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If you have ever thought about raising pigs, I have just two words for you: DO IT! Pigs are my absolute favorite animal to raise because they are so full of personality. They are easy to care, for, too (probably the easiest).
While there is some finesse involved in feeding a pig, knowing how to make pig food affordable and accessible just involves a little bit of creativity and leg work. One of the biggest misconceptions is that pigs can become your own personal garbage disposals. This is not true.
Unless you plan on raising your pigs as pets, knowing what to feed pigs for the best flavor and what to feed a pig for slaughter is of vital importance. For example, pigs can’t eat meat, and shouldn’t be fed certain other foods in excess, as this can taint the flavor of the meat.
Here is my list of the top ten most affordable DIY pig feeds – but keep in mind that the opportunities are virtually endless.
There are so many benefits to the concept of raising pigs on pasture, and with any method of farming, there are of course plenty of myths that go along with it, too. Many people believe that a pig raised on pasture will become too muscled, leading to meat that is tough and inedible. This is simply not the case. When given room to roam, pigs will not only be happier and healthier (we have never had to worry about parasites in our pigs) but the meat is also fantastic.
In the past, we have kept up to six pigs on nearly two-thirds of an acre. However, if you have the opportunity to provide your pigs with more space, do it. This will be our first year keeping pigs for an entire calendar year. In prior years, we have only kept pigs for about five or six months. This time between seasons allows the land a bit of time to regrow and rejuvenate.
If you decide to raise your pigs on pasture, remember that rotation is key. This will allow the vegetation to grow back and to prevent the land from becoming overrun with manure and mud. Pigs are awesome at clearing land, removing both roots and vegetation (and, really, whatever else happens to get in their way). If you have the means to do so, rotate your pigs every few months through separate paddocks.
Keep in mind, too, that pasture (and all of the other feeds we discuss in this article) shouldn’t be your pigs’ only source of food. There are some minerals and vitamins that can be tougher to come by, and the only surefire way to supplement them in your pigs’ diet is to add at least a little bit of grain.
2. Kitchen scraps
Pigs are often referred to as the “garbage disposals” of the farm because they can, and will, eat literally anything. That doesn’t, of course, mean that they should eat anything – meat is absolutely off limits because it can carry the risk of spreading trichinosis to your pigs.
But they love old bread, spoiled cheese, rotten produce, and any other leftovers you might have going bad in your refrigerator. Some of our pigs’ favorites treats include seeds and rinds from squashes, watermelon, corn cobs, extra eggs, stale bread, and pickle juice teeming with garlic and vinegar. I try to perform a weekly refrigerator and pantry cleanout, and I’ve got to say, nothing makes our sow, Boo, more excited.
3. Canned goods
My dad has a lot of connections in the local community, particularly with the churches and food pantries. Last summer, when one of the food pantries was doing a clean-out, he stopped them from loading a truck to bring to the dump. Most of the things they were throwing away were still perfectly edible – they just couldn’t be given to people because they were past the expiration or sell-by dates. He volunteered to take the food off their hands and gave most of it to us.
There was some food we couldn’t feed to the pigs (like Spaghettios with meatballs) because it simply wouldn’t be healthy. We saved those foods – like anything with meat and fish – for the chickens. But most of it (about a dozen cardboard boxes full) was not only still of high quality, but perfectly edible for the pigs. We’re talking countless cans of beans, lentils, pasta, tomatoes, beets, and more. Our pigs lived high on the hog – pun intended – for quite some time on these tasty treats.
Now, if you feed these foods, remember – moderation is key. You don’t want to feed your pigs tons of canned foods, as they often contain lots of preservatives and salt. Remember not to feed your pigs anything you wouldn’t feed your family, and always rinse and cook everything thoroughly before feeding (this is especially important for foods like beans, which can be fatal if consumed dried and uncooked). We fed very small amounts of canned goods on a regular basis to our pigs, using them to merely supplement their diets.
Check around at your local grocery stores and food shelves. Often, these places have to pay to dispose of their excess or expired food, and while they are usually hesitant to give it away as people food, they don’t have a problem handing it off to pigs.
4. Brew grain
Last summer, my husband and I stopped for a beer at one of the local breweries. While we sat there sipping (and enjoying the free air conditioning, mostly), we started chatting about all the benefits of feeding brewers grain to pigs. On a whim, we asked the bartender at the brewery what they did with all of the leftover grain.
Unfortunately, they already had a local farmer who came to pick up the grain for his pigs. A bit disappointed, we paid our tab and headed for home. As luck would have it, we drove by a restaurant that had closed just a few months ago. It was currently being renovated and had a new sign hanging out front. It was to be the future home of a brewery.
I convinced my husband to pull over and we went inside. Since they hadn’t even opened yet, they hadn’t given much thought to who would pick up the grain. They agreed that we could have it as long as we picked it up.
So began a mutually beneficial journey in which we picked up massive barrels of spent grain several times a month. They benefited because they didn’t have to pay to get rid of it, nor did they have it sitting outside for weeks at a time for rats and raccoons to get into.
We benefited because the pigs absolutely loved the grain. We joked with the brewer that the pigs were his pre-market “taste-testers” – the spent grains that they loved usually ended up being the more popular beers, while the ones they nosed around and didn’t eat much of were not best sellers.
Unfortunately, the brewery ended up closing, and when it did, we had maintained a close enough friendship with the brewers that they gave us all of their leftover brew grain. Not spent grain – but bags of grain. We ended up with thousands of pounds of dry grain that we are still in the process of feeding to our pigs.
The moral of this story is twofold – first, research local breweries (or distilleries) and find out what they do with their waste. In most cases, as long as they don’t already have someone they give the grain to, they will be chomping at the bit to get rid of it and give it to you.
Also, get to know your local businesses. Supporting local businesses is a great way to give back, and to foster the connections that you need to keep your farm thriving and successful.
Providing your pigs with milk is a great way to fatten them up and to supply them with essential amino acids. Pigs and humans are alike in that they cannot produce certain amino acids like lysine, leucine, and tryptophan. There are several others, and while these amino acids must be consumed through food, it is very common for pigs to be lacking in essential amino acids.
An amino acid deficiency can lead to a whole host of problems, including heart disease and behavioral defects. Giving your pigs milk can provide for these deficiencies, and also provide a source of easily digestible calories.
Check your local dairy farms to see if they have any milk they can’t send out. We are lucky enough to have a farmer friend who was simply producing more milk than he was able to sell. In exchange for a few truckloads of excess brew grain over the summer, he supplied us with leftover milk.
The pigs loved it. Even after it had set out in the sun for a few days, they gobbled it up like it was going out of style. The more curdled, the better…yum.
Check around at the dairy farms, as well as at local grocery stores. They often have to dump milk that has reached its sell-by or expiration date, and it’s easier for them to give it away. The same goes for local cheese making businesses. Whey is a good source of food for pigs, and this is really an unwanted byproduct in that industry, but it’s one that pigs love.
6. Garden leftovers
There’s not a lot to say for this one besides the fact that pigs will be more than eager to perform clean-up duty in your garden. They will eat everything from unripe cucumbers that have rotted on the vine to extra kale to weeds. You can pasture your pigs inside the garden to till it and fertilize it for you at the end of the season, or simply rake up your extras and toss them into the pig pen as you see fit.
We had a bumper crop of cucumbers this year, and after making dozens of jars of pickles, we decided we had had enough. By September, we were tossing bushels of cucumbers into the pig pen for them to crunch on – just so we didn’t have to fire up the canner again!
7. Cover crops
This ties into raising pigs on pasture, but keep in mind that you can also plant cover crops in your pig pen or other pasture areas to help provide a source of nutrition for your pigs. There are countless crops that can be beneficial, from buckwheat to turnips to Austrian winter peas.
Anything in the mustard family in particular (turnips, beets, radishes) will grow quickly and aggressively, encouraging your pigs to root. These are also good crops for hard soil, like clay, as they can break up the soil and encourage aeration and drainage.
8. Grocery stores and bakeries
We haven’t had a lot of success in approaching grocery stores or bakeries for leftovers, but that could be because we have always gone to big box stores (which sadly seem to be rapidly overtaking independent grocers in most areas). But I’ve heard that bakeries and grocery stores are a great way to get free food for your pigs.
Bakeries often won’t sell day-old items or stale bread to the public, but will be willing to give it away just so they don’t have to pay to dispose of it. The same goes for the produce section at grocery stores. Your pigs can get everything from strawberries to kale, providing them with nutrients they may be lacking in other areas of their diets.
9. Pantry leftovers
Aside from food scraps and garden leftovers, there are several ingredients you probably have lurking in your pantry that make high-quality pig feeds. Molasses is rarely used in piglet diets – but it should be. It contains about fifty percent simple sugars and is a great way to supplement a pig’s diet – particularly a young pig’s diet. Especially in the few weeks after weaning, piglets benefit from the lactose in milk. Molasses can help increase feed intake and make it easier for your young pigs to get a jumpstart on growth early in life.
Garlic is another item that should be a staple in every pig’s diet. Its medicinal properties are well-recognized and it’s a great option as a deworming agent. We have never used any of the toxic “pharmaceuticals” recommended for use on pigs, and instead have relied on garlic to keep our pigs healthy. We just add a few tablespoons of minced garlic to their feed, and even though our pigs spend their days rooting through the mud (where you traditionally find parasites, of course) they are healthy as can be.
Feeding your pigs manure or having them follow behind your cows or other herbivores to “clean up” is actually something I’ve read about on other blogs – not something I’m sure I would try. But there are plenty of farmers out there who claim that feeding your pigs cow or goat manure is a good way to provide your pigs with essential nutrients and clean up your farm at the same time. You can also use them to work your compost. But those aren’t the droppings I’m talking about.
No, I’m talking about tree droppings. Look around your property for any free sources of feed. We have several apple trees on our property, and while they aren’t exactly good for human consumption, the pigs absolutely love them. If you have an apple orchard nearby, they will often sell you dropped apples for a very low price, or in some cases give them to you for free. We are lucky to live in “apple country” and have been able to score some pretty good deals on bushels of bruised apples for our pigs.
Acorns and nuts are also good sources of food for your pigs, and if you have access to rotational pasture, you don’t need to do anything except pasture them in around those trees when you are ready to do so.
When you’re looking for inexpensive or alternative feed sources for your pigs, just remember that everything in moderation is key. You don’t want to overfeed your pigs with one type of food as this can compromise the quality of your meat. You are what you eat – and that’s especially true with pigs.
What other food sources have you heard of to help reduce your food bill? We’d love to hear from you! Chime in with your comments below, and be sure to follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm).