A couple of Piglets?July 7th, 2008
My second choice for livestock at home is to buy 2 or more piglets, and raise them to butchering weight. That is around 220 pounds live weight today. Larger weights will have more fat, but not that much more meat on them. Piglets will weigh about 35-40 pounds when you buy them at 6-8 weeks of age. They should be ready for slaughter when they are about 5 months old, so you will have them for around three and a half months. Fed grains from the Mill, a pig will eat about 700 pounds while you have it. You need someone strong enough to unload and move all that grain to the animals. Adding Milk byproducts can cut the grain considerably.
You will need a butcher, and State laws will control many details of how he conducts business. In my area, butchers are booked months ahead. Make sure everything you will need is lined up in advance. The nice thing about pigs, is you are done in a few months, all the work is in good weather. You will need a Freezer to keep all that meat though. The old fashion smoking recipes from the early 1900's allowed it to keep in cold winter weather, and before that it was actually dried and smoked to keep for years. Neither taste much like modern pork. I dry salted fat back, and kept it for many months in our root cellar. It has a great flavor in baked beans.
I wouldn't bother to feed pigs if I had to grow all the feed in my own garden. I'd just eat the grains myself. If you are buying meat at the grocery store, you may as well buy some grain, and feed your own pigs. Your garden and table scraps will help a little, and you may want to scavenge for some bigger sources to keep down the grain bill. Pig manure is fantastic for your garden, and will not contain weed seeds like grazing animal manure.
If you have your own small herd, or Dairy Farms in your area, surplus milk products can be dumped into any old jug, and a little poured over their feed twice a day. No need for refrigeration, or keeping it clean. If you live in an area where farmers are growing fields of corn, ask if you can pick up the ears missed by the harvester and husk them. Farmers don't want this to rot in their fields. It will be too damp to keep over the winter without drying it carefully, but the pigs will gladly eat it right off the cob. As piglets grow, they eat more and more. The farmers fields will be cut in the Fall, just before the traditional time to butcher pigs, and when they are eating the most.
Commercial Farmers are very busy, don't expect them to deliver anything to you. ASK if you can pick it up at their convenience. Be patient, offer to pay a little for it, or be be helpful in any way you can. You could get most of your pig feed this way. Wear work clothes that show you actually can work, be friendly, but don't expect them to have time to chat. Get in and out of their way as quickly as you can.
Another source of low cost feed is restaurant table scraps. Where I live, it is against the law to use them unless you cook them. Just add water and boil. Again, be friendly and courteous, pick them up as often as they let you. Look over the food, and see that you feed a reasonable mixed diet, and nothing actually rotten.
So called day old bread from bakeries can also be a cheap source of feed. Keep in mind that you will be eating the pork, and an all grain fed pig, with lots of corn in it's diet will taste the best. Like Chickens, pigs need about 16% protein in their feed.
Pigs need a small, but very sturdy pen, in a well shaded area. It can be made from hard wood pallets, or 'hog panels' from a Farm supply store. The pigs will work tirelessly to dig under the edges. You can pack the ground with large rocks, or drive scrap pipe into it AND watch it closely. If they are raised on the same ground next year, it may have diseases or parasites living in the soil. If you move your pen around in your garden, they will greatly enrich the soil, but you will have to shade them with a covering you can move with them. I preferred to keep pigs on a wooden platform, away from the soil, and shaded by trees. Commercial operations in my area use below grade concrete pens, which stay cooler and are easy to clean. Water to drink should be available at all times, and they will drink a lot of it, especially in hot weather. I kept a hose at the pen all the time, and they enjoy a 'shower' in hot weather too. You should check on them morning and night, and you can feed them at the same time. Some use an automatic feeder with a hopper for grain.
Loading pigs into a truck or trailer for their final ride to the slaughterhouse can be quite challenging. If you have a livestock hauler in your area, hire him, and watch what he does. Pigs like to go under, not over. They like to go down a ramp, not up one. They like to turn around and go the other way, so you need a narrow passageway. Some folks make a crate for the pig, and use a loader tractor to lift it onto a truck with the pig inside. How ever you do it, stay calm and quiet, or the pigs will only get harder to handle. They are stronger than you and much too heavy to pick up.
There are more details you will need to know if you decide to raise pigs. A good book on the subject from a reliable Agriculture publisher like Storey Publishing, will answer almost all your questions. Your State or County Agriculture service can also help with information. They will cover all types of problems, most of which you will never see in a small home based operation.