By Tom Read
What did we learn from our first pig-raising experience here at Slow Farm on Texada Island this year? We learned:
1) That it’s ok to name your pigs, even if you plan to eat them, because human affection helps raise happier and healthier pigs. In my opinion, we take better care of animals if we see them as worthy of our respect and affection, and giving them a name, however whimsical, helps set the stage for a mutually beneficial relationship. I enjoyed training our pigs to patiently wait for their food to be placed in the feeder before digging in, and they enjoyed their many mini-massages, especially the behind-the-ears rub.
2) Pigs are, indeed, natural rototillers and great fertilizers. This year’s pig pasture now needs only a little touch-up to remove some large tree roots that the pigs couldn’t eat, plus some raking or harrowing to smooth out the bumps, and it will be ready for planting in the spring. We’ll not need to put pigs on this ground again for quite awhile.
3) You can feed a pig nearly anything, but they especially enjoy greens, apples, milk and potatoes. Ours also got a daily ration of “hog grower” grain pellets, plus some fried veggies and thick soups later in their lives when we were given “slops” from a local restaurant.
4) Fencing matters with pigs. One day Spot, the adventurous female, built a mound of dirt up against the electric fence and then vaulted herself over it to freedom. She quickly found some adjacent plantings of potatoes, beans and pumpkins, and made quite a mess before our friend Jim happened along and eventually put her back in the pasture.
5) In fact, several friends and neighbours helped us all along the way. We bought our two “weaners” from Richard and Linda on Vancouver Island, but Richard kindly brought them over to Powell River for us, a big savings in time and money from our perspective. Our friend Jim fed the pigs for us when our work schedule sometimes interfered with feeding time. We’re also grateful for the many gifts of apples, garden gleanings and restaurant leftovers that were given to us as pig food. When slaughtering time finally arrived, we were able to borrow a clean steel drum for dipping, a “tiger torch” for water heating, and a freezer for carcass storage. And I’m also grateful to Colin, a Tom’s Texada Journal reader who lives in Cariboo country, for sharing his wisdom and literature about pigs.
6) As for the killing and dressing, we were fortunate to obtain the expert services of a friend who came early one Saturday morning. Each pig died instantly by the .22 method, one while eating an apple. The dressing also happened cleanly and quickly, and that night we enjoyed dining on fresh pig liver prepared with an Asian sauce and veggies. Linda also made some pork liver pate, a true delicacy.
7) The weather wasn’t cold enough to hang the sides, so we packed them carefully in a large chest freezer using clean wood spacers between the quarters. By keeping the freezer on a timer, its temperature held at exactly 2 degrees Centigrade until we could transport everything to the Texada Market in Van Anda. James, who has built a well-deserved reputation on Texada as an excellent butcher, had all four sides cut, wrapped and labeled within a few days.
8) About half of the out-of-pocket cost toward raising the pigs was for commercial grain-based pig food purchased in Powell River, but undoubtedly grown and processed well outside our coastal region. In future years we hope to replace most if not all of this imported feed with a comfrey/seaweed/grain/root crop concoction of our own making.
The bottom line: We found raising pigs a very positive experience, and plan to do it again next year. Yes, pigs are a whole different challenge compared to raising chickens, but it’s all about animal husbandry. If you like animals, it feels good to take on such challenges. To borrow a phrase from Colin, it really does make a person feel wealthy to have a freezer full of home-raised pork.