A place where one woman has gathered resources and information to help her family survive in an uncertain future; together with occasional personal musings.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

livestock articles - pigs

Pigs for small farms

Why pigs have snouts

-- "Pigs are ideal ploughs, rooting up weeds and turning over the ground, while they manure it at the same time. They need to have a house and temporary fence (eg, electric netting) to confine them to the area.

Free-range pigs (Christine Thery)
As soon as it has been cleared, move the house and fence ready for the next section." -- Katie Thear, Country Smallholding Magazine

-- "Use your own pigs, or borrow a neighbour's, to dig beds for you and to manure your land. Keep them in a moveable pen. Put them where you want your beds to be made. Leave them there until they have dug and manured enough." -- People's Farming Workbook

-- "Pigs would make an excellent addition to a farm for pasture renovation. Pigs can be extremely rough on pasture. Why not use unrung pigs on poor pasture instead of a plow? Then just level and reseed. Fertility would be taken care of by rotational grazed pigs." -- Greg Gunthorp, pasture pork producer.

Fertility Farming by Newman Turner, Chapter 17. Pigs and Poultry on the Fertility Farm. "In the building up of fertility, especially on the poor light-land farm, there is no animal more effective than the pig."

Raising pigs on soil in Japan

-- From "Multi-pollution" by Sawako Ariyoshi (first published in serial form in Asahi Shimbun newspaper from October 1974 to June 1975), translated by Midori Hiraga

I've heard many organic farmers saying: "I'm doing organic farming without hoping to make a profit." Some complain: "The biggest dissatisfaction is that consumers always demand cheap products. They don't think of the farmers who grow their food." But I finally found one young farmer who stated clearly: "I decided on organic farming because I want to make money." He was a 27-year-old pig farmer.

"You have to raise healthy pigs to make money," he said. "You can't raise healthy pigs on the artificial feeds on the market, and vets just inject lots of medicine when the pigs get sick. I don't want to eat such a pig -- and pigs don't become healthy with the medicines either. There are thousands of anti-fungicides and antibiotics in artificial pig feed. I can't let my pigs eat such stuff! The best food for healthy pigs is healthy soil."

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Japan says 65% of pigs sent to abattoirs are sick. The Department of Agriculture in the US reported that only half the piglets survive. Vets and scientists have concentrated on eradicating disease with new treatments, vaccinations, new antibiotics, but still, half the piglets die. So medicine couldn't solve the basic problem, and half the piglets die in protest.

A farmer in England reported: "If you confine pigs inside, many piglets will get diarrhoea [white scour]. I feed these sick piglets plenty of fresh soil full of humus, which contains no chemical fertilizers. I've proved that piglets stay healthy when they eat soil. You should start feeding piglets healthy soil when they're one week old, and continue until they're six weeks old. You'll be surprised how much soil piglets eat! The interesting thing is that it's no use at all feeding them chemically fertilised soil." [From "The Living Soil" by Lady Eve B. Balfour, Faber & Faber, London, 1943 -- see below.]

It seems the young farmer I met had done his homework. I had heard that soil is good for pigs, but I'd never actually seen such a pig. So I decided to visit him at his farm in the mountains.

He and his wife built their farmhouse themselves, using old wood thrown away a few years previously when it was a trend to build a new house. The couple met when he was 24, but their parents opposed the marriage, so they left their families and built their first house by themselves. An architect friend helped them with the structure, and they learnt basic construction techniques from him. Later they built pig housing on their own. His wife can even do welding.

The road to the house was untarred, red mountain soil, but there was plenty of rich black soil in the field in front of the pig pens. The farmer chased the pigs out of the house onto the field.

"It was just a mountain area full of trees and grass here," he said. "We set up electric fences around the field, but you only need to turn it on a couple of times. Pigs are smart and learn quickly, they won't try to escape after that."

Several pigs began digging in the soil with their noses. "Oh, this field was ploughed by pigs?" I asked.

"Yes. It was full of trees and grass, so first they ate grass, then they ate the grass roots and tree roots, and the trees fell down by themselves. You can see the timber over there," the farmer told me. There were piles of timber outside the fence, to be used for fuel wood.

A pig started urinating in front of me. Such a noise it made! The soil turned dark shining black with the pig's urine. Meanwhile, it was eating and digging in the soil all the time.

___"How long did it take to clear all the trees and grass?" I asked.
___"Well, less than half a year, I suppose," he said.
___"With such a small herd of pigs?"
___"The pigs do their job until they become pregnant. When they are pregnant, they stay in the house," he said.
___"How long?"
___"Three to four months."
___"How long has this place been ploughed by pigs altogether?"
___"About one and a half years. It's ploughed too much already, so I'm thinking to move to the next field," he said.

I was impressed to see the rich black soil in the field. Pigs had cleared the trees and grass, eaten it all, and quickly turned poor red mountain soil into fertile black soil rich in microorganisms, and the microorganisms then became good food for pigs. Black soil is soft and warm, it easily absorbs the warmth of the sun.

I hadn't imagined pigs' snouts could do such a job better than tractors. "It's a 'bull-ton-zer'," I said ("ton" means pig). The farmer laughed at my silly joke. He told me that costs are low farming pigs this way, and the pigs grow happily and healthily with plenty of exercise and lots of sunshine. Sows give birth to about 10 piglets twice a year.

"If you feed them soil, there are no weak or deformed piglets. Everything is so economical. Of course, you can only use the mountain soil nowadays."

Only the mountain soils are safe for pigs, most other soil is now too polluted.

Lady Eve's pigs

In "The Living Soil" (Faber & Faber, London, 1943), one of the founders of the organic growing movement, Lady Eve Balfour, tells how she kept her piglets healthy on her farm at Haughley in Suffolk, England. Pigs bred in modern housing are very prone to white scour -- prolonged diarrhoea. The text-books say it's caused by iron deficiency and recommend iron supplements, or, as an alternative, feeding the piglets pieces of turf.

"I have made many experiments in connection with the curing and prevention of this trouble. From the turf remedy I tried experiments with ordinary soil from arable fields. It was not long before I found that soil gathered from a field rich in humus, where no chemicals had been applied, was quite as effective as turf, curing the pigs within forty-eight hours. Whereas soil from exhausted land, or land treated with chemicals, had no effect in curing the disease. I also noticed that young pigs running in the open on good pasture, provided it was not too hard for them to rootle (as, for instance, in hard frost, or very prolonged drought), never suffered from this disorder. It is never a menace to my herd now under any conditions, even in long spells of severe winter weather, when the ground is covered with snow, and the pigs have to be entirely housed up. Under such conditions I no longer wait for the first sign of scour, but regularly collect the soil of fresh mole hills, newly thrown up above the snow, on land I know to be fertile. Collected daily, this soil is friable in the hardest frost, and is equally good in very wet weather, for it is never sticky. The pigs eat it voraciously in incredible quantities, starting when about a week old. I sometimes add a little chalk to it, which the pigs seem to like."

"The Living Soil" by Lady Eve B. Balfour, Faber & Faber, London, 1943

See also:
Poultry for small farms
Farming with animals

Pigs on pasture

A happy pig at Greg Gunthorp's farm in Indiana
Pastured Pigs -- Greg Gunthorp of Indiana is a fourth-generation pasture pork producer. This is what he says about the confinement hog industry: "Every problem that buildings create could be cured by pasture. I know because I have a partially slatted building that sets empty because I can't afford the death loss in it!" And about vet bills: "Medication on pasture operations is a waste of good money. You can't lower an almost 0% death loss from weaning to market." And: "I don't vaccinate little pigs. I don't give them any shots. I don't clip teeth. I don't give iron shots. My death loss is non-existent."

A. Selecting Your Pig

1. Breeding --

Crossbred pigs (two or three-way crosses, not mongrels) are preferable for freezer pigs because they grow 9% to 17% faster than a purebred. Crossbred pigs use feed 5% to 10% more efficiently and in general are more vigorous and less susceptible to stress.

2. Environment--

Buy your pig from a producer who provides a first-rate environment for their animals. Breeding determines the potential of a pig but environment determines the extent to which that potential is realized. The first five weeks of a pig’s life affect it’s growth for the rest of it’s life. A good start means better, faster growth.

B. Feeding

The nutritional requirements of a pig are most exacting until it weighs 75 pounds. A pig weighing less than 75 pounds will benefit greatly from a commercially prepared, nutritionally balanced feed of 16 % to 18% protein fed free-choice (that is, the animal has feed before it at all times). The pig’s proteinnutritional requirements diminish as it approaches 100 pounds in weight. However, faster growth occurs if the animal is fed a well-balanced 12% to 14% protein ration free-choice until slaughtered.

Where quick growth is not a primary factor, less feed per pound of gain can be realized if pigs weighing over 100 pounds are limit-fed 2 to 2-1/2 pounds of a complete feed twice a day plus cooked table scraps, extra garden vegetables, pasture, etc.

How much grain will one pig eat?

Starter Grain

Total Pounds Feed

for 40 to 75 pound pigs

16% to 18 % Protein

(av. 3 pounds per day gain)

60 pounds
Grower Grain

for 75 to 125 pound pigs

13% to 14% Protein

(av. 5.5 pounds per day gain)

140 pounds
Finisher Grain

for 125 to 220 pound pigs

12% Protein(av. 6.8 pounds per day gain)340 pounds

C. Water

Pigs should have clean, fresh drinking water available to them at all times. The simplest way to accomplish this is with an automatic nipple waterer which can be purchased for less than $10.

D. Shelter

Contrary to much popular opinion, swine are naturally clean animals and should be provided with clean, dry, draft-free housing, especially when young. New-born pigs require temperatures of 85-90 degrees F. This heat requirement drops off as the pig grows but a 50 pound pig is still susceptible to cold and especially dampness. It should be kept warm and dry.

Older animals also are affected by temperatures above 80 degrees F. Hogs have few sweat glands and need some way to cool off. They do this, if they can, in a wallow or mud-hole. A well-designed hog pen should have provisions for such a wallow.

At a minimum, the area should be at least 5 X 15 feet with shelter and feed at one end and water and dunging area at the other. Small pigs escape through small holes and once they know it is possible to get out they keep trying. A board or woven wire fence works best for small pigs. Larger pigs can be easily contained by a single strand of electric fence placed 8 to 10 inches off the ground. Train them to the electric fence first in a secure enclosure, otherwise, they are likely to go through the fence the first time they encounter it.

E. Miscellaneous considerations

1. Health

If you buy a disease-free, well-started pig (25 pounds and up) and keep it warm, dry and well-fed, disease should not be a problem.

Treat for internal parasites 14 days after you get the pig and then 30 days after that. Use one of the following :Dichlorvos (Atgard), Levamisole (Tramisol), or Piperazine. Vaccinate for erysipelas if the producer has not already vaccinated.

If it gets chilled or damp, pneumonia might be a problem. Penicillin can be used to treat pneumonia.

Be sure to read and follow the label directions for all drug treatments. It is very important to follow the days to slaughter recommendations so the meat from your hog will be free from drug residues. Never use a drug that is not labeled for swine. When in doubt about the health consult your local veterinarian.

2. Male or Female

Males tend to grow slightly faster than females. However, it is more important to start out with a healthy, meaty, thrifty looking pig of whatever sex. If you choose a male, make sure it is castrated and the wound has healed before you get them.

3. One or More

Many people think that pigs do better if there are two or more of them. However, one well cared for, healthy pig will do well on it’s own and it is better to care for one well than several poorly.

4. How Much Meat from a Pig?

About 140 pounds of retail cuts of fresh and cured pork will be provided by a hog slaughtered at the ideal butchering weight of 220 pounds.

Getting Started with Pigs

by C.J. Mouser

Below are some general guidelines for raising pigs. This information does not cover breeding. If you have never raised a pig before, it is best to raise one or two for the freezer to get an idea of their behaviors, abilities, and personalities. Breeding can be tricky and handling boars can be dangerous. If, and when, you decide to buy a pig to raise, choose a gilt, or a barrow (a castrated male). Either will give you a good indication of what to expect and will get you started on possibly breeding in the future.


Pigs, particularly in colder climates, are like most other animals, in that they need shelter. I am in a relatively warm climate, but my pigs have shelter against the rain and the sun, which is also important in that the lighter colored breeds can easily sunburn. Unlike cattle, they are not content to lie under a tree in the rain, or turn their backs to the north wind and sleep out in the open when a cold front blows in. They need a shelter with bedding to snuggle down in and stay warm and dry. Particularly piglets, which need a constant temperature of 98 degrees at least for the first week or so. In hot climates pigs need to be able to cool off. It's great if they have access to a pond. If not, you can make puddles for them using the water hose. Many of them, once they become accustomed to being on a water nipple, will hold down the nipple letting the water run out of their mouths and make their own puddles. Our boars do that.


There are many quality swine feeds on the market, and generally a good 14-15% protein feed is good for maintaining your herd, however, gestating and lactating sows need more nourishment, as do weanling piglets, who need a higher percentage of protein. Depending on how many pigs you decide to keep, you may want to go to a bulk feed, which is more economical. It is my personal opinion that feeding hogs and pigs swill and garbage is not a practical choice. Not only will they create a 'sewage' smell, but they tend to have more health issues. That is not to say that you can't raise one hog and feed it leftovers from the table. There is a big difference between doing that and collecting food garbage from institutional type kitchens or restaurants. Scraps are fine, but I would still recommend feeding a few pounds of quality feed as well. A general guideline for feeding is four to five pounds of feed a day for adult sows and boars and free feed from the time they start nibbling (a couple of weeks) to finish, at about two hundred and fifty pounds.


The one rule of thumb to remember when raising pigs is that if they go off their feed, there is a real problem. One that needs to be addressed immediately. A hog's primary goal in life is to eat. If they stop doing that, start asking questions.


You will not be able to hold a hog in with goat wire, or barbed wire. Our pigs are on pasture, and the fencing is goat wire, but, there is a single strand of electric fence inside the perimeter of the goat wire, and that is what they respect. Generally after they touch the wire once, they will not risk touching it again, which makes it a very effective fencing element as even if the power goes off, they will still assume that the wire is hot and stay away from it. Never make gates out of electric fencing if you ever hope to have the pig cross through that gate. It ain't gonna happen. They don't forget. If you want to build a simple small pen to hold one hog, bear in mind that pigs can root under and go over and break through things you wouldn't expect them to be able to . Particularly a boar who gets wind of a sow in heat, or a sow that is seeking a boar. If you use wood, use two by sixes at least, if you use hog or cattle panels, make sure they are attached to posts that are deep in the ground and staple them very well. Top to bottom. Above all, use common sense. Do not surround a pig pen with metal panels or plywood. They cannot get air to cool them off in the summer. Your pen is only as good as the effort and construction that you put into it. Ask yourself, would I be able to make myself comfortable living in the elements in that pen? Generally a contented animal will not have a reason to break out. Also don't pen them in with any trees that you care to keep, as eventually they will de bark it and root it up and the tree is no more.


Pigs need a constant supply of fresh water and the best method I have found is to install a water nipple. Make sure that all plumbing other then the nipple is outside the pen as they will root up buried plumbing in a heart beat. Using tubs is not effective as they will tip it to lay in the mud. Unless you plan to be on hand to fill the tub two or three times a day, don't use tubs.


Have a plan. If you buy a small pig to raise and put in the freezer, and are not prepared to slaughter this animal, start making arrangements early to find a butcher who will handle the task. If you cannot transport the animal, make sure that the butcher is prepared to collect it and take it to be butchered. Many times, in rural areas, the local high school will have a meat department where the kids learn about slaughtering and butchering and it is highly cost effective to do it this way, but generally you will have to bring the animal to them. Be kind to the animal. Take care of it and feed it well, always keeping in mind your goal. Otherwise you will end up with a five hundred pound pet named Porky and still no meat in your freezer.

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