is allowing for free ranging in our large pens.
Work hard to find piglets raised in healthy caring conditions. This can not be stressed enough.
A healthy piglet is a healthy freezer of meat.
The next step sounds far more complex than it is. Don’t be discouraged. Millions of folks go through it. So can you. I did and learned it on my own.
If possible, find a farmer who gives his litters full spectrum antibiotic/wormer shots and castrates the boys. If not, a farm vet can visit to do this service. Another option is to acquire your own at a farm supply that sells syringes and meds. ( A bit of advice on this. If you believe these medicines are not kosher, no pun intended, your time and expense will end up a fools errand. Best stop here and avoid raising pigs. These meds have no known substitute. Eliminating parasites with these substances is essential to your pigs survival and edibility of meat. As they are used months before killing and butchering no known harmful traces remain in the animal. Enough said.)
Nutting, (castrating) is easy, but it’s not for everyone.
To begin I stick a piglet head first in a grain sack, two people makes this chore easy if you have the help, the little feller will squeal like a baby being murdered, but will calm down after a minute if your helper holds his hocks firmly to stop the kicking and supports him between their thighs. Douche his scrotum with Hydrogen Peroxide, a clean cloth to wipe away dirt, another generous application of Hydrogen Peroxide, a squirt of betadine solution. Don’t forget to douche your hands too. Now gently but firmly squeeze the testicles between thumb and index, favoring one testes, take a new sterilized box cutter blade, scalpel, or razor blade and just cut the taught scrotum along the long axis of the testes, the barest of cut necessary to the skin and underlying connective tissue and it will pop out through the incision. A very shallow cut mind you, 1/4 inch long or a bit more to accommodate the size of the testes. Events will be self explanatory. You will detect the connected sperm duct and connective translucent sheath. Right where duct enters testes, a quick clean cut. Do number two, the same. Done carefully with the minimum of invasion barely a trickle of blood will appear. Keep the cuts tiny as possible. Small equals quick healing. It’s what you want. More betadine, a good smear of Bag Balm or Prussian blue over incisions and your done. Easier than it sounds. The first time takes a little getting used to. I never get totally used to it, but after the first time it goes easy and quickly. The piggies seem to forget soon as they are free of the sack. A serving of something special gets them back to their piggy selves right off. Observe the creature for a couple days for signs of distress. Nutting is done for a couple of reasons. A boar gets aggressive, wants to mate with every female, fights other piggies, the meat is different, they don’t get as plump as quickly as a castrated pig, (Kind of like a capon, a castrated rooster).
Next is what is required to set up their living conditions.
Piglets begin to be adult like in a few weeks to a month after weaned. So you have a grace period to set up a roomy paddock for them. Build as large a pen as you can. You can do this in stages. Pigs are born to root, the more space the happier and healthier they seem. If you have a fallow field or garden, or a bit of a wooded patch, you save on your grain bill as pigs will consume every root, tuber, edible vegetation, grub and insect in a given piece of earth. I think it adds wonderful flavor and the exercise provides excellent texture to your pork. When to let your little heathens out of their piglets quarters depends on getting them to respect the electric wire, keeping them from getting out of the type of pen you build, and weather conditions. First time out into their paddock, I stick around till I can observe they have learned the electric fence. It may take a few hours, but this way you can have a poke stick ready and if they are determined to rush the fence and bomb through you can redirect them with a firm whack or two.
Until they get some body mass, they need a dry, draft-free place to use at their will.
There are a gazillion ways here, I’ll give you mine. You’ll find how it works for you.
Build a timber frame lean-to, dirt or plank floor, with a 2ft wide by 3ft high entrance, shingled roof. Build it rugged, a 200lb pig has tremendous neck strength and will try to root under everything or use it as a scratching post. Mark those words well. Driven posts help anchor everything. They love to use corners and a rough place to scratch. Use heavy spikes to nail things together well. Rough cut lumber is best. Next, out in their pen, scrape out a wallow for them. About 12 inches deep to start, a few feet wide, 6 foot long. Keep it wet till they begin to make it deeper. They will. Mud is very important to a pig. Keeps them clean, cool, keeps insects from biting. It’s a pig thing. They be happy.
How large a pen?
Large as you can. Last year we gave our pigs just shy of an acre. Given the space, they will prefer to poop in one or two spots. The larger the pen the better their habit. Less stink too. As you can supply a good sprinkle of lime or wood ashes to their bathroom easily if it’s in a given spot. Far less manure odor, less flies, happy you, happy pigs.
We try to use part wooded section, part garden plot, past or planned, for our pens as we move the pen to alternating sites each year.
As pigs can’t climb, fencing only needs to be 3 ft high rolls of heavy woven type, or planking with spacing of around 6 inches, 5ft steel or wooden posts, insulators, and use steel for your electric wire, heavy gauge. A 100 mile fence controller if you can spring for one. Build 20 ft sections, use insulated hand gate disconnects, the spring loaded ones, to bridge each section. This way you can move or reshape the pen as needed. We also use pig panels in conjunction with post fence. Pig panels are ridged heavy gauge welded wire sections, 2ft high, 12 ft long, using a stake at each end secures them. These are very nice items, last forever, robust, but pricey. We buy one at a time as funds warrant. Pigs won’t climb over, they burrow under. Use a wire about about 6 to 12 inches off the ground. This keeps them from escaping. After getting buzzed a time or two, they won’t go near the fence. They usually know when your fence is energized also. A cheap fence tester left on your water barrel or a nail is good so you can test if your fence is running.
Piglets do well on regular swine feed. It is advisable to provide Purina Calf Manna or it’s equivalent. We find this is a superb feed supplement for pigs. The increase in health and growth far exceeds it’s added cost to our feed bill. Pigs seem to like it’s anise flavor immensely. We have taken to providing it right up to the week of slaughter. Mix it in their standard feed. 1/4 cup per adult pig daily. 1/2 cup for piglets. The bag will give proper portion directions. Great stuff. When they are 75 to 100 lbs we cut back to adult portion.
If you are buying feed stock, you can save by getting bulk. We have large Rubbermaid trash cans filled with bulk feed at Southern states. Easier to move than 1 large bin. It is usually a general purpose corn/soybean grind, cost savings run about $2-5 less per hundred than bagged feed.
Another feed we add is steamed flaked corn. It gives your pigs a wonderful flavor and quality to fat and meat. It is whole corn that has been cooked in steam to a particular temperature, held there till the raw carbohydrates have changed to easier to digest sugars, (gelatinized), and then flattened between steel rollers. It is easy to chew and digest.
About 1 cup a day works well. The last 2-3 weeks before slaughter we dress out our pigs by using a 50/50 split between feed and steam flaked corn. This tends to sweeten up the flavor of the meat/fat and increase purity of fatback without making the animal overall too fatty.
Of course any refuse from kitchen and garden, or fruit/vegetables you can scrounge is beneficial. It will be greedily consumed. Very little will be rejected by any self respecting pig.
You can hand feed your pigs their main diet, or use an automatic feed box. Both have their pro’s and con’s. Hand feeding if you have the time keeps your pigs familiar with you. Personally I have used both, but because I believe it is important to treat the critters you are going to eat with care and kindness, I find it a responsibility to attend to them in such a manner daily. You also become more intimate to your pigs overall well being. But that is my personal preference.
About 2 to 3 months of adult life, it is advisable to worm your pigs. I think there is no reason to avoid this important deed. Your pigs will most certainly have some sort of undesirable parasite within their digestive or respiratory tract. These parasites will kill your pigs at worst, at the least will keep your animals from reaching healthy growth, reduce quality of meat and fat. Who would want to consume diseased meat? Aside from being counter to the whole idea behind the effort and cost to raise your own healthy meat. There are many worming meds, your feed store or extension can assist in choosing the type good for you. We use the style that is added to feed.
Enough can not be said about providing your pigs with clean water. All they want to drink, and of a quality you would drink yourself. Though they will sometimes like a bit of muddy water, if they desire it they will drink out of their wallow.
We use a 100 gal plastic stock tank, garden hose filled every 3 or 4 days, set up a few feet high, with a hose to a 6 inch post set deep, using a gravity type pig nipple, connected to tank and nipple with barbed fittings, hose clamps, using clear vinyl braided water hose. A 55 gal food safe barrel works well too. You can drill a hole near the bottom and install a bulkhead fitting to screw a barb into. Set your nipple around 12 inches off ground level. If you use it for piglets, a bit lower, then raise it after they get larger. A good height is their chin with their head level. Be sure to use a very stout post securely set in a post hole. To get your pigs to come to it, a handful of feed held next to the nipple, tease them close to it, tickle the nipple so water will stream out. Pigs are pretty smart, they will put two and two together, they will smell the wet ground, and being intensely curious critters will play with it regardless. Putting a shallow water dish under it will get them to use it too. One pig figuring it out is all you need as the others will follow suit. If you don’t make a wallow hole and keep it from drying out, some piggies will tease the tank dry to make a wallow right under the nipple.
So by know you have some pretty nice happy plump piggies ready to slaughter. Taking them to the slaughter house entails getting them in your mode of transport. Trailer or cage, what have you, the day before they are to go, back your transport up to the pen at an opening in your fence, preferably a spot where the floor of your transport is close to ground level, like a bank or using a long ramp of low angle, put their food and water in your transport, and when your pigs go in to eat, close things up and you got them easy with no fuss. If it is a cozy trailer or such they will snuggle up in it naturally. They will be very interested but wary at first, if you leave them be, a few hours and they will be overcome with curiosity and go right in. Go back after dark and you can close things up and in the mourning you are ready to go.
If you plan on home butchering here is what works best for me.
Your going to need a rifle in. 22 LR caliber. You need a rifle and not a pistol. Use quality high power 40 grain non-hollow points or .22 Stingers.
A 10 inch or longer butcher blade.
Box of jelly donuts.
A way to drag then hang your pigs, a tractor with bucket, a derrick from a building or stout tree, chain fall/come-along/block and tackle of about10ft height all suitable to hang your animal.
Gambrels to hang your pig.
A hose and stiff hand brush to wash down your killed pig before gutting and butchering.
A clean butchering surface such as a piece of Formica counter top set on saw horses, 6ft x 2ft min, or a beefy piece of plywood you can cover with heavy mil plastic sheet.
3 clean 5 gal buckets. 1 is used with HOT water and soap to keep your tools in when not using or to give a quick cleaning, the second pail is HOT water and a touch of soap to as a second stage from the first pail, the 3rd bucket is HOT water with a few drops of straight bleach to rinse everything. Your hands should go through each bucket also whenever needs be. Trick here is you can not be clean enough.
Ajax liquid dish soap
3 very sharp knives, a large butcher, long boning, and a small blade.
Food safe tubs to temporarily sort out your cuts and major meat groups. At least 3. We use clear Rubbermaid dish washing pans. Good size, they hold up, clean easily, and are inexpensive.
A second table helps here as you begin to break the carcass down into muscle groups then into portion sizes for wrapping.
A meat saw. I use a Milwaukee Sawzall with a 2ft demolition blade, and a 34 inch hand meat saw. The Sawzall makes short work for cutting down the spine.
The key to great tasting meat is never touching it with bare hands. This is the gospel. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
As for putting your pigs down, a happy pig is a great tasting pig.
Die happy = Taste good.
The proper spot to shoot a pig is a quarter inch to the left of the center of an X drawn from the middle of each eye to each ear. The angle of your rifle barrel just a smidgen down from 90 degrees to the face of the forehead. In this fashion the bullet goes into the center of the brain along the divide between each brain lobe. Done properly the object is for the animal to drop instantly like a rag doll, with it’s heart still beating, so you can do a proper bleed.
Do this deed when you will have steady temps below 36 degree’s Fahrenheit for 24 hours. Pork needs to be cooled to a minimum of 38 degrees in under 24 hours. Also, properly cooled meat/fat is far easier to process as it firms up and cuts easier.
To calmly and gently coerce my pigs into position to be killed I use jelly donuts. No pig on earth can resist one. (Makes great bear bait too). The idea is to take a jelly donut, tease your pig into a suitable location, preferably clean dry and easy to get to spot, with a donut in my left hand, the rifle in my right, the 10 inch butcher blade in my back pocket, stuck in a fence post, or a helper to hand it to you and take the rifle. With the donut get the pig to stay still and raise it’s head up to a good height and angle to put a round into the brain. Don’t dally here, a few seconds of being teased and most pigs get testy and start to move around out of frustration of being denied such a wonderful treat. Don’t get flustered or loose your nerve if you can’t get a proper clean shot, give it a bite or the whole donut, and quietly begin again. If your calm, the pig will be too, and a clean kill is what you want here, so take your time and it will work out well. You can practice over a few days with a stick or an unloaded rifle, both you and the pig get used to everything this way. Some pigs no matter what wiggle around more than others because they may be hand shy or suspicious in nature. This is another purpose for why I prefer to hand feed my pigs, as they are used to a human and are more docile.
When the moment happens, the instant I pull the trigger, the rifle is handed off or dropped and I have the knife ready. Watch out as the pig drops, have your feet and legs out of harms way, watch for hooves also, as some pigs will reflexively kick and buck a second or two. Soon as possible, like within seconds fast, standing at the pigs head, grab the right front leg with your left hand, rolling the pig a bit to your left, feel with your thumb or index finger for the V at the very front of the brisket, it will be evident as the top of the ribs where they end at the base of the neck, it is a soft spot, take your blade, stick it straight in blade edge towards the chin till the point bottoms out against the spine side of the chest cavity, pull it back a tiny bit, turn the edge 90 degrees either way, edge now towards a shoulder, and using the v as a pivot point, sweep the blade far as you can, turn the edge 180 degrees sweep all the way to the other shoulder. This severs the ventricles coming out of the pigs heart as they are arrayed in a fan pattern. You sweep the cut across them and the pigs beating heart pumps out all the blood in approx a minute. If you can, get the pigs head down a slope as gravity helps a bit to bleed out also.
I drag my pigs to a good clean spot out of their pen, and using a hose and brush proceed to scrub it clean as can be. This assists in keeping the meat clean during gutting and skinning. Gutting is just like it’s done with a deer. Whatever works well with you do it. Set your gambrel above the hocks and under the tendon, this is the most secure spot. Winch the carcass up, take a clean stick and spread the cavity apart to allow air to circulate assisting in cooling down your meat. About a day hanging will firm things up, and cool everything down in preparation for butchering.
A very toothsome delicacy you can enjoy immediately is the two little back-strap tenderloins running parallel to the spine inside the abdominal cavity up below the hams. These are just fabulous tender pieces of pork. On a wood charcoal fire they come out superb.
It is a rather splendid way to celebrate all the good hard work and wholesome goodness you aimed for attaining.
I hope this missive has been of assistance to many. It is a basic culmination pig husbandry from of a lifetime experience of home raising, gathering and hunting for the wonderful bounty God, nature and agrarian liberty provides.
If warranted by request, I could submit a second part concerning the butchering, wrapping, sausage making, canning, curing, and smoking aspects of home butchering.
Thanks for taking the time to read these words.
God bless you and your loved ones, this great nation too.