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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