Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.


Friday, December 17, 2010

How to grow out feeder pigs - on the cheap. Part One

A couple of folks have wondered if growing out your own pigs is worth it - financially that is. So lets talk turkey.. er.. pigs and show everyone how to get 'er done. Now, this way isn't for everyone and my friend and real farmer, JHM, will tell you to quit all the monkeying around and just feed 'em hog chow. But lets face it, I'm cheap and have the time so this works for us.

Isn't he adorable? Um.. No.

Aside from Grandpa's wild boars I think we grow out our pigs cheaper than just about anybody. To be sure my pal, Freemotion, is the queen of foraged and gleaned food for pigs, but we do OK.  But before we get to feeding them, lets make sure you've got your pig set up ready before you bring in the porkers.  So we'll start with some basics.  We'll call this Part One.

The first thing you need to grow your own pork is.. pigs. Check out craigslist or your local paper for someone selling "feeder pigs" or "weaner pigs." Note this isn't "wiener" pigs - you don't want hot dogs you want pigs that have been weaned. And castrated (if they are males). There is some debate but it seems that having castrated males is better than taking a chance at "boar tainted" meat. Also, only a fool or a professional hog raiser would have a boar. Do not get a fully intact male hog.

We'll park here for a minute. Lets be clear, forget all that stuff you learned from Charlotte's Web and Disney. Pigs are big, mean, destructive, and can be very, very dangerous. Make sure you know exactly what you are getting into before you run right out and start up a hog growing operation.

Got kids, grandkids, or neighbor kids? Think long and hard before you get pigs. The old timers will not let their kids get near the hogs without supervision and rightly so. Sure there are always some folks who let their kids get in the pen with their hogs... and either they don't really like their kids.. or they learn the hard way that its all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Most hog farmers have a horror story to two and the scars to go with them.

Hogs can move two to three times their body weight without even thinking about it.  Do you have the ability and the set up to keep a 200 pound animal contained that can move 400 pounds without batting an eye? Or that can walk over a hog panel like it wasn't even there? Or climb out of field fence like a monkey? What if they get out? Do you have the fortitude to march out there and chase them pigs back in? Can you defend yourself if they get sideways with you?

There are a couple of rules that real hog folks use if they have to get in the pen with their pigs. For instance, they make sure they never turn their backs on their hogs, always have an unobstructed path to an exit, and always have something in their hand to defend themselves. I have two hard workin' farm dogs, a hickory stock cane, and a bad attitude....and I still don't get in with them.  One my buddies uses an axe handle. Our grandpa had a shock stick - but he had hundreds of hogs at a time so you probably don't need to go that far. Some folks I know weren't convinced they needed to have any of this - but then got a rude awakening when they realized that them pigs weren't fooling around. Make sure you have a strategy to handle a big animal that can throw its weight around.

Still with me on this?  Not scared off? OK lets move on.

What kind of pigs should you get? Really... it kinda doesn't matter for "one season" pigs. We loved our Tamworth for the bacon, and the Hereford cross for the stupendous marbling, and the blue butts we had provided amazing hams (and it was fun to say "blue butt"). But really, whatever is locally available is probably what works for your area. Around here $50 - $75 is about the right price. Usually feeder pigs are about 50 pounds or less.

Then you gotta get them home - we just tossed our feeder pigs in the back of my hubby's crappy Ford Ranger truck (with the cap on - locked so they couldn't get out). I've also moved them in a king sized dog cage in the back of our big truck. Its easy enough to get them home when they are this size... but have a plan to get them to a processor at the end of the season unless you're going to butcher them yourself. There are "livestock haulers" or maybe your butcher can provide transport. Or your 4H neighbors might have a stock trailer to borrow. There are folks that will come to your place and do the butchering on site, which is a great option also. But if you've read this far - just get up the gumption and do it yourself. 

Hog hut is good enough. And check out the super reinforced hog panels. Didnt keep 'em in.

What kind of housing do they need? Nothing deluxe. You just have to keep them out of the sun, wind, and cold - a three sided shed is fine.  I built the 'Hog Hut 2008' with 3 pallets for sides and a hillbillied together roof with asphalt tiles I dug out of the ground.  Despite the teasing, disbelief, and mocking from my hubby - its still bone dry and we are still using it. Remember that you will probably slaughter in the fall so it doesnt need to be perfect. But they do need shade and somewhere to get out of the sun. This is why we put our pigs under trees.

And you have to keep them contained. Don't waste your time with anything but electric fencing. Hogs are worse than goats at getting out. But they won't just lollygag around eating a leaf here or there like goats... they'll tear up everything they can smell. So keep them in with electric fence or tightly pulled field fence with a couple of hot wires on the inside set at nose height.  Be sure to set it up so that you can easily feed them without having to get into their pen.

Pasture and mud - makes 'em happy

We raise our pigs on pasture and in the mud. Don't fool yourself that "on pasture" means they will loll about all day grazing neatly like sheep. HA! They will turn a lush pasture into a moon-like muddy scape in no time. But make this work for you and use their natural rototilling ability to turn under a spot where you'll put in a garden the next year. We used ours to "hog down" a poison ivy infested bramble patch. They defoliated it down to the last blade. Part of this plays to raising them cheaply - all that bramble is free food! They will eat branches, leaves, bark, heck ... I'm pretty sure ours ate some trees.

When we first put them in a new area. Every shred of vegetation is now gone

They will also create a wallow - or a mud pit in their yard. But the destruction doens't end there. After they dig an Olympic sized mud pit they will dig to China. And beyond. Pigs do a lot of digging. Its amazing.

Make sure you have a water source close to where you put your pig pasture. Run a hose - or a buncha hoses put together down to their yard. Carrying a bucket of water just isn't going to cut it. Pigs need a lot of water and like to kick over their drinker every chance they can. Usually shortly after you've just filled it and started walking back up the hill. Also in the summer we use the hose to fill the wallow and spray down the pigs to keep them cool. They love it and run thru the spray like kids thru a sprinkler.

Another reason to use multiple hoses is to run them pigs as far away from the house as possible. I'm not kidding. Pigs stink. Bad. Sure some folks say it isn't so bad if you keep it strawed. Phooey. Pigs stink and nothing is worse than sitting in your chair in the sun and the wind shifts and all you can smell is pig. Ugh! I think Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs says to have them 200 yards away from your house. And your neighbors. Unless they are the Bad Neighbors then all bets are off.

Altho it may be tempting, do not run your hogs with any other critters. And keep the darn ducks and clucks out of their pen. Yes, eventually they will figure out those feathered things taste just like chicken. Our buckeyes were pretty fast so they didn't get munched, but talk to a guy who's lost his favorite runner duck to pigs... oh golly... that's just plain sad.

Pigs will eat anything they can smell so keep the rest of the critters safely away. And for heavens sakes don't try and run your goats or horses or whatever with them. Just pen the pigs up alone. Eventually your ducks will figure out you are feeding corn to the pigs and will start to hang around - which is another good reason to have electric fencing. Keep them all out or you too may find just the sad flippity-floppy feet of your favorite duck.

How many pigs should you get? One pig? Two pigs? Being herd animals they do better in pairs or more.. but really. If your pig develops psychological problems from being alone.. well.. it won't last longer than a cold fall day, if you know what I mean. But just like cats - two is a good number.  They will play with each other and not demolish everything in sight. If you don't think you'll eat that much pork, more than likely someone you know will run not walk to you with cash in hand for a naturally raised half a side of pork. Between the two of us and the dogs we plow thru 2 pigs without even trying. We are talking about ham and bacon here, people!

What about wormers? Shots? Docking their tails? Needle teeth? We don't do any of this. Typically all of these things are done before the pigs are weaned. However, we still wouldn't dock their tails or clip their teeth. Since we only have two pigs at a time we have never had the fighting and such that can cause problems. Also, unless we have cause for concern, we feed our pigs pumpkin, which is a natural wormer, rather than a chemical wormer 'cuz that's just how we roll.

What about locking them up at night? Nope. One time we had very small, just weaned pigs and we kept them up by the house so coyotes wouldn't get them. But having them safely behind electric is good enough. And honestly, they will quickly get big enough that only a really big predator will take them down. Now if you've got wolves and bears you might want to check around locally to see what others do.  But for most of us, them pigs can hold their own.

OK so you've spent all your foldin' money on getting them pigs, setting up electric fencing, buying drinkers, feed bowls...and now what? Where's the savings!?  We'll.. you'll have to tune in tomorrow. Sorry friends but this is getting kind long and the pup needs to be taken out. But I'm telling you, feeding them is the cheapest part of this whole thing.

Stay tuned for Part Two: What to feed them oinkers.

In the meantime, if you don't have it already be sure to check out my go-to guide for all things pig. Kelly Kobler's magnificent Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs.


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16 comments:

the Goodwife said...

Dang woman, I was ready to read about the nuts and bolt of feeding on the cheap.........I'll just have to wait for part 2 I suppose.

And someday I'll have to blog about my bottle pig Ernie Bob, the only good sweet pig I've ever known. He used to suck my toes as an adult boar, but as I said, that's a blog for another day..........

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Land sakes - I'm typin' as fast as I can! hee hee hee and umm.. don't fool yourself, that Ernie Bob was just bidin' his time 'til he could kill you with out arousing suspicion
;-)

Veggie PAK said...

Nothing boaring about your post...

I remember the pigs on my grandparents farm as being very scary. They were behind a large (to me when I was 5 or 6) wood gate, and would charge up against it and hit it and scare the stuff out of me! They were big and I was little. Imagine, seeing about fifty big pigs running at you while you're on the other side of a wooden gate. Scary! When I told my mom about that last year, she laughed and said that they never had more than four at a time. Well, seeing them make the gate wobble when they hit it and hearing their noises sure made it seem like there was fifty of 'em!

Heiko said...

One day, when we have the right plot of land, I'd like some pork in my yard. The most common around here is actually wild boar. They go around shooting everything big in site around this time of the year and if any little ones get orphaned in the process they just raise 'em big and then eat them. Our next door neighbour has some and they seem quite amiable. I've been in their pen giving them a pet once they had grown big. Didn't realise you need to be watching out...

the Goodwife said...

LMAO!!! You never cease to make me chuckle! Have a great weekend girl!

Junebug said...

I know you love and like your cat, your pups, the chickens, turkeys, and even your goats. But even though its in your heading, I still don't get the hatred for pigs.

We have raised several goats, chickens, llamas, and plenty of dogs and cats.. and last year we raised 3 hogs.

They were amazing, sweet, smart, tame. They responded to our voice. My son who raised them for 4H, could literally lay on two of them at once when they were sleeping. They would just lean up, realize it was him and fall back asleep.

I think pigs, like dogs, like goats, can treat you the way you treat them if you get to work with them while they're young...

Still don't get the hatred for pigs...

but I really like the blog and am excited to read Part II.

Grandpa said...

OFG, I have a quiz for you over at The Farm. Did you tell me algebra was your favorite subject in school?

Please come over and give me the answer? Thanks

Ohiofarmgirl said...

VPAK - you are HILARIOUS and not 'boaring' either! And yes it always seems like there are more. Our grandpa had a couple hundred at a time - and one completely mean boar named Red. He had a pasture to himself and no one was allowed near him.

Heiki - hope you get some of that wild boar. And keeping the orphans to raise up is a great idea - I imagine finished on corn the meat would be spectacular. Just watch your P's and Q's and dont underestimate their strength.

Hi Junebug! I guess to each his one. I'll write up the pig rant one of these day. Honestly I thought I loved all God's creatures.. until we got the pigs.

Hi Grandpa! Hey I know there are some smart pants folks out there - anyone have an answer for Grandpa?
http://fruitofmylabour.blogspot.com/

kenleighacres.com said...

Thank you for writing such an honest account of raising pigs. We have 3 at the moment that are getting butchered on Thursday. I can't wait!!! They are big animals that deserve a good helping of respect :) I am enjoying your blog...I found my way here from Operation Homestead.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Thanks Kenleighacres! Stop by anytime..and let us know how your butcher day goes.. you'll be rolling in bacon soon! Whoot!

DJ said...

We also live in rural Ohio, and after chickens, and goats we figured a few hogs would be great. Thanks for the eye opening heads up!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

You're gonna do GREAT, DJ. Just don't skimp on fencing. Get the biggest electric fence charger they have at TSC and run a couple hotwires about nose level. With your goats (milkers?) you should be able to grow out hogs on the cheap and then you'll be eating 'high on the hog!" Let me know how it goes
:-)
ps are you still driving? i saw your blog.

DJ said...

Jeesh I've forgotten about that blog. Yes I still am, and with answered prayers I'm now a local driver, so I'm home everyday. I do have a question though. A commercial hog farmer I know suggested that I pour a 8x10 concrete pad, and set my post in it, as to keep them cleaner (not stained) for the fair, and cooler in the summer. However this really cuts into our pockets, and makes it a lot less 4H fun. Do you have a Facebook page?

Ohiofarmgirl said...

yep. find me here:
https://www.facebook.com/ohio.farmgirl.1

we find that 4H is MUCH different then homesteading. our local chapter has rules about what and how much to feed. i know folks who feed out fair pigs on cement. it takes a lot of work to keep them clean. we prefer putting ours on pasture - so much cheaper and a lot less work. glad you found a good local job!

CarolLynne Cole said...

Ohiofarmgirl: Thanks for your very fun post! We raise the piggies in an area we want to raise veggies...they till the ground perfectly and when they are gone we are ready to plant! After feeding them pumpkin so much, we had so many freebie plants come up, I was giving them away! Also rock melon (cantalope). This time we are letting them till the soil for potatoes. My problem is, the last 3 weiners we got has a mean sow in it...3 sow and 1 as mean as. She chasing the other two around and bites them...they are painted purple from all the bite marks. I feel so sorry for the other two I may put her on the spit and say for-get-it!! Any suggestions? All I hear all day is squealing piglets...makes me sad! HELP!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

hey CarolLynne Cole! we always find there is one who is very mean - they always taste the best. you can try and separate them - but make sure they are next to each other or really... get the butcher knives. life is too short for a mean pig.
:-)

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