I love pigs. Almost as much as dogs. Yes, we kill pigs and eat them and we do it ourselves, on our homestead, with no USDA processing facility between us and that ugly truth. But that doesn’t change the fact that pigs are wonderful, sweet, and joyful beasts. And spending time with them is absolutely delightful.
Despite the pleasure in doing it, pigs are not the easiest animals to raise. I’d rate them more like goats than ducks or chickens. And it also does not change the fact that if we didn’t raise them to eat them, they probably wouldn’t exist at all. Feral pigs are not friendly towards humans. They are dangerous pests and extremely hard on ecosystems and shopping centers. Only domesticated pigs, bred and raised for human purposes to be docile, large, and (honestly) short-lived are pet-like in their natures.
We raise pigs to about 300 pounds. We’re always shooting for 270, but the weather never seems to cooperate and we miss the mark. But, if left to their own devices, most meat breed pigs would grow to 600-800 pounds before tapering off. And the amount of food it would take to keep such a pig as a pet and the destruction they would do to a pasture, would be a sustainability nightmare. The unhappy truth about domesticated pigs is the following.
To love them is to eat them.
Even though I have come to terms with this idea, it doesn’t make it any easier when the moment comes. Or after, when I spend the next several weeks remembering their adorable faces, wishing I could scratch them behind the ears or give them a total belly rub, and walking around our homestead in a listless stupor without my daily dose of pig cuteness.
Last year I cut short my pig depression by talking our neighbors into becoming pig breeders. I even went with them to pick up pigs and volunteered to socialize and wire train the rascals until they had their pig shelter ready. That got me through to spring when we started planning for our next round of pigs.
And this year, after our slaughter, I almost went hog-wild and bought a mating pair of Mangalitsa’s to curb my misery. But fortunately, our same neighbors came down with the exciting news that Aja, their Berkshire Sow, was pregnant. Like about to burst pregnant! Since none of us had done this before, we just hadn’t realized she’d been gestating for months. So the Mangalitsa’s are on hold since we’ll be helping with the piglets and raising some to maturity on our farm very soon.
Happy pig days are here again! Hooray!
However, after our last adventure in pig raising, I had made some notes in those composition notebooks of mine…
Our first round of pigs were so scared of us when they arrived that it was a piece of cake to wire train them. Poor little gals buried themselves in the massive piles of straw, we put in their pig shelter, for days and when they finally came out, I am pretty sure they thought the wire kept them safe from us, so they totally respected it.
Our second round of pigs had been played with daily since birth by farm kids. All they wanted to do was come and find us and play. Wire training them was a disaster. It finally took double nets and frequent feedings/love visits to make them stay in a paddock. Since my nets only extend about 350 feet and are a pain to use here in the forested Piedmont of the Blue Ridge Mountains, these pigs had extended stays in smaller paddocks than we would have liked to give them.
So, with that backstory behind us, here’s my pig-related wish list.
- Our piglet shelter is in our goat pasture. We did that just in case pigs escaped while wire training. After this year, when our pigs did escape and discovered that our does had milk, I realized that we need to give them a new shelter in a pig-only space, surrounded by a permanent fence. A few feet inside that permanent fence, we would run a three strand wire for training purposes.
- Once trained, I’d like the pig shelter and permanent fence area to be the center point for the electric-wire paddock system. Previously I had made temporary wire corridors so pigs could access one paddock at a time, but still eat and drink at their shelter. But, I think with smart planning, I can cut down on the need for corridors just by making access points from the main pig shelter zone.
- I would also like to have a shallow pond in the pig shelter zone, or potentially in each paddock, as a secondary water source for pigs. The pond would overflow into a pig wallow and also have drain pipe that could be manually used to wet the wallow when needed. By having a pond in each paddock we can sink and store water and help restore they hydrological balance as Sepp Holzer covers in Desert or Paradise. So, even if we start with a main pond, I would like to create a series of them in the long run.
- Similar to how we plan to use the duck paddocks, after the pigs finish a paddock, I want to be more proactive about starting perennials for next year, particularly fast growing native trees like black locust, red sumac, and tulip poplar that make for good animal fodder, and other deep-rooted perennials and self-seeding annuals.
- Grow more of our own pig food. Lots more! We kept our costs down to $271 a pig this year including purchase price, but you don’t get more local than home-grown, so I’d like to get more carbon and not just more dollars out of our food next year.
Here’s hoping that maybe next year, the reLuxe Ranch really can be pig heaven!