So you’ve decided to raise a pig! You can do it! Just five years ago I made the same choice. I was a suburbanite, but that didn’t stop me from moving to the country and buying some pigs!
I learned almost everything I needed to know from books and the Internet. How to Raise Pigs and Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs are two excellent choices for comprehensive books. (Those are affiliate links. If you buy through them, it doesn’t cost you a thing to support another small pig farmer.)
I have had several seasons of successful pig-raising. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by how to get started, let me break it down for you.
Reasons to Raise a Pig
Some people use pigs to clear an area of land or till in preparation for gardening, but the primary reason to raise them is the delicious meat they turn out. If the idea of hams, bacon, sausage, roasts, ribs, and pork chops gets you going, you don’t need ME to tell you the benefits of raising pigs!
They’re great composters. Our pigs will eat almost anything out of the garden, the kitchen, and the rest of the barnyard. Pigs are a machine that turns food waste into bacon. Hard to go wrong there!
Pig personality is another reason. They are friendly, social, fun to get to know, fun to watch, and are as cute as can be. Because of their social nature, when you decide to raise one pig, you’re deciding to raise two or more. Unless you are devoted to spending hours a day with your pig, you need more than one.
There are three basic types of pig raising operations, and you need to decide early on which one you are.
Farrow-to-finish – Farrowing is a sow birthing a litter of piglets. In this type of operation you are in for the whole process – breeding sows, farrowing sows, and raising piglets to market weight. This takes the longest time commitment, largest amount of upfront investment, and biggest space and equipment needs.
Farrow-to-feeder – Breeding sows and selling the weaned piglets is called a farrow-to-feeder operation. This type of operation requires the most labor and rises and falls with piglet demand.
Feeder-to-finish – This is the most common type of operation for a new pig farmer. You’ll buy feeder pigs at 30-60 pounds and raise them to finished size, around 225 pounds. You don’t have the extra complications of dealing with adult pigs and breeding. You will have fewer costs and space needs since you don’t need to maintain multiple sows. Your time commitment is less since you can finish your pigs in 6-7 months.
Space Needs for Pigs
Pigs need space to sleep that is protected from the weather if you will have rain or cold. They need space for eating and drinking. They need space for defecating – pigs will create a “bathroom” area of their pen. They need extra space for frolicking about. Yes, pigs frolic.
100 square feet is a good starting amount per pig. More pigs will need less space per pig because they will mostly be together. Pigs tend to sleep all in one pile, for example, especially if it’s cold.
If your pigs will be in an enclosed space like a barn stall, you’ll want to muck out their waste. If you’re housing them outside and have some extra space, you might want to rotate them through different areas to limit their exposure to their waste.
Food for Pigs
Commercial pig feed is available from feed stores, or you may have a local farmers co-op that will have pig feed. Pigs can be supplemented with kitchen scraps, garden scraps, and pasture. However, especially as a first time pig farmer, you should provide your pigs with a commercial feed. This feed will have the proper nutrients to help your pigs grow at a good rate and give you a baseline for pig growth if you choose to alter your feed choice in the future.
You can feed your pigs at set mealtimes, or you can free feed. Free feeding produces more feed waste and requires more equipment, but it requires less labor.
For free-feeding, you will want to build or buy a feeder.
Water for Pigs
Pigs need access to clean drinking water at all times. You may want to build or invest in a nipple waterer to prevent pigs from constantly tipping their water over. If you provide open water, you will need to check on it frequently to insure that the pigs haven’t knocked it all onto the ground.
Pigs appreciate open water and mud to keep themselves cool and clean. Especially in the summer they will enjoy and open bin of water, a mud puddle, or even sprays from a hose. My pigs have always loved running in and out of the spray on a hot day.
There are a variety of health concerns that could arise in your pigs, from skin conditions and parasites, to serious diseases and injuries. The supplies you need to treat health issues are probably available at your local farm store or co-op, including dewormer and antibiotics.
Identifying health needs early is important, so that you can treat problems early and cull if you need to. Most pig raising books will have a section on common pig health problems.
Don’t be shy about talking to local pig farmers or consulting an online farming or homesteading community. Other people who are experienced with pigs can help you troubleshoot a concern before it becomes a crisis. The Pig Site has an excellent section on pig health.
Finish weight for pigs is approximately 225 pounds. This is around the size where a pig starts to put on more fat, so your feed to meat ratio becomes less than ideal. You can approximate your pigs’ weight by measuring their length and heart girth. Length is from between their ears to the base of their tails. Heart girth is measured around the whole body right behind the front legs. Heart girth times heart girth times length will give you a reasonable approximation.
Unless you are processing your pig at home, you will need to find a local processor well in advance. I have to drive two hours for my processing, because small processors are hard to find these days. Check with any of your local places that take deer and other game. Ask other farmers in your area who they recommend. Check out your farmers markets and ask anyone selling meat where they take theirs.
Check out my article How Much Meat From A Pig to understand how much and what kind of meat you’ll be looking at.
Jumping in Head First
There’s a lot of information you need to get started raising pigs, but there are a lot of resources out there to help you. You’ll find the experience rewarding and the meat the best you’ve ever tasted.