Keeping a pig for meat?

Piglets in Winter Pallet Shed
Someone wrote in a comment to a previous day’s posting: “I would like to raise pigs for meat for my family. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. Is it hard to do??? How much space do they need? Do they have to have pasture or can I just keep them in a pen? How badly do they smell??”

Note: feed, butchering and piglet prices have gone up considerably, even doubling, since I originally wrote this article.

Keeping pigs is very easy, they don’t take up much space and they don’t have to smell bad. I would suggest getting a book such as “Small Scale Pig Raising” by Dirk van Loon. That is full of information and will get you started. There are also a number of hog oriented discussion lists such as PasturedPork at’s groups. But, don’t let all the information there overwhelm you. Read a bit and then dive into the muck!

At the most basic level you can imitate commercial factory farms: simply have a pen for your piglets, buy grain, fill an automatic feeder, have an automatic waterer, toss in a few bales of hay or sawdust, watched the pigs grow and then take the finished pigs to the butcher. This will work. It is the fastest and maybe the easiest way to raise a pig if you don’t have much land. The pigs don’t need to have pasture and don’t require much space (about 10’x10′ each). They will smell the worst with this method and it is the most expensive way to do it since you are providing all of their nutrition from commercially bought feed.

If you’re pen raising them in 2005 then figure:

  • $65 for a piglet
  • $125 for 800 lbs of grain per pig for the feed. Grain prices have been shooting up so beware that those are 2005 Vermont bag prices – adjust for your time and place.
  • $35 slaughter
  • $65 butchering (40¢/lb vacuum packaged for quality and better storage, based on hanging weight of 180 lbs = ~250 lb live weight)
  • $40 further processing – $1.05 to $1.85 per pound for sausage making and smoking of hams, bellies, etc.
  • and what ever costs you have for the pen and infrastructure like fencing and such.
  • $330 or more in total

This brings the price of pork up to about $2.82 per pound for about 117 lbs of commercial cuts and smoked product plus the cost of the infrastructure. There is a lot more wonderful eating on the pig but for this exercise we’re just looking at the commercial cuts as that is a standard store comparison. Make use of the rest and you’ll push your per pound price down even further.

For that investment you’ll get hundreds of pounds of prime manure for your garden (compost it with hay, straw or wood chips), about 120 lbs of pork cuts (fresh hams, fresh bacon, pork chops, shoulders, etc), bones for soup and scraps for dogs. Be sure to ask the butcher for the bones and lard! Smoking is additional and runs about a dollar or two per pound for the smoked portions. Doing it this way won’t be cheaper than buying pork on sale at the supermarket. but it is a better quality pork, a much healthier product where you know what went into making it.

Update 2007:
The multiplier from 2005 to 2007 feed costs is 1.259 based on USDA data. This makes the 2007 cost of feed $157, Piglet were $85 this spring. Butchering has gone up to about $45 for slaughter and $0.65 per pound based on hanging weight for cut and wrap. The final cost per pig in 2007 is about $444 and the price of pork $3.80 per pound. Add your pen and labor costs to that.

  • $85 for a piglet
  • $157 for 800 lbs of conventional grain per pig for the feed.
  • $45 slaughter – USDA inspected or on-farm are around this
  • $117 butchering – vacuum packaged for quality and long lasting
  • $50 further processing
  • and what ever costs you have for infrastructure such as pen, fencing, troughs…
  • $454 or more in total

This brings the price of pork up to about $3.88 per pound for about 117 lbs of commercial cuts and smoked product plus the cost of the infrastructure.

Update Fall 2012:
Inflation coninues, no surprise, and prices are higher now…

  • $150 for a piglet (2012 fall price)
  • $240 for 800 lbs of grain per pig for the feed. Grain prices are soaring with the drought and diversion to ethanol for gasoline. Conventional grain is now $15 per 50 lb bag for conventional GMO feeds and $40 for a 50 lb bag of organic feed. That sets the feed in the range of $240 to $640 per pig. Buying by the truck load will save you money but then you’ll need to figure out how to store it. Typically this means buying three to six tons at a time. Don’t buy too much at a time since grain feeds can mold which produces toxins – figure on a maximum of three months storage under proper conditions. Look at how you can supplement or replace the expensive feed with things like pasture, vegetables and fruit you grow, food excesses, etc.
  • $55 slaughter – USDA inspected or on-farm are around this
  • $145 butchering – vacuum packaged for quality and long lasting
  • $60 further processing – $1.65 to $2.50 per pound for sausage making and smoking of hams, bellies, etc.
  • and what ever costs you have for infrastructure such as pen, fencing, troughs…
  • $650 or more in total

This brings the price of pork up to about $5.55 per pound for about 117 lbs of commercial cuts and smoked product plus the cost of the infrastructure. Most of that increase is due to the higher cost of grains which has been pushed up by the demand for corn based ethanol and then drought in the mid-west in recent years.

We do it a little differently here since we have plenty of land – we pasture the animals during the warm months and then during the coldest months they are in garden corrals also known as winter paddocks totally about four acres. This saves on facilities too – we have no barns but just some open sheds, simple open greenhouses and dens for the winter months.

Our pastures are savannah style: a mix of open ground forages, brush and trees. This makes for an excellent pig habitat that provides food, shade and shelter out in the pastures where water is delivered via springs. This is very close to there natural habitat and very far from the King’s Lawn style pasture. A key element is that the forages are highly diverse offering a wide variety of things to eat.

I don’t like shoveling shit so I have the animals spread it for me. They do a most admirable job of distributing it across the pastures which improves our fields. They also till and fertilize our gardens, cut the brush and mow the fields. This saves me a lot of labor, gas and equipment. The key there is intensive rotational grazing – moving the pigs to a new spot every week or so as they use up the area they are grazing. Same idea as with sheep, goats and cattle.

Many breeds of pigs can live on virtually just pasture and then hay during the winter. This was how we did it for years before we lucked into the excess milk from the local dairy. The pigs do grow faster if they also have some other feeds besides pasture. On just pasture it takes about seven to eight months for a piglet to grow to market size (~200 to 225 lbs). On commercial feed it is only about six months. With the dairy plus pasture it’s back to about six months from birth to market.

To supplement our pasture and hay we get expired bread from the bakery, excess dairy and cheese trim. We also feed garden gleanings as well as extra pumpkins, corn and other crops we grow here on the farm. The piglets and occasionally the adult pigs also get excess eggs from our chickens during the height of production in the spring and early summer.

Pasturing the pigs is the easiest, cheapest, least smelly way to do it – in fact pigs on pasture don’t stink and are a clean animals other than a pleasant roll in their mud bath on a hot day. The pigs are a lot healthier and happier for it. On the topic of smell, a balanced diet makes a difference since most of the smell is wasted feed that are excreted when there is an excess of proteins. This isn’t so much the total protein content of the feed but rather the balance of types of proteins.

Adding carbon to the pigs diet in the form of pasture or hay as well as plenty of high carbon bedding (again we use hay) soaks up the nitrogen (often in the form of ammonia) which is the source of much of the smell. This binds the smell producing chemicals and saves them for composting into your garden. Healthy pig poops smell less.

Of course, one solution to pollution is dillution. If you had to live in a 10’x10′ box you would get pretty stinky too. If you’re raising the pigs in a pen, clean it out frequently adding fresh bedding and it will smell less.

Since I don’t like to clean pens I pasture the animals. Given the opportunity to graze on pasture in the warm months and eat hay in the winter the pigs don’t stink because they spread their own manure, keep cleaner and get plenty of fiber and carbon in their diet.

Here’s a trick: If you’re going to keep them in a pen consider using your garden or a new space you want to turn into a garden. Divide the space up into four to six sections and then rotate the pigs through the sections. Put them in each section for about one week. After they leave a section, rake in some red clover, buckwheat, turnip seeds, grass or other fast growing crops. By the time you get the pigs back onto the first area it will be a wonderful treat for the pigs and you’ll be growing some of your own feed. The pigs will appreciate rooting in the soil. Just as importantly, they need iron which they can get from dirt – otherwise you need to give them iron and vitamins for good health like the factory farms do. Doing it this way, in just one year you’ll have a very rich soil for your new garden. This technique works very well to make a garden corral for raising pigs in the winter. Note that it is important to give them plenty of hay to work into the soil to absorb the nitrogen from their pee and poop. This also adds organic matter to the soil making it fluffier – great organic gardens!

You can of course do any mix of the above techniques from small pen to a garden corral to truly pastured pigs. Do what ever fits your budget and resources. Pigs are very versatile and grow well under a wide variety of conditions making them an excellent source of meat that you can raise yourself.

Also see: Pastured Pigs

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

338 Responses to Keeping a pig for meat?

  1. Ideally orient the shelter with its back to the wind and opening to the south or east. Provide lots of hay. They should be fine. Having the shelter and its bedding raised up a bit from the surrounding ground helps with drainage to keep the bedding drier. Don’t change the bedding but rather let it build up starting well before the ground freezes.

    They will do well to have extra calories in their food for the winter as they’ll burn it off producing heat.

  2. Mark says:

    Any ideas on how to keep the smell down from my pigs. Then pen is in the woods and don’t get alot of sun so stays wet longer. I am considering raising them in the winter to keep the smell down but was told they won’t grow very fast because they are using their energy to keep warm. Any thoughts on this?

    Mark in NH

  3. Mark,

    The smell is caused by chemical compounds from the manure and urine being lost to the air. Nitrogen, typically as ammonia compounds, and sulfur are two examples. The trick is to manage the wetness and carbon ratio.

    Basically, dry the area up a bit and add plenty of hay, straw, wood shavings, wood chips, etc. Smaller pieces of carbon work faster but larger pieces let air flow better.

    Packing can also setup an anaerobic area, lacking oxygen, that can get smelly when exposed.

    In terms of winter pigs, they’ll grow a little slower, or simply need more calories. But the difference is not huge. Managing water in the winter is a bit trickier. Give them shelter from wind and wetness. Lots of dry bedding. We raise pigs outdoors right through the winter and it works well.



    • James says:

      Hi my wife and i are planning on starting to breed pigs i was wondering what type of veggies and fruits i can plant on my own to help with food costs also i have several local produce stands that i can get the stuff they can no longer sell for free would that be good for them i still plan to feed Cracked Corn and Sweet Grain to them also but wanted some feedback on the other 2 ideas i am in FL and have a 75’x30′ pen i don’t plan on letting my pigs go much over 200-250lbs (exception breeders) be for either eating my self or selling to butcher how many do you think i could house there be for i should start selling piglets off at the livestock auctions?

      • Getting extra produce like that is an excellent win-win as the store needs to get rid of the produce that doesn’t sell. In some states it is now illegal to throw it in the landfill. In addition to what you can get for free think about what grows easily in your climate and soils. For us it is pumpkins, turnips, beets, kale, rape, sunflowers, sunchokes, clover, alfalfa, grass and such as well as apples. I look for things that are easy to plant, require a minimum of care, grow well in our climate and the animals can self-harvest.

        This is a little low in lysine which is why we feed dairy. Look around at what your local resources are like.

        The pen is large enough that you could sub-divide it into ten grazing paddocks of about 15’x15′ each and then rotate the pigs through these bringing the pigs back to a paddock after about 45 days which gives time to raise something fast growing. I don’t know Florida’s climate at all (other than it is hot) so I don’t know what are the best choices for fast growing crops. Check with your local extension and I’m sure they’ll have some suggestions for plants. Up here in the north country cole crops are very good and they may do well in your winter but not your summer.

        Then the question is how many pigs can you do in that space. The answer is pretty small, about 1.7 pigs. With supplemental feed you can probably improve that. It is important to do the managed rotational grazing so the pigs don’t just tear up the soil and compact it. Same as with sheep, chickens, cattle, etc. Otherwise you’ll get penned a.k.a. stockyard conditions and lose the free food value you can grow.

        As to auctions:

        I strongly suggest not buying pigs at auction because you don’t know what diseases they’re bringing you nor what their genetics are like. Get piglets from someone raising and breeding on pasture.

        I strongly suggest not selling piglets at auction because that is the best way to get the lowest price possible, less than it cost you to raise them. Instead look for buyers who appreciate quality genetics that have been given a good start on pasture.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi there, I really love having our hogs around, and we’re very happy about the work they do here. They enjoy our neighbors milk, apples, and gleanings from our small market farm.

    But the problem is the economics. Our Tam-Berk crosses are on pasture from the time we buy them in the spring, with 1 or 2 strand electric fencing. They are incredibly happy hogs in sun and shade, and as I’d said, we find a reasonable amount of additional feed without spending all our lives driving across the county to collect food bits. But at the end of it, the cost going in makes the meat prohibitively expensive for most of our direct market customers. We get plenty of meat ourselves, which is nice. But I don’t understand how to raise these animals to yield a marketable product on a small (fewer than 10?) scale. And of course more pigs need more pasture.

    Here’s a recent breakdown:

    piglet 75-90$
    feed/pig 120-200$ (not including all the “free” stuff that still takes a lot of time to collect)
    slaughter 35$
    trucking costs vary
    processing/packaging .60/# HW
    Spices, smoke/cure extra
    labels extra

    And all this does not include the farm’s overhead or the farmers’ labor. Not including labor and overhead, we came to a break-even price of nearly 5$/lb. If we wanted to pay ourselves even a dismal amount, and cover things like fencing, marketing, insurance, freezer, power, water, etc., we are looking at 10$/lb average.

    We don’t really save much money or time rasing our own piglets (keeping large hogs through the winter), nor save much through custom slaughter (further restricting our markets). At the end of it, the feed costs make hogs for market seem highly questionable unless we could get to a scale where any narrow profit margin might be multiplied over many animals. Otherwise, I think it’s for us and family only.

    Any thoughts or updates on this? Thanks, mb

  5. Hi MB,

    You're right, the feed costs are a killer in your numbers. It looks like you are paying 25¢ a pound for feed which seems high. Getting that number down is important. If you were buying feed in bulk it would cost less, maybe half that. It would take more pigs to consume it rapidly enough so that it does not spoil.

    Another issue may be the feed conversion, rate of gain and growth rate. I have read that the Tamworths in particular are slow growers. Perhaps the genetics of your pigs is an issue. How many months does it take them to go from birth to 250 lbs?

    Another consideration is what weight are you slaughtering at? Too small a weight, say below 225 lbs live weight, means you're loosing out on potential growth. Too large a weight, say over 300 lbs, means you would have a lot of waste in fat.

    Also in regards to this look at the back fat. If they have a thick back fat then that is wasted feed unless you're looking to produce lard. Most people want marbled meat, not back fat. We aim for about 0.75" to 1" of back fat for our ideal. I've seen pigs from other farms going into the butcher with 3", 4" or even more in back fat. Growing them up that fat is a waste of money unless you're trying to produce lard. The butcher throws most of it in the trash can…

    As to the price per pound, $5 is a little on the low side if you're selling as retail cuts but reasonable if you're selling as whole pigs or wholesale. This varies with location. We wholesale for about that much. The resellers, stores & restaurants, then add 50% to 100% (stores) or even 200% (restaurants) more to that price to make their markup. If you're selling as cuts then $7 to $12 per pound is reasonable – remember that not all of the pig sells for that, or any price. When someone buys cuts they're getting to select the best parts and not pay for everything else that won't sell. There is a certain amount of waste that goes to the dogs or compost.

    Lastly, you will probably have to do more than just a few pigs to make it pay. At less than ten it is enough to help pay for your own family's meat and have a little additional income. To make a wage at it you'll probably need to do ten times that. It does take a certain volume to cover the overheads and get the feed costs down if you're buying grain, etc.

    Good luck!



  6. Leslie says:

    Thank you Walter so much for this blog. I was lead here by a homesteading forum on a knitting website where I am a member. I have been reading about all your escapades at Sugar Mountain Farm all morning and I am so grateful to have found you.

    Anyhow…here's our small problem. Our 2, 70 pound, litter mate pigs, that we purchased 3 weeks ago, from our local livestock auction, are picky eaters! Now they are in a pen, 20×40, with a loafing shed full of straw, facing east. They get a mixture of starter mash, corn, veggie scraps, excess garden goodies, apples, pears, butternut squash and such. We also have dairy goats and chickens and they get their excess milk and eggs as well. We did not start them on the extras until hublet noticed they were not that enthusiastic on the mash and corn. Even adding the "goodies" they just don't eat like a "pigs". We are not that new at raising pigs, actually these are #'s 5&6.

    BTW, the pig pen has not had a pig in it since mid-summer, last year. The only thing they go nuts over seems to be my prized butternut squash. Dammit that's for our consumption.

    Have you ever encountered this or heard of this before? Any light you can shed on this would be greatly appreciated.

    Nana Chickens

  7. Leslie, I’ve heard of pigs being picky, especially if their diet has been recently changed, but I’ve not observed it. If they’re healthy they should eat fine. The fact that they like the squash is a good sign.

  8. steveingrid says:

    Thank-you for this informative site! Soon I hope to have a small farm where I can raise livestock. What are your thoughts about on site slaughter/butchering to save costs on processing? Is it worth it in the end? would I need anything special to pull this off?

  9. On-farm slaughter and butchering is the ideal. It saves fuel, travel time, avoids stressing the animal and gives you more control over how the slaughtering and butchering are done as well as making sure you get not just your meat back but all of it back. The offal can then be composted on-site to return the nutrients to the soil of your farm.

    There are many books that will give you the basics. Ideally find someone who knows how and have them teach you, after you’ve read the books. Then reread the books and try it yourself. Start with small animals like rabbits and chickens. Work your way up to roaster size pigs and then finisher pigs, cattle, elephants, dilophosaurs, etc.

    As to equipment, all you need at the most basic level are sharp knives. A pail of hot water helps. Next a steel to keep the knives’ edge. One can do animals of all size with just that. You don’t have to have fancy bandsaws or the like unless you want to do a lot of cutting of bones. For our home consumption I just use knives. I debone and the bones go to soup while the meat goes to the freezer. This saves freezer space. Think boneless chops.

    For regulations, this varies a little state to state but not much. essentially if you’re doing it for your family there are no regs. If you’re doing it for other people then regs come in to play. Here in Vermont, and in most states, the slaughter and butchering must be under inspection if you intend to sell the meat.



  10. Will says:

    First of all, thank you for your blog…For putting all the great stuff you have learned out there for others to read. And thanks for responding to all the questions!

    This was my first year pasture-raising pigs (or even raising pigs for that matter). I used them to open up new garden area and it all went great! I’m thrilled to see how easy they are to raise and how much fun they are to have around.

    Next week is slaughter week. Another new experience awaits. We have help from pro’s who are going to teach us how to do the slaughter part. And I think I’ve convinced my wise italian friend to show us how to cut it up. But we still need help with the bacon and hams. I read your blog from ’06 and it was really helpful for learning how to do the brine. But have you since tried smoking? Do you think we could just go from your brine (letting sit of course) to the smoker? Or is anything else involved to smoke? Do the hams get treated differently than the bacon (as far as brining and smoking)? Do you know of some good websites pertaining to this? Also, thoughts on keeping the skin vs. skinning? What do you do at home? Thanks Walter!

  11. I have never done smoking. It’s on my to-do list for learning. This summer I read a very good book “Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design” which I would recommend if you’re interested in getting into smoking.

    For a shorter quick intro to smoking I would suggest “Build a Smokehouse”.

    On the skin on vs off, I'm not sure if you're asking about at slaughter or curing. For slaughter I've both skinned and scalded. They're about the same speed. The advantage of scald & scrape is one preserves the skin for making cracklin and fried pork rinds.



  12. Ron says:

    What a great site. Thank you for putting all of this info together. I am just beginning with pigs and I’m interested in obtaining half a dozen or so to breed and eat for the family. I’m dedicating two pastures, each an acre, but I’m worried about keeping pigs weighing 300+ pounds. Are there smaller breeds, say around 200 lbs max, which can be breed and grown for meat? Can pot-bellies be used for meat?

  13. Seth says:

    Great blog.
    What do you do about watering the pigs in the winter? In places like Maine and Vermont, can they break through ice and eat snow? Or do you have to drag fresh water out to distant pastures on a daily basis?

  14. Seth, we have springs that run year round to supply the livestock. They are comparatively warm in the winter. See the ice sculptures.

  15. Ed says:

    Despite being 2+ years old, this post is probably the most clear, practical, objective, and concise summary of home hog raising that we’ve found on the ‘net. We are complete beginners and bought a little Yorkshire weaner to feed out. Some say that the Yorkshire is not hearty enough to pasture, but we’re going for it anyway. Like you, I despise shoveling feces, so I’m a proponent of the pastured route. We have a couple of rolls of electric netting that we plan to move around from place to place until she’s slaughter weight.

  16. That should work well for you, Ed. Yorkshires were bred for mothering, fast growth and large size and doing all of that on pasture back when pigs were kept outdoors. Some of these characteristics are what makes them a foundation breed for the modern factory farmed pigs as well as an excellent choice for homesteaders. The one negative I’ve heard on Yorkshires is that since they are so white they sunburn down in the deep south. That isn’t a problem for us up here in Vermont. If you are in the south, simply provide shade and a mud wallow – they’ll coat themselves with mud to act as sunscreen during the heat of the day.

  17. dan says:

    Hello Walter, love the blog and all the info you provide, thank you. I noticed in your previous post that you likrd your pork with some fat. I thought that I had made a mistake with last years herd of 5 pigs, because the where very fat. Although the meat was the best tasting ever. In previouse years some pigs had no fat and the meat was dry and not the best. This year I have been very cautious on the amount and kind of food I give them. Is this fear founded? Or should I just give them as much as they will eat per sitting with no leftovers. Thanks alot, your expert opinion means alot. Dan

  18. Dan,

    Watching their condition and growth rate lets you know if they need more protein (shown by slow growth and thin loin) or calories (shown by thin back fat) vs needing fewer calories (hanging jowls and overly fat). How their hair, skin and eyes look tells you about mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

    The simple answer is commercial hog feed. A bit of research into what you have available locally and how those feeds complement each other can lead to a healthy diet that is a lot less expensive. This is how we ended up with the pasture/hay and dairy combination as being the basis of our pigs’ diet.

    If you provide a varied diet they will probably get what they need. It might not be the most efficient growth rate, something factory farms must have since they strive to only lose $5 per pig, but it can work nicely.



  19. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. We are considering adding pork to our home production and appreciate your contributions here.

    We currently pasture our poultry and are looking into running sheep and/or pigs ahead of the PCM’s (Poultry Containment Modules).

    However, living in a semi-rural setting has it’s pasture limitations. We just don’t have enough grass available. What is your thoughts on partial pasturing and using deep-litter confinement for finish? I’ve read about using sawdust at 40cm greatly reduces smell and keeps the pigs clean and healthy (these farms are in Thailand and Australia). The sawdust is composted after slaughter and should make a phenomenal soil amendment.

    What are your thoughts on these deep-litter pens? Can pigs and sheep coexist in an intensive grazing model? I would anticipate moving them daily as we do our poultry.

    Thanks again!

  20. We pasture our pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks and geese together and it works fine. Separate ewes for the week of lambing as a bloody newborn lamb is too tempting for the pigs.

    On the deep bed finishing, it would work. I would suggest hay instead of sawdust because pigs can eat hay and it would thus replace the pasture for them. This is essentially what we do in the winter when the lands are buried under many feet of snow. However, use what you have for carbon. Sawdust, wood shavings, wood chips, straw, leaves, hay all work. On the leaves just make sure they aren’t a toxic variety, same thought on anything.



  21. elevenkids2many says:

    We have raised pigs for years in confinement for 4-H projects and our own eating. This year was the first to raise piglets. We tried pasture farrowing and lost 10 of 15 piglets to mom laying on them last June. We are in the process of building a unique farrowing crate for birth in 5 days. I am really excited about raising them in a larger area without the high cost of feed. We currently order 4 tons of premixed feed to our specifications, cheaper this way, but still very expensive. We also raise dairy goats and feed garden extras and goat milk. I love your pasture idea and would like to plant jerusalem artichokes as a supplement. I once read an article years ago about raising pigs on 1/3 milk, 1/3 chokes and 1/3 grain. We have 20 acres of sagebrush, only 5 fenced and have water restrictions, so don’t know if I can maintain pastures. We live in Southern Utah. Right now we are knee deep in snow and very cold, I really feel for our pigs.

    We just home slaughtered our 4 market pigs because butchers are backed up, and I cut all of them up myself. Luckily my father gave me a nice band meat saw with grinder on the side last year or I never would have physically been able to cut up 600 pounds of meat in 10 days.

    Just looking for ways to do this more economically with fewer piglet loses, by the way our pigs are Durocs. Kila Day

  22. Kila, Sorry to hear about your piglet losses. Not every sow is suited to outdoor free-farrowing. They need to still have the nesting instincts, the ability to lay down gently, choose a good site, etc. If a sow is too fat she may fall down hard when she lies down thus not giving piglets time to move out of her way. Unfortunately free-farrowing traits have been bred out of confinement pigs over many generations because those same characteristics that work so well out on pasture can cause problems in confinement operations. Nest building turns into bar biting, etc. I hope that you have better luck with your next ones. Keep warm, -Walter

  23. Lee says:

    Wow! What a wealth of information! Thanks. This will be our first year with pigs. We will be raising 4 Tamworth Gilts and a Tamworth Boar for meat and reproduction. Our farm is 22 acres with only about 5 acres cleared. The plan is to fence in some of the wooded area for the hogs. The woods are mostly oak. How much nutritional value is there in a wooded area as opposed to straight grass pasture? Also, I saw in an earlier post that leaves can be used as bedding. It also sounded as though the hogs would eat the leaves. Is that correct? If so, how much nutritional value is there in the leaves?. Lastly, we are also purchasing goats for meat and milk. How much milk is recommended per hog? Thanks. Lee and Tasha

  24. Lee,

    Forest land has a lot less nutrition per acre than pasture but the good news is you have oaks (I wish I did) and they drop acorns which are excellent food. Read up on feeding acorns to pigs. Here’s a search pattern.

    On the milk, I find that pigs drink about 3.6 gallons per hundred weight of pig per day. See this article.

    On the leaves, you can use them as bedding. Be sure to provide plenty of food. Dry (wilted) leaves can have a toxicity. Maple an cherry are both known for this. If the pigs have plenty to eat they are not likely to resort to eating the leaves. I would recommend hay, or at least straw, if available instead of the leaves because the hay is good food, especially when complemented by dairy. See this post.

    Have fun with your pigs.

  25. sergio says:

    Hi, Walter. Thanks for the great blog. I want to start raising pigs. I have nice regular pasture, mixed varieties in it. I have like 32 acres of it. I have some cows, chickens, and horses. I live in a temperate climate (5 deg C – 20 deg C) with no winters, (I live in the tropics at 3000 meters above sea level). Right now cows go first into the pasture, then horses follow. Chickens can go wherever they want anytime. How do you think pigs could go into this scheme? Can they harm the pasture which I need for the milk cows? And lastly, can they grow exclusively on pasture?

    I am planning to raise some trout too eventually because I have a lot of clean flowing water year long. Can I feed all the trouts guts to the pigs? Will it hurt them if it is quite a lot of fish guts? Will it taint he meat? I want to do a system wherever the species help each other out. The used trout water for example is very rich in nitrogen, which I can use for pasture irrigation and for the garden.

    Walter, thanks again for your help.


  26. First realize I don't have horses, cows or trout… :)

    Our pigs do well on our pasture. It doesn't look like a lawn, but then it is real pasture. The trick is proper rotation. If you leave the pigs on too long they, just like cows, will rut the land. Proper rotation results in the pigs mostly grazing. The small amount of rooting they do aerates the soil and improves the pasture. The chickens that follow (see below) will smooth the soil down again.

    I would rotate the pigs after the cows and horses as the pigs will eat the manure which has lots of nutrients left in it. The chickens should follow as they will break apart the pig manure and scavenge pests & parasites.

    I've never fed fish to pigs. I have read that feeding ocean fish can make the pork taste fishy and that the solution is to finish the pigs for the last month on something else with no fish in their diet.



  27. Anonymous says:

    Hi Walter! First of all I want to say how helpful all of this information is. I dont like technology or the internet very much but seeing inspiring information like this is refreshing. I have a been doing my research on raising pigs. Our neighbors and us are going half on raising two pigs. We all want to see if this is something we would like to do for our families. We will start small with two pigs, one for each family, and then decide from there if we will continue next year. Seeing how I am the only “stay at home adult” between our two families I realize that the most of the care taking of the pigs will be on my shouldes. This is aside from the children I care for and our chickens, goats and our pets. I decided to read about any risk associated with raising ur own meat. I have found articles about MRSA in pigs an pig farmers. Is this something I need to be concerned about? In other countries there has been possible evidence of MRSA being in the national food system. The same articles have stated that about 1/2 the pigs in the world carry MRSA. I do not want to be paranoid into NOT raising our own pigs. I do believe anything we raise here will be worlds better than the meat purchased at the store. I just want to make sure I never put my family or my neighbor’s family at risk for any health concerns. Sorry if I sound a bit freaked about this. I just want to make sure I make the right decisions when it comes to what I put into my family. Thank you for your time and the wealth of information! ~Jenn, N.H.

  28. Jenn,

    I have read some of these scary articles about pigs and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) too. At first I was greatly concerned but reading more deeply I discovered that the problem is 1) in confinement operations and 2) caused by their feeding of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics. In other words, the factory farms were the place the disease was found and the factory farms were the source of the disease.

    But it gets more complicated than that with the different strains. One interesting tidbit was:
    “The first is the same type of MRSA that has been infecting swine in Europe and spreading to humans. It’s called ST398. The second predominant strain is called USA100, and it has been most often associated with human cases of MRSA, suggesting the pigs caught it from the people.”

    Interestingly, MRSA was also found in cats, dogs and horses as well as people caring for them. The biggest source of MRSA that I have read about is hospitals.

    Another interesting thing I read was that they were not actually finding MRSA or testing for it but rather testing for the antibodies.

    I don’t know the final word on this. Time will tell. It seems to me that the best way to avoid it is to do like you want to do and raise your own pork without antibiotics. While you are at it you get to skip all those other nasties like pesticides, herbicides, etc. This is how we got started, providing healthy food for our own family.

    While you’re at it, drop a letter to your Congress critter letting them know you oppose the use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics, especially human types, for livestock.



  29. Anonymous says:

    Hi I have a very quick question. This is my first year raising a pig. & I probably made one of the most stupid mistakes ever. This year is my first year showing, and we had to shave our pigs. & this being my first year I shaved him off completely, not knowing I had to leave either 1/2 to an inch of hair. Not quite sure. My pig got into a fight with another pig and has many scratches and looks horrible. Is there anyway I can help increases it's appearance? This is where I will be selling my pig for meat.

  30. Anony, I’ve never shown pigs, nor have I ever shaved one. Hard to imagine! It will take time for the cuts to heal. Perhaps a bit of anti-septic would pretty them up and make them heal faster. Then there’s cosmetics like actors and actresses use to hide scars, I suppose that would be next. Really though, none of that’s really necessary. It matters more how much meat and fat the pig has, how it tastes, etc. Best of luck. Cheers, -Walter

  31. Brigitte says:

    I am curious to know whether I can house two pigs (Tamworth-berkshire cross) in an area of about 10 by 12 – this 120 square feet is the limit in my town for a structure which can be built without a building permit (a lengthy and costly process which also risks a tax increase)
    Is this sufficient, perhaps with the addition of a small outside area?
    thank you

  32. Brigitte, yes, that is plenty of housing space for two pigs and do give them some outside space too along with that. If you put that shed in the middle of a garden, let’s say at least 36’x36′, you would end up with a nine-square like a tic-tac-toe board sort of like wheel of life. Make the shed such that you can rotate the pigs between the garden spaces. Some of them you use for the pigs, some for gardening.

    One year the pigs might get rotated between sections 1, 2, 3 on a ten day schedule.

    The pigs’ hut is in section 5 in the middle.

    Sections 4 and 6 had the pigs the previous year and would would be off ground plants like broccoli, pumpkins and tomatoes.

    Sections 7, 8, 9 are in ground plants like lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, etc.

    Rotate it around and add in some chickens for an even better system. With a hut you’ll need to clean out the bedding once in a while, every spring and fall. Put that into a compost pile to make black gold.

    Of course, a bit larger space than 36’x36′ would be even better but you don’t want the area to be too big if it is just two pigs.

    Have fun and enjoy your home grown foods.



  33. Anonymous says:

    Hello and thank you for such great information on pigs. It’s hard to find info on meat pigs – seems like all info is on pets. We are first time pig farmers, and plan to keep four this summer. Our plan has been to keep them in a 40′ x 40′ pen with a couple of goats until we can get better fencing in. How long would you say that size pen will keep everyone happy? The ground here in central Alaska is slow to thaw, so we must wait on nature. Also, what type of winter quarters do pigs need? It sometimes gets down to -70 at night in the winter. Our goats are very hardy, but if we decide to winter a pig, we want it to stay healthy. Thank you for all the advice.

  34. Divide your pen up into a nine square and rotate the pigs through it planting behind them. This makes a tiny pasture. With only a couple of pigs that can be close to sustainable.

    Winter is a trick. I lived in Alaska a few times. Here in Vermont we only get to -45째F and usually only to -20째F most of the winter. The big issue is wind. They need protection from it and lots of dry bedding. I would suggest a long tunnel like house that is open for ventilation. Build up a deep pack of bedding in there during the late summer and fall. Do not clean it out. Keep adding more hay or other carbon. I like hay. This will compost making it warmer. You need several pigs. I would suggest four at least. One alone will be too cold.

    Water is the next trick. Put a waterer in the back. That will help to keep it open longer. Use one you can break the ice out of. Maybe one small enough to carry back into the house to melt. Rubbermade or a half barrel works.

  35. christina says:

    I am interested in buying two weanling American Mulefoot Hogs. Is is practical to raise one to eat and one to breed for future meat? Should I get two Sows (one to breed via insemination or taking her for a boar visit…), or one sow and one boar to mate…then eat the boar? This will be my first experience with raising pigs but I know I am going to fall in love with these creatures. I would love to raise my own on a very small scale.

  36. Christina, I don’t know much about the Mulefoot hogs so I can’t comment on them specifically. I would suggest getting two or three gilts plus a boar or planning on doing AI. Breed them. Which ever doesn’t take, if any, eat. If you do get a boar, yes you can eat him after you are sure the gilts are pregnant. Do read about boar taint. I don’t know if it shows up in those pigs. Cheers, -Walter

  37. Vermak says:

    Hi Walter,

    I’m wondering what your thoughts are on feeding meat scraps to pigs. Also, I gave them some fish meal along with their barley grain last year. I was planning to do the same this year. I am in Alaska and do not want to buy out of state grain for protein (like corn and soy) and also don’t want the GMO’s. So my options are limited. Thoughts on feeding pigs fish meal? I cut it out of their ration a couple of months before slaughter so the meat did not taste fishy at all.

  38. We don’t feed our pigs meat scraps – the dogs and chickens get all there is available of that. We don’t, currently, have access to fish as a protein source. I have read of people feeding that. There is an issue of a fishy taste and smell to the meat. The solution, that I’ve read, is to switch the pigs off of the fish meat for the last month. I also read a scientific research paper that said it takes two weeks for a flavor to exit the fat. This would be related.

  39. Justin says:

    If my current shelter for the pigs is not in the “center square” of the tic tac toe pasture rotation, do I simply run the pigs back to the shelter each evening and then run them to the square that they are currently using as pasture?

  40. Yes, that will work, or simply setup the paddocks so there is a corridor from the home paddock, where ever it is, to the in use paddock. Alternatively, you could move the home paddock to the in use paddock each time you move the pigs to a new square. The idea is to be moving them. The home square idea is that it is in the safest place in the middle and gives them a familiar place to return to. Don’t feel constrained by geometry to lay out perfect squares.

  41. Jerry says:

    Great site Walter. I am new here but am enjoying (and learning) a great deal. I love that one can grow up on a farm and still learn all sorts of new things.

    Quick question, ever tried feeding crushed coal to your pigs? I haven’t come close to reading all the posts and comments yet, and probably never will so I hope its not a redundant question. Growing up, we had a wood stove that got chunks of coal at night. So at the bottom of the coal bin was always lots of well crushed coal that our pigs seemed to see as candy.

    Peace and comfort to you and yours.

  42. I think you mean charcoal, that is burnt wood, rather than what I am familiar with as coal (the mined stuff). The answer is yes, our pigs eat charcoal when they get the chance. In the process of cleaning up the fields we’ve had many a cookout in the pastures. The pigs seem to be quite fond of chewing on the burnt logs. I suspect they’re getting minerals from the charcoal.

  43. Jerry says:

    Actually I meant in mined stuff. And yep, they get minerals from it, or from charcoal as well.

  44. Huh! Coal mine coal! Interesting. We don't have that around here so I haven't seen that being eaten. Makes sense. They have a strong teeth. I have seen pigs chew rocks. Not clear if they're actually eating them or just rolling them around in their mouth and making awful grinding sounds with their teeth. :)

  45. Anonymous says:


    In our pasture we have goats, a donkey, and one rooster. Would it be alright to pasture a pig with the rest of these animals?

  46. Our pigs pasture with sheep, chickens, ducks, geese and in the past with guineas. It is important to have baby animals, lambing ewes and nesting poultry protected from the pigs but otherwise it works well for us. I have heard of some people who had problems so I suspect that part of the issue is how the pigs are raised and also how much space is available. Try it, starting with weaner pigs – if there is a problem, separate them.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Have been reading your blog.. fantastic.. however i have not yet found anybody talking about sunburns. I have a york/cross and she is white of course and loves to lay in our Hot AZ sun. How can we let her roam but stay out of the sun? I have her pinned in out of the sun, then let her out as it sets. She wont stay out of it and is getting sunburn, Have put sunscreen but get s expensive and isnt working all the time. Plus the small quarters and the smell and flys are harindous.. HELP

  48. One word: Mud.

    Mud provides sunscreen, fly protection, skin moisturizer and cooling all in one wonderful (according to our pigs) package. They can't recommend it enough.

    Plenty of shade is also important. Our pigs spend the mid-day high sun hours mostly in the brush.

    Do note that our climate is very different than yours. You get much more solar radiation than we do. Perhaps a darker pig would help such as the Large Black or one of the other highly pigmented pigs.

  49. Anonymous says:

    hey new to this so bare with me. we own a large trac of land and we are avid hog hunters but our area doesnt have wild hogs so we want to fence it and stock it where my concern comes in is if i use 4 foot field fence how do i keep them from rooting out the bottom will i have to stake it and if so how often,will this even hold them it has to be fenced cause in alabama its illegal to turn hog out not in a fence thanks jerry

  50. Put a hot wire about 6" in from the fence line and 8" up from the ground. This should stop rooting along the bottom of the fence. Check it time to time. Also watch the fence line voltage which will tell you if they have pushed dirt up on the wire or otherwise shorted it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.