Adding Pigs to the Homestead

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We weren’t going to do it. At least not this soon. Adding pigs to the homestead was pretty low on the list of priorities.

But then Facebook Marketplace happened. You know how that goes. A good deal too good to pass came along and…well… we decided to take a leap.

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We want to be a family that produces goods rather than solely consuming them. Raising pigs certainly fits that model. Who doesn’t want a freezer full of fresh, home-grown pork? And it will help diversify what our farm is able to offer to our local community, which is equally important to us.

So that’s how we’ve justified our somewhat spur of the moment decision.

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Facing Our Fears

Okay, so maaaaybe our decision wasn’t as spur of the moment as I’ve made it sound. But the thought of raising our own pork sure was a lofty one, and we always kind of kept it out there at a distance. Someday. There are so many things we don’t know about raising pigs. It’s easy to have ideas about how things might be. To read up on the experiences of other homesteads and small farms. But you don’t really know until you take the leap, right?

It was the same for us when we finally decided to raise our own chickens. No clue what we were doing in the beginning. But we learned, and we found that the experience of “learning by doing” was the most rewarding for us.

Sure you make mistakes! And you can’t go in completely blind. Not when it comes to raising animals. You’ve got to do some research first. You’ve got to talk to people who have blazed that trail before. But you’ve also got to face your fears and decide that you’re just going to go for it.

So that’s what we did!

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Why Heritage Pigs?

We chose to raise a cross of Red Wattle and Kune Kune pigs. Why?

They’re different.

The Red Wattle is an older heritage breed that originated from Germany. There are fewer than 1000 registered in the US and this breed had actually been in danger of disappearing until a handful of small breeders started taking an interest in them. It feels pretty good to raise a breed that is not only old school, but uncommon in today’s commercial pork industry. We’re always looking for ways that will differentiate our operation from what others are doing.

Like Red Wattles, Kune Kune pigs are traditionally pasture raised. They are slow growers and tend to stay on the small side, which balances well with the potentially large size of Red Wattles. Their curious and non aggressive demeanor make them safe around children, and extremely fun to watch..

Both breeds have exceptional meat quality. That may not be the only point of raising pigs, but it certainly is an important one. And both are great for any homesteader, even if you don’t have a lot of acreage.

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What Are the Pigs Eating?

Okay, so first lesson in raising pigs? They eat a lot. And it can be expensive feeding them. So keep that in mind before you start thinking that you’re going to save a lot of money raising your own pork. But you do get to have control over what goes into the pork you raise and will eventually eat, and that has tremendous value if you ask me.

We have a small herd of 4 gilts ( 3 to 6 months old) and our yearling boar named Churchill. We’re raising them to breed over the next year, so our immediate goal is for them to grow healthy and strong rather than to fatten them up for the butcher. They eat a combination of this pelleted feed and cracked corn. We soak the cracked corn before giving it to them and they chow it up like candy. They get lots of vegetables (they love corn on the cob and apples!), whey from our homemade greek yogurt and any milk that reaches its expiration date. We don’t give them table scraps and we’ve learned they really don’t like carrots. We also give them a small amount of fresh alfalfa every night, which they love to munch on and tunnel through.

We also learned pretty quick that pigs will waste food if you give them too much. So to keep the expenses in check, we’ve had to experiment with food rations. They get fed twice a day, and always have fresh water.

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The Paddock

Our property was built around livestock. Until the early 80s, the previous owners of our property raised many hogs on the land. Several of the outbuildings left behind, including our old brick barn, were once dedicated to this operation.

This made it an easier decision to take the leap into raising pigs. The bones were already there, so to speak. Although there’s a fair amount of repair, clean up and complete renovation that will need to be done to bring some of these buildings back to life.

It was quick work to clean out the paddock in the picture above. We trimmed and removed the overgrown and windblown trees. Then we reinforced the fencing that was already in place (pigs are great escape artists!) with other fence pieces found around the property. We brought in some straw and a bucket load of dirt (the paddock is on concrete) so that the pigs have something to root in.

This paddock is next to a pole building with three concrete runs. Once restored, the building will make a very suitable winter shelter for our breeding stock and dedicated space for our feeders next year. It’s also close to our back pasture and tree grove, allowing us to rotate our pigs through fresh grass and woodland.

The modern craze seems to be with pastured pigs on the homestead. I understand the concept of raising pastured pigs. It’s kinda like the whole free range chicken thing.  But there’s still much to learn about this, and I think we’ll likely adopt a hybrid system between our concrete paddocks and pasture. Use what you’ve got!

Either way, we want happy pigs. And I think whatever system you put in place, this should be the goal. Pigs are pretty resilient and content if you give them adequate space and good food.

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What’s Next?

Two of our gilts will be coming into age very soon where they’ll likely have their first heat. We’re not ready to breed yet, so we’ll be separating Churchill from the girls this month. I’ll be putting in fencing around the building so that I can begin rotating the girls through a section of pasture this fall. That will allow me to clean the concrete paddock they’re on now and use the litter to overwinter and fertilize part of the market garden. I’ll overwinter the pigs in the hog shed, which means I’ll need to get to work on getting it ready later this summer. More on that project down the road.

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So far its been a very rewarding experience bringing pigs to the homestead. They’ve been pretty easy to take care of, and they always offer entertainment at the end of the day.

If you’ve been thinking about raising your own pigs, but have been putting it off for whatever reason, I say go ahead and take the leap. It’s worth the risk, the cost and the time it will take to do it right, and I think you’ll find that you get so much more out of the experience than just a freezer full of pork.

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