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Raising our own food is a big deal and a major part of our homestead life. One of our favorite things to do is create meals solely from what we’ve raised and grown ourselves. We raise our own beef cattle, both meat and laying hens, vegetables and fruits, and pigs. Raising livestock is kind of addicting.

Pigs are a great option when it comes to raising your own meat, especially when you watch the grocery store prices skyrocket for pork. We’ve found it easier to raise pigs in pairs. It takes about the same amount of work and it keeps them from getting lonely.

Pig Buying Basics

We buy our pigs from a local breeder. You can purchase them from an auction house, but if you can find someone local, I recommend that route. We always try to support local farmers and I prefer to see the conditions the pigs have been raised in before bringing them home. Our local breeder worms the pigs before they leave his property. You’ll want to check with the breeder to see what shots the pigs have or have not been given.

There are generally two times of year to purchase pigs, in the spring and in the fall. Spring pigs are ready to butcher in the fall. You don’t have to worry about keeping the piglets warm with heat lamps and there’s more feed available from your garden. This is the best time if you plan on raising them to full size.

We’ve also purchased piglets in the fall to butcher and roast whole for Christmas and New Year’s. We raised the pigs for six weeks and they dressed out at about 60 pounds. We butchered them ourselves and roasted them whole for our holiday feasting. We had to use a heat lamp because of the cold while raising them during this time and had to feed them more because they were using some of their energy to keep warm instead of using it all for putting on weight.

A large dog crate works well for bringing the piglets home. Line the bottom with straw and make sure you either have a canopy on the back of your truck or a tarp tucked around it to keep the breeze off them on the way home. Piglets need to be kept warm if it’s extremely cold outside.

Pasture-Raised Piggies

I firmly believe that any animal is healthier and happier when raised on pasture instead of in a tiny box or pen. We pasture-raise all of our animals. If you have an area of land you want tilled up, that is the perfect place to house your pigs. Pigs are natural born tillers. It’s amazing what a pig can do with just his snout. He’ll root up the ground, no matter how hard-packed it is, up to about 6 inches deep. Our pasture was fairly compact after years of running cattle on it. The pigs had it rooted up, brush and blackberry vines included, within a few weeks.

Many farmers rotate pigs and chickens on their pasture to loosen the soil and provide fertilization. If you’d like to convert a new area to a garden, consider putting your pigs there first.

Pigs require fencing, water, food and a place where they can get shade. They don’t sweat and can become overheated, which is why they like to wallow in mud. The mud helps cool them off and provides a barrier between their skin and the sun. They’ll play in the water and water trough. Ours are large enough that they can jump into it, which they like to do, so we refill it every few days to keep it clean. They’ll fully submerge themselves until just their snout is sticking up above the surface of the water.

Pigs are entertaining. We’ve sprayed a hose in the air, creating a sprinkler effect, and the pigs love running back and forth in the water. They’ll bark like a dog when startled and squeal quite loudly when scared.

They can get sunburned, so having a place for them to go to get out of the sun, either under a large tree or in a pallet house like we’ve created, works well. Our pallet house is simple: wooden pallets nailed together to create a large crate. We secured a tarp over the top to provide shelter from the rain and sun. The inside is filled with straw to provide bedding. When they’re piglets, they like to burrow down under the straw.

Fencing Finesse

You’ll want sturdy fencing, both to keep your pigs in and to keep predators out. Where we live there are coyotes, the occasional cougar and bear. While the fence isn’t a big deterrent to a bear or cougar, our pigs are close enough to our house that we would hear them squealing, hopefully in enough time to protect them.

Because pigs will eat just about anything, from flowers to vegetable gardens, fences help keep our other crops safe as well. You’ll need to run a hot wire along the bottom of the fence to keep them from rooting out underneath it. A single strand a few inches above the ground works well. If you get it too high, they’ll get underneath it and you’ll spend part of the day chasing a pig. Luckily for us, they chose a Saturday morning when we were both home.

Make sure you walk the fence line every few weeks. If you have lots of vegetation growing, it can connect with the fence and cause it to short out. We ended up enlarging our fenced pig area twice during one six-month period at our homestead.

Feed Needs

The major benefit of raising your own meat is that you decide what your animals are fed. We prefer our animals to have a natural diet or as close to it as possible. We’ve found that pigs love fresh vegetables and fruit, and that the type of food they eat directly affects the flavor of their meat.

We purchased barley, rolled oats and hay with molasses to supplement our garden scraps. Having a prolific crop of summer squash last year, we roasted the overripe squash and fed the pigs a helping of this once a day. They also love any scraps of bread and dairy products. I found that they do not like asparagus stalks. Apples are a favorite and give the meat a sweeter taste.

Garlic is another large summer crop on our homestead. We fed the pigs peeled garlic, which they seemed to enjoy. I’ve read in several places that garlic can be used as a natural de-wormer, but to date, I’m unaware of any scientific studies that have proven garlic’s effectiveness in this area.

To keep our feed bill as low as possible, we supplement with as many fresh vegetables and fruits as possible. We have asked neighbors if we could have all of the fallen and bruised apples from their trees and they graciously gave us permission. Grocery stores will often cull bruised or less-than-prime produce. Ask the produce manager if you can come by and collect it daily or every few days. Also, bakeries and bread stores usually have stale, unsalable bread. It never hurts to ask if you can take it off their hands.

To The Butcher

If you plan on using a butcher, be sure and call a few months out since fall is a busy time. Our butcher will turn our pork into sausage, bacon and cure our hams. If you have a smokehouse, you may want to do the curing at home.

Be sure to tell the butcher you’d like the fat. They’ll put it in a bag for you. Store it in the freezer until you are ready to render it yourself to use for baking and cooking. We also asked for the cheek meat from the pigs. Making head cheese by boiling the whole head with seasonings and vegetables is a lost art.

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