We got started raising pigs in 2014 and absolutely fell in love with these amazing creatures. We will never go back to buying pork from the grocery store again. The meat is far superior in flavor and we find it very fulfilling to be self sufficient by growing and raising our own food. It is important to keep the mindset that these animals are not pets, they are livestock that will become food.
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!
First Things First
Prior to purchasing piglets, be sure to check with your local municipality to see if you are allowed to raise livestock. You don’t want to break any zoning ordinances. Many townships will stipulate how many animals you can have per acre of land, so make sure you do not exceed the maximum. There are also sometimes ordinances regarding manure storage and odor/noise/movement of livestock.
For example, our township allows a density of 1.4 animal units per acre and each type of livestock has a different “size”. Swine are categorized as .4 “animal units” so here on our 10 acres, we can have up to 35 pigs (10 acres x 1.4 animal units = 14 animal units on our property, so 14 animal units x .4 swine units = 35 pigs). If you have other livestock as well, you would have to subtract them from your total animal units before multiplying by the swine units.
Before you get started raising pigs, make sure to educate yourself. Here are some great resources with more information on what it takes to keep pigs.
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals – A great overview of the pig raising process, plus it discusses other types of livestock. This book is great for homestead inspiration and beginners in pig raising. (This was the only book I read before getting our first backyard pigs, but we are very spontaneous homesteaders!)
Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs – If you are looking into a larger scale pig farming operation, this is the book for you. It is very thorough, discussing every aspect of the hog industry and would be a great reference guide to keep handy. It even goes over the home butchering process.
Backyard Farming: Raising Pigs – This book is written for a homesteader and hobby farmer audience. It goes over the entire process of raising backyard pigs from housing to sale. It is simple to read for the novice and has answers to just about any question a backyard farmer could have.
Timeline for Raising Meat Pigs
When raising a grower pig, you will need to purchase a weaned piglet from a farm or breeder. These piglets are usually about 8 weeks old (50-60lbs) and have just been weaned from their mother’s milk. Finishing the pig will take about 4-6 months so the best time to get started is early spring-mid summer. Keeping pigs outdoors in winter can be challenging, so it’s best to avoid this until you have some experience.
Do some research into which pig breed is right for your needs. To find piglets, you can:
- Call local farmers to see if they have piglets for sale.
- Check your local tractor supply, feed co-op or other farming related stores for livestock sale ads or ask the employees for a referral.
- Join Facebook livestock exchange, farming or homesteading groups.
- Search through classified ads on sites such as Craigslist.org, Farms.com or Farmia.com
Be gentle and calm when handling your new piglets. It can be a traumatic experience for them leaving their litter and sow, being transported and adapting to their new environment. If you are picking up your piglets from the farm and don’t have access to an animal trailer, a dog kennel or other type of crate will do just fine.
Pro Tip: Place one hand firmly on the piglets ear to lead them to their destination. To lift piglets up to 80lbs, keep the ear in your hand and grab the opposite hind leg with your other hand. You can also do this as a team lift with 2 people.
Keeping the Pigs
You will need to set up a fenced enclosure with some sort of structure for their shelter. A barn is great, but not required. Their food and water just needs to be checked on and refilled every few days to a week. And that’s about all the work it takes to raise pigs.
Learn more about the benefits, myths and downside of keeping pigs to avoid some newbie mistakes.
Cost and Savings Breakdown
I am going to layout some basic costs and savings for raising pigs for meat. Hopefully, this will help beginner pig farmers calculate projections for your own operation. Of course, costs of raising pigs can vary by location, quantity/size of pigs and set up.
Besides superior flavor, raising your own pork has the added benefit of saving you money. Store bought pork can range anywhere from $3 to $12 per pound with a national average of $3.75/lb.
Calculations for your Farm
These costs are averages based on my personal experience. Costs may vary depending on your location. This is simply meant to help you determine your own projections.
Cost of piglets – $60-$120
Feed cost – $0.20 – $0.60 per pound of feed (~720-1080lb of feed per pig over 4-6 months)
One time cost of fencing, shelter set up and basic supplies – $150-$600
Butchering cost – $0.50-$0.90 per pound of hanging weight, additional $0.10-$0.20 per pound for smoked or other special order meats)
Kill Fee – $40-$60 per animal (you are not allowed to slaughter the animals yourself before delivery to the butcher)
One important consideration when choosing a smaller breed of pig is that the butchering costs will be higher. Most butchers charge a “kill fee”, then have a set price per pound for different cuts and preparations. So with a kill fee of $50, 10 pigs that are 150 pounds each would cost $500 to butcher and 5 pigs at 300 pounds each would only cost $250 (plus the cost per pound of hanging weight). That’s double the price for the same quantity of meat.
For 10 pigs (not including set up expenses):
- $800 for piglets (10 pigs x $80)
- $1,440 for feed (10 pigs x 720lb = 7,200lb of feed)(7,200lb x $0.20 per pound = $1,440)
- $600 kill fee (10 pigs x $60)
- $1,500 butcher cost (250lb x 10 pigs = 2500lb of pigs)(2500lb x $0.60 = $1,500)
- Total Cost to Raise 10 Pigs: $4,340
- $4,340 / 2,500lb = $1.74 per pound
Remember the national average is $3.75/lb. By raising your own pigs, you can have higher quality meat for less than half of market prices. You can also make a great profit while still charging less than the competition.
The Process of Processing
Something that most newbie pig farmers don’t realize is that butchers schedule ahead of time for months down the road. If you wait to make an appointment with the butcher, you may not be able to find a slot. Make your butcher appointment soon after purchasing your piglets.
Some butchers will slaughter livestock themselves, while others outsource. You may need to make two appointments – one with a slaughterhouse and one with the butcher. They typically take care of the transportation between the two.
Moving and transporting mature pigs can pose some challenges. Make sure your enclosure is set up with a double gate design or some way to corral the animals for loading. You will need a trailer with ramp so they can walk into it. The trailer can be fully enclosed or have high enough walls to secure the pigs.
Consider loading the pigs onto the trailer the day before your butcher appointment in case it takes longer than anticipated. You can bait the animals using feed or fresh produce to get them to walk onto the trailer.
Most butchers will ask for your special instructions and may have an order form for choosing your cuts. This needs to be completed prior to your butcher appointment.
(Stay tuned for my next post – Pork Butchering Guide: Cuts and Supplies (Release date: June 12th, 2020))
How to Sell Pork
Selling meat can be a tricky endeavor for a small farm or homestead. While laws vary by state, in most municipalities it is illegal for you to sell meat by the pound (retail sales) without a food license. You also need to be inspected by the state or United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and comply with the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). Which can be a difficult process for someone raising a few backyard pigs for friends and family.
The packaged pork you receive from the butcher will say “not for individual sale” right on it. However, you can sell a whole, half or quarter animal that your customer can pick up from the butcher – as long as you are a small scale farm and are not selling in a commercial capacity.
Take a deposit for every pig you intend to sell when they are young and let your customers know the date for butchering. Prior to the butcher appointment, take individual orders for how the hogs will be processed and provide these to the butcher at the time of slaughter.
You may not butcher your own animal and sell to the public (meat processing and wholesale) without USDA inspections and appropriate licenses. As always, check regulations with your local government to ensure you are following the law.