Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” -Sir Winston Churchill, UK Prime Minister (1874-1965)
Before I was shoulder deep into homesteading, as I am now, I was very misinformed about pigs. The extent of what I knew about these snorting, mud loving creatures was that as piglets they were one of the cutest things ever and as adults they tasted delicious.
However, with lots of research and experience I have learned a thing or two. I now want to share this with you.
A few general terms in reference to pigs:
- Sow-female pig
- Gilt-young female that not farrowed
- Farrowing-giving birth (a litter of piglets is called a farrow)
- Boar-male pig
- Barrow-castrated male
First of all, pigs are an interesting species. In terms of the animal world, they are quite brilliant. They are the fourth smartest animal in all of the animal kingdom. They can actually put thoughts together and problem solve. Domesticated pigs can actually learn all kinds of tricks-faster than most dogs. Check out this video
This is one thing that can make owning pigs tricky. Their excellent problem solving skills make them incredible escape artists-hence the reason our male is named Houidini. Any fencing you plan on putting up to contain pigs need to be electric. This is my recommendation after many failed attempts at any other type of containment. We currently have cattle wire fencing with a string of hot wire around the base. Pigs love to snuffle in the dirt and are excellent diggers with their snouts.
Pigs need plenty of water-they drink literally gallons a day, plenty of food and a shelter with hay to cuddle in. Pigs don’t need a massive amount of land, average recommendations are 10 full sized pigs on a half acre of land. The more foraging ground the better, but if you are short on space, just provide plenty of food and hay.
Pigs are fairly inexpensive homestead additions. If you purchase them as piglets, they are anywhere from $15-$100 depending on the quality and breed. Craigslist, animal auctions or local farms are good places to start your search.
There are many types of pigs. What most people tend to think of when they think of a pig, is actually a hog. Hogs can grow to massive proportions (several hundred pounds) and their main purpose is for meat. Although “eat like a pig” is a very true statement (and THIS is why), naturally, pigs are slender. However, for production purposes, they are overfed and pumped with hormones-another great reason to raise and butcher your own pigs). There are many breeds of pigs. Most commonly, hogs are sold as crossbreeds and called “feeder pigs.”
Another common breed of pigs are the potbellied pigs. These swine have distinct drooping abdomens. Most people keep these on their farms as pets. These are also typically what you see at petting zoos. They can also grow to be several hundred pounds, but this is not at all a healthy weight. Just like with humans, pigs should maintain a sensible weight. This means they should have a slightly protruding belly, but they should be able to see clearly without any fat rolls interfering with their vision.
(pic courtesy of Wikipedia-extremely overweight pot-bellied pig)
There are also feral pigs, which are pigs that live in the wild. These cause devastating damages to farmers and are incredible aggressive. There are many areas where there is an open season to hunt feral hogs due to their destruction of crops.
We currently have two mini pot-bellied pigs, both around 35 pounds. We do not keep the pigs for meat, but instead they serve our homestead with breeding, compost and waste reduction.
In the pig world, micro, mini and teacup pigs raises an enormous amount of controversy. There are some breeders who claim these smaller versions of pigs do not exist and are merely starved animals. However, if you take a look at some of the price tags of the smaller pigs they will cost you upwards of $1,000-$3000. Surprisingly, these are being purchased for that price. Celebrities like Paris Hilton helped fuel the mini-pig craze (and the prices!).
(photo courtesy of http://www.examiner.com)
This is a more recent photo of Hilton and her pig, which I am sure she paid thousands for the “teacup” title.
(photo courtesy of http://www.celebuzz.com)
This being said, expect that the smaller breeds of pigs, which are for pet purposes only, will grow to be around 40 pounds if fed appropriately. These pigs have been making many people fall in love with how easily trainable and smart they are. Many people litter train their pigs and keep them indoors.
Despite the rep of pigs being filthy, they are typically very clean animals. The like to designate a place to sleep and a place to use the bathroom (if you are wondering, their poo looks like dog poo). Pigs are not able to sweat, due to the fact they have no sweat glands. They wallow in mud to cool down and protect their skin from the sun.
Many people think of large scale hog farms and recognize the distinct smell. Any state with large hog farms also knows of the pollution from all the fecal matter these farms produce. I think pig has a distinct smell, it can be slightly offensive, but with proper hygienic conditions it is not overwhelming. Pigs themselves give off a slightly sweet, musky smell.
Keeping feeder pigs is an excellent addition to homesteading. Not only can you get the obvious meat, but they serve other purposes as well.
Pigs are the world’s best roto-tillers. In true self sufficiency fashion, after the growing season has gone by, or you are rotating crop fields, let your pigs onto the field. They will till up the earth better than any man made machine. Absolutely no inch of earth will remain unturned, so be sure you are finished with the area of land for the season. They also will help fertilize the soil with their droppings. We currently compost our pigs droppings.
One of the other top reasons we keep mini-pigs is because they are amazing waste receptacles. We feed them grain on a regular basis, but they also enjoy the delights of our scraps. We feed them most everything except meat-this is not recommended as pigs are naturally primarily herbivores, but if hungry enough will literally eat anything. All old leftovers, fruit that has gone by (but no obvious mold) candy we are trying to get out of the house and pretty much anything else gets sent out to the pigs. Sometimes the choice is tricky-pigs or compost bin?
When we move to our larger farm, we will definitely be upgrading to keeping hogs for a food source. Owning pigs is really a fun adventure. Before your purchase pigs, make sure your land is zoned for agriculture use (reference your local zoning office). A really excellent resource is “Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs” by Kelly Klober, it goes into detail about most everything you need to know, from farrowing to butchering. You can get it from the library or purchase on Amazon for around $8.00.
Hope you enjoyed this mini lesson on pigs, happy hog raising!
Carolina Country Magazine is featuring an article by Homestead Redhead coming in May-be sure to pick up a copy next month!