Putting the Pigs Out to Pasture

Raising your own pork can be easy and highly rewarding.

Last year we raised our first 2 pigs on a 1/4 acre lot. We did not put rings in their noses so they rooted a lot but we wanted to clear the area anyway. Unfortunately, it was a very wet year and there was a bit more erosion than we anticipated due to a wet weather spring.

We get our pigs from Warren Wilson College Farm. The college only has so many piglets a year so we have to get on a list in January of each year in order to reserve our pigs. The pigs cost us $50 each at weaning and weigh about 35-40 lbs. For that price, they are castrated if necessary and have had their needle teeth or milk teeth trimmed. If you just want to raise a few pigs a year for pork, you are much better off buying weaned piglets than raising your own out of a sow pig. It takes a lot of feed to keep a brood pig. If you want to pasture pigs you first need to realize how much space you need per pig. In “The Homestead Hog” it states that 25-35 pigs per acre is a good rule of thumb. I use the lower figure of 25 per acre just to be safe and give them a lot of room to root. This means that you can put 8-9 pigs on a ¼ acre. A single pig can be raised in a lot as small as 34′ x 34′. I think that it is better to raise two pigs together than trying to raise one. Pigs are just happier and easier to deal with when they have a buddy. They are less likely to try to escape as well.

This year we decided to raise 4 pigs but we did not want to put them in the same spot as last year. We built a woven wire lot that measures about 60′ x 60′. This is a bit small to pasture 4 pigs in but we just wanted the lot to hold them in while they were small until we fixed the fence so that they could graze in the upper pasture which is about an acre. Initially, we feed our pigs in a trough once per day. About 3 lbs of grain for every 100 lbs of pig is what we try to feed for the first month or so. After the pigs get a bit of size on them we start to feed them in a creep feeder that 2 pigs can eat out of at a time. They fight a bit but each pig does get its turn because a pig cannot guard both eating stations all the time. We water in a large Fortex tub when the pigs are small. After that, we use a 40-gallon stock tank so we don’t have to water constantly. Pigs are also notorious for getting in their water and splashing it out to make a wallow as you can see from the photo below.

two pigs lounging in a muddy water pool in a fenced in pen

I find that this is unavoidable and just something you have to deal with if you want to raise pigs. Having an auto waterer or nipple waterer is not recommended for the small-scale farmer. The only time I have seen this work out is when the pigs are raised on concrete and the water is sent to a holding pond. On the small farm the pig will splash so much water out to make a wallow that you could very well have a catastrophic water bill or wear out your well pump. I love to watch my pigs when they get a chance to make a wallow but you have to control the situation a bit. I sometimes spray a spot they have rooted up so they can enjoy a good wallow but you don’t want them to turn their space into a flood zone.

On our farm, we do not use antibiotics unless an animal is actually sick enough to need them. It can be incredibly hard to find nonmedicated feed for pigs. We feed our pigs beef cattle grower, corn, or sweet feed. We feed mostly the beef cattle grower. It cost about half what medicated pig feed does and seems to grow a pig off well and be high quality. To get a good deal on beef cattle feed we have to go to Southern States Cooperative or to the Farmers Co-Op. If you have a cooperative in your area, you can likely get a discount for buying beef feed a ton at a time which can be nice if you are raising a lot of pigs. I encourage you to choose to not feed medicated pig feeds. If you are raising the animals right then you don’t need them unless the animal is truly sick. It will take a bit longer to grow a pig off without antibiotics but it is worth it.

We have some woven wire pig fence but pigs can be trained to respect electric. Our pigs lived in their 60′ x 60′ lot for a few months, and then we built a partition so that we could keep the cows out of the upper pasture and graze the pigs. The woven wire lot has an electric wire at pig nose level to prevent them from rooting under the fence and to get them used to electric fencing. There is a gate leading from the 60′ x 60′ lot to a full acre of woods for the pigs to root in. The acre is a 4 strand electric fence that is normally energized to 10-12K volts, but pigs can be kept in less powerful electric fences.

pig nosing at the ground near the pole of an electric fence in a grassy area

two pigs rooting around in the ground in a grassy area

group of pigs wandering around in a brush filled area

two pigs smelling a bush with green leaves close up

After we turned them out on the acre, our feed bill went down drastically because of all the fresh forage they were getting. We also gather apples that fall on the ground at my grandmother’s. Giving the pigs 30 lbs of apples every few days helps as well. That is what is so great about a pig; any household scraps or garden waste you have (besides pork of course) can be fed to pigs. Sometimes produce stands give away produce that has reached the point where people don’t want to buy it but it is still fine for pigs. Some people choose to never feed their pigs meat. I don’t because I usually give meat scraps to the Great Pyrenees dogs. This is not to say that I think it is wrong to feed pigs meat. Pigs are not natural vegetarians. My father used to raise Russian Boars and they would catch chickens and eat them if one happened to get in their lot.

pigs lined up on a path made of dried brown leaves

a pig rooting around underneath dead leaves

Traditionally hog-killing time in western North Carolina was in November, right before Thanksgiving. Now the winters are so mild that you are lucky if you get it done by Christmas. The reason you want to wait until it is cold is because you don’t want the meat to spoil while you’re cutting it up, you don’t want to deal with bugs trying to get at the meat, and you need to hang your pork overnight to let it cool or the “heat go out of it”. Last year we didn’t butcher until the week of January 27. Part of this had to deal with the weather and part of it was planning. We had never butchered a pig before so we got an acquaintance from the feed store to show us how to do it in exchange for some bacon or “middlings” as they call it around here. Since the pigs were about 9 months old, they had gotten too big to dip in a barrel to scald. We heated water in a 55-gallon metal drum that had previously stored grape juice. We put the drum up on concrete blocks and build a fire underneath it. We used two barrels, each filled ¾ of the way. The water was heated overnight. The pig was shot in the head with a .22 pistol and then its throat was cut and the pig was allowed to bleed out for a few minutes. We then lifted the pig onto a stainless steel table we had borrowed from the feed store. In order to get the hair off the pig, we placed burlap sacks on the pig and poured scalding water on the burlap, and let it sit for a few seconds. To scrape the pig we used the edge of a knife. If your water is at the right temperature, the hair will come out easily. If the water is too hot or the hair just won’t come out, you will have to shave the hair off. The pigs we butchered last year were 350 and 400 lbs. It takes a while to scrape a pig that size. After the pig is completely you can gut it. Since we were working on our house and living in a 1979, 18 ft Holiday Rambler last winter, the only place I had to hang and gut a pig was my house which at the time was a shell with house wrap and a metal roof on it. The windows and doors were in as well.

At this, I need to explain that a hog killing in the south can easily turn into a community event/party if you let anyone at all know you are doing it. During the butchering process, I had several extra old farmers and relatives hanging out and drinking beer and offering advice and such. We had to haul the pigs up to the house (the road was absolutely horrible and washed out) in the back of our acquaintance from the feed store’s, Gator. We used my grandfather’s hundred-year-old single tree and pulley to hoist the pig up and hang it from the first-floor rafters. Don’t get ever get rid of old farm implements like single trees if they are usable. I never got to meet my grandfather but I am still using his tools. After the pig was hung up we got a 10-gallon tub to catch the entrails in. After the pig was gutted it was allowed to hang for 24 hours. We did both pigs that day and I am glad we did not wait to do the last one because it snowed 13 inches the next day. At this point, I had no idea just how much work it would take to cut up the pigs and wrap vacuum seal the meat. After the first day of packing, it was just me and Matt so it took us 4 more days to process the meat into sausage, vacuum seal, and wrap. It was in the teens and twenties the whole week so there was no danger of spoilage.

I am glad we started raising all of our pork. The difference between homestead pork and that from the store is unbelievable. It is firmer, seems to be less salty, and is much leaner and higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. It takes a bit of an investment to get set up initially but is well worth it. It is nice to walk outside and see happy livestock that is raised in a more natural environment.

  • Published on Oct 12, 2010
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