Pigs: lessons learned

By Tom Read

Pinky, the young weaner, in July weighed about 25 lbs (above).

By his last supper in late November, Pinky now weighed about 215 lbs.

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.


4 Responses to “Pigs: lessons learned”

  1. 1 Margy December 12, 2009 at 00:51

    I have a pig story for you. When I was an elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles area we had a small farm on the campus. One of the teachers thought it was really important for inner city children to see and take care of farm animals. We raised a calf, goats, chickens, a turkey and a pig. The pig was fed almost entirely from cafeteria plate waste. I’m not sure about our schools, but in LA there is a tremendous amount of waste even in lower income areas. That little weanling grew up into a huge hog by the end of the school year. When school was over we would close all of the gates and let the animals get some exercise on the grass covered playground. We did not butcher our school pig. We found a ranch not too far away that would accept the pig and calf that had also grown quite large. I’m not sure how we got away with the zoning regulations, but it was great for the kids. – Margy

  2. 2 seedywen December 12, 2009 at 09:19

    I like pigs. Have raised about a dozen from 6-8 weeks old to five months. Usually two at a time.
    Lots of pig stories, to tell.

    Pigs are amusing as well as all the other good things about them.

    Fed them, about half commercial pig-food and half fresh weeds(comfrey, borage etc)vegetables(all kinds) and fruit(mostly apples) from our farm. They tended to ‘spoil’ a lot of produce by dragging it into the dirt if given too much at a time. So generally fed, them a light pig-food breakfast, followed by several garden-produce feeds during the day with a hearty pig-food supper in the evening. Will be interested to hear about results from your alternate food plan.

    Also tried pasturing but you have to have pig-proof fences around quite a lot of land. And also I need that fenced land for sheep and a small herd of dairy goats. So mostly they were raised in a 30 by 30 foot pen with secure shelter and I brought the feed to them.

  3. 3 tomstexadajournal December 13, 2009 at 13:05

    Thanks for your comments, Margy and Wendy.

    The couple that sold us the weaners on Vancouver Island said that a pig can be raised as “one of the family,” and that their boar has been known to run around playing with their kids and dogs. Given what I’ve seen so far of the intelligence and general good nature of pigs, this doesn’t surprise me. But I wouldn’t try it in LA.

    The feeding of pigs on small-scale farmsteads makes for a fascinating research topic. I recently came across a reference to Irish peasants in the 1840s who reserved a third of their potato crop to feed their pigs. Thus, the great potato blight of the mid-1840s wiped out the pigs as well as much of the human population (in some areas of Ireland), because they all depended on one food source. Diversity matters!

    Meanwhile, I’m using the winter months to design a portable pig enclosure that can be used for rotational pasturing. It will probably incorporate an electric wire with 12-volt deep-cycle battery and quick-connects built into strong but light-weight panels. Based on our experience this year with electrified wire, pallet fencing and light-weight pallet look-alike fencing, I’m optimistic that we can do the panels in wood.

    I’ve also heard of steel panels for pig fencing, where no electricity would be needed, so I’ll take a look at those, too. If possible, however, I’d like to use materials already at hand, which for me is wood and electric fencing.

    Portability is key – it will allow us to condition the soil in specific areas to whatever level is needed (in terms of clearing, cultivation, uprooting rocks and fertilizing). The pigs already have a portable house made from a discarded shipping crate, and I’m designing a loading chute for getting the pigs into our quad wagon, so they can be moved around the property more easily.

  4. 4 margaret December 13, 2009 at 17:14

    Hi Tom, you are living the life on Texada. I have a dream of raising goats and would like a pig but a few things stand in the way.
    1. I’m opening up a small restaurant which will take most of time, but I will be passing along my food waste to a pig farmer just down the road from me.
    and 2. I don’t think I could kill a pig. I have six chickens I fret over…I give them warm oatmeal on cold mornings..sheesh.

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