“Don’t name them or you’ll get too attached.”
“How are you ever going to be able to slaughter them? They’re so cute!”
“Man, those things are going to stink.”
“Don’t let them have too much space – the meat will get tough.”
Everything you read above is a lie that we heard about raising pigs when we first started – our first group of pigs years ago.
Fast forward, and we are in our third summer of raising pigs – our first raising piglets that were born right here on the farm.
Ask anybody -even someone without any experience in raising pigs at all – and they’re sure to give you some kind of advice about how to raise your pigs.
Luckily, my husband and I were pretty good at sifting out the nonsense.
While we have always been able to name our animals and actually advocate for getting attached – which I’m sure I’ll talk about in a later post – I understand that this is advice that many people do find true. The same goes for it being difficult to slaughter animals – it’s never easy, but it’s necessary.
However, the last two comments? Total lies! We’ve learned a lot as we’ve started raising pigs, and as we gain more experience, I’ve come up with ten mistakes you definitely DON’T want to make as a novice – or even an experienced! – pig farmer.
Here they are.
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1. They don’t use sturdy fencing
Pigs are, without a doubt, one of the smartest animals you can raise. They will not only figure out how to burrow underneath a standard metal or wooden fence, but they’ll also remember exactly how they did it so that they can do it again and again…and teach the others.
You need to purchase special hog fencing in order to keep them enclosed. You can use hog panels, which have narrow openings at the bottom and wider ones up top, or you can set up a three-strand electric system. Whichever you choose, it’s important that you use strong fencing material and train your pigs to it immediately.
Hog panels are great, as they’re rigid and very difficult to bend. They hold up well to the pressure of pigs. However, it can also be on the more expensive side. The plus side is that you don’t have to worry about it becoming damaged or inoperable if something falls on it.
If you decide to use electric, it’s important that you test your fence before putting piglets in it. Make sure they can’t wiggle their bodies underneath the lowest line, and make sure the fence has a good charge around the entire perimeter.
Oh, and another tip? Make sure you actually keep the fence turned on when the pigs are inside. A few weeks ago, my husband forgot to turn the fence back on after feeding the piglets before work. The result? Two hours that evening spent rounding them back up…and a torn-up garden.
2. They don’t give them enough space.
People always say that pigs are the filthiest animals – we have not found this to be the case (chickens are downright gross, everyone – they win that award). Pigs actually make an effort to poop in designated areas of their yards, making them much easier to clean up after.
However, if you are crowding your pigs into the pen, you’ll likely find out pretty quickly that they start to develop an odor. After all, there’s no where for all that scent to go. Make sure you have the pig pen as far away from your house as possible (this will also help reduce fly problems) and give your pigs as much space to roam as you possibly can.
We have our pigs housed on nearly a full acre of land, much of which is shaded by large trees. This gives them plenty of room to root around, reducing the likelihood that they’ll get overly curious about the fence just because they’re bored.
When our piglets are young, we keep them in a “training pen” that consists of a pallet fence within the larger electric-enforced area. This teaches them to be wary of the electric and also helps them get used to us. Then, we set them free!
Giving your pigs plenty of space also helps reduce the likelihood that they will be infected with parasites. Since they won’t be rooting around in their own waste all day, they’re less likely to pick up something unpleasant in the soil.
If giving your pigs a lot of pasture space isn’t possible for you because of where you live, you do have the option of building a mobile pig pen or pasture like this one.
3. They don’t allow for free feeding and watering.
So here’s the deal.
Pigs eat A LOT.
You need to plan for that. A good rule of thumb to follow is that for every thirty pounds of pig, it will take seven pounds of food to feed them. Once you’re raising a full-grown breeder sow, that can easily equate to hundreds of pounds of feed per month.
Allowing your pigs to free range can help some, but you’ll also want to find some alternative methods of feeding your pigs in a healthy way. Remember – what you feed your pigs matters. I’ll say more on this below.
I know many pig farmers who go out to their pig pens and hand-feed their pigs every single day. This can not only get tedious, but it can also cause some fighting among your pigs if they feel they need to compete for food when it’s being offered.
It can also lead to your pigs being underfed – use an automatic feeder so that you can fill it once a week or even once every few days.
Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
Here are some ideas of items you can refuse to make your own inexpensive auto-feeders and waterers:
4. They don’t invest in durable facilities.
Remember how I said pigs are smart? Well, they’re also tenacious. And destructive. Which can get extremely frustrating if you’re trying to raise pigs inexpensively!
Pigs are strong, and they can easily destroy anything they come into contact with. That rule applies for housing, feeders, waterers, and just about everything else. Sitting on the deck last night, we watched two piglets throw a galvanized pan across the yard to each other. While they were doing that, their mother was tearing house wrap off the side of her barn – and eating it.
Pigs are destructive!
You need to invest in resources, like automatic feeders and waterers, that are durable and able to withstand the pressures of pig life. This is especially true to waterers – when it gets hot, you don’t want to rely on hand-watering your pigs every day. You need to give them a reliable source of clean water, and you need to make sure they aren’t able to flip that water source over.
5. They don’t provide adequate shelters.
You don’t need a massive barn in order to provide your pigs with shelter. If you’re only raising pigs for a few months before they’ll go to the butcher, a three-sided structure with a roof to protect against the elements is plenty of shelter.
Remember that you do need some shaded areas, too, because pigs aren’t able to sweat and will get extremely hot. A wallow will help them cool off, but they can also get sunburned if they’re light skinned.
Again, you don’t need to get fancy with your shelter. A pallet building will even work (but remember, build it to last – your pigs will get curious and try to destroy it eventually!).
Now, the exception to this is if you are raising pigs through the winter. We falsely believed that we could get our sow, Boo, to farrowing time with one of those three-sided shelters. October arrived with several inches of snow and frigid temperatures, and we quickly learned the errors of our ways.
You will need a larger barn to house pigs through the winter, particularly if you plan on farrowing. However, a simple shelter will work just fine in most cases.
6. They don’t plan for castration and other medical needs.
If you have piglets, you are going to need to plan ahead to engage in several not-so-simple medical tasks.
For one, male pigs need to be castrated before they reach two weeks old. Male pigs must be castrated because the testosterone can cause a bad taste in the meat, ruining all of your work. Castrating is not simple, but it can be done at home – we did it this year and while it was traumatizing to us, the piglets recovered in just a few short hours.
You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of medical supplies on hand for this procedure as well as other tasks, like giving the piglets their iron shots. They need these in the first few days of life to prevent some life-threatening illnesses.
If you are nervous about engaging in these tasks, you can always have a veterinarian do them for you. However, the costs associated with that can quickly add up, so it’s not a bad idea to have someone train you so that you can do them yourself.
Here are some other items you’ll want to have on hand if you’re raising piglets:
- Long breeder gloves (if you’re doing AI breeding, as well as for other medical tasks)
- Iron supplements
- Dewormers (natural remedies like garlic often work effectively, but it’s not a bad idea to have a more heavy-duty option on hand, too)
7. They don’t prepare for pigs’ unique personalities.
Pigs are sweet, enjoyable animals to raise. However, they aren’t all rays of sunshine – like people, pigs each have their own unique personalities. Some pigs can be extremely aggressive, while others can be as docile as a puppy.
Therefore, it’s important that you treat each pig with caution. Remember that you may have dominance issues if you are raising multiple pigs, and that mothers with piglets need to be treated with exceptional care.
8. They try to save money.
Raising pigs isn’t cheap. You need to have a serious financial plan in place before you get your pilots so that it’s clear how much money this is going to cost. Raising pigs requires a serious financial and time commitment. You’ll have fences to build, food to feed, and respect to build. You don’t want to go into this with an overly thrifty mindset.
Sit down and plan out your projected expenses and profits ahead of time. Keep in mind that while you may only want to raise one pig for your household, it’s often cheaper and easier to raise multiple pigs and sell the meat to family or friends.
9. They feed them inappropriate foods.
Here’s the deal. You can a whole truckload of day-old bread from your local bakery for free. You can do this every day, providing your pigs with hundreds of pounds of stale bread, donuts, and other delicious foods at all times.
However, the problem with doing this is that the old adage – “you are what you eat” – starts to come into play. Feed a pig too much of something, and it’s going to produce meat that is either unpalatable or extremely fatty.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t want a fat pig. You want a heavy pig. When you butcher a pig, you’re going to throw out (or turn into lard) most of the fat anyway. Why waste all the effort, time, and money involved in feeding your pigs to throw half of it out?
There are other foods you should avoid feeding your pigs too. Not only can certain foods cause health problems, but they can also cause health problems (like trichinosis) that can then be passed on to you:
- Raw potatoes
- Leaves, vines, and roots from tomatoes and other nightshade plants
- Anything moldy or rotten
- Lots of sugar or salt
- Uncooked beans
10. They don’t train them.
A pig can grow to several hundred pounds – this isn’t a small animal we’re talking about. Pigs are also smart. You need pigs to trust you.
When you first get piglets, acclimate them to your presence by spending time with them each day. You can even train them to the sound of your voice – pigs have the ability to learn some words and will be able to come when called. This is super handy when you are trying to feed them!
The more your pigs trust you, the easier it will be to manage them when you really need to – like when you’re dealing with a pregnant sow or when your pigs manage to bust out of the fence.
I also recommend boot-training your piglets as soon as possible. Curious piglets will often try to nibble at your toes when you climb into the pen. This is cute at first, but if you let this behavior continue until when your pigs are full-sized, you could very easily lose a toe (or worse). Remember – pigs are omnivores. Don’t let them get a taste!
Raising pigs is far from easy – but it’s also not more difficult than raising any other kind of livestock. In fact, we’ve found pigs to be our favorite farm animal to raise, even more so than chickens or sheep.
They have entertaining personalities that make them fun to be around, and of course, you can’t overlook how awesome it is to have fresh, locally sourced pork throughout the entire year!
What other tips do you have for raising pigs? Be sure to let me know in the comments!
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