The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Pondering pigs

Cost to fatten hogsLong-time readers will be aware that I'm always trying to sneak new livestock onto the farm and Mark's always reining me in.  "Whoa, there!" he says.  "Are you ready for such a big commitment?  Remember how much time the garden and fruit trees and berry bushes and laying flock and broilers take up, not to mention all this writing you're always poking away at.  Do you really think we have time to milk a goat or fence in an acre for sheep?"

I think I may have found the perfect middle ground, though --- fattening a pair of hogs.  This fascinating page suggests that you can raise a pair of pigs from 40 pounds (when they're weaned) to 200 pounds for $500 ($1.39 per pound) if you do the butchering yourself.  The great part is that the whole process only takes four months, so if we decide we hate swine, we only have to live with them for 120 days.

Fattening hog(Even if we weren't pinching pennies, we'd have to do the butchering on-farm.  The idea of walking a pig half a mile down our floodplain to the parking area and then loading it up in our car to get to the slaughter-house sounds tougher than skinning, gutting, and cleaning the hogs ourselves.  Bradley remembers killing hogs with his family as a kid, so I'll bet we could get him to help us, and how much harder could it be than a deer?)

In addition to providing top-notch meat for $1.39 per pound, spending the summer with a pair of pigs could be the first step toward reclaiming more quality pasture for chickens (or other animals).  As colonizing livestock, pigs can be living bush hogs if you leave the rings out of their noses, and all of the areas we've considered expanding into would need a year or two of this work before anything else could happen there. 

As an added bonus, there's always the manure to consider.  Plus, increased diversity on a homestead usually seems to lead to increased efficiency, in this case resulting from the pigs eating some garden waste the chickens aren't interested in.  And I just love experimenting with new things.

Pig pastureMy reading suggests that a third of an acre divided into four paddocks would be sufficient pasture for a pair of growing swine.  I've got the perfect spot in mind too --- a little plateau just southwest of our core homestead with lots of scrubby growth that can come out and two big oak trees that would stay put and drop mast (acorns) into the pasture.  The question is, how crazy am I to want to spend $1,550 on a livestock panel fence that will last the rest of our lives and allow us to graze anything we want in there forever, versus a small fraction of that sum on electric fencing?

And, of course, is raising a pair of weanling pigs much more work than I imagine?  I'd be curious to hear from others who have tried a similar small-scale operation.  If we figured out the fencing and housing over the winter, would day-to-day pig care drive me nuts during the busy garden season?

(What do you think, Mark?  Are you sold?)

For those of you too smart to dive into hoofed livestock, The Weekend Homesteader helps you select the low-hanging fruit that won't drive you nuts.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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This was our first year at raising pigs. We raised 2 from about 45 lbs to around 200-230 lbs. 1 boar and 1 gilt. They are great animals to be around. Ours were never aggressive as some people had warned me. The cost you show are very close to ours but we had ours processed off site. I created a movable pen out of some hog panels and connected them with carabiners and used metal garden T posts to keep the pen on the ground. We moved it weekly. This year we will be running some electric wire stands through our woods with about 6 or so paddock areas to rotate them through. We plan to raise 2 for ourselves again and maybe 2 to sell. I think we will try to do the processing on site this time.

I'm glad we took the plunge and gave it a try. I thought it might be too much for us. It is a bit of a step up from our chickens. But we made it, learned a lot, and now have a freezer full of pork. Good luck!

Comment by Kevin Thu Nov 8 08:17:25 2012

Michael and Neville, owners of Woods Hole Hostel, near Pearisburg, were doing exactly what you are contemplating and they are near your area.

I remember electric fences and one or two shoat sized pigs on ground Michael was clearing while I was there last spring. You can contact them through their web site at Michael loves to talk about his homesteading.

Comment by tom blum Thu Nov 8 08:18:48 2012
Hubby and I raised pigs for several years. They were a joy. The first meal was hard . But the flavor won us over.
Comment by mona Thu Nov 8 09:15:34 2012

Is that poundage cost for meat on the hoof or packaged meat? Are you ready to cure hams and bacon? As a child I was "elected" to chase after my Uncle John's hog when he was at work and it got out--which it often did. I'd usually find it in a shady alley lying in a mud puddle. It weighed hundreds of pounds more than I did. I had to pull it by the ear the thousand yards or so back home. Uncle John had a good fence, often patched where the pigs found a weak spot. They were good at tunneling under their fencing. On the positive side, pigs will eat most anything including much your chickens can't handle, including corn cobs, corn stalks, citrus peels. A man in our town kept a fire going under a vat where he cooked scraps gathered from local grocery stores, restaurants and schools. He slopped the hogs with the result.

Comment by Errol Thu Nov 8 09:38:58 2012

Bakers Green Acres has a three part You-tube series on processing pork.

Comment by Marc Thu Nov 8 10:01:05 2012
i razed pigs they dont need a 1/4 acker the more room you give them the more weight they lose running. and they are smart if there is any sticks or any thing they can use to short out your hot wire they will still have to come up with a way to smoke your bacon hams and so on. pigs are like dogs they dont have sweat glands so in your heat you will need to make them a good mud waller you provide the water they will do the rest. hope this helps tom.
Comment by Anonymous Thu Nov 8 10:20:53 2012
I want some too! Hubby is NOT convinced!
Comment by Deb Thu Nov 8 11:03:40 2012
On the slaughtering note, I had a coworker who attended a Boucherie last year and loved it. It's a Cajun tradition where everyone (or at least a few folks capable and committed to slaughtering the hog/s) shows up early in the morning to kill and butcher the hogs and spends the rest of the day cooking/preparing them. Of course, it's a social event too, so it has all of the usual makings of a cookout. Sounds like the way I'd want to go about slaughtering if I were considering raising hogs.
Comment by Sara Thu Nov 8 11:49:28 2012
I just wanted to mention that we raised hogs this year and we purchased cattle panels instead of hog panels cause they were on sale(we did think they'd work better too) and they work great. We raised 3, one for us, one for a buddy, and one for my mom. We just got one back from the butch and we are very pleased. We do plan on butchering one ourselves, we are gonna build a smoke house at the end of the month, we plan to build it out of whole birch logs we harvest ourselves because birch is good for the flavor. We will use the smokehouse for tanning buckskins also.
Comment by Bo Thu Nov 8 13:26:44 2012
We are going to start raising hogs and have been inspired by Farmstead Meatsmiths ( I think their videos are amazing)--the selling point for me is all of the extra benefits of tillage, manure, and then meat. We are looking into raising some small American Guinea Hogs. If they browse for most of their food, they wont get so lardy.
Comment by Jon Thu Nov 8 14:27:57 2012

but I've learned a lot about pasture raising them from Walter Jeffries at His pigs get most of their feed from pasture and hay. He also supplements waste whey from a local dairy, because pasture and hay are lacking in lysine. Walter has also raised pigs on pasture and hay only, but he says they grow more slowly and produce almost no fat.

Dairy is probably going to be tricky for most people -- barley, maybe with some linseed meal, sounds like it would also produce superior pork. Most of the small grains are going to be better as feed than the corn and soy that commercial pigs get.

Comment by BeninMA Thu Nov 8 18:06:28 2012

Interesting to see everyone's experiences with pigs!

Daddy --- The price per pound was for the meat after processing. I'm actually kinda interested in curing hams and bacon, although presumably if I got daunted, I could just roast the hams uncured the way I do legs of lamb and deer.

Sara --- I've enjoyed reading about hog-killings like that --- I think they're a southern thing, not just Cajun. I don't think I'd want to host one my first year with pigs, though....

BeninMA --- That's one of my favorite blogs to follow. I'm waiting impatiently for the book that he mentioned during his kickstarter campaign (and for the sausage we're going to get this winter as the result of donating to said campaign. :-) )

Comment by anna Thu Nov 8 19:08:42 2012
One thing that I read is that you can used barbed wire to keep the pigs in but you need to put one strand right on the ground so that when the pigs are rooting around they will not go under the strand (along with the other strands hire up).
Comment by BW Thu Nov 8 23:06:25 2012

We picked up a couple of pigs at the beginning of the summer and have added another one this fall. The daily work involved in raising pigs has been minimal so far. The most labor intensive part has been the fencing. We had rented a trencher to run some water and power lines to my brother's new camper out in the woods, so we used the trencher to dig a 6 inch deep trench where we wanted to put the pig pen. Then we put a wooden post every 8-12 feet and strung field fencing on them sinking it down into the trench as far as we could get it. So far they haven't even tried to get out of this new setup. When we put them in a pen that was for goats and had the bottom of the field fencing at ground level they stayed in it for 2 days before getting out. They were a little smaller then, but still, they just dug a tiny hole and wallowed under the fence. With this other fence being set down in the ground a little and the pigs themselves being a little bigger, my conclusion is it would just be too much work for them to dig their way out (or at least I hope). i have some rings for their noses but haven't used yet because don't want to unless i have to.

I recommend getting some pigs. They are great at getting rid of stuff you and your animals can't or shouldn't eat. There are all kinds of ways of supplementing their feed for free too (i.e. rotten fruit, nuts that your don't want or can't eat, stale bread from bakeries, dead chickens, chicken and fish guts after butchering, rotten eggs, kitchen waste, old leftovers etc etc). I'm sure not all those things are stuff everyone recommends but they sure do like that stuff, and historically it has been fed to them forever.

as far as butchering goes, the pig farmer i got ours from does a pretty simple style of butchering. he skins them. cuts out the tenderloin and a few pork chops, and then turns the rest of it into ground sausage in the freezer. though a friend of mine says the bacon making is pretty easy to do, but i haven't checked into it yet. if you're interested in some peeks at my shoddy pig fence and shack and my tale of having to wrangle the older pig this fall (which was anything but fun), then you can read them on this page here:

go for it. they're productive and fun animals. just give them enough room or your whole place will smell like a pig sty.

Comment by Jason Thu Nov 8 23:13:16 2012

Somebody sounds mighty excited about pigs. 'Tis fun to watch. :D

I have a girlfriend who runs her own farm and sells mostly meat. Cold weather farm country. She says the yak are a stubborn bunch but weather the cold really well, pigs are standard fare and quite easy compared to the cows (she milks) etc.

I am looking forward to your pig posts next summer. ;)

Comment by c. Fri Nov 9 00:17:39 2012

Hi--the benefits might outweigh the risks and costs... I do remember that even Uncle John in Scituate, RI raised pigs. Maxie liked them. Sounds like you've opened a Pandora's box. That is, I can see that a 200 lb body is worse to kill close up than a wild deer you can shoot from afar.

What about the high intelligence factor?--mom

Comment by adriaanne Fri Nov 9 07:14:34 2012
Mom --- Since we eat pork already, the comparison would be pastured pork versus factory farmed pork --- the former is always healthier than the latter. Mark's a little worried about being about to kill a pig, but I don't think he needs to be --- we seem to have gotten used to that part of meat-eating lately.
Comment by anna Fri Nov 9 07:40:59 2012
We raised two Berkshire barrows (brothers) this year, from April weaning to September butchering. We sheltered them in borrowed a calf dome filled with straw bedding. At first, we fenced them with eight hog panels held with t-posts. This worked fine to contain the boys, but as they grew, we enlarged their territory with a fence made from surplus shipping pallets. Surprisingly, the pallet fence contained them without problems, despite the fact that it was not secured with any posts, just screwed together in zig-zag fashion. We eventually gave them the run of our woods, which are fenced with field fence held with wooden posts set in concrete. Not once did our pigs try to escape, although they are remarkably frisky at times and can really RUN when they want to. The boys fattened up quickly on pelleted hog feed supplemented by their forage as well as vegetable trimmings from a nearby Chinese restaurant. If you are trying to decide whether to raise pigs, remember to factor in setup costs beyond fencing. We bought an $85 feeder which is pretty much wrecked after one season. The watering device was another expense; we added a watering cup (about $30) to a 55-gallon drum with a lever-lock top. Butchering cost more than $500 and when the hams and bacon are ready, there will be an additional fee. Using the whole pig is a challenge, too, as many of the cuts are unfamiliar. Overall, though, it was worth it to know that our meat comes from happy healthy animals that only had one bad day in their lives.
Comment by Suze Fri Nov 9 12:00:28 2012
Anna mentioned that pigs like old or un hulled nuts. Well, I have a bunch of walnuts I wouldn't mind getting rid of for a tad of meat or even just lard. Not sure if anyone is interested in trading. You'd have to be in the Tricities area and willing to pick it up in Bristol Tennessee. :) Will eat for fatback.
Comment by Maggie "Porker" Hess Fri Nov 9 15:55:32 2012

I just spent a weekend in the Lake Wales Ridge forest preserve. There was a lot of rooting in evidence. Let me tell you!!! Those pigs really git er done!!. An old time cracker friend said that hogs were the only thing to clear a tract of "nut grass" which propogates via nodules in the root system.

I think it would work well for you.

Comment by Tom Blum Mon Nov 12 12:37:08 2012

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