Every March since moving into The Wallow, Joshua and I have bought piglets and raised them for meat for ourselves and others. 2 pigs the first year, 4 pigs the second year, and 6 pigs this year. Every year is something new, and we’re still enjoying the process and learning a lot.
One of the challenges this year was that we had one pig who was a slow grower and then stopped growing entirely at about 60 pounds. Joshua slaughtered and butchered her a couple of weeks ago, which gave us a chance to check out her insides. Examining her intestines enabled us to confirm that she’d had a bacterial infection common to weaner pigs that prevents the pig from properly extracting nutrients from food. Many farmers treat new weaners with an antibiotic in case of something like this. So far we’ve chosen not to give prophylactic antibiotics, but when we have a situation like this which costs the pig’s health and costs us money we question those choices about medication.
The reason this kind of infection is common in weaner pigs is that these pigs transition off of milk more abruptly than is ideal, losing the antibodies in the milk and suffering the stress of weaning, plus there’s the stress of moving and separation from the mother when the pigs move to the new farm. One way to get around this without medication would be to breed our own pigs, but we are nowhere near ready to take that big step yet (if ever!) I’m amused and satisfied to find a pro-breastfeeding lesson in the midst of farming!
Our other 5 pigs grew bigger, but then their growth stopped at around 200 pounds. This probably means that they had the same infection but fought it off better. We made a rush decision to go ahead and have them slaughtered last week after confirming that they hadn’t grown in 3 weeks. Every extra week they’re around and not growing is more money out of our pocket and more chances that something will negatively affect their health before slaughter.
The bacterial infection wouldn’t affect meat quality, and the pigs were otherwise in good health. The only effect of all of this on our customers was the ending coming a little more rapidly than expected and they got less meat (and paid less money) than everyone expected.
Last Monday night, we dropped the 5 pigs off at our new USDA certified processor, using the new stock racks Joshua built for our trailer. 4 days later, I picked up the meat and then Joshua delivered it to our customers.
And once again, no pigs live at The Wallow.