By Marc Burdiss – I’ve always wanted pigs and been curious to learn how to start pig farming. I’ve never owned pigs, never even was a close friend of someone who raised homestead pigs. I know farmers who raise ’em by the hundreds, but not anyone who raises just a few for meat. Pigs were always a project for “next year,” or “when we had more money.” And then the Chicken Coop Massacre of May 2010 occurred here at the family homestead and my wife said we need something bigger that the predators wouldn’t bother, and something that will eat the leftover food scraps the dogs don’t eat.
When given the green light, I sprung into action before the offer was rescinded. We, I, looked on Craigslist for feeder pigs, made arrangements on cost and delivery, and began to get ready. I know, I know, get everything ready before the animals arrive. That is all good and well, in theory, however, my projects have never met that standard before, why start now? It’s Thursday and the pigs come Monday afternoon. I searched the internet for how to start pig farming, pig farming for beginners and raising hogs for meat, and after a few hours of asking Uncle Google, I decided it may be important to have something that holds them in. How about a pig pen?
The Pig Yard
I thought about remodeling the coop to house the pigs in, but it has a dirt floor couldn’t keep raccoons out, how would it keep pigs in? Besides, I plan on making it predator-proof and getting more backyard chickens. In reading the books and articles on homestead hogs, I knew an option was raising pigs on pasture, but that was ruled out. Without any exposure to a normal pig’s habits, let alone a semi-loose one on pasture, I decided for my sake and the sake of my neighbors’ gardens I would want them enclosed. My wife noted that near the coop there was an old concrete slab about 12′ by 16′ that could be used. Of course, it was piled high with junk and would need to be cleaned, but as always, her logic was unquestionable. It should be easy to clean and pig snout proof and was near enough to not be a hardship walking out slop.
Off to the tractor store I went, family in tow, and we purchased two cattle panels 16′ by 48″ tall for $20 each. The employee helping us asked what we planned on feeding the pigs, to which I informed him I had not gotten that far in my research. What did he recommend? We ended up purchasing 250 pounds of pig ration and cracked corn, and I could scratch one more item off my ever-expanding list.
We live on a farm that is “resource-rich,” if only you look hard enough. In cleaning off the concrete slab I found a few bent, but usable, fence posts 7 ½ feet tall, and a few straight ones about 5 ½ feet tall. These would come in handy to hold the panels upright. I also found two other panels I could salvage and cut up; one pig and one cattle. I ended up with a pig yard 12′ by 16′, with the back wall a 32-inch tall pig panel that would serve as a step-over gate. To these panels, I attached three posts on three sides and barbed wire six inches off the bottom of the one floating over the concrete pad. Do not work these panels in place until a pig hut and feeder are in place, otherwise, you have to undo them to get them in. (Like I said, my list was a work in progress.)
So with the pig panel off the back, it was time to build the pig shelter, after all, it is Friday night and the pigs are coming Monday I still have plenty of time. In the pile of junk on the concrete, there was a shipping container with four four-foot pieces of red roofing sheets. My mission was to turn these into a decent pig shelter.
The Pig Hut
Saturday morning finds me scrounging for 2 x 4s around the buildings and yard after doing some rough estimates based on an Internet picture of a pig lean-to. Using the metal roofing panels as my important measurements, adding the fact from a pig book that the one pig needs 25 sq. ft. of shelter and to add 10 sq. ft. for every additional pig, I needed 35 sq. ft.
I once read that 6/4 of the people have trouble with fractions, and I being one of those people, decided that 6′ x 6′ equals 36 sq. ft. and that was close enough. I then had to figure the hypotenuse of a lean-to four feet high by six feet long would give me a slope needed on the back of around 7.2 feet, perfect for my 8 feet of panels with overlap. I was in business. I just had to over-engineer this to make it “pig tough,” all the while trying to imagine how tough a pig could be.
The Pig Feeder
With the hut done Saturday morning, I had the afternoon to go talk to a few people I know who have larger barns and do very little with them. Now that I had thoroughly researched what can pigs eat and I had my feed, I needed a feeder. The one at the farm store was way too pricey. Worst case scenario, I would feed them a measured amount every day, but a used feeder would be perfectly acceptable in my book. The first place I visited was a bust, but I got a good lead Mike has an orange one and hasn’t had pigs for years. He may sell it cheap if he still has it. Twenty minutes of talking with Mike, a pig feeder is loaded and the price a few jars of homemade jelly and the promise of a few pork chops. Done.
I loaded it up and hauled it to the pig pen. This was getting easier than I imagined. What was next? Oh…right. Food needs water to wash it down. How am I going to water these pigs? I found a big concrete dog bowl and thought that I could make it work. Really, how much can a little pig drink? Sunday was wiring and arranging the furniture day. Feng Shui practitioners have not found as many configurations as I did, trying for the most pig-friendly layout of the pig yard.
Slide, scoot, step back, repeat.
“Hey, did you think of a slop trough?”
Start over; repeat. Until you see the present configuration in the photos.
Monday arrives full of hope and promise of pigs and bacon and all that is pork. The day drags at a Christmas Eve pace until the farmer’s truck pulls up, with a pig carrier on the back. I tried to play it cool, but have to admit I was as excited as could be. The pigs, it was explained, were Poland Chinas, and I was receiving a gilt and a barrow. I made a note to myself to look those up when I got inside.
These pigs had had all of their shots they would need to be shown in the fair. “I am just going to eat these two,” I proclaimed proudly, “and their pen is over there.”
“That should work,” the farmer said, “but where is their waterer?” I pointed to the concrete bowl as proof I had thought this through and was one step ahead of him. He laughed. “On a hot day, these pigs will drink five gallons each. That bowl is two gallons. I would get a blue plastic, 55-gallon drum and stick a hog nipple in it if I were you.”
A few probing questions later and I had a Tuesday project. The next few hours were spent taking care of a lot of important projects near the pig pen, and no, I assured everyone, I was not just working nearby to watch the pigs.
The man at the farm store said they did have the bite valve hog nipples in stock, and they had other fittings to make it work. I had a drum with a removable lid that should work; I drilled a 1.5″ hole about a foot up from the bottom and installed a threaded bung mount with rubber gaskets. Into this, I had to add a reducer bushing to get the size down to 1/2″ needed for the hog valve. I could have Teflon taped the threads but didn’t and have had no problems with leaks. In the lid, I drilled a 1.5″ vent hole and covered it with a screen to keep bugs and debris out. The hogs, I was assured, would play with the valve and discover it contained water. They did. It does. We have a water source the pig farmer would be proud of. Come to think of it, I am now a pig farmer, too.
It has been a few weeks since I tackled learning how to start pig farming (in one weekend!) and here is what I have learned. These are not rambunctious pigs at least mine aren’t. They are great at sleeping, grunting, entertaining the kids and guests, but rowdy would never be used to describe them. They get excited when we bring our table scraps out, but even that would never be called “hog wild.” My pigs go “hog mild.” They appear at times to be just overweight hound dogs. I also learned I am raising some kids who are true carnivores. All animals are named by the kids at our house, and the pigs were no exception. However, my daughter broke with her usual naming convention of adding an “ey” to the end of an animal name and named hers Bacon; my son followed suit with Porkchop. Piggy will have to remain the name of a bank. They are counting the days until we haul these pigs to the butcher. Come to think of it, how will I get the pigs to the butcher when they weigh 250 pounds each? Hmmm. I have time after all; that is months away and really, how hard could that be?
I hope this gives you the guidance and inspiration to learn how to start pig farming on your homestead.
What interests you about raising pigs of your own?
Published in Countryside September / October 2010 and regularly vetted for accuracy.