When done correctly, you can put pork in your freezer at a lower cost than what you would pay in the grocery store, and possibly even make some money when you have extra pigs to sell. When raising your own pigs, you control the feed and additives, so you know exactly what they were fed. You also have the satisfaction of producing your own meat.
Pigs require very little space. While textbooks say pigs can get by with a minimum of 20 square feet per pig in an outdoor area, they need more room to roam. Plan for a minimum of 50 square feet per pig, preferably a little more. When designing your pig pen, keep a few things in mind. Pigs learn to manure near their water supply. Therefore, we want to keep the water at the far end of the pen, away from feed and shelter. Also, research has shown that the pen should be about twice as long as it is wide.
Pigs are natural excavators and will try to dig out of any pen. Many folks have found it useful to put one strand of electric wire inside the pen at ground level to keep the pigs from digging under the fence. Do not put the electric wire across the pen entrance. The pigs will remember it and will be reluctant to go out the gate when it's time to go to the butcher.
The shelter need not be extensive. In fact, a three sided shelter, open on the fourth side is ideal. The overall size will depend on the number of pigs you plan to raise, but the roof doesn't need to be any higher than four feet. The shelter is needed to provide relief from the weather. It needs to be dry and have some form of bedding for younger pigs during the cooler months, and provide shade from the sun during the warmer months. Leave openings under the eaves to allow summer heat to escape.
If you have a barn, you can forego building a separate shelter, and raise the pigs in the barn. This is often done in a horse stall. However, you will need to remove the manure on a regular basis. Outdoors it's absorbed by the ground. Generally, raising pigs in a barn requires more labor than an outdoor pen.
When To Do It and What Kind Of Pigs?
Pigs grow best in moderate temperatures, 60-70°. You should start your project in early spring, around mid April, or in late summer. With constant access to feed, a 50 pound pig will reach a market weight of 250 pounds in about 100 days.
Always start with healthy pigs from a reputable breeder.Do not buy pigs from a livestock auction as they have been exposed to other pigs and may get sick. There are still a few hog farms in this area that are willing to sell you feeder pigs. Call your Extension office if you would like their names.
Any modern commercial breed will work for your project. Crossbreds grow faster and are more efficient than purebreds. Try to avoid the Landrace breed, as they tend to be light muscled. Exotic breeds such as the Pot Bellied Pig are not good choices.
Select either gilts (females) or barrows (castrated males). Do not accept any intact boars as they tend to produce a "boar taint" which sometimes imparts an off taste to the meat. Start with pigs weighing a minimum of 50 pounds, especially if they are to be raised outdoors. A lighter pig will not do well in cooler weather. Never raise one pig by itself as it will not grow well. It needs a friend just like all of us.
Feed and Water
To grow efficiently, pigs need access to feed 24 hours a day. This is usually accomplished with a self feeder which can be purchased at the feed store, or you can build one yourself. See the plans in this section.
Fifty pound pigs should be fed a commercial hog feed containing around 16% protein. Once the pigs reach 125 pounds you can go to a 14% protein feed. My personal recommendation is to keep them on the 16% feed for the whole time.
Many folks are tempted to feed table scraps. That's OK but is no substitute for commercial feed. Table scraps should only be a treat and not the main course. Pigs eating table scraps are not getting a balanced diet and will grow slower. Anything poisonous to humans (i.e. rhubarb leaves) will also be poisonous to pigs. It should take about 650-750 pounds of commercial pig feed to get a 50 pound pig up to a market weight of 250 pounds.
Pigs require a constant supply of fresh, clean water. Contrary to popular belief, pigs do not sweat ("sweat hog"). Their only relief from heat is to breathe rapidly, drink a lot of water and urinate frequently, or build a wallow to lie in. The best waterers are automatic ones that the pig learns to turn off and on. These range from an attachment fitted on a 55 gallon drum, to a "nipple" type that is screwed onto the end of a hose. A 5 gallon bucket in the corner of a pen doesn't work. They will turn it over immediately and then play with the bucket.
If you have a hose running to your pen, bury it an inch or two under the soil. Otherwise, the sun will heat the water to nearly boiling and the pigs will refuse to drink.
Pigs require very little management. Every day you should make sure the feeder has feed, the water is running and no one has escaped. For the most part, they will stay healthy. You may find it necessary to treat your pigs for internal parasites when they are about 125 pounds. This can be accomplished by putting medication in the feed or water, or giving the pig an injection. However, if the farmer had already wormed your pigs before you bought them, this additional treatment probably will not be necessary.
This Little Piggy Went to Market
The day will come when the pigs reach market weight. Someone needs to haul them to the butcher. You can do it with a pickup truck or horse trailer as long as you have some sort of ramp for loading. Or, there are commercial livestock haulers that will transport the pigs for you.
When moving pigs, keep in mind that they do not like to be pushed. Take your time and let them move at their own pace. Patience is the key. Your loading ramp should have solid sides so they can't escape, and you should follow behind with a pig "hurdle" (see below) made of plywood to keep them from turning around. In fact, a hurdle should be used whenever you are moving pigs.
Call around and find a butcher that you are comfortable with. Small butcher shops tend to be booked several weeks in advance, so start calling well ahead of time. Most butchers have a "standard cut". However, they will generally cut the meat to your specifications for a slight increase in price.
A 250 pound market hog will yield a 184 pound carcass. When the carcass is cut into retail cuts you will receive roughly 140 pounds of meat for your freezer. This will vary depending on the amount of trim (fat) that has to be removed. See the attached sheet for the actual carcass breakdown.
Earlier it was mentioned that you could raise your own pigs and put pork in your freezer below the grocery store price. Here's how to do it.
You have to feed at least two pigs, which means you will sell at least one. What many people do is feed 5 pigs and sell the other four to relatives, neighbors, friends, etc. You build the costs of your pig into what you charge them, and you put your pork in the freezer for nothing, or even make a little money. Keep in mind that you are supplying the labor and expertise to raise the pigs. Your friends only put up the money and then have a year's supply of high quality pork, cut to their specifications and delivered to their doorstep. It will be the best pork they've ever eaten (or at least they'll think so).
Raising market pigs is a short term, low investment project that requires very little management. It is an excellent family project and if your children are interested, it could also become a 4-H project. Once you try it, I think you'll find you want to do it every year.
Prepared by Michael P. Fournier, former Penn State Extension Educator