When I was a little girl, I was absolutely terrified of Grandad’s pigs. In my opinion, they were big, loud, and scary, and not in any way cute! I blame Grandad, really, because he was always drilling it in to me that they could bite my fingers right off if I stuck them where they didn’t belong. No problem, Grandad! I wasn’t going anywhere near those pigs!
As I got older and started out on my own homesteading adventure, I realized that I love bacon! And pork chops! So, one year, I convinced my husband that we needed to raise a couple of pigs for the freezer. We did our research and built a good sturdy pig pen. And then we went out and purchased two little baby pigs to raise.
Well, that’s when the trouble began! It turns out that baby pigs are cute! Like really, super cute! And they can be sweet, entertaining and very smart, too. You really need to remember their purpose, otherwise you’re going to end up with a couple of pet pigs in the pasture, and no bacon or pork chops in the freezer! We had a similar problem with rabbits… but that’s another story!
Over the years, I have learned a lot about raising pigs on the homestead. Here are the answers to all your burning questions!
Are pigs dangerous?
It turns out Grandad was right. Some pigs do bite, and they can really do some damage! And pigs are really big… like 500 to 1000 pounds when grown. Just like any other large farm animal, they need to be treated with respect and handled carefully. Children will need to be taught boundaries, because sticking little fingers through the fence to pet a hungry pig could have disastrous results. Don’t get me wrong, most pigs are very sweet, but they are also very large and very food motivated.
Are pigs destructive?
Pigs have amazing digging abilities, and they love to root. The more room they have, the less destructive they will be, but even pastured pigs will tear up the ground pretty good. You could use this to your advantage by enclosing them on the garden or a field that needs to be plowed under and cleaned up. That’s what we do, and it saves us a lot of hard work. The pigs are happier, too.
What kind of housing and fencing do pigs need?
I like to use a hutch that can be moved around the property. It can be pretty simple, just something to give them shade when it’s hot, and somewhere to go to stay dry when it’s raining. We use straw for bedding in their hutch. They will probably eat the straw and move it around, but you just throw in some more. If you plan on keeping your pigs through the winter, you will have to beef up their shelter a little bit to keep them warm.
For fencing, my preference is electric fence. I use a solar charger so I can move them around. You should start training them to respect the electric fence when they are small. If you decide to go with traditional fencing, you will need to use heavy duty posts and hog panels because pigs are very strong, and they are notorious for breaking out of their fencing. If they do, they can be very hard to catch, and you can probably kiss your garden goodbye, too.
What do I feed my pigs?
Your pigs will eat all of your kitchen scraps, as well as any surplus milk, whey from cheese making, or extra fruits and vegetables you may have around. Pigs raised for meat require a diet that’s high in protein if you want quality meat. You will want to give them a good, high protein, non-medicated pig feed at the rate of 1 pound per day for each month of age, stopping at a maximum of six pounds per day. Divide their feed up into two feedings to prevent waste.
How many pigs should I start out with?
Start with two feeder pigs. Raise one for your own freezer and sell the other one at butchering age to cover the cost of feeding both pigs and processing your own for the freezer. Butchering your pigs at around 250 pounds will give you the best feed to meat ratio.
What breed of pig should I get?
You may have to just settle for whatever is available in your area. Purchase from a local farmer, and avoid livestock auctions wherever possible. If you do have options, go for a heritage breed.
My favorite heritage breed is Red Wattle pigs because they are docile, hardy, and good foragers. If you want to raise your own piglets, Red Wattles make excellent mothers. Just keep in mind that an average litter is 10-15 piglets and they can have two or three litters a year. You could become overrun very quickly if you don’t have a good plan for getting rid of your surplus.
If Red Wattles aren’t available in your area, look for Berkshires. They are super friendly and adaptable. Berkshires are coveted for their delicious meat and they also have great mothering skills.
Other great heritage breeds that are friendly and good on the homestead are Gloucestershire Old Spots, Hampshires, and Yorkshires.
Can pigs be trained?
Absolutely! Much like dogs, pigs are very food oriented and intelligent. They can be trained to walk on a leash and come when called, and I’m sure lots of other things, too. Just be careful of forming too strong of a bond with your pigs. That will make it a lot harder at butchering time.
Do pigs get bored?
Yes, they do, and a bored pig can become destructive and possibly even aggressive! Bored pigs will chew on their pen and possibly even each other. It’s best to never keep just one pig by itself. Try to give them plenty of room to root and forage. Even their food can help to keep them entertained. Provide lots of straw for them to root around in and different types of foods like salt licks, kitchen scraps, root vegetables, chemical free grass clippings and whatever else is available. They will even eat acorns! Providing something for them to chew on, like logs or even really tough dog chews, might help to keep them from chewing on their pen.
Raising pigs on the homestead may not be for everyone, but there’s nothing like having a freezer full of homegrown bacon and pork at the start of winter. If you can manage it, they are well worth the trouble, and can be quite entertaining and enjoyable!