When you’re starting out with livestock it can be hard to judge what your costs are going to be. If you’re getting started with pigs, let me walk you through your expected cost to raise a pig. We’ll be looking at a backyard or small homestead situation, not a large commercial operation. We’ll also be looking at a weaner-to-market process, not a breeding operation.
One note to start off with: when you ask, “How much is a pig?”, you actually need to ask, “How much are pigs?” Pigs are social animals, and you should never be raising fewer than two. Perhaps you could get away with it if your pig was going to be penned with cows, goats, or sheep. But don’t raise a pig all by itself! You should be able to find a friend or neighbor that wants to buy that other pig.
Homesteading gifts? Christmas is right around the corner, and you need the right gift for the homesteader in your life.
I’ve found a collection of lovely illustrated books from author Celia Lewis. All you have to do is pick the right one for YOUR homesteader. These illustrated books are the perfect combination of useful information and gorgeous artwork. That makes them the gift that’s both functional AND delightful!
You might need homesteading gifts for someone who is already raising livestock or who is thinking about branching out into livestock, in which case you can pick from cows, pigs, chickens, or ducks and geese. Or for the homesteader who is a nature lover, there’s An Illustrated Country Year and An Illustrated Coastal Year. One of these is guaranteed to be a hit.
You can learn how to raise a pig! I did it, and you can do it. In 2009 my partner and I moved from the suburbs of Atlanta to rural Tennessee. We put in a little garden and got a few chickens, but one of our big dreams was learning how to raise a pig. Well, two pigs, because pigs need friends! Learning how to raise a pig was a lot of fun, very satisfying, and now our freezer is always full of delicious meat we raised right here on our own property.
HOW MUCH MANURE DOES A PIG MAKE – You don’t strictly need to know this, but it’s one of the interesting questions that arises when you raise pigs, and this guest post plays around with the numbers a bit.
FIRST PIG SLAUGHTERED AT THE WALLOW – As you learn how to raise a pig, you will come to the choice of whether or not to do your own processing. This post is 44 pictures of the entire process start to finish of slaughtering a pig and butchering it into halves.
HOW MUCH MEAT FROM A PIG – This is one of my most popular articles. Whether you are learning how to raise a pig yourself or you are participating in a pig share, and the end of the day everyone wants to know how much meat they will get. In this article you will learn:
For more information on raising pigs, these two books are both excellent sources – How to Raise Pigs and Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs. (Aff links.) I used both of them when I was getting started. Whether you’re raising pigs for pets, getting started raising a 4H pig, or going purely for yummy pork, either of these books will help you out in getting started.
Do you have any other questions about how to raise a pig?
So you’ve decided to raise a pig! You can do it! Just five years ago I made the same choice. I was a suburbanite, but that didn’t stop me from moving to the country and buying some pigs!
I learned almost everything I needed to know from books and the Internet. How to Raise Pigsand Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs are two excellent choices for comprehensive books. (Those are affiliate links. If you buy through them, it doesn’t cost you a thing to support another small pig farmer.)
I have had several seasons of successful pig-raising. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by how to get started, let me break it down for you.
Reasons to Raise a Pig
Some people use pigs to clear an area of land or till in preparation for gardening, but the primary reason to raise them is the delicious meat they turn out. If the idea of hams, bacon, sausage, roasts, ribs, and pork chops gets you going, you don’t need ME to tell you the benefits of raising pigs!
They’re great composters. Our pigs will eat almost anything out of the garden, the kitchen, and the rest of the barnyard. Pigs are a machine that turns food waste into bacon. Hard to go wrong there!
Pig personality is another reason. They are friendly, social, fun to get to know, fun to watch, and are as cute as can be. Because of their social nature, when you decide to raise one pig, you’re deciding to raise two or more. Unless you are devoted to spending hours a day with your pig, you need more than one.
Types of Pig Raising Operations
There are three basic types of pig raising operations, and you need to decide early on which one you are.
Farrow-to-finish – Farrowing is a sow birthing a litter of piglets. In this type of operation you are in for the whole process – breeding sows, farrowing sows, and raising piglets to market weight. This takes the longest time commitment, largest amount of upfront investment, and biggest space and equipment needs.
Farrow-to-feeder – Breeding sows and selling the weaned piglets is called a farrow-to-feeder operation. This type of operation requires the most labor and rises and falls with piglet demand.
Feeder-to-finish – This is the most common type of operation for a new pig farmer. You’ll buy feeder pigs at 30-60 pounds and raise them to finished size, around 225 pounds. You don’t have the extra complications of dealing with adult pigs and breeding. You will have fewer costs and space needs since you don’t need to maintain multiple sows. Your time commitment is less since you can finish your pigs in 6-7 months.
Space Needs for Pigs
Pigs need space to sleep that is protected from the weather if you will have rain or cold. They need space for eating and drinking. They need space for defecating – pigs will create a “bathroom” area of their pen. They need extra space for frolicking about. Yes, pigs frolic.
100 square feet is a good starting amount per pig. More pigs will need less space per pig because they will mostly be together. Pigs tend to sleep all in one pile, for example, especially if it’s cold.
If your pigs will be in an enclosed space like a barn stall, you’ll want to muck out their waste. If you’re housing them outside and have some extra space, you might want to rotate them through different areas to limit their exposure to their waste.
Food for Pigs
Commercial pig feed is available from feed stores, or you may have a local farmers co-op that will have pig feed. Pigs can be supplemented with kitchen scraps, garden scraps, and pasture. However, especially as a first time pig farmer, you should provide your pigs with a commercial feed. This feed will have the proper nutrients to help your pigs grow at a good rate and give you a baseline for pig growth if you choose to alter your feed choice in the future.
You can feed your pigs at set mealtimes, or you can free feed. Free feeding produces more feed waste and requires more equipment, but it requires less labor.
Pigs need access to clean drinking water at all times. You may want to build or invest in a nipple waterer to prevent pigs from constantly tipping their water over. If you provide open water, you will need to check on it frequently to insure that the pigs haven’t knocked it all onto the ground.
Pigs appreciate open water and mud to keep themselves cool and clean. Especially in the summer they will enjoy and open bin of water, a mud puddle, or even sprays from a hose. My pigs have always loved running in and out of the spray on a hot day.
There are a variety of health concerns that could arise in your pigs, from skin conditions and parasites, to serious diseases and injuries. The supplies you need to treat health issues are probably available at your local farm store or co-op, including dewormer and antibiotics.
Identifying health needs early is important, so that you can treat problems early and cull if you need to. Most pig raising books will have a section on common pig health problems.
Don’t be shy about talking to local pig farmers or consulting an online farming or homesteading community. Other people who are experienced with pigs can help you troubleshoot a concern before it becomes a crisis. The Pig Site has an excellent section on pig health.
Finish weight for pigs is approximately 225 pounds. This is around the size where a pig starts to put on more fat, so your feed to meat ratio becomes less than ideal. You can approximate your pigs’ weight by measuring their length and heart girth. Length is from between their ears to the base of their tails. Heart girth is measured around the whole body right behind the front legs. Heart girth times heart girth times length will give you a reasonable approximation.
Unless you are processing your pig at home, you will need to find a local processor well in advance. I have to drive two hours for my processing, because small processors are hard to find these days. Check with any of your local places that take deer and other game. Ask other farmers in your area who they recommend. Check out your farmers markets and ask anyone selling meat where they take theirs.
There’s a lot of information you need to get started raising pigs, but there are a lot of resources out there to help you. You’ll find the experience rewarding and the meat the best you’ve ever tasted.
This is a reprint so I have a record of what farm chores at The Wallow were like in April 2011 when Joshua wrote this. I also have a post of what my chores were like in October 2012.
Chores at The Wallow, April 2011
By Joshua Bardwell originally posted at Jack-Booted Liberal
I thought it might be interesting to share the chores at The Wallow with you.
Let the chickens out of their coop in the morning.
Check the chickens’ food and water.
Collect the eggs. The chickens usually lay one egg a day. They never lay more than one egg, and sometimes lay fewer.
Toss a few handfuls of scratch grains in the chickens’ area. This keeps them interested and makes it less likely that they’ll get out during the day. They can get out at will, but they usually don’t. The electric fence is more about keeping dogs out than them in.
Check on the pigs and the sheep. Nothing specific, just make sure that all is as it should be.
Check on the chicks. Make sure they’re not out of food and water and lay down more straw if there’s a lot of manure. I’m doing deep bedding with them, so I don’t change their litter every day.
Check on the seedlings and see if they need water.
If it hasn’t rained in a week or so (which hasn’t been a problem yet this spring), turn on the soaker hoses.
During the early summer, open the windows at night and close them in the morning. During the height of summer, they stay open all the time with fans going.
If we start milking the sheep, that’ll be a daily chore, either morning or night.
All day, all the time
Let the cats in and out as desired by Their Feline Highnesses.
Feed the pigs. We’re only feeding them once a day, and keeping them on mildly short rations, to encourage them to forage more in the field. The more calories they get in the field, the fewer we have to buy for them.
Check the pigs’ fence. Make sure all the posts are firmly in the ground and that dirt isn’t piled up on it, grounding it out and making the electricity not work. The pigs root right up to the fence, so they regularly pile dirt up onto it.
The pigs have a 55-gallon drum with nipple waterers, so their water doesn’t need checking or refilling often.
Most days, we work with the sheep on halter training. We’re trying to get the sheep used to being on a halter and being led by us, to make it easier to move them around the property. The details of this are a topic that is worthy of its own post.
Every 3-5 days
Go out with a hoe and weed the garden beds. As long as I stay on top of this, it’s pretty quick and easy. Nothing gets well established; the seedlings scrape easily off the surface.
Move the sheep to a new paddock. We set up one electric net fence adjacent to the one they’re in, then raise a section of fence and run them from one to the other.
Check the sheep’s water. They get most of their fluid from the grass, so they don’t drink much water, although we provide it if they want it.
Every 10 days
Move the pigs to a new area. Issa has them on a rotation where they move through about six different areas, ten days at a time. In between, she seeds each area with clover, rapeseed, a few grasses, and buckwheat, so that by the time the pigs come back, some new stuff has grown up for them to eat.
Seed the pigs’ last area.
Every 6-10 weeks
Mow, as needed, depending on how the sheep are keeping up with it.
Every few months
Change the litter for the chickens. I’m doing deep bedding with them, so this doesn’t need to get done very often. The old litter goes into the compost.
Turn the compost piles. Technically, you’re supposed to do this more often, but we’re lazy composters. It takes longer, but everything still seems to break down okay, and it’s much less work.