This podcast is going to have two threads. One thread will be for people who are thinking about or planning on having pigs. The second thread is for the ones who already have pigs. I’m going to do my best to have something for everyone in each episode.
Episode I.I Methods
There’s going to be a lot of general information about pigs on this podcast. This is stuff that is true about pigs no matter where you live. Fencing options, nutrition, farrowing, diseases, all that good stuff.
I’m also going to be talking about the way I do things versus others’ methods. Rarely do we face the same challenges. Climate and weather are just a couple examples of why my system might be different than what works for someone else.
For example, I raise my pigs on a pasture model. This works well for me. It doesn’t work well for a Montana breeder who has to deal with grizzly bears, wolves and cougars.
Another example, Walter Jeffries, probably the most famous pig person on the Internet, lives in Vermont. His area gets about 35 inches of rain and over 66 inches of snow in a year. I receive about 17.6 inches of rain and 10.7 inches of snow. My July high temperature is in the 100+ degrees. Walter’s is about 80 degrees. Walter gets to do some things on pasture that I can’t unless I irrigate. On the other hand, I don’t have to deal with several feet of snow in the winter.
So, some of this stuff is going to be valuable. Sometimes you’re going to shake your head.
I’m going to talk about how to plan build your farm from an engineer’s perspective. We’re going to look at saving time versus saving money versus quality. This affects every part of your operation. The design or lack of planning you use will create the shape of your farm. Let’s say you wanted to build cars. You can build a lot really quickly, you can build high quality cars or you can build cars relatively cheaply. What you can’t do is build a lot of high quality cars really cheaply. At best, you are only going to get two out of three. To build high quality cars quickly, you’re going to have to spend a lot of money. If you don’t spend the money, you won’t get a lot built, or if you do, they’ll be shoddy. The same goes for farming and raising pigs. You’ll always fight money vs time vs quality.
A note of caution: There’s going to be some topics related to breeding, digestion, etc. that are going to get earthy. I don’t aim to be deliberately offensive. My speech regarding these topics may be a little cavalier for some. Something to keep in mind when speaking to other people about pigs is that most have a different perspective about things. Reproduction is a very important subject but at the same time there isn’t the shame/veneration when talking about it. This can be shocking.
Also, there are going to be opinions that you don’t agree with. I’m going to interview people that you may not like. I’m also going to say things that are critical. For example, I don’t like the traditional 4H model for raising pigs. I’m not sure if it’s different now, but the model I’ve seen is not pig friendly.
It’s going to take a few recordings for me to get comfortable and work out all the kinks. Please hang in there with me while I figure out what I’m doing.
I hope you keep listening.
Episode I.II To have pigs or not to have pigs, that is the question!
Why have pigs?
Why am I asking this question? Because it’s important. You have to identify your reasons for raising pigs. Your reasons will determine the breeds that you will buy. I recommend that you get out a notepad and write down your reasons for considering pigs.
Reason #1. You want a hobby. Maybe you’ve been raising chickens and you want to diversify, go to the next level. Pigs are a great choice. They are very hardy. They’re easier to keep alive than goats, sheep, horses or cattle. There are no hooves that need trimming and no fleece that needs to be shorn. Mastitis is rare. They don’t have multiple stomachs so they don’t bloat like other animals.
Another great thing about pigs is that they can change their behavior, even when they’re older. You can woo a stand-offish sow most times, in just two or three months.
If you can’t sustain your hobby, there’s good news. Pigs are worth money and they tend to be worth more the older they get to be, if nothing else because of the price per lb. It’s not as painful to sell pigs compared to beanie babies, bottle caps, stamps, etc. You might even make a profit…
Reason #2. You want some extra income. I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about how to raise pigs for profit. The good news is that it is easy to find several ways to make money with pigs. I’ll start out with the basics and expand from there. It’s important to accept that you might experience failure before success, but profit is possible. Just remember that you aren’t going to be able to produce great quality meat at the same price as the pork in the grocery store. The only way to do that is by producing pork using the CAFO method. CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. I pronounce it Kay-Foh, but I don’t know if that’s what everybody does. If you can run a CAFO style operation, you aren’t going to be using the pig breeds that I’ll be talking about. You also won’t find much of value in this podcast.
Reason #3. Land improvement. This is one of the reasons I wanted pigs on our land. Pigs can have both an immediate physical effect as well as a long term mark on your property. There’s a lot of good stuff that brings amazing things to even the poorest of land. You can enrich your soil with pigs, eliminate weeds, and seal the ground to create ponds. There are other uses for pigs as well.
Reason #4. Food quality. Raising your own pork means that you can ensure your food is raised in stress-free circumstances with healthy feed. You’ll know exactly what has gone into your food. Concerns with GMO grains? You can control your animals’ diet and make sure they don’t get corn or soy. If taste and texture are your goals, you’re going to be very picky about what type and breed of pig you raise. Feed them beer or coca-cola to produce the results you want.
Reason #5. Respecting your food. I’m not a vegetarian but I respect those who don’t eat meat because of the way that meat animals are raised. You might have issues with the feed that animals are given or their environment. This reason is going to affect how you raise your pigs. It’s going to cost more money than a purely profit driven enterprise. The good news is that you’re going to have the satisfaction of knowing that the meat that goes on the table had a good life and was managed humanely.
We’re going to cover these reasons more in depth later on. You may also have other reasons to raise pigs. I hope you’ve jotted down all the reasons that apply to your situation.
I need to bring up…
Reasons for not having pigs.
You want a pet. Unless you’re buying a Julianna, most pigs are not going to make the usual acceptable pet. Pigs (except for Juliannas) get big. The smaller breeds of pig tend to weigh in at 250 lbs when they reach adulthood. This is a lot of weight, being distributed on cloven hooves, so pigs don’t make good indoor pets. They destroy floors.
Pigs also don’t groom themselves. Plus, pigs tend to have pheromones. This means that pigs tend to have a smell. The boys like to pee on themselves. It’s their cologne for attracting the girls. Pigs like to wallow in the mud when it’s hot. The mud can have a really strong odor.
I know of a guy who lets his pigs run in and out of his house. He doesn’t have a lot of friends.
You live in the city or have really close neighbors.
Pigs tend to be noisy. The less space they have, the more they stink. Pigs aren’t dogs or cats and they behave differently than “normal” city animals when they get out. Pigs are strong. Pound for pound, they will win any tug of war if they’re determined to. They’ll break your fences, root up your lawn, eat your neighbor’s roses, make big mud holes and generally destroy most of the rules that city folk have to live by to get along with each other. Neighbors are a lot less understanding about pigs than they are about other pets. It might be World War III if your gilt eats everything in their flowerbed or plows up all the decorative bark that they’ve laid down.
Just a bit of an anecdote… I bought Charlotte, our Duroc in eastern Oregon near my hometown. I stopped by my mom’s place to give Charlotte a bath. I had a collar and leash on her while she was out. Feel free to laugh at that picture. I put her back in the pet carrier. What I didn’t know was that she could flex the carrier by putting her snout under the door and lifting. The next thing I knew, she was running down the street, in town. I finally caught her two blocks away.
That’s not the adventure you want to have. Now imagine that happening while you’re at work or the grocery store. Your pig has been out for hours, damaging property, running in front of cars. Not good.
You can’t pay your bills.
Pigs cost money. Most of the time, you’re going to have a 5 or 6 month wait before you can think of selling a pig for profit. During that time, they’ll eat about $200 worth of feed in addition to the fencing, the troughs, hoses, etc. that you’ll need to buy. Don’t be surprised if you spend $300 on fencing for 2 or 3 pigs. Some of what you buy ends up getting trashed and you get to buy it again and again.
It’s a serious responsibility to take a living creature into your care. Be sure you can afford your pig or else don’t purchase.
Your relationship with your significant other is not the best.
You both need to have the same dream, or at least willing to aim for the same goal. Extra work is only going to cause more problems. I’ve seen plenty of last minute pig sales due to broken relationships. I’ve also seen plenty of arguments over pig purchases, fencing, etc.
If you haven’t purchased a pig yet, I urge you to hold off until all your figurative ducks are in a row.
All is not lost if you aren’t ready for pigs. You can get some valuable experience and profit by raising chickens or rabbits. You can always move to pigs later. It’s a truism that you get more profit per acre from smaller animals than large. So, don’t be discouraged if you have to wait. Better to pause and be successful later than to waste time and money now for no result.
Ok, hopefully you’re still planning to raise pigs. Hopefully you also scribbled down your reasons for having them. You now have answered one of the three big questions concerning raising pigs. You’ve answered “Why”. Now all you have to do is figure out questions 2 and 3. They are “What kind of pig shall I raise?” and “Where shall I raise my pigs?”.
More about those two questions later.
Right now, let’s get to…
Episode 1.3 Nutrition
I want to get in a few words about nutrition for pigs. Before I do, I need to caution you that I am not an expert. Part of the reason that I pay for feed rather than grinding my own is that I’m NOT an expert and the people at my feed mill know what they’re doing.
Another caution: A certain amount of nutrient or mineral might be good, but too much might be deadly. Get knowledge before you experiment.
Selenium is a mineral that you really need to know about. Find out if it’s in your soil. My understanding is that it is often found in land near the ocean but I haven’t verified that.
Selenium is poisonous. Too much will kill your pig, cause abortion, etc.
But, selenium, in very small amounts, is needed by pigs. Some signs of selenium deficiency is hair loss and hooves falling off. No, I’m not kidding. Also, muscle disease can occur. This might be weakness, cramps or other issues. Next, the liver and kidneys fail and a disease affecting the heart (Mulberry heart disease) can also occur.
I don’t know if it’s true with pigs, but cattle that get a bit of selenium have more calves than cattle that don’t. Feel free to check me on this.
Best wishes for you and yours.