Do you want to buy and raise pigs, but don’t know the first thing about them? Philip Hasheider explains the entire process, from buying to raising to butchering in How to Raise Pigs (Voyageur Press, 2013). This excerpt, which provides basic information on adding pigs to your farm or homestead, is from Chapter 2, “Getting Started.”
Getting Started: Raising Pigs
To get started in raising pigs you’ll need land, buildings, pigs, and equipment. Purchasing a farm generally involves purchasing a business as well, because there are financial considerations whether you work the land, rent it to another party, or leave it to lay fallow. How you handle these options may have much to do with your financial situation, inclinations toward farming, and level of involvement in the farm. If you already live on a farm but do not have any animals, you may decide that raising pigs is a viable option.
When purchasing or renting a farm, factors such as location and size of the farm, soil type, house or dwelling, buildings available, and a number of other intrinsic factors including schools, social outlets, and a sense of community may be important to you and your family. Planning, research, and obtaining good advice will help you avoid unpleasant surprises when purchasing a farm. Advice for purchasing or renting an available farm can come from an agriculture lending group or bank, a county agricultural extension office, or private professional services that specialize in farm purchases and setting up farming enterprises.
You can do much of the initial research on your own by contacting real estate agents about the availability of farms for sale or rent or by visiting properties on your own in locales where you may want to live.
Location and Social Considerations When Purchasing a Farm
In many cases your farm will also be your home. The property’s location and the services available may be important factors when deciding where to buy. Living in a rural area is not the end of the world; however, there are some significant geographic differences between rural settings and urban ones. Living on a farm does not necessarily exclude you or your family from the conveniences or services available in urban areas. There just happens to be a greater distance to access them.
When purchasing a farm, assess whether the house or dwelling meets your family requirements both now and in the future. If you have a young family, it may be important to be close to schools, doctors, or transportation systems. The availability of professional veterinary services may be important for your animals. If community activities are important, you can visit the area’s chamber of commerce, which provides information about local events during the year. You may also want to look at the opportunity for alternative or off-farm income or employment.
Physical Considerations for Raising Pigs
The goals you set will determine the size of the farm you need to have. You do not need a large-scale farm to raise pigs. Pigs fit many types of small-scale enterprises.
Soil type and fertility are important considerations and may be tied to property values. Soil type also influences crops raised and their durability during a drought or extended dry spell or extremely wet conditions. Heavy soils sustain crops better in dry conditions than lighter, sandier soils.
The quality of buildings and improvements may be a determining factor in your purchase. Extensive building renovations require finances that could be directed toward farm operating expenses. Yet the need for improvements may lower the purchase price and be an attractive option.
Whatever farm you purchase, it is necessary to fully understand its boundaries. Walking the fences provides you with an idea of how much land there is, as well as information about the condition of the fences, buildings, and the soil and other aspects of the property, such as suitability to pasture-raise pigs.
Prior to purchase, be sure to check for the presence of any contaminants or residues that could affect the health of your family or livestock. Taking a test of the farm water well is a good idea. Underground fuel storage on farms has been banned in most states. Old storage tanks may still be present and need to be dug up and removed. Be sure to address this issue prior to signing any purchase agreement.
Buying Your First Pigs
There are several ways to purchase pigs, and it is wise to have a plan before you start. No matter which livestock species you wish to raise, buying animals always contains a certain amount of risk. You can lower this risk by considering several factors in purchasing animals, including their overall physical condition, health, and mobility, and knowing their source. These may not be the only criteria you use in your considerations, but they will provide a foundation for selection.
Physical condition refers to the weight the animal carries on its body. In the case of feeder pigs this will be very small, while older pigs should have weight ranges consistent with their age. Overly fat pigs will cost more, especially if you later put them in pasture and they lose much of this weight. It is best to buy lean pigs and have them gain weight based on your feeding program.
Overall health of the pig is more important than physical condition, although the two can be closely linked. A healthy pig typically is an aggressive eater, alert, and adventuresome. The quickest way to determine the health of any pig is simply to look at it. Does the animal appear to be alert? Does it have clear, dry eyes? Is it sneezing or coughing?
Thin or emaciated pigs should be avoided entirely, no matter what the price, because this may indicate serious health problems. Avoid pigs with a dull appearance, discharges from their eyes or nose, breathing abnormalities, listlessness, or anything else that strikes you as abnormal.
Another health consideration is mobility. Look at how they move around. A pig should have the ability to move about freely with no leg, joint, or feet problems. Avoid pigs that limp or have swollen joints, long toes, or other physical impairments. Pigs exhibiting any of these conditions will not last long on any farm. If you are not sure of your own expertise at identifying problems, hire a veterinarian or someone with experience to go along to look at the pigs prior to purchase. This will be money well spent.
Knowing the source of your pigs may alleviate many worries about their health. If you purchase pigs at a farm, take a look around the farmstead. If it is well-kept and clean, it is likely the farmer pays attention to the details of his pigs, as well. Observe the attitude of the person selling the pigs as this can often provide clues as to their treatment and care. Having the satisfaction of buying in a pleasant surrounding from a caring farmer can ease your concerns about the pigs you buy.
Depending on which phase of swine production you wish to enter, you may want to consider buying pregnant sows or feeder pigs to begin. This provides you with an opportunity to start at the beginning of one process and quickly work your way toward the end product. It also eliminates the need for securing a boar right away.
If you have little or no experience with raising pigs, you may want to consider starting with a small number, whether they are pregnant sows or feeder pigs. This minimizes your initial investment, requires less labor, and allows you to familiarize yourself with the pig-raising process. As you gain experience, confidence, and expertise, it will be easier to plan for more pigs.
Start-Up Costs for Raising Pigs
Using certain criteria and assumptions, you can calculate a potential starting cost. For example, you may buy feeder pigs and raise them to market weight. At this writing, feeder pigs are selling at $35 for 40- to 50-pound pigs, making an initial investment—for say twenty pigs—of $700. At current prices, breeding sows can be purchased for about $150 to $200 each, boars for $200 to $250 each, and gilts for $150 to $200 each. These prices reflect strictly commercial pigs and not registered animals that may cost more because of their value as breeding stock.
Feed costs will be the largest expense during the growing period between purchase and market. You may choose to raise your own crops or purchase feed. Typically hogs require between 3 to 5 pounds of feed per pound gain through the three phases of production—nursery, grower, and finisher. You can calculate the estimated total feed costs by multiplying 800 pounds times the cost of the feed times the number of pigs involved.
These figures will need to be adjusted to fit your situation and current crop market conditions. Better feed efficiencies will result in lower feed costs, and pasture-raised pigs may take longer to reach market weight because of a slower growth rate than hogs raised in confinement.
Unless you plan to absorb all the expenses for the pleasure of raising pigs, you may want to develop a value-added marketing program to offset the production costs. This could involve organic production, which commands a higher market price, or pasture-raising, which can lower production costs, or a combination of both.
Where to Buy Pigs
As with other livestock, pigs can be purchased through two venues: public or private. They can be purchased privately from another farmer or specialized pig grower. Public sales include feeder pig sales, auction barns, or on the Internet.
Each venue has its advantages and disadvantages. A public auction is where any member of the public can bid on animals to purchase. In these auctions, such as feeder pig sales, you will pay a price that is the highest bid and you will be expected to present a good check after the sale. One advantage of buying at a public auction is that there are established conditions under which pigs are sold and sometimes guarantees are stated at the beginning of the sale regarding the animal. These guarantees could include details that may be important to you.
Another advantage of an auction market is that the price for those animals is determined by other bidders. This can provide a reasonable assessment of the worth of those animals by other, perhaps more experienced, pig growers and can affirm your judgment of the animals. But in some cases, the price may be more than you want to pay and you go home empty-handed. Feeder pigs generally sell in groups at a public auction. This may eliminate the need for you to attend several sales to get the number of animals you want to start with.
The final bid at an auction is the price you pay and there are usually no negotiations at the end of the bidding. Unless there is a major problem discovered after the purchase, you generally can’t return the animals. It doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t discuss any problem with the seller at a later time to arrive at an agreeable solution. Most established pork producers are willing to set things straight if problems arise, especially if they know that you are a new customer. It is in their long-term interest to have satisfied customers.
This is one of the advantages of purchasing animals privately. You may pay a price that is determined by the owner, but you also may be able to get all your animals at one place and reduce the risk of exposure to other pigs from different farms. When buying privately it may be possible to negotiate a better price if a large number of animals are involved in the purchase. An established producer’s reputation is important, and most will try to accommodate a buyer’s concern. You may also be able to get replacements for those animals that develop problems.
Buying a Boar for Your Farm
Buying a boar is a different situation from buying feeder pigs or females for breeding purposes. The feed efficiency of your pigs will be determined in large part by the genetic inheritance from their sire and dam, and the fastest way to bring in new genetics without replacing the entire female population is using a superior boar. Whether you buy a boar for breeding purposes or raise one of the male pigs from a litter may depend on your situation. Many popular crossbreeding programs use a rotational plan that produces replacement females so only boars need to be brought into the herd. This also keeps the herd exposure to outside health concerns to a minimum.
Whether you are producing pigs for the general market or for a niche market, growth and carcass traits will still be a consideration. Try to select a boar from a line of pigs with a positive genetic influence. This may not be possible in some heritage breeds where the genetic pool is limited and genetic advances for carcass and growth traits may be slower.
Finding a supplier of boars may become easier once you have determined your needs. When looking at a boar, you should inquire about the health status of the herd, vaccination schedules, whether there have been any disease outbreaks, if they routinely feed antibiotics, and if so, why. The owner should be willing to provide you with information about health testing that may have been done by a qualified veterinarian, or ask for the name of the herd veterinarian with whom you can discuss any concerns. If they don’t provide you with this information, you may be left to your own judgment on the health of the herd.
When selecting a boar, you should reach an agreement and secure a guarantee about his fertility and virility. It is important that the boar you purchase be able to impregnate your sows and gilts or you will lose time and money in your breeding program. If a boar fails to settle the females or fails to show interest, a replacement will quickly be needed to maintain your farrowing schedule. Avoid purchasing boars from an owner when an agreement about replacement or a fertility guarantee is not available.
When privately purchasing a boar, you should also consider what the sale price includes. Does it include any breed registration and transfer papers? If so, who will pay for those? Is transport and delivery included or are there extra charges for these services? Will the owner provide you with health certificates assuring you that the herd is either accredited free of brucellosis and pseudorabies or that appropriate blood tests will be done thirty days prior to change of ownership? Securing the appropriate health certificates will ensure that you are bringing a healthy boar onto your farm.
After bringing a new boar onto your farm, you should isolate it from the herd for thirty days and check daily for any signs of illness. During this isolation period, you can pen the sows and gilts to be bred near the boar to observe its sexual interest and libido. At this point it may be possible to check for any physical deformities of the boar’s reproductive organs. It is advisable to start any new boar out slowly and not have it breed several sows or gilts in a short time period. Having a controlled environment at first will make the experience for the boar more desirable and may lead to fewer breeding problems down the road.
Transportation Costs for Your Animals
One overlooked cost of buying pigs privately or at public auction is the issue of transporting them to your farm. If you do not have your own transport, alternatives, such as hiring a truck, will need to be arranged. As the buyer, you will be expected to promptly remove the animals from a public auction.
If you can hire a trucker to haul them to your farm, make certain you understand the terms for hauling and get a firm estimate. Usually the cost is based on each mile of transport, and depending on the individual truck driver, it may be quoted per mile or by the load. If hiring transport, you should insist on the trailer being thoroughly sanitized before loading your pigs at the point of purchase. If buying privately it may be possible to have the seller transport them to your farm. This may be part of the negotiated total purchase price.
Identification of animals you have purchased may be important so you can be assured the pigs arriving (if you don’t transport them yourself) on your farm are the ones you purchased. Some pigs may have ear tags or ear notches. Take note of them as this can verify that they are the ones you purchased.
Whatever form of animal identification you use will help with your record keeping system. This will be useful in any breeding program you develop to identify good maternal lines, or to avoid the negative effects of inbreeding or linebreeding. This will be much easier if you can positively identify each of your animals over several generations.
Health Regulations and Concerns
Before the pigs arrive on your farm it is important to know their health status. At a public auction some pigs may be sold with health certificates issued by the seller’s veterinarian. Such a certificate is important, as it assures the buyer that the pig is healthy and as free of any disease as reasonably possible. If the pigs are purchased privately, try to secure health certificates from the owner prior to leaving the farm. Be sure to fully understand who pays the cost of having the health tests done while they are still at the seller’s farm.
Before purchasing any feeder pigs, boars, sows, or gilts, check with your local veterinarian about any health regulations that may apply. Most states require that pigs moved from one farm to another be found negative for brucellosis and pseudorabies within thirty days before change of ownership.
Plan to isolate your boar or any pigs you purchase for thirty days once they are brought onto your farm. During this time you can conduct another blood test for brucellosis and pseudorabies. Some states require a second test for breeding stock while in isolation, so check with your local veterinarian about the regulations in your area.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from How to Raise Pigs: Everything You Need to Know, by Philip Hasheider, and published by Voyageur Press, 2013.