Homestead Animals

The Benefits, Myths and Downside of Keeping Pigs

So you’re considering raising pigs, but you’re not quite sure if they’re for you? It would be nice to hear some stories from someone who has actually done it before and knows the ups and downs. Well here you go, I have been keeping pigs in my backyard and raising them for meat since 2014 and I would love to share some of the wisdom I have gleaned from my experience.

This article is part of the series The Complete Guide to Raising Pigs in your Backyard. Click here to check out the rest of the series!

Benefits of Raising Pigs

Can I just start out saying, “I love keeping pigs”! Anyone who knows me can attest that I could go on and on about how beneficial they are to our lives. Pigs are one of the most efficient animals you can raise in terms of meat. Over 80% of a pig’s body is usable meat and they don’t need acres of pasture to house them. Here are my top 8 reasons to love keeping pigs on your homestead:

  1. Turn Food Scraps into Pork – Pigs can eat eat all your leftovers or unsavory garden/orchard produce that would otherwise be wasted. My favorite part about raising pigs is how eco-friendly they make our household. All of our food scraps and garden waste get turned into future food. Slop, as it’s called saves on the cost of feed for your animals as well.
  2. Garden Prep – They can till and prep your garden for you! A great set up for your pig enclosure is to have two fenced in enclosures. Alternate these with your pigs and your garden from year to year. The pigs root up soil with their noses which saves a ton of labor if you have a plot or row style garden. You can also move your pigs to clean up the garden after the season is over. I have also fenced in areas of our woods that we need cleared of undergrowth and the pigs have eagerly given us their free labor.
  3. Higher Quality Meat for Less – You can save greatly on the cost of pork. Raising your own meat can save anywhere from $0.50-$2.00 per pound compared to grocery store pork (the average price of pork is currently $3.75/lb). Plus, the meat will taste better when the pigs receive a more diverse diet and live a healthy, active lifestyle.
  4. Free Fertilizer – Pig manure is a great addition to compost or garden soil after it has been aged for a few months. By letting pigs into your garden (or shoveling), they can fertilize the soil with their manure, so next year’s garden plants will be bigger, healthier and more productive. I have had the biggest tomato harvests I could have imagined from my pig manure garden!
  5. Fun and Educational for Kids – They are so fun to watch, especially for children. Pigs love to frolic and play. They pal up with their buddies and even have a social hierarchy within their herd. They love cooling off in a muddy puddle and will really appreciate being sprayed with water on hot days. My kids have a blast spraying the pigs with the hose as they cheerfully run through the shower, just like kids playing in the sprinkler.
  6. Easy to House – Pigs don’t require a large space. Commercial pigs are often kept in tiny pens where they barely have enough room to turn around, so having an 8’ x 16’ pen in your backyard is far superior treatment. You can make their pen any size or shape you have space for. They are happy in open areas or woodland lots. In fact, since pigs are foragers, they benefit from diverse terrain that isn’t suited to much else.
  7. Small Time Commitment – Yes, you can still take a vacation! As long as your pigs have full feeders and water barrels, they can be left alone for several days. If you want to go away longer, ask a friend to come fill up their food and water while you’re gone. There are no daily chores when it comes to caring for pigs. You can check on them a couple times a week to make sure they have food, water and they haven’t caused any damage to their enclosure.
  8. Produce Income – whether raising meat pigs or breeding, you can earn an income from your animals to help supplement your homestead or farm.

Debunking Hog Myths

Hogs are dirty, stinky animals.

Quite the opposite actually. Pigs are very clean animals. They will designate a bathroom area within their enclosure off along the side and go there every time they need to eliminate. (This also makes it easy to remove their manure, if desired.)
They do enjoy wallowing in cool mud, but this is because they can’t sweat to regulate their body temperature. Mud also acts as a skin protectant from sunburn and biting insects.

Pigs are escape artists.

Pigs do not want to be outside of their enclosure. We have had a few pigs escape (because we stupidly had hay bales stacked next to the fence that they used as stairs), but they don’t run away. They just lay next to the fence and try to get back in. They want to be where their food, water and friends are. Regular perimeter checks are necessary to make sure their rooting activities don’t create an escape tunnel. But they are generally happy inside their fence.

You can feed a pig anything and they will eat it

A pigs diet is not much different than that of a human. They don’t eat garbage or non-food items, in fact they can even be picky eaters at times. Don’t feed pigs raw meat/eggs or anything moldy or spoiled. Although they can eat human food that’s just past its expiration date. We often find leftovers in the slop trough that everyone turned their noses up at. Every pig has different taste preferences, but they all still eat like pigs!

Hogs are aggressive

Different breeds have different temperaments, but overall, domestic pigs are docile, friendly animals. They can be socialized when they are young and even trained to some extent. If you visit them regularly, they will get used to having humans around. They are very motivated by food and treats, so use these as a tool to teach your pigs what you want them to do. Most of the time, our pigs are excited to see us because they know it means a full tummy!

The Downside

This all sounds great, but what can go wrong you ask? Well, everyone has a different experience with raising pigs and each pig can have a vastly different temperament. Some may find that the chores are an annoyance and it can be a lot of work for the income it produces. But apart from opinion, there are a few things that can make pig raising a real challenge. However, with proper management, many of these issues can be resolved.

  1. Pigs Escaping – Although pigs generally do not want to be away from the safety of their friends, home and food, they will take advantage of an opportunity to forage and explore. Make sure your fencing is secure and do frequent security checks. Don’t have anything on the inside of the fence that the pigs could climb and jump out. Most of the time, they will try to get back into their enclosure and find they cannot. Plan for pig escape as a possibility and design your enclosure to have a double gated entrance so pigs can be baited and trapped in the small area, then let back in the large enclosure (this is also handy as a loading area when it’s time to take the pigs to market).
  2. Unwanted Destruction – If you are considering purchasing pigs, you need to know that they heavily tear up the earth with their noses. They are quite powerful and can create large holes in a very short amount of time. You need to keep an eye on their fencing perimeter to make sure they don’t dig themselves an escape route. If you are considering raising pigs on a large pasture, be prepared for it to be bare soil by the end of summer.
  3. Water Freezing – When raising backyard pigs, a barn is not always an option. Food and water are typically housed outside but still within the pig enclosure. During winter, water tanks can freeze over and cause damage as well as thirsty animals. Utilizing a water tank de-icer can save you massive headaches over a frozen water source.
  4. They Attract Fly’s – Yes it’s true, fly’s can be an issue with just about any type of livestock. A muddy area just filled with live animals and their manure? Fly’s paradise. But knowing this, be prepared with a few fly traps and the problem will be much diminished.
  5. Emotional Ties at Butchering Time – There’s no easy fix for this one folks, other than setting clear expectations from the beginning. Before you begin an adventure in pig farming, prepare yourself mentally to care for animals and then butcher them when the time comes. I like to tell myself that I have given these animals a much healthier and happier life than any of them would have received in a commercial setting.
  6. Transportation – One of the most difficult things to figure out when your a newbie pig farmer is how to get thousands of pounds of livestock to the butcher. A covered livestock trailer is the best choice, but these can carry a hefty cost and take up a ton of storage space. You can rent a trailer or ask around on Facebook groups for anyone who might lend or rent you theirs. You can also convert a standard trailer with wood and fencing to house your pigs for a significant savings.

Let’s Share Stories!

If you have ever raised pigs, please share your story with me and all the other pig farmers out there who would benefit in learning from your trials or successes. The best part about homesteading is how this community of like-minded people care about helping others through the journey.

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