By Heather Jackson, contributing writer
I blame Craigslist.
A year ago we added a new adventure to our lives when we responded to an ad on Craigslist and went to pick up three cute, squealing, pink pigs from a nearby farm to add to our homestead. While we have thoroughly enjoyed having pigs on our little farm and having the pork in the freezer, owning pigs isn’t for everyone. Here are some pros and cons to consider before you make the leap into raising pigs.
Raising Pigs: The Pros and Cons
Pro: With pigs on our homestead, we have zero food waste. Like, ever. The pigs eat all food scraps we throw their way. We scrape our dishes into the “pig bucket” that sits on our kitchen counter. We also pour in leftover milk, stale cereal, and whey from cheese making. Basically, if it’s edible (not moldy) they will love it. This keeps the cost of feeding them very low for animals so large!
Con: Pigs eat a lot, which means that pigs poop a lot. While they are much cleaner than we are often lead to believe, their pens can really stink on a hot day! They generally designate a corner of their pen as the restroom, which seems rather civilized, but is still quite smelly when you are downwind. If you have close neighbors, they might have well-founded objections to your pigs.
Pro: Pigs are smart! Some are even sweet and friendly and interacting with a friendly pig can be a delightful experience.
Con: Pigs are smart! They can figure out ways to escape their pen and once they do, they are difficult to catch! They will need a strong enclosure, likely electrified, in order to keep them where you want them. (Jill: TRUTH. You should see what our pigs did to our front yard this summer…)
Pro: Pigs are fun to watch. They are busy little creatures and they get so excited about rooting around the pasture that I really enjoy watching them. They would also get very excited when I would come to the pen with the hose to give them a “bath” on hot days. They run through the sprinkler like children.
Con: It can be hard to say goodbye. Although, some the fun of the pigs has worn off by processing time, it can still be rather difficult to part with your pigs when it is time to send them to the freezer. I personally had to really work to keep a mental detachment as I raised them, so that I could give them up when it was time.
Pro: If you raise 2 pigs and sell one to a friend, it will usually pay for all the feed and processing fees for the pig you keep. Therefore, you eat for free! If you have room to raise even more pigs, you could easily have a little side business to add extra income to your homestead. Just make sure you are abiding by local laws.
Con: If you sell one pig, people will find out and then beg you to raise one for them too. This request is made without regard for whether you have the space, time, or energy for more pigs or not.
Pro: Delicious pork you can feel good about eating. The meat you raise yourself lived a good life on pasture. It only had one bad day and you know it was treated humanely. You know what kind of feed it consumed and that it was free from disease. On top of that, it tastes absolutely delicious and MUCH better than the pork you can get at the grocery store. I feel good about feeding it to my family.
Con: You will eventually run out of pork and want to start the whole process over again! (Wait, maybe that isn’t a con…)
And finally, a warning…
Meet Loudy Pants (so named by our 5 year old daughter.)
She was one of three pigs we bought to raise and process for meat. When the day came for the pigs to be hauled off to the processor, we just couldn’t get Loudy Pants onto the trailer. 4 adults worked for an hour and a half trying to coax, drag, or push her onto the trailer. It just wasn’t happening and we were in danger of missing our appointment for the other two pigs, so we left without her. We made an appointment to take her another day. In the following month, she began to steal our hearts. She looked forward to playing with the water hose. She would come running to greet us when we headed to the pasture. She wanted to be petted and loved on.
In short, we now have a 500 pound pet pig in the pasture!
We have made plans to breed her and raise her piglets. If that isn’t something you are interested in doing, I highly recommend NOT making friends with the pigs, and NOT becoming attached.
Aside from the pet pig “problem,” our family thoroughly enjoyed our pork project and we are so excited to see what happens next in the world of homestead pigs!
Filed Under: Raising Farm Animals
This entire week, my kids and I have spent at our county 4H fair. We haul our animals down in a livestock trailer and park our camper in our assigned slot and take up housekeeping for the week. We are lucky in that because our county is still very rural, our fair is about 4H, whereas other more urban Maryland counties have fairs whose focus is the midway and demolition derbies. I grew up in 4H. Its an important part of our family and is a significant part of our entire community.
Having said that, as livestock exhibitors, we have animals in barns on the fair grounds that folks walk through looking at the project animals. We call them project animals because that's what they are, 4H projects for the kids who are raising them. My kids raise sheep and pigs. All the 4H families take turns helping in the animal barns and it always amazes me the types of questions we get from folks who walk through our barns.
This week, the most common question we got was "Why are the pigs different colors?" This question came a few times, but always from an adult, not a child. Pigs, like dogs, are different colors based on their breed. There are SO many different breeds of pigs. Here in our barn at the 4H fair, we have quite a few different breeds of pigs being raised by 4H'ers. The purpose of the breed program is for the 4H'ers to raise hogs with the specific characteristics of the breed they choose to raise. Here are just a few examples of what's in our barn. Please note, i took these photos during nap time in the barn so several of the pigs are laying down snoozing in their pens.
Obviously the name fits the "color". My daughter raised a Spot pig for the first time this year, mainly because when it was a piglet, she thought it was "cute". I don't really think so now that its 244 pounds...
Yorkshires are also very popular. This is a picture of a sow, a female pig that has had at least one litter of piglets. I had a woman ask why we called them "white" when actually they are pink. True, their skin is pink but their hair is white.
Blue Butts are cross-bred between Hampshires and Yorkshires. They generally have some dark markings around their hind-quarters, thus the term "blue butt". This type of pig makes up the bulk of our market hogs.
A primer on some pig terms we also got questions on this week at the fair:
Gilt = a female pig that has not delivered a litter of piglets. Can be either used for breeding if it has the qualities to enhance the litter of piglets or for market.
Barrow = a castrated male pig typically sold for market.
Boar = an uncastrated male pig used for breeding. Yes, those are what you can see in the picture of the Chester White boar...
Sow = a mature female pig that has had at least one litter of piglets.
Average litter size? Depends on breed but typically 10 piglets per litter.
What do pigs eat? Pig feed! :Primarily a blend of corn and soybeans. When I was a kid raising pigs we "slopped" our pigs giving them any and all type of food left overs. Nowadays with the desire for lean meat, a pig's diet is prescribed to have the correct weight gain over time and a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates along with vitamins and minerals. Our pigs still get our leftovers. Their favorite is watermelon rinds and corn husks and corn cobs! They also love a treat of apples that have fallen of the tree in our backyard.
My kids LOVE being at the county fair (quite frankly so do I) and sharing what they do with their 4H animal projects. You really should visit a county fair near you and ask the 4H'ers questions. You may just be surprised at what you learn.