The Self Sufficient Hub Podcast
Episode 46 | Raising Pigs
At the moment, pigs are the only animal that we keep that is purely for meat. And they are the easiest way of raising your own meat, in my opinion. We’re going to be talking about how, why, and whether you should do the same.
Welcome to The Self Sufficient Podcast. I’m here to talk about all things, self-sufficiency, sustainability, and food security.
Welcome to episode 46 of The Self Sufficient Podcast. Thank you all for listening and I hope you’re all safe and well. I received an email from someone called Karen, who is in England, and she was asking if we kept pigs and how easy, difficult, or hard it was. So thank you, Karen, for the email, and we’re going to be talking all about that today.
Why Pigs Are The Easiest Animal To Keep Purely For Meat
I think that pigs are the easiest animal to keep purely for Meat. There are several reasons why I think this and we’re going to be talking all about them today. We’re going to be talking about how to keep pigs, what sort of equipment you need. We’re going to be talking about how long you need to keep them, what type of breeds, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
One of the reasons I think pigs are the easiest animal to keep is their fencing requirements. Whenever you want to keep any animal, it’s really important that you can keep them secure because the last thing you’re going to want is an animal that escapes and ultimately costs you money because they go and do a load of damage or hurt someone or whatever.
And pigs can do an awful lot of damage. If a group of pigs got into your garden, you would know all about that. They wouldn’t take long and they would root out everything. Being able to contain them is absolutely vital. The best thing about containing pigs is that they are super smart and they all super respectful of an electric fence.
They will learn where the fence is very, very quickly, and then they will respect it. They will never test it. They’ll never try and go through it. This has been my experience and it’s been also the experience that’s been shared with me from other people who are far more experienced than I am.
How To Properly Fence In Pigs
Literally one strand of electric fence about a foot off the ground is probably enough, but a second one a little higher is also reccomended.
If you have two, one strand about half a foot off the ground and one, one and a half to two feet off the ground, that’s going to do the job. They are so cautious of it and once they know where they are, that’s it. We, actually took in some pigs from the people who used to live in our property. They used to keep pigs in the wood we now had and it came to pass that they couldn’t keep them anymore.
We looked after them for a period of time and we brought them back to the wood that they used to live in, and I couldn’t work out for the life of me why they wouldn’t cross into a certain section of woodland. There was a section of about a quarter of an acre they just wouldn’t go in, and only after they’d been there about eight weeks, we discovered a strand of electric fencing buried in the ground.
Obviously now dead and redundant, but the pigs had remembered where that was. Not only that they remembered where it was, but they were still respecting the fence that no longer even existed. Just a great tale that accentuates the point I’m making. That’s the first thing to say about pigs is that just a piece of electric fencing is all you need to contain them.
And conversely, having said all that we’re not using electricity at the moment. They’ve got the run of about an acre and a half of wood. It’s a lovely sight. It’s pig heaven. And we’ve got that fenced with standard stock fencing. And I think the reason that we’re able to do that, and we’re not having any issues (because realistically the stock fencing is good, but in places, it’s a, it’s past its best and they could probably get out when they get a bit bigger if they choose to), but because they’re in such a big space, I don’t think they’ve got any reason to so.
That’s how you want to contain your pigs. And, just to be clear, I’d have no issues at all saying that stock fencing is also adequate for containing pigs if it’s good quality and the posts aren’t rotten at the bottom and things like that, which is what I’m seeing a couple of ours getting that way and need replacing, which I’ll be doing this winter.
They’re a great animal for containment. That’s the first thing. The next thing we’re going to talk about is what other requirements they need and how you’re going to feed them and look after your pigs.
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Requirements For Keeping Pigs
Requirements for our pigs, like all animals, they’re going to need. To have constant access to clean water, but they’re also going to need, (and ideally away from their water source) somewhere they can make a muddy wallow. For a pig to be happy it really does need access to a wallow it can, well… wallow in!
Pigs sunburn very easily, and they wallow in the mud to protect their skin. It’s very tempting to put the wallow. Next to their water source, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to just have a trough that you overfill. And that forms their muddy wallow. But I would strongly recommend against this for several reasons.
The first of which is the wallow can get quite deep and it can actually make access to the clean water quite tricky because pigs aren’t the most agile animal. That’s the first thing. And the second thing is, is that it can create cross-contamination between the mud and the clean drinking water. I do strongly recommend that you separate the two if you possibly can.
That’s the first thing is they obviously need access to clean water. And the second thing is somewhere to shelter at night. If it’s cold, and our pigs tend to sleep out under the bushes, but they do have an arc that they can get into if it’s cold if they want to get out of the rain or. Just generally, they can make a nice sheltered bed away from the wind and the elements.
That’s the main thing that the pigs need. Beyond that, they just need some space. Now, pigs aren’t huge on exercise. They obviously, need to be able to get around and walk around, but they don’t need to have a huge paddock to run around. I’ve seen pigs living quite happily in spaces the size of a double garage for a couple of smaller pigs.
But what you need to remember is the more you contain your pigs, the more you are the only source of access to everything. You’re going to need to give them things to entertain them. You’re going to need to give them all of their food. They won’t be able to forage for anything. Obviously, I’m aware that we’re incredibly lucky that we’re able to offer our pigs this fantastic space, but even if you’re not, that shouldn’t necessarily put you off.
You can still keep them in a much smaller space and still keep them quite happy. If you put them in a smaller space, you’re going to want to give them things to entertain them. Perhaps some sort of really robust ball that they can play with or hang things up. It really depends on your pigs.
Personality of Pigs
They have such different characters. They are more like dogs as characters go than a lot of other animals, as they’re so varied in character, and some pigs will just want to sit in a corner all day and be left alone. Other pigs will want to be constantly seeking out things and exploring and want to be constantly entertained, so you’ll get to know your own pigs. Pigs can be an animal that you want to be cautious of if you’re not spending a lot of time with them. I strongly recommend that you do spend quite a lot of time with your pigs so that they get used to you. You get used to them, and you can get your pigs to become extremely tame and happy and come up to you for rubs and strokes.
But equally, if you never really go in with your pigs and spend any time with your pigs, then your pigs can become far less friendly. Personally, I’ve never had a pig that I was cautious about going in with, but then that’s because I go in with my pigs a lot. I do definitely recommend that you spend the time in there so that they’re used to being around you and they see you as a standard part of their day is coming in and seeing them.
And if you can give them a little stroke and a pat then, genuinely, they love it. They absolutely love it if you get them used to doing that, they do love the attention. So do spend time with your pigs.
If you’ve got your pigs out on the open ground, you should definitely be aware that they’re going to absolutely destroy it, particularly if it’s a smaller plot.
Our pigs don’t actually do too much damage in our wood because they’ve got so much of it. But on a lawn, it wouldn’t matter how big it was, they would absolutely tear it up. You can look at that as a negative, but you could also look at it as a positive. I read somewhere, (I can’t remember where so I can’t quote the source, unfortunately, but I’m sure it was a permaculture source) the saying goes, if you don’t keep pigs, then you’ve got to be the plow. What that is trying to tell you is that if you’ve got an area of ground that you want to plow or turn over, you can put pigs on it to do that work for you.
If you are not using the no-dig method, if you are going to till your ground, then you can use pigs to actually do that for you. They’re a utility animal in that regard. That’s not something we use them for, not something we have a desire to use them for, but they do keep the. Undergrowth down in the Woodland.
They’re useful for that for us because we don’t manage that particular piece of Woodland. We use it particularly just specifically for pigs. So having them in there, it means that it doesn’t all get overgrown and we can get around in there, which is great for me because I do harvest some wild mushrooms from that wood.
I wouldn’t necessarily be able to go in and get them if it wasn’t for the fact that the pigs are in there keeping it down all the time, or I wouldn’t find it quite so easy at least. So we have turkey tail mushrooms, and we also have velvet shank mushrooms that grow in there. And I go in there and harvest them and they’re really easy to find and see because I’ve got the pigs in there keeping the undergrowth down.
That’s what we’ve got at the moment. We got two pigs and. I would recommend if you’re just starting out, that you buy weaners, which are piglets that have basically been weaned and you just grow them on and slaughter them. And that will provide quite a lot of food depending on your needs.
Two to three pigs a year keeps my family in pork. As a family of five, five carnivores, you don’t need lots and lots of pigs. That’s the easiest way, the simplest way, and the best way I would suggest to anyone who gets into it. We’re probably going to keep one of our female pigs this year, and we’re probably going to breed her next year, it means we’re not going to be needing to buy weaners in anymore.
It also means we’re probably going to have a surplus of pork. We’ll be able to actually sell some of that meat because of how many piglets we’ll have. Pigs will have quite a large litter of piglets.
We’re going to talk about feeding requirements. Next.
Several times in the past, I’ve spoken about my passion for reducing the feed costs for our animals. It’s something I get quite excited about if I can feed our animals for free. It ties into the whole self-sufficient thing that we’re trying to achieve and of course saves us money. Pigs are great because they will eat almost anything.
You will definitely want to have a look at the regulations in your area. There are lots of places in the world where there are lots of things you cannot feed to your pigs, and if you’re going to sell the meat, that is even more likely to be something you need to consider. Because ours are all in house and it’s meat for the family, so long as I know what’s going on and I’m happy for them to eat it, then I’m happy to feed it to them.
One of the main sources of feed for our pigs is fruits and vegetables. We get fruit and vegetables from shops; fruit, and vegetable shops that are throwing out their stock that’s gone slightly over. I collect a 50-liter bin between once and twice a week, which takes probably 30% if not more of the feeding requirements for our two pigs.
We also have a bakery. That I collect their spare loaves. Things that have gone over. The dough that’s leftover, they cook it up in their ovens because it’s easier for them to dispose of cooked than wet. And that makes up probably another
30% of our pigs’ feed.
We also live next door to a microbrewery, so we have access to spent grains. That makes up another small portion of our pigs’ diets. And then finally we have table scraps and our own kitchen waste. Across the board, that makes up. Not quite, but almost 100% of our pigs’ diet.
When I say not quite, what I mean is I bought one bag of pig feed when we got our pigs, because on the days when, for whatever reason, I don’t have anything for them. It’s really important that I’ve got something. I don’t want them to not have anything. I bought that bag about nine weeks ago when we first got our pigs, and I think I’ve used probably a quarter of it.
I think there’s every likelihood that I’m going to be able to raise these two pigs from weaners all the way to slaughter for the cost of one bag of feed, and I’ll be really happy if I can do that. That’s certainly my goal. The other thing is that our pigs also have foraged food. They’ve got access to this massive Woodland, and half the trees in there are Oak so that they have all the acorns in the fall.
That will be, as they’re towards the end of their lives, they will have access to all of that, and they also forage for things like earthworms, which do make up a percentage of their diet. So across the board, they’ve got a really great balanced diet and they couldn’t be happier. The welfare of our animals is the most important thing to me.
If you’ve got animals, you are 100% responsible for 100% of their needs. And it’s my responsibility to ensure that the life they live while in my care is as good as it can possibly be. And I can assure you that our pigs are in pig heaven for the time that they are alive. It’s really important to me. I understand completely the case for veganism when you’re talking about factory farming, and there are lots of ethical cases you can make against eating meat from the supermarket, and I agree with all of them.
My main feeling is that animals should have a net positive life. That is that we’re going to be breeding, slaughtering, and eating animals that are going to have a life that was worth living. It was better for them to have come into existence and spent that time having a great life and then have a humane slaughter than to have not have existed at all.
That’s my feeling. I understand that this will jar with some people, but I’m guessing most of the people who feel that way probably won’t be listening this deep into the episode anyway, but this is just a way for me to share my opinions on it.
So that’s feeding pigs.
Breeding pigs is the next thing.
If you’re going to breed your own pigs, they will have several litters a year.
It’s very, very easy to become overwhelmed with pigs. If you’re going to keep your own breeding pigs, unless you’ve got a plan for having maybe 20 piglets a year, then you’re going to want to separate the boar from the sow. And again, what we’re going to do if we go down this route is we’re going to run electric wire within the wood, and we’re basically going to separate the wood into two sections, and one will be for the boar and the other will be for the sow.
I don’t know if that’s going to be a working plan, if that’s going to be suitable, I need to do a bit more research on that, but I definitely will need to separate the boar from the sows. We can’t just have them running free or we’ll just have too many piglets.
With regards to breeds, it really is a case of whatever you like.
There are pros and cons of all different breeds, and it’s really important to do your own research. My feeling was simply that it didn’t really matter that much to me, and that’s all based on our feeding costs because it doesn’t cost us very much to feed our pigs. It doesn’t matter if they take six months or nine months to reach maturity, slaughter age.
For me, it didn’t really matter. I only tend to just go for whatever I can get that’s quite cheap and available locally because I know that the environment they’re going into is going to be perfect for pretty much all breeds. What we’ve got at the moment is a bit of a mix, a bit of a crossbreed.
I can tell by looking at them, they’ve got some commercial pig in them, that pink pig that you’re used to seeing on commercial farms, but they’ve also got some saddleback in them, which is an older breed now. They’re awesome, allegedly fantastic tasting, better-tasting breeds that are INH pigs and older varieties.
And that’s certainly something worth looking into. But like I say, from my point of view, I don’t think it makes enough of a difference for me to spend too much time worrying about it. Now when we get into breeding, that might change. But where we are at the moment, we’re not too fussy about our breeds of pigs.
That’s about all I’ve got to say for pigs, and as I say, if you’re going to be raising an animal purely for meat, I think pigs are probably the best option to start with. Thanks for listening. See you on the next one.