By Mel Dickinson – The spring and summer are a great time to bring pigs onto your farm or homestead. Within a few months, it is possible to have homegrown pork to fill your freezer. Raising and feeding a pig for market is a rewarding experience. Market pigs can be a great addition to both farms and homesteads.
When a pig is farrowed or born, a piglet consumes milk from the sow. In addition to the sow’s milk, piglets are gradually introduced to solid feed. They are then weaned at around 40 pounds. At this time, market piglets are often purchased by farmers and homesteaders. It’s important to know piglet care facts. Piglets are considered to be in the nursery phase until they reach 75 to 100 pounds. According to Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs during this time, the weaned piglets require 15 to 16 percent of their diet to be protein and eat a commercial “grower mix” until they reach between 100 to 150 pounds. Next, a market pig transitions into a “grower/finisher feed” that contains protein levels ranging from 14 to 15 percent until the pig grows to 175 to 200 pounds. At the final stage, a pig is moved onto a “finisher feed” with protein levels dropping to 12 to 13 percent of the pig’s diet. The pigs will stay on this ration until they reach their desired market weight.
Market pigs will eat between 650 to 750 pounds of feed between weaning and time of slaughter. Pigs self-regulate how much they eat and can be fed using a free-feeding or limited-feeding system. In a free-feeding system, pigs have constant access to their ration and can eat when they please. It is important to use a covered feeder when using the free-feeding system to ensure feed stays clean and dry. Limited-feeding is when market pigs are fed twice a day and given 90 percent of their total daily needs. This tends to yield a leaner processed meat. Either method can be used. When deciding how to raise a pig for meat, each farmer or homesteader should use the feeding method that bests fits their situation. While feeding times can vary, clean water should be offered to pigs at all times.
There are some additional points to remember when choosing and feeding commercial pig rations. Market and show pigs eat different feed. The rations are formulated for the specific needs of each type of pig. Be sure to check the labels and be certain the ration is for market pigs and not show pigs. If possible, shop around for feed prices. Prices generally fluctuate based on current grain prices, but there may be differences in store pricing that can add up over time. Also, ask if there is a discount for buying feed in bulk. Stores may offer discounts for purchases of 500 pounds or more of feed. Each company has its own recommended guidelines for feeding its grower, grower/finisher, and finisher ration mixes and weights may vary. Check the label and follow the specific instructions for different stages of feeding. Finally, to avoid any excess stress or gastric disturbances, it is important to slowly transition the pig onto each new feed gradually over a three to seven day period.
While commercial rations are not necessary when feeding a pig, it is an easy way to make sure your livestock is meeting its entire vitamin, mineral, and protein needs. If deciding not to use a commercial feed pig ration, there are ration reference guides available and animal nutritionists for hire to make sure the customized diet is meeting all the necessary nutritional needs.
In addition to using grain rations for feeding a pig, supplementation can be used to enhance a pig’s diet, improve meat flavor, and potentially cut feeding costs. Pigs are omnivores and eat both plants and animals. Much like humans, they have a single stomach and can eat a similar diet. Fresh pasture, dairy, produce and spent grain are popular food supplements for pigs.
Raising pigs on pasture is a great addition to the health, happiness, and nutritional supplementation when feeding a pig. When on pasture, pigs eat grass, roots, and bugs. If given access to areas around fruit or nut trees they will eat the wind-fallen foods. Pigs can be destructive to pasture. To prevent excess rooting behavior and pasture damage, it is important to have a rotational grazing system. Pork from pigs on pasture contains higher Vitamin D and other minerals found in the soil where it was raised.
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are favorites for pigs. If a farmer or homesteader has dairy stock and has excess milk available, it can be given to market pigs. Likewise, check with small dairy farms, yogurt producers, cheese makers, and grocery stores in the area to possibly get dairy products that have passed their sell-by date.
Produce is another healthy choice when supplementing pigs. Extra vegetables from the garden and wind-fallen fruit are ways homesteaders can help provide food for their pigs. Local farmer’s markets are also great resources for produce supplementation. Farmers may have unsellable produce at the end of the market day they may be willing to give out or sell for a nominal fee. Just like humans, pigs can be picky eaters. It is a common misconception that pigs will eat anything you give them. Sometimes it takes introducing new produce to a pig a couple of times before they will eat it. In some cases, pigs will never care for certain fruits and vegetables.
Local breweries and home brewers can be another good resource for pig farmers. Spent grain, the leftover grains used to make alcohol, can be used as supplemental feed.
It is important to remember while supplementation is not only beneficial for a pig’s diet, can enhance meat flavor, and potentially help farmers and homesteaders lower their overall costs, supplementation should consist of no greater than 10 percent of a pig’s overall diet. There are many benefits of homegrown pork. After a pig’s basic nutritional needs are met, there are many different ways to grow out a market pig, making it a great addition for each unique farm and homestead.
What methods do you use when feeding a pig for market?