Raising Pigs: The Beginner’s Guide

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Pigs Free-Ranging

How to raise pigs for meat

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Interested in raising pigs? These appealing animals are relatively easy to feed and don’t take up much space. Learn how to select a pig breed as well as keep, shelter, feed, and raise pigs for livestock.

It may not surprise you to hear that pigs eat well, given their well-documented propensity to eat, well, anything. And everything. Contrary to popular belief, they’re also extremely clean and not any more smelly than any other farm animals. See more interesting facts about pigs.

The waste they produce also composts into an excellent fertilizer. And, of course, for those raising livestock, pigs produce a lot of extremely delicious meat. 

Organically-raised pig in his meadow with hen. Credit: Anandoart

Choosing Your Breed of Pig

Pigs come in many different breeds, but there are two main groups of breeds: heritage breeds and modern production breeds. Anyone who’s raised any livestock before should be familiar with these categories, but the brief rundown is as follows: 

  1. Heritage breeds are older breeds—sometimes centuries old—and were often bred for small farms and generalized production.
  2. Modern production breeds will grow faster and bigger but require more feed because they were bred for the modern industrial market.

While both families of breeds have their defenders, I prefer heritage breeds for homesteaders, especially first-timers. Because they were often bred for exactly the type of small farms that homesteaders and smallholders aspire to, the needs of heritage pigs (or any livestock) are often closely aligned with the resources already available on small farms. 

Pigs do best when offered a wide variety of food, like kitchen scraps, garden cutoffs, and forage, and when given space to roam, root, and do their own thing. They’re also hardier and more resistant to weather and disease than modern breeds, which just weren’t bred to live that long—another reason I favor heritage breeds, as they can do well over multiple seasons if you decide to keep them that long for breeding purposes.

Space and Shelter 

One of the big advantages of raising pigs is that they require much less space than grazing animals like cows. Pigs can do well with as little as 80 square feet per animal, though they’ll be happier, healthier, and less smelly the more space they have. 

Like most livestock, pigs also need shelter to be a refuge from unpleasant weather. Luckily, they don’t need their shelter to be much more than that, like protection from predators or a place to sleep. Therefore, their shelter can be just about anything, from a barn stall to a disused garage to a purpose-built wooden shed. Pigs are big enough not to be tempting to most predators, so as long as their shelter protects them from the rain and the wind, it should do the trick nicely. 

Once you have your shelter, you’ll also want to add some bedding, which will help your pigs keep warm and dry, even in inclement weather. Hay is a popular option, especially because most homesteaders already have it readily available. However, it can become damp and dirty quite quickly, and I find wood chips easier to keep dry, clean, and replace when needed. Whichever bedding you choose, you’ll want about eight inches of it in the bottom of the shelter, depending on the size of your pigs.

Feeding communities while giving pigs the best life possible. Credit: Forest Coalpit Farm.

Feeding and Waste

Pigs have a reputation for eating just about anything, and this is largely deserved. They’ll eat whatever you give them, but keep in mind that these animals are going to end up on your dinner table or your customers’, and the foods you give them can come out in the meat. This doesn’t mean they’ll taste like what you feed them, but more broadly, a healthy diet leads to healthy pigs and delicious pork.  

That being said, a healthy diet for pigs can still be extremely broad. The main component of it should be grain-based feed, many of which are readily available pre-mixed from your local feed or farm store. You can also mix your own grain feed, but this can be a lot of work for a first-time pig keeper. 

The next easiest element to add to your pigs’ diet is kitchen scraps. Pigs are true omnivores, so this can be anything from vegetable stems and fruit peels to offcuts of meat. However, although pigs can eat many things, they can’t eat all things, so double-check before feeding any new scraps that they’re pig-safe. 

Lastly, if you have the space, your pigs can get much food from foraging. Pigs don’t graze on grass, but they can root—or browse—in just about any environment. As omnivores, they’ll find not just plants, stems, seeds, nuts, and mushrooms but also insects and other bugs to munch on. 

As an added bonus, if you let them do their rooting in an untilled field or garden plot, they’ll churn up the soil and help aerate it, giving you an even healthier, more fertile environment for your plants to grow and flourish—and the parts of the harvest you don’t want to eat can go right back to the pigs, as thanks for their help.

A Word on Butchering 

This article is about raising pigs, not butchering them, but since there’s only one real reason to raise them in the first place, it bears putting in a few words about it here at the end. 

Firstly, you should know it’s unnecessary to butcher the pigs yourself. Many homesteaders may not have the stomach or the skills to kill a pig and turn it into edible cuts of meat, which is a highly involved and skilled process, especially in their first season. Instead, many people send their pigs out to a more experienced farmer or butcher to take care of this part of the process.

More adventurous homesteaders can, of course, learn to butcher their pigs themselves, but be prepared for it to take a few tries before you start producing reasonable cuts of meat. 

The other thing you’ll want to consider, besides whether or not to do the butchering yourself, is when to do it. Especially for your first season, I would recommend butchering your pigs in their first fall when they’re about six to seven months old. This way, you won’t have to feed and house them through the winter. Plus, having a defined, short-term period in which you’re raising the pigs can be helpful for anyone feeling overwhelmed or anxious about taking on this new responsibility.

While the shift from raising chickens, which aren’t regularly butchered, to pigs can be challenging, most people find raising pigs exhilarating, emotionally exhausting, and immensely rewarding—all at the same time!

About The Author

Chris Lesley

Chris Lesley has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth-generation poultry keeper. Read More from Chris Lesley

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