Terms of the pig and Frequently Asked Questions…
- %DMI is Percent Dry Matter Intake which is how feeds are measured by discounting the water portion of the food. If you know the %DMI and the feed item then you know the nutrition. For example, our pigs eat about 80%DMI pasture, up to 7%DMI dairy (mostly whey), up to 2%DMI spent barley from a local brew pub, 0.5% to 1% dated bread from a local bakery and the rest is apples, pears, pumpkins, nuts, beets, turnips, etc. This might be written as simply 80% pasture, 7% dairy, etc.
- Gilt – A female pig who has not yet had piglets. Not all pigs are fertile, just like with other species, so even an older female pig may be a gilt. A gilt may start heating around five months but generally does not come into true fertile heat cycles (21 days) until about eight months with her first litter occurring at about one year. Some will have their first litters as early as ten months – we call these Lolitas – and they do fine. Mouse, who lived to eight years old and 800 lbs and has had many large litters, was a Lolita. Gilts grow the slowest and have the highest amount of fat on them. If you are looking for maximum lard on a pig then get a gilt piglet of the lard body form (shorter length) and feed it a high calorie diet in the warm months of summer.
- Barrow – A young male pig who has been castrated. We do not castrated pigs as it is not necessary because we do not have boar taint in our herds through genetics, feed and management. Barrows grow about 10% slower than boars but about 10% faster than gilts and are fattier like gilts.
- Boar – A male pig who still has the family jewels – e.g., he has not been castrated. Boars can breed and generally start showing some sexual activity around four months although not strongly until closer to six months. At ten months they generally start to hit their reproductive stride. Boars grow the fastest, about 10% faster than barrows who are faster than gilts. We breed for good temperament in all of our pigs – an important factor no matter what the sex of the animal. Half our pigs are boars since we stopped castration a decade ago and do not have boar taint in our genetic lines with our feed and management on pasture.
- Stag – An older male pig that has been castrated.
- Runt – A pig who has something wrong with it which makes it not thrive. Runts are smaller than the other pigs and the litter and may die but they may also grow to slaughter age. Runts should not become breeders. It could be a simple congenital problem or it might be genetic. Just because a pig is the smallest in a litter does not qualify it as a runt.
- Boar Taint – The much feared and discussed but rarely ever found bad smell that is in some breeds and lines of pigs. Boar taint is actually quite rare as scientific studies have shown. In the few breeds of pigs have it boar taint can generally be controlled through better management such as pasturing, rotational grazing, feeding fiber (e.g., grass & hay) as well as milk, selective breeding, separation from females and other methods rather than castration. Interesting facts:
- 25% of people can’t smell or taste boar taint;
- sows have boar taint in some breeds; and
- boar taint is caused by two chemicals, skatole and androstenone. Skatole is formed in the intestines and androstenone is formed in the gonads and the adrenal glands so castration is no protection against boar taint.
- Castration – The practice of cutting off the testicles of a pig, or other male animal. This is generally done without anesthesia and may result in complications or even the death of the animal. Many countries are now outlawing castration as inhumane. See boar taint. Castration is not necessary. We do not do it. If you buy piglets and want them castrated we recommend you take it to a vet.
- Sow – A female pig who has farrowed. Typically 300 to 800 lbs.
- Farrow – To give birth to a litter of piglets.
- Litter – A litter is a group of piglets born together from one farrowing of a sow. An average litter size is a little more than eight with some extra-ordinary sows like Big Pig, Flip, Flop, Flo, Petra and Blackie’s line regularly having litters of 14 to even 19 piglets. This is why teats on a sow count. Teats on a boar count because how many teats a boar has is an indicator for how many his daughters will have. More fully developed teats means more milk available and more, larger, healthier weaned piglets per litter. Typically pigs have eight to 12 teats. All of our sows have at least 14 teats and some have 16 teats. Teat count is a selectable characteristic that can be bred for.
- Sound – A group of piglets that may consist of more than one litter. As they move across the pasture they make a sound of piglets.
- Herd – A group of pigs of any age.
- Weaning – Removing piglets from the mother so they stop nursing and she can dry up. There comes a time in the sow’s life when she wants to be free of the piglets but they won’t leave her alone. She will lay flat on her teats for hours to protect herself, unable to getup to go pee, eat or drink. This is why we wean piglets off of sows. Years ago we experimented with letting the piglets naturally wean and it didn’t work. The sows became nursed down. Beyond about eight weeks they get no benefit from continued nursing and can hurt the health of the sow. If left on a sow too long the piglets can suck the sows condition down. We generally wean in batches between four and eight weeks – a point at which the piglets have long been eating pasture, hay, whey, cheese and other good foods.
- Piglet – Newborn to about 4 to 6 weeks of age. Piglets are not pets. (Note that these age terms, times, ages and weights are approximations, there is no absolute cut off and in some cases, especially the weaner ages, many people use differing terms and definitions.)
- Suckling – A piglet still nursing, recently weaned and still on a dairy diet such as weaner. People looking for the milk fed are looking for that special flavor and tenderness in the meat. Since our pigs are dairy fed the suckling roaster stage is extended up through the weaner age.
- Weaner – Young weaning pig. 4 to 8 weeks of age and 20 to 40 lbs hanging weight which corresponds to anywhere from 20 to 50 lbs live weight. The term weaner has more to do with the act of weaning than the actual age since weaning happens at different ages depending on the season. In the spring piglets can be weaned earlier but in the cold of the fall it is good to let them nurse longer. In August we let them nurse longer simply as a way of managing the sow’s heat since she’s less likely to rebreed while nursing. Weaners are kept in tightly fenced pastures as a group, often with a few older grower or shoat piglets to show them the ropes.
- Weiner – A sausage. Sometimes people write wiener when they mean weaner. See Weaner above.
- Shoat – Young weaned pig. 2 to 3 months of age and 40 to 60 lbs hanging. Once the piglet is fully weaned it moves into this next grouping and may join a herd as part of a cohort.
- Grower – 3 to 4 months of age and 60 to 90 lbs hanging. Often used for small pig roasts. Small roasters take less time to cook than big roasters and are an especially good choice if it is your first time doing a pig roast.
- Feeder – A pig that is intended for raising to feed out as a finisher pig for slaughter as opposed to a pig that is being raised for breeding. Some people incorrectly use the term feeder to refer to a grower pig. Feeder is a determination of purpose, not size although it is colloquial.
- Roaster – 4 to 5 months of age and 90 to 150 lbs hanging. Often used for pig roasts, thus the term. Small roasters take less time to cook than big roasters and are an especially good choice if it is your first time doing a pig roast. The term roaster is a bit vague because it you can roast a pig of any size from a suckling piglet all the way up to a 1,000 lb boar or beyond. However the typical roaster that most people are looking for events is about 75 to 150 lbs hanging weight.
- Finisher – 5 to 6 months of age and 200 to 250 lbs live weight yielding a top weight of 180 lbs hanging. These are pigs in their last month or so before going to the butcher. The last 30 days or so is when the flavor is put into the fat and meat. This is the size pig generally used for slaughter in the United States because the growth curve starts to flatten out and it becomes more expensive to gain more weight beyond this point.
- Market Hog – 6 to 8 months of age and about 300 lbs live weight which gives about 200 lbs hanging weight. Feed for flavor in the last 30 days just like with finishers. This is our goal hog size at Sugar Mountain Farm as it optimizes meat quality and the costs vs return on investment with our pastured farming methods. The time to this weight varies with the season – winter means slower growth like with all things.
- Block Hog – Hog on the auction block ready for slaughter. See Market Hog above.
- Swine – Pigs.
- Pig – Sus domestica a.k.a. Sus scrofa domestica the domestic pig.
- Breeder – A particularly prime pig of excellent qualities that is selected as breeding stock. See boars and gilts. We select about 5% of females and about 0.5% of males as potential breeders to be tested with their first breeding. The best of these continue on the farm to join the breeding herd.
- Market Weight – 250 lbs is the typical Live Weight in modern times. See Finishers above. We can grow pigs larger or smaller to fit your needs. This weight is reached at approximately six months during the warm seasons and a little longer during the cold seasons.
- Hanging Weight – 180 lbs or 72% of live weight of 250 lbs.
- Commercial Cuts – 120 lbs or 67% of the hanging weight is standard commercial cuts yield for things you see in the typical grocery store like pork chops, sirloin, tenderloin, ham, shoulder, belly, ground, etc. The adventurous cook can eat like the farmer and get a yield more like 90% of the hanging weight by also using the oddments.
- Oddments – Back fat, leaf lard, hocks, trotters (feet), jowl, head, tail, ears, tongue, organs, etc.
- Organs – Heart, liver and kidney.
- Offal – The portion of guts (stomach, intestines), lungs, blood and such that the butcher discards. This is not available from the butcher at this time as a special HACCP/PR must be filed with the USDA for the sale and handling of these products. At our on-farm slaughterhouse we will be able to compost the offal to return it to the mountain from whence we came.
- Specialty Products – Pork is a versatile meat that has been made into a myriad of delicious treats through brining, smoking, curing, stuffing and other age old techniques:
- Belly – bacon
- Tongue – brined, smoked and thinly sliced on cheese and crackers
- Trotter – Soups and stews for thickening
- Ham – Brined and smoked
- Heart – Thin sliced and stir fried
- Ears – Slow cooked, fried and tossed on salad
- Liver – Finest patés
- Ground – Hot dogs, kielbasa, sausages, pepperoni, salami.
- Pet Pigs – A smaller breed of pig like the Pot Bellied Pigs. We do not sell pet pigs. Our pigs are large farm pigs that can reach well over 1,000 pounds in a few years. They can easily eat you out of house and home… and then there is the other end of the issue. Pigs can bite and they have very strong jaws with sharp teeth. They also weigh a lot and can step on you or crush you up against a wall or something just like a horse or cow could. If you want a pet I recommend a cat, dog, ferret or the like. See these articles.[1, 2, 3]
- Poll – The pole is the place on the head where the horns attach. To gauge the length of a pig measure from the poll back to the base of the tail where it attaches to the pig’s butt as described in the article How to Weigh a Pig with a String.
- Polled – Polled is the term used for animals that don’t have horns. This could be that the horns have been cut off or simply that the animals have been bred to not grow horns. Pig horns are considered magical and instilling good luck and vitality when worn on a leather thong around the owners neck. The horn was clearly not good luck for the boar. Sows do not have horns in any known breed of pig. I have not seen any cases of unicorn pigs.
- Tusks – All adult pigs have ivory tusks. The tusks on sows are only a few inches long and mostly rooted in the lower jaw so they may not be easily visible. The tusks on boars grow continuously and can reach a foot or longer, curling around in a circle. Since the boars continuously grind their tusks they are very sharp. See these pages for pictures and stories about tusks.
- Deposit – A deposit is money you put down to secure your order. In the case of piglets it gets your name on the reserve list. In the case of roasters it gets your pig taken out of the freezer and started thawing for frozen pigs and taken to the butcher for fresh pigs. For whole and half pigs it gets your pig’s date with the butcher. Deposits are non-refundable. If you are not going to be able to use what you reserved, see if you can find someone else to buy it to protect your investment in the deposit.
- Discussion Groups – There are quite a few online discussion groups about raising pastured pigs:
• Pastured Pigs
• Pastured Pigs for Meat and Profit
• Salt Cured Pig
i just noticed your killing weight (250lbs),we are brining five pigs for slaughter next week and were told that the weight had to be approx 70kg (150lbs) because they only put fat on after this weight, what is your thought on this, (these are live weight)
Pigs don’t tend to put on much fat until their over the 200 lb mark but diet, as well as genetics, make a big difference. e.g., You can have a very fat young pig or a thin older pig – just over feed them and boost the calories. Animals raised out on pasture don’t tend to be fat as they get more exercise and a lower calorie diet.
For market efficiency 250 to 300 lbs is our ideal goal live weight. This is because of several factors but mostly how the butcher’s pricing structure works which has a significant economic impact. However, pigs can be eaten at any size – we’ve had 800 lb sows and boars that were delicious although like big beef and lamb they require some hanging time. Some people like little suckling and weaner pigs for oven roasting. This is a specialty dish for celebrations in many cultures. For BBQ roasters the pigs typically run around the 70 to 200 lb range although they could be larger or smaller. For big hams, prosciutto, etc people raise the pigs to larger sizes.
The other reason that most pigs are slaughtered in the 200 to 300 lb range is that their growth rate slows down some time in that range. For people raising pigs on grain, e.g., store bought feeds, this is a critical issue as they want to put the weight on fast to avoid costs. As the rate of gain curve flattens out somewhere around 250 lbs the cost per additional pound of gain goes up.
How much space can a pig turn a grown over field to plantable space?
err, I should have said how much space over a summer season into fall until slaughter?
I don’t have an exact answer as there are so many variables but see the post about “How much land per pig” which will give you some ideas.
It’s needless to say that this article is beneficial. Do you mind if I borrow your faq for my farm web site?
Feel free but please provide a clickable link back to this FAQ page on my blog. Realize that I update the FAQ time to time with new information so rather than copying and pasting the content a link will service your readers best.
I don’t know if I’m doing this right,..but you guys have alot of great info on pigs,..info that I feel I can trust. My question is about pot bellied pigs. There’s so much misinformation about the potbelly in the first place,….what is a julian or teacup potbelly? I ask this because they’re asking up to $ 1’500 for one of these little guys!!! Is there such a thing,…or is it a runt? Apparently alot people believe it because there’s more then a few awesome, detailed websites about them. I figured you all would be the ones to ask,…if not, thanks for taking the time to read this…. Denise
I don’t know about Pot Bellied pigs from first hand experience since we deal with farm pigs. From what I understand, they were originally kept as kitchen or court yard pigs in Asian households, often in town or cities where people couldn’t have larger livestock. This gave the families a source of meat, animal protein and fats. The Pot Bellied pigs were small and took up little space. They acted as live composters, eating the family’s scraps.
Later the Pot Bellied pigs were brought to other countries and sold as pets, bypassing the zoning that had blocked people from keeping farm pigs in growing urban and suburban areas. Some of those really were pets and others were labeled pets but kept for meat.
My understanding is that the Pot Bellied pigs generally get to 150 to 300 lbs at full adult size. Claims vary widely and I suspect that has to do with both diet and genetics as well as at what age they were measured and their health. This is much smaller than the 600 to 1,500 lbs of big farm pigs. Through selective breeding and, from what I’ve heard, dietary deficiencies, some people have produced smaller pigs. They are not teacup size at adulthood but there is a lot of marketing of them pictured at that size as piglets. Very cute photos. From what I’ve read the Tea Cup version gets to 50 or 100 lbs at adulthood. I’ve never seen one other than the photos on the net.
I would suggest checking out Wiki as a starting point of information and follow the links from there.
Hi there, we just adopted 2 ‘teacup’ pigs. Gracie is 7 years old and is around 40lbs and Georgie is an intact 1 year old male and is about 50lbs. Both are under 2 feet tall. The main issue we are having with them is finding something they can drinkout of, but can’t tip over because they are so short.
You might try a large dog dish made of metal and then fill the underside with concrete to make it heavy. The kind dog dish I got for piglets at Tractor Supply has a sloping angle so the piglets can’t get their nose under it to flip it up when they kick in their rooting instinct because it is also heavy from the concrete. Another alternative is to sink a barrel into the ground. This is what we do with field waterers which stops the pigs from flipping them. See Winter Whey Water and South Weaning Paddock.
I have several questions: do you have different size/age groups separated out? I think I remember reading that you just borrow a boar from time to time and don’t keep any on site, is that right?
Last two, and this is where we are having our most difficulties/inefficiencies and need the most advice: castrating: how do you get the piglets away from the sows without getting killed when they are out in the pasture? And, yes, I’d love to get away from castrating altogether. the one problem is that we let our lard pigs grow out for about a year and our numbers are pretty low with the bacon pigs yet, so one “ruined” pig would be quite a blow. Finally, how do you get your finished pigs on a trailer to the butcher when they are out in pasture – do you have holding pens you walk them to or hydraulic crates you take out there…? Would love whatever info you can provide!! Many, many thanks! Steph
Actually, we have lots of boars. We have three breeding boars currently, Archimedes, Speckles and Guy Noire. We had Spot and Big’Un until last year – they were brothers and passed away in the same year in their sleep.
During the summer we tend to run our herds as mixed groups. In the winter we tend to separate them out by sizes. This prevents the smaller ones from getting crushed.
We don’t castrate. We do not find castration necessary because our herd’s don’t have boar taint. Read all about it here. Most pigs don’t have taint – it’s rare and genetic as well as caused by certain feeds (commercial corn/soy) and management styles (pens). Test boars of progressively older ages to figure out if you need to castrate. The advantage of not castrating, besides it being more humane, is that boars grow faster and put on more meat and less fat than barrows. Boars are more efficient at turning feed into meat than barrows or sows. Boars also tend to grow larger at the same age. We have seen this dramatically. One example is that Happy, one of our sows, and Speckles, one of our boars are litter mate brother and sisters. Both were that top prime percent that were worth keeping. Speckles was nearly twice Happy’s size by one year and he has continued to be far larger than her now that he is an adult boar. I would not be surprised if he reaches three quarters of a ton like his father. Happy on the other hand will probably top out at 700 to 800 lbs.
For loading we have a sorting pen that leads up to a loading ramp which our van docks with. We call the pigs and then pick out the ones we want. I have a couple of posts I’m working on that will talk about this in more detail. See this a very old post from when we used to use a mini-van instead of our big cargo van. The trick is to have a calm situation where the one way for the pigs to go is the way you want. Realize that we’re loading selected pigs every week instead of all our pigs once a year. If you are just doing it once a year then simply park the trailer out in the field with food and bedding. Let them make that their home and then close the door one night so you can drive away in the morning.
Do you have any trouble selling your boars in the meat market. Or do they go to market early or do you allow them to get market weight?
No trouble at all. We’ve proven through testing to not have taint. I’ve harvested thousands at market age (~250 to 300 lbs) and many at higher weights. Taint is a function primarily of genetics, feed and management. See the article about taint for more details, read the comments too and follow the links in the article to other articles and scientific research on this fascinating topic.
I live in plainfield and was wondering where i can get info about small “nano-scale” inspected processing facilities. To start with i don’t want to do any cooking or curing. I would assume if i was certified i would do a 20-50 animals a year for neighbors.
I have not got a response from the department of agg person who is the contact for new facilities in Vermont even after several phone calls.
I am looking for some basic floor plans and what is the minimum infrastructure i need.
See the Butcher Shop page and after you’ve read that follow the links there for more articles. Also see the Butcher Shop tag in the Tag Cloud in the right hand column for many articles about our adventures in starting up our own butcher shop.
The people we’ve been working with at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture (AoA) are Mr. Quenneville, Mr. Mitchel and Dr. McNamera. See the Contact Page on their web site. There is a departmental directory there. They have been most helpful.
The AoA has a web page about the requirements for different levels of processing. I think you might fall at the custom processing level. See this page on their site and follow the links onward.
You also may find the Vermont On-Farm Processing Report and Update of interest.
Hi Walter- I’ve been reading your blog on and off for the last year as I have ventured into raising my own pigs! I am very small scale and just getting started….I currently have 2 sows and a boar and I only kept 2 barrows from the litters my sows had last month.
I had a third sow and it is she that I have a question about. She was bred and due and I believe was going into labor when she died. She was a Duroc/Old Spot cross. This (my first) go around with farrowing I put the sows in a barn stall (they spend the rest of their time on pasture). (In the future I plan to have a paddock with an open shed for farrowing) This was to be Pearl’s first litter and she was 1 year old. She had been acting normal…peeing, pooping, eating, enjoying belly rubs, etc.. and then she started showing signs of impending labor…swelling vulva, laying on her side and sort of breathing in and holding it briefly and she basically stopped eating, but was still drinking. After 2 days she still hadn’t had her piglets and a I found her in the morning, dead. No blood, no piglets… The only other “evidence” I can think that may be telling is that she didn’t really build a nest like my other sows did. Do you have any idea what may have happened?
I love and respect what you’re doing in Vermont, we are in Virginia. I love my pigs and reading your blog has helped me in many ways! Thank you for any thoughts you may have on Pearl’s death.
Catherine, I’m sorry to hear about your pig’s death. It is possible that she had some congenital defect that made her not able to delivery. The fetuses may also have died in the womb and then her body became overwhelmed with the infection load creating septicimia or the like. There are some diseases like PPV that can result in this as well as some bacterial infections. The fact that she was not yet nesting suggests to me she wasn’t ready for labor and the fetuses were a dead load. A necropsy would reveal this. You would look to check for mummified fetuses. On the other hand if a piglet was caught in her vagina and blocking then you would find it in the vagina as a partial birth.
Two good resources for disease diagnostic are the disease problem solver thePigSite and check out the Merck Veterinarian Manual.
I recently had a pig die on me and I wasn’t for sure why. I noticed that it seemed to have a little trouble walking on it’s hind legs in the last 2 weeks. It would get up and set there for a few minutes before it was able to stand up and come to the trough. I thought that it was cause it was cold outside and it had been laying all day in the barn on it’s legs and maybe they were just stiff. Last night I got home from church and went out to feed my pig, “Shank Williams”, and I gave him some of my birthday cake that was getting old. They had baked me a red velvet cake that looked just like a pig and the part that I gave him had alot of red food coloring and icing on it. I came out this morning and he was layed over dead right next to the cake. Do you know if feeding pigs red velvet cake will kill them or maybe it had something to do with his legs? Any thoughts from you on this will help. Thanks
I’ve never heard of feeding velvet cake, or heard of velvet cake for that matter so I haven’t heard of it killing pigs either. I would doubt that was the cause of the pigs death since it was human grade food which usually won’t kill a human so it usually won’t kill a pig as they have hardier constitutions.
That said, I have heard of the hind leg failure but at the moment I’m forgetting the disease. Check the Disease Problem Solver at ThePigSite and you might be able to find something. I just looked quickly and didn’t find but dig more. If you figure it out, let me know.
I got 2 pigs about 6 weeks ago and built them a training area/pen in the goat lot (about 12 acres) to get them used to the electric fence and Me. My real question is do you know of something that pigs can’t/won’t cross. I am wanting to run a short fence around the Goats house, water and eating area to keep the pigs from pushing the goats away from their feed and to keep their water clean. If the pigs for example can’t climb a steep set of steps then that would still be easy for the goats to cross over the fence into their own “private” area. Thanks in advance!
I don’t know of any problems specifically with goats and pigs. I have heard people say that they don’t want their cattle, sheep and goats eating too much grain and since most people feed their pigs candy, er, I mean grain, this is an issue. i.e., You’ll need to keep the goats out of any pig feed.
Pigs are not very maneuverable nor generally good at jumping so tight corners and jumps could let the goats move to areas the pigs can’t get to. We have what we call man-gates or step-overs which we and the dogs can navigate but pigs and sheep can not handle.
Oh, I’m not at all worried with the goats eating anything out from under the pigs! My pigs really only get table scraps and a little bit of 12% All Stock at the end of the day. All day they spend in the woods digging or eating grass. My goat lot has WAY more woods than grass. The reason I got the pigs is because they are gonna eat stuff that the goats dont. At least I don’t think the pigs will eat leaves out of the trees… That, and goats really don’t eat table scraps. One other question, if the pigs mostly eat what they find out in the woods and the little bit of feed will it make them “gamey” tasting? Thanks!
Not in our experience. We do also feed dairy which provides lysine, an amino acid that tends to be limited in woods and pasture forages.
Also do you know of any trouble to be on the look out for with goats and pigs living in the same pasture?
He nice site you seem to be a bit of a pig guru and a pioneer in modern boar consumption, lol. Ok so i got a question. My father-in-law raises pigs of unknown breed comes from a local pig farm that is part of the largest supplier of pork. (i just googled) He has a boar that weighs in at least 900 lbs. It must be sterile or living an alternative pig lifestyle. Point is he talked about just taking boar to a flesh pit and killing and dumping to get rid of it. I was shocked by this because he is an extremely frugal guy and this seemed unlike him. He mentioned every one said it would taste awful. I mentioned it to my dad and my dad said something about posting it in a Latin market and it getting bought, I also figured they would know how to cook it well. Me seeing an opportunity to make a little money offered to sell it and split with father-in-law. Ok I know a lot of people in both the Hispanic and Polynesian communities. I found one interested party, but i want to sell for a fair and honest price. Thank you for your time and i am greateful for any input you have.
I would suggest he read this post about taste testing of live boars. Without knowing a lot more it is impossible to say if the boar has taint or not. Most pigs don’t. Genetics, diet and management all play a role. I’m too frugal to throw away a 900 lb boar without taking a bite first…
I’ve been doing a lot of research before we start our own little hobby farm, but my pig question at the moment is do y’all do your own hoof-trimming or do you have someone else do it? Also, how often is this needed?
Rocks. Put rocks around the waterers and feeders as well as on paths. This way the livestock naturally trim their own hooves. Save work.
“For market efficiency 250 to 300 lbs is our ideal goal live weight. This is because of several factors but mostly how the butcher’s pricing structure works ”
1) Can you explain the butcher pricing structure thing?
2)Given unlimited pasture, and therefore little increased cost, even though they grow more slowly: Is there any reason not to raise them to the 450 to 550 lb weight before slaughter?
This is something that varies a bit with the butcher you are working with. The one we have been working with for years, Adams Farm Slaughter in Athol, Mass., has their pricing set such that there is a fixed fee for cutting up to a 200 lb hanging weight which works out to a 300 lb live weight. Thus to optimize the cost efficiency a 300 lb live weight pig is ideal. Customers do not tend to want larger pigs as it results in very large pork chops. We raise on pasture and dairy but if you were feeding commercial hog feed then the cost of the feed would become a major concern since most pigs have a drop in efficiency of converting feed to meat after about 225 lbs to 250 lbs.
Personally, I love the meat from very large pigs. There is more marbling as the pigs grow larger. My favorite cut is the Boston butt steaks from a big sow, often 500 to 800 lbs live weight. Superb! Big boars taste very much like beef and delicious too but are much leaner than the sows.
First-thanks for all of the info on your site (not that I’ve read every bit-there’s a lot here!). It was a big help in deciding to try our hand at raising pigs, and also how I came in contact with Cole Ward, who came to our house and did one of his pig butchering workshops, which was excellent. Now for my question/dilemma:
I bought a bred sow last spring, who farrowed on May 4th. I sold some of the piglets, and kept 3. 2 of those are being raised for other people, and one was going to be for us. They are 2 boars and 1 gilt. I really liked the idea of not cutting the boars, and I figured that if they were all going to the butcher around 6 months or so, the “taint” issue should be nil, and they shouldn’t be sexually active yet. So they’ve all been in the same pasture together. Well, imagine my surprise when yesterday I looked out and saw the boys taking “turns” on their sister! She definitely looks like she’s in heat now.
I know from reading here that if the boys are sexually active, the chances of the dreaded “taint” are higher. I don’t at the moment have a way to separate them, and they are scheduled for the butcher November 12th. I was thinking (hoping) that those few weeks without her being in heat might help with this (though she’ll be due to come back into heat around then).
Thoughts or suggestions? I guess I will need to figure out a plan for the gilt as well now. Wait and see if she’s bred. This is what I get for gambling lol.
What I find is that generally the gilts heat for about two cycles, sometimes three, before they’ll take and get pregnant. Virtually all of them get pregnant in their eighth month and deliver around their first birthday at twelve months. Once in a while I’ll get a Lolita who gets pregnant as young as six months but never younger than that. I do see lots of sex play starting around three or four months. This is quite normal. Part of it is domination, social ranking. Part of it is preparation for future breeding.
Your gilt is around six months of age so I would expect her to start having heats about now but I would not expect her to get pregnant from the sexual experimenting they’re doing. The boars are also not shooting a full load yet – They start to hit their stride at about ten months or so.
However, she might get pregnant. If so then you would have piglets around mid-February. You’ll need to be very well prepared for that as it is a very hard time of year to farrow pigs.
I would just take her to butcher. First of all she’s probably not fertile yet. Second the eggs don’t settle for about a month. A female pig has 30 or more eggs, some get fertilized if she mates, then a small percentage of those settle in her uteruses and then some of those develop into fetuses. All that’s not happening for another month or so.
Her next heat should be in 21 days which will be about November 12th if she was heating today. If you are able to do slaughter a few days early you’ll avoid that. Some people say don’t slaughter a gilt or sow in heat. I’ve never seen a problem with it. If you do slaughter her when she is in heat, please report back if it was a problem with meat quality or not. I’m always interested in hearing other folks experiences.
Thanks Walter, sound advice. farrowing in February was not something I was looking forward to AT ALL. Just not really set up for it yet. Looks like the butcher for the three of them. I will let you know if she is in heat when she goes, and how that works out. I was thinking I would hold off until a bit later in the winter for her, as I have a good supply in the freezer right now already. I must say I’ve really enjoyed raising these guys from day 1, spent time with them and they are super gentle and affectionate even. I think another batch is in the near (but warmer) future.
Thanks again for the advice.
Is a 500 lb boar be eaten???
Will the meat have a taint smell????
Will it be too tuff to eat????
A friend has one for $100 and is it worth butchering?????
It depends on the animal’s genetics, management (pen vs pasture) and food (corn/soy->taint in some, high fiber pasture reduces or eliminates taint). We have eaten many boars well over 1,000 lbs and many sows well over 500 lbs and up to eight years of age. They were delicious and tender. The boars become more like beef as they get older. That is with our genetics, on pasture on a pasture/hay/vegetable and dairy diet. With other conditions your mileage will vary.
$100 is not a huge investment. 500 lbs is not a huge boar – some of ours have gotten over 1,700 lbs. My advice would to buy the boar, deworm him, put him on pasture or hay, feed a gallon or more of milk a day to him, get him off the corn/soy diet he is probably on right now and in two to three months slaughter him. If you want you can do a biopsy as described here so you can taste test him in advance of slaughter. When you slaughter him hang the carcass to dry age for a week. This is just like with beef.
Worst case is he has taint or is tough at slaughter. Some people make spicy sausages from old boars using just the boar’s lean and fat from either cattle or sows. Most of the taint is in the fat so this minimizes it and the spices hide it. That will be about 250 lbs of sausage.
I read on a site that you could tell if a sow was pregnant by its pregnancy indicator. Could you please tell me more info. We bought a sow around the beginning of Nov. and we is don’t know if she pregnant or not. Please Help!
You might be thinking of this article about the Pregnancy Indicator. I find it to be pretty accurate. It does vary some sow to sow and with age.
I found out about you from a member of AlbertaChickenEtc… They referred to you building your own butcher shop in response to increased gov’t regulation? Or something like that…. Just wondering what had happened.
I am very glad to read about the castrating and boar taint! Before we had even gotten pigs we were warned by someone who had eatten a pig, uncastrated, that tasted like eating human…. And that we must always have castrated pigs. I was…. Reluctant. My BS meter was up.
Ok, I breed dogs. Technically, a lot of breeders remove the tails of rat terriers and rottweilers but when they were born. It would have been like removing a finger. Why? For appearance? Europe and some canadian provinces have outlawed it (I’m canadian).
Anyway, i knew that i was unlikely to buy castrated piglets or do it myself…. We have our first piglets we are raising this year. I am very glad for this scientific research that helps support my instinct against castrating.
Also, I’m pleased to see you feed whey! It has been a terrrible year. First there was a killing frost in the spring that kjilled all blossums tooate in the year. Then there was the worst heat spell/drought in more than 100 yrs. Then there was rain/flooding, then a tropical storm (very rare). Then winter. Now it’s like springtime out… In january. Very odd. Anyway, all that has led to very little hay and a rise in feed/grain prices. So you would just feed your pigs hay during the winter?
I am looking for alternate sources of food as hay is so scare and expensive and even grain… I have looked into whey and it seems like it would make for delicious meat…. Well, if my mom let me eat any of our pigs. I love pork.
How much do you pay for whey? Do dairies just throw it out?
Thanks for your interesting blog. I am just starting through it now.
Also, just for anyone who doesn’t realize how smart pigs are – the guy I bought my large blacks from, 2 of his pigs would be fed in the morning and for months, unknown to him, would escape their roomy pen to graze on pasture or run around and play. They could tell time and always went back into the pen for their evening meal. He finally caught them at it. He loves his pigs. He rides his boar!
I think pigs would make good livestock guardians. If I had had full grown pigs amongst my sheep, perhaps I would not have lost any to coyotes.
Would the pigs have hung out with and protected sheep?
We finished the structural building for our on-farm butcher shop last month. We’re now working on finishing off the interior spaces for the inspector’s office, bathroom and initial cutting room. See the Butcher Shop page for more details.
See the Pig page for a discussion of what we feed. Pasture/hay+dairy is the basis of our pigs’s diet. The dairies must get rid of the whey and can’t put it down the drain. Putting it in the landfill is prohibitively expensive. We take it at no charge to them which saves them money so they deliver it to our farm. Look around for local cheese, butter and other dairy product producers who might need someone to take their whey.
Our pigs and sheep graze together but pigs are not good guardians. They hare herd animals with herd animal instincts, much like sheep. They don’t stop coyotes. That is the job of our livestock guardian herding dogs. If you have strong predator pressures I would suggest getting good dogs to help. They do a wonderful job.
Our Butchers are complaining!!!
Opinions please as to whether Gilts are better and tastier than Boars; the lads complain about a “Taint” on the boars and consider the meat to be inferior
Taint is caused by a combination of poor genetics, low fiber diet, corn/soy feed, crowded housing and possibly exposure to females. I would suggest better genetics, pasture raised pigs, feeding a high fiber diet and reducing the corn/soy in the diet. See these articles.
Thanks so much for having such a great site.
I have 6 pigs, 4 male and 2 females. They are about 4 months old. The males are not castrated. I’m planning on raising them until they are about 300 lbs. last time i raised pigs they were about 10 months when slaughtered. I was thinking of splitting their fenced area so I could separate the sexes. Is this what you would recommend if I don’t want to have sows? Thanks for any help on the issue.
Yes. At that age they’ll be quite sexually active.
At what age would you recommend separating them?
At four months they’re doing serious sex play. At six months one might see a Lolita get pregnant. Most gilts won’t get pregnant until eight months. Boars reach sexual maturity around ten months but can get a gilt or sow pregnant before that. Ergo in the four to five month range is a good separation time. Some breeds may vary. That’s with our Yorkshire x Large Black x Berkshire x Tamworth style farm pigs. I’ve heard people say the small breeds like Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pigs mature faster.
At what age/weight would you recommend switching from grower feed to finisher? I’m raising Yorkshire/duroc crosses.
I don’t feed commercial hog feed so I don’t know. I’m guessing around four months but you should check the label for he feed you’re using or the company literature to be sure.
How can you tell when a gilt has becomes pregnant? I’ve looked around and have found many different answers.
There are many signs that they show as their gestation progresses. One of the things I look at is the built in pregnancy indicator found on every gilt. Later other signs show such as a rounding of the belly, loosening of the back ligaments, breast development, etc. Pigs normally cycle at 21 days so the cessation of heat cycling is another sign.
Should a pregnant female pig be separated from all other pigs(male and female) as soon as its determined she’s pregnant? Thanks for your help. I’ve looked at many sites/farms and have found yours to be my favorite. It appears you have a wealth of knowledge and are willing to share and help others.
No, they like company – pigs are herd animals.
Hi Walter, your site gives great information. My question is about my pregnant sow she is due in the next week and I currently have a 3 month pig in with her. The young pig is one I bought for butchering and is not related to the pregnant sow, after the sow has her litter should I move the 3 month old pig out of the pasture away from the sow. Thanks Dennis.
Naturally out in the field our sows seek a private place, build a nest and defend it so other pigs will not sleep with them so that when they farrow they don’t have the complications of other pigs to worry about. For this reason I would suggest separating the two pigs a couple of weeks prior to her farrowing date. After the piglets are two weeks old they may be fine mixing together. Good luck with your upcoming litter!
We now live in a old farm house and have cut 30 cords of wood this year! We want to build a small house to live in and expand alittle as we go.My question is about your well and septic. did you start with these, in the beginning from the old house or how did you get these.between these it will be $20,000. and we wanted to do these farely cheap. It will cost us about $30,000. for power, so we were thinking solor or propane but I have the same fear with propane.the expense isn’t building the house. it the power,well and septic.Any Help? And thank you for sharing your story with use,Stephanie
The $7,000 for construction of our cottage cottage is for the construction of the cottage and does not include the purchase of the land, water, septic or electric since these were already existing from the old farm house. Septic costs vary tremendously with location and system from a low of about $3,000 to $50,000 that I’ve heard. Wells go from $1,000 to $25,000 depending on local permitting, depth to water and all that sort of thing. Electric hookup might be as little as a couple thousand to $80,000 or more depending on how far it is to power. Seriously look at solar hot water and solar electric – the prices are plummeting. Starting with a location that has an existing house and replacing that house can eliminate some ore all of these costs as we did. Very site dependent.
This is the best pig faq I’ve seen. Thanks for putting it together!!
Hello Walter, longtime reader!
We raise Large blacks out on pasture and have just recently secured a steady supply of whey. 500 gallons per week. One of the final details is discussion of compensation. They asked what I thought was fair for their 500 gallons of whey. I have looked all around and cannot find any farms that discuss cost for me to base an offer on. I will be picking up from their farm once per week. From reading on your blog it seems you get your free. Any idea what a going rate is?
Thanks for your sharing your expereince and expertise.
Unfortunately there is not a lot of value. It takes a lot of whey to raise a pig. I would give them some chops or something but do out your numbers carefully before doing more than that. In a year you’ll have a better sense of how it works out for you with the trucking.
I’m raising American Guinea Hogs. My first litter, the sow died the day after farrowing (probably the heat last summer and I didn’t know she was pregnant!) I raised 5 in the bathtub for a while. Great learning experience! I kept a gilt, sold 3 as breeding stock, and kept a boar that didn’t look like he had good confirmation. The neighbor was going to cut him, but never got around to it. He’s in with my breeding boar for at least another month. The second litter, had everything prepared, had a litter of 8 but one died. This time I have not been able to sell breeding stock. 5 stoats, and the neighbor hasn’t made it over to cut them (It’s been 8 weeks since I bought all the equipment, so it’s not going to happen. Luckily, I have people who want to buy these guys small to try smoking them whole. I will still have two gilts. I don’t need to butcher them, as I have plenty of meat in the freezer. I do want to put them out with their mother and the gilt from the other litter, who are in the pasture with my Dexters. I just don’t know how to separate them from their brothers. They flock like birds. They are 5 months old and probably weigh 50-60 lbs. My neighbor used to raise show pigs, but he’s been tied up, so I can’t count on his help. Any ideas on one person separating the little monsters? I asked at the co-op about someone teaching me to neuter the next litter and they suggested the local FFA teachers as a resource. I’ve seen plans for castration cradles for small piglets (younger than this group) What’s your idea on this?
To sort them, get them into a physically fenced small pen area with a gate in one corner that opens out. Have two or more people. One person should use a sorting board to bring each pig to be sent out to the corner at the gate. Once things are secure the gate person opens the gate and releases the pig out. Out might be to another pen or another field depending on your arrangement. This is a good time to observe the pigs, count teats, vaccinate, mark, etc. Give them treats as you go so the experience is pleasant and then in the future this can be done more easily. Stay calm and work smoothly.
I’m a bit surprised that they only weigh 50 to 60 lbs at five months. Bottle fed piglets are often behind and these are a smaller breed but that is quite small. It makes me think that either their diet is insufficient or they are wormy. You might want to do a fecal test on them to eliminate the latter.
As to castration, when they’re smaller you just do it in your lap upside down with their head under your non-dominant arm. At this size that will be more challenging. Some people do medium sized pigs like this by hanging them head down in a barrel while they work. This may take three people. Alternatively, since they are so large, you may want to get a vet to do the castration if you need to do it. We don’t castrate but that requires assuring yourself you don’t have taint issues in your pigs.
I see you mentioned that you will be composting the Offal on your farm. How will you be doing this as I imagine you may have quite a pile each week?
The volume is not all that great, about 1,000 lbs wet weight a week which is just a couple of barrels worth. One compost bin 10’x10’x6′ could hold up to about half a year of that compost with bulking material of wood chips for carbon. We’re used to composting dead bodies on the farm already as we’ve had practice for years with composting deadstock. Some animals die, even of old age, here on the farm – not all go to butcher.[1, 2] The goodness in all this compost is it returns those nutrients to the soil, to the land, to the cycle of life. Far better that people would be composted when they died rather than the expensive rituals of pickling with poisons (embalming) or energy intensive crisping (cremation) that is so routinely done.
Right now with off-farm slaughter we miss out on all those nutrients. So, I look forward to that wonderfully rich soil amendment that we’ll create from the composting of offal.
I am curious as to when we can introduce our piglets to the rest of the herd. They 5 weeks and the second litter is 2 weeks old. I was told they can be put together almost immediately, but I am very skeptical about that. They are all growing well and strong so I do not want to do anything to mess that up.Thankyou for your time.
This is going to depend on your herd dynamics and setup – e.g., how much space you have for the herd. Out on pasture the sows seek privacy to farrow. About four to ten days later they introduce the piglets to the herd but they continue to keep more separate. By about two weeks to a month the piglets are running in large cohorts together and interacting with the larger members of the herd.
However, as the weather gets colder sleeping arrangements can become a problem for small pigs in with big pigs when there are large numbers especially. Thus as we go into mid to late fall we start sort out by sizes to go over the winter. We are now getting into the season where that will start to become a concern in our climate of the mountains of northern Vermont. Nights are in the 40’s to low 30’s here now in the end of September. October is when I usually tend to start considering this as a big concern.
First I would like to thank you for the wealth of knowledge you are sharing with everyone interested in raising pigs on pasture.
We recently bought a 30 acre farm and not to long after some pigs fell in our laps and now we are pig farmers. We got one boar, (100% large black) and two gilts (50/50 Large Black/Hampshire). I fenced off a half acre of pasture that is mostly brome but also a little native grasses. I give them about 3 lbs. of grain in the evenings to supplement their grazing. The boar and one of the gilts look very healthy and we are planning on breeding them. The other gilt doesn’t seem to be putting on the weight as the other gilt is. She does have a hurt leg and this may be causing her to not be able to compete for food as well as the other two. But with half an acre between the three of them I would think there would be plenty to go around. We want to butcher the smaller one but it seems like she has stopped growing. I haven’t measured her but I would guess she is about 100-125lbs right now. Should we just go ahead and butcher her or separate her out so she doesn’t have to compete for food? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
I have another question. The half-acre pasture we have them on is mostly brome with some native grasses. They are rooting around a lot. I thought being Large Blacks and having access to a half acre they would not root as much as they are. I don’t mind too much because this is where we are planning on putting our vegetable garden next year so them tilling it up is a good thing. I am worried about when I move them over to a fresh section that they will just root it all up. I have been hand broadcasting several different legumes and grasses to diversify the pasture so the pigs will have more to choose from. Will they continue to root the new pasture?
You might want to seed in alfalfa, clover, blue grass, millet, rape, kale, chicory, etc to improve the pasture.
If she isn’t gaining I would eat her now because as winter cold weather comes she’ll do worse. Check her for worms. That might be the problem.
Grazing vs rooting is controlled by management (rotation speed), soils (mud/clay=more rooting), good forages (less rooting), interesting things under the top (more rooting), experience (grazing is a learned behavior). See Rootless in Vermont.
Would you explain your thoughts on breeding pigs who are closely related. For instance a boar who then mates with his offspring. Is that acceptable when breeding for pork and not necessarily for betterment of a specific breed. Is there a high mortality rate? Deformed pigs? Anything to avoid? And when running many pigs on pasture how to avoid it if its not a good idea.
Line breeding is good – it is a careful process as opposed to “Inbreeding” which is haphazard like with some royalty. “Monsters” don’t show up unless you have problem genes. Problem genes don’t just magically appear from thin air but must be there in the genome. Problem genes tend to be recessive because if they were dominant they would kill off the line – not always but generally the rule. If you spot problem genes cull hard. Always breed the best of the best and eat the rest.
So can you breed littermates (Brother and sister)? We are trying to decide if we need to castrate our boar before he is of breeding age since he is in the same pen as his sister? Thanks!
Yes, you can breed siblings. The nice thing about pigs is you can eat your mistakes. As long as you don’t have some horrible recessive genes floating around then they will likely produce viable offspring that can be raised to meat. Like with any pool of candidates, breed the best of the best and eat the rest. If you do this inadvertently then it is inbreeding. If you do it consciously and carefully, culling hard, then it is linebreeding. Linebreeding is a good technique for weeding out bad recessive genes. Most bad genes are recessive and thus hard to find without linebreeding. After generations of linebreeding you end up with a much better line that is hardier for having been weeded.
I am trying to figure out what the price is per pound for selling pigs for slaughter.There does not seem to be anyone who can tell me how much to charge per pound. And live weight verses hanging weight? I am very frustrated this year, everyone seems to be selling piglets this year, makes it hard to sell when people are selling theirs for $50 a piglet!!!I was asking $65 a piglet but did not sell them all, so I am hoping to have better luck selling them for meat in the spring.I just do not know what to charge per pound or if I should charge hanging weight or live weight?Thankyou for your time.
Prices are going to vary with both what you produce and what your market is like. If you sell into an affluent market that cares about humane animal handling, naturally pasture raised, taste and quality and you produce those things then you’ll be able to get a premium price in that niche market. If you are selling into a commodity market you’ll get commodity market prices which are far lower. Produce a premium product and charge accordingly.
Look around at people in your area who are producing the same or similar products. What are they charging? Look at your costs. Can you make a profit if you charge the same thing? Don’t look at the manager’s special at the local supermarket – that’s meat that is about to go out of expiration or is being used as a loss leader. Compare apples to apples. Don’t undersell yourself – you must make a profit to stay in business. And farming is a business.
We sell by (hot) hanging weight which is the weight after scraping, scalding, gutting and ready to go into the chiller at $3.50/lb for whole pigs plus the cost of processing (currently $55 for USDA slaughter, $155 for cut & vacuum packed, $2.50/lb sausage (mostly linked) and $2.50/lb smoking). Individual cuts are generally more expensive than that, especially the high demand, high-on-the-hog cuts. See the order form for examples.
Looking for info on how many pigs would be appropriate to root up about 3 acres. Its old tree growth that has been cleared of the standing timber. I just don’t want to crowd them or have the job done too fast! We are planning on feeding them besides what the find on their own.
With good pasture, good rotational grazing management about 30 pigs is sustainable on three acres in my experience. See the article How Much Land Per Pig for some thoughts on that.
Your site is VERY informative.
Some people in my food co-op are considering buying and sharing a pig. This site is the resource I’m sharing to help them (and me!) understand the process.
I currently have a boar 9months and two gilts. One 8 months and one 7 months. All in the same pen. By using your pregnancy indicator I believe she is pregnant. I am wondering if I need to seperate her before farrowing and also if I need to be there to help her. Also if I need to keep the boar and other gilt away from the piglets if they would harm them or not. Maybe you could point me in the direction of proper weaning as well. Very useful website and highly appreciated!
See the answer in detail here.
Thank you for the information! Very helpful.
I have 2 gilts that are 11 monthes old, and a boar that is about 18 months old and I have them in the same pen, they have been in the same pen for about 2 months now, and they are still not pregnant. This is my first time breeding pigs ans I am very nervous, any advice would be welcomed!
Since you’re inexperienced you might not be able to tell the early signs by sight. Gilts might not show a great deal of pregnancy at only two months into their gestation. In another month you should clearly see signs of pregnancy including swollen sides and a clear breast line, that is to say bagging. But, gilts can be surprising with a small litter and not show much. I would continue to wait and watch. If there are no signs in two more months then either you’ve got two dud gilts or a dud boar.
It is also possible that mycotoxins from moldy food (typically grain) or diseases like PPV could cause miscarriages which you might miss. Are all three of them vaccinated? FarrowSure Gold B is a good choice.
Keep at it as you’ll rapidly gain experience with a few pregnancies and get to know what to look for. Here is a search pattern for pictures of sows and gilts in various stages of pregnancy.
I love your site : ) Very interesting and definately informative, (spot on.)
I recently purchased two month old piglets, I want to keep one for myself and sell the other to cover costs. I live in a city and have constructed a small 20’X20 pen for them which they seem to enjoy. Is this enough room for them to grow sufficiently to slaughter stage, (250 lbs max.) or should I give them more room?
Feed: I’m taking information from the feed store I got them from so I’m concerned about the best feed for them in order to produce good tasty meat. I’ve been told table scraps are good, but I don’t have the knowledge as to what not to give them and what to add to their diet to produce my needs.
FYI, I intend to have a nice over a spit cook out for our youth, (and families,) when I’m ready to slaughter and cook mine. (hmm, that would mean I keep the other for my freezer doesn’t it.) : )
I realize that your site draws mostly large scale pig ‘farmers’ rather than a “city slicker’ who knows nothing about what he’s doing, so I hope you will take the time to give me some ideas and a list of food choices… Thank you and God bless,
P.S. I’m not sure how to find the answers you post for my questions, can you send me the address I can log on to and how to find the answers to my particular questions to my e-mail address? I’m going to put your site on my ‘Boodmards’ so I can find it again easily. : ) (Not very computer literate either am I.) : )
It is enough room to grow out two pigs on full feed. There won’t be any pasture as they’ll eat that right down. I would recommend a commercial grower and then perhaps finisher hog feed for a situation like that. If you can, also give them some hay. Table scraps are good and legal as long as you’re not selling the meat. If you’re selling meat then it varies state to state. Eggs and milk are some other good foods to consider. Many ‘weeds’ are also good eating for the pigs although there are some toxic varieties (e.g., cherry) that you don’t want to feed.
Adding carbon, such as hay, straw, wood chips, etc to their pen will help with the concentrated manure – smell is lost fertilizer.
I would suggest doing the roaster pig at a smaller size since a 250 lb (live weight) roaster is huge and will take a very long time to cook. That would dress out to 180 lbs or so. You might consider one that is half that weight for a BBQ. It will be much easier to do and good practice on the slaughter.
For your first slaughter, have someone help you who is experienced so that you are able to do a humane slaughter. There are good videos on the web, such as on YouTube, but having an experienced person showing you what to do the first time will be invaluable.
To find answers on my blog try typing a question into the search box in the upper part of the right sidebar. Or check out the most liked and commented posts in the right sidebar and the tag cloud for more.
Have fun with your pigs and enjoy the pork!
Any tips for housing and farrowing in winter? I am in Ontario
My first tip is don’t farrow in the winter. We do because we sell year round so we need to farrow year round. It took us several years to develop techniques and it is still about six times harder in the winter than in the warm months. Even then, some days you feel like you don’t get ahead.
That said, check out these articles about winter housing and winter farrowing which should give you some ideas to try and let you learn some of the tricks we discovered.
Search engines are of no help. How old is too old to breed a sow?
When she’ll no longer take. Varies with the lady. I have one who is nine years old and going strong. See:
Old Sow Piglets
I was told to only breed a sow for 2 litters and after that it is too hard on them and they should not be used for breeding anymore. Is this true, I am looking online for info and nothing I find says anything about how old to stop breeding a pig. The same with the boar, should I only use him for 2-4 years then stop using him? Thank you for your time.
Those are myths and completely false. I suspect these miss-understandings come from the fact that in factory farms they slaughter sows and boars after about two years in order to avoid the expense of feeding large animals. Pigs continue to grow for about six years. Since the factory farms are grain feeding the pigs it is more expensive for them to maintain an older sow and boar.
The reality is the bigger, older sows and boars are better grazers so on a pasture based farm they are the better breeders. Boars can be productive for eight or nine years. Sows can easily produce two to three litters per year for eight to nine years. See Old Sow Piglets and Archimedes Farewell.
One might want to rotate the breeders faster in order to take advantage of the improvements in genetics through the process of selection of the best of the best with each generation but that is about genetic improvement, not about what the animals are capable of doing. As long as they are maintained in good health and condition, not over fed and fertile pigs can keep on breeding, typically for about eight to nine years.
We had a sow farrow 3 weeks ago today. Our other gilt just farrowed 2 days ago. Before she farrowed she was nursing the other piglets. Since then the older piglets keep nursing off her while pushing her babies away. How can we prevent the older piglets from nursing off of her? She seems more attached to the older piglets then her own. The sow of the older piglets doesn’t seem to nurse them very often, the nursing I noticed yesterday was very aggressive & she eventually just stood up because of it. How early do sow’s wean their babies? We’ve tried to separate the two sows & babies of each but the older piglets escape their pen, using electric wire, to go back into the other pen.
Also, does your site have a search feature? I haven’t been able to find one. I have loved reading your blogs & have gotten such wonderful information from you. It is so hard to find information on raising pigs in pasture & the older people around here have always just pen raised.
Thanks in advance,
You’ll need to do piglet tight fencing so the little ones can get their time on the nipples. The older piglets are just coming up to the point where they could be weaned. It would be early but doable. A larger concern is if the smaller ones didn’t get colostrum.
In the right side bar of my blog you’ll find a search box as well as lists of recent articles, favorite articles, most read and commented articles and the tag cloud that will help you dig deeper.
Thank you for the information.
We’ve finally gotten the older piglets & their mom into another pasture area and piglet escaped proof… for now. The new sow & her babies are doing great & she’s taking great care of them.
I need your advice…all my newborn piglets are dying! My sow had 2 previous litters without any issues. The first litter she had 7, one was still born. Her 2nd litter she had 13, 2 were stillborn. But she nursed them and they all thrived.
This litter she just had (she is 2 1/2 yrs old) she had 13 again. 2 were still born (still in the sac). Two days later, there were 2 more dead in her pen. Then a couple days later, there was another dead one.
The remaining piglets have survived until today, when I found another dead one this morning and then another dead one this afternoon. They will be 2 weeks old tomorrow.
She is in a barn with an open stall and open access to a pasture. She has the barn and pasture all to herself because we moved the other pigs to the other field because we were not sure how they would react to the newborn piglets. This is their first year in pasture. Prior to May of this year, they were in an old box trailer in separate pens, 7×8.
The stall that she had the babies in is 8×8.
They also don’t look like they are growing at all, but on the skinny side.
Any idea what is wrong? She has always been healthy, but she looks on the thin side too. She has been wormed on a regular basis.
Thank you, Tina
The first things that come to mind are mycotoxins in the feed (molds), bacterial infections or a viral infection. There is a disease diagnostic tool on ThePigSite.com. Try both the Reproduction Problem Solver and the Disease Problem Solver. Both tend to return a number of false positives but may give your ideas to pursue. If you figure out the problem I would be interested to know.
My guilt gave birth to 7 healthy piglets two nights ago. As of yesterday she started peeing quite frequently but is eating and drinking like usual. Could this be signs of infection?
This isn’t something I’ve seen. I would look at and smell the urine just as with humans thinking about infection and thinking if it is unusual or not. You might find some help at ThePigSite.com which has a disease and reproductive diagnostic tool. Good luck!
I am not sure why my sow got sick and stopped producing milk, but the vet prescribed a broad-spectrum antibiotic and she is doing much better in just 2 days. We purchased bottles and milk supplement for the remaining 9 piglets, and they are doing much, much better. We have 1 very small one that I am surprised is still hanging in there. She was from a litter that my “gilt” had on the same day as Rosie had her litter of 11. For some reason (never had this happen before), she rejected them all as soon as she finished farrowing, she walked out of the pen and would not return. They were all very, very small. Only 1 of the 8 survived after I gave them to Rosie. Then Rosie get sick and things went downhill from there.
I’ve been raising these pigs for 3 years now and I never had any illness before, so this caught me by surprise. I’ve learned alot from this and now will be on a closer watch for illnesses. Is illness common in pigs?
Illness is very rare – pigs in general are robust. Good to hear that the first group of piglets are faring well. I would cull the failed sow. Her piglet’s not getting colostrum may have contributed to the low survival rate. Milking her for the colostrum is possible if she’s willing – may take a little training. Sometimes getting milk from another newly farrowed sow can save them. Store bought colostrum is a distant third but worth trying in such a case.
What a great website! I’ve read all your posts on eating older sows and boars. However, I’m having a tough time finding someone (in ohio) who will agree to hang and age for a week. They keep saying hogs grow bacteria faster than steers and just get slimy the longer they hang. Is this true? And if I can’t find anyone who will age them, do you think I could still get good roasts and chops or should I just stick with sausage and tenderloin?
If they tell you that it means they don’t know how to properly hang and age meat and that they may have the proper equipment (humidity and temperature controlled room). The reality is that pork hangs and ages just like any other meat. See the article Hanging Around.
Hey there! Great site. Question – I traded some turkeys for some pot bellies. I have butcher pigs before, and planned on butchering these guys. Turns out, both sows were bred. Decided to keep them untill they had and raised the piglets. The one, very nasty sow, gave birth to, and killed 7 piglets night before last. My question is, I want to hang and butcher her now. She is lactating. Am old farmer told me this would affect the meat or make it taste like milk? I have butchered plenty of boars, and had no issue with any sort of “taint”. What about a pig full of colostrum?
That is a myth. The meat is fine. I would strongly suggest eating mean people.
Lol. *sigh* if only it were more acceptable…
How soon after farrowing, can a sow be bred again? I saw on another website from 2009 that you said it could be done within 3 days, ultimately making the process faster than if you waited another 21 days. There was another person who was strongly against this, saying that it was bad for the sow and the litter. What are your thoughts on this?
Three days is possible. That’s very fast. We have sows who have three litters a year. Gestation is normally 114 days but some sows short gestate just like some women – e.g. babies can be born anywhere from seven to ten months in humans. I have cousin who’s only eight months younger than his older brother…
Is it a good idea? Well, that would depend on the sow. Our Blackieline sows who do this routinely do it for years without any harm to sow or piglets and produce big litters of big piglets. See Peanut Butter1, 2] who is of that line and one of our top sows. It really is an individual thing. If you have a sow who doesn’t have the genetics for it then she may go peaked and lose condition. But a sow with the right genetics is hard to stop. They choose when they rebreed and will jump 4′ high fences to get to the boars, even when fully bagged.
How long after farrowing do you wait to rebreed with the sows that you don’t think have the genetics for it?
We don’t actually ‘do it’ but rather the sows choose. Some like those in the Blackieline do it very fast, often within ten days of farrowing. But it’s by their choice. Most sows don’t reheat until about seven days after weaning. Sows who can’t hold condition tend to get culled – Mother Nature set the example for me on this. The result is that after over a decade we have sows that almost all maintain condition, or else.
As you would say “gorny hals” they are. I appreciate the response. I know you said that some of the sow who want to rebreed, will jump a fence to get to a boar. Have you ever had a boar jump the fence and potentially put the piglets in danger?
We have had boars jump the fence but they aren’t a problem for piglets. We have sows farrow in the boar herd pastures quite routinely. See Boars with Piglets. Sows, other than the mother sow, are more of a danger with piglets than boars. Select hard for good temperament.
We agree with everyone else–this is about the best website on the entire internet.
We have a nice rotational system set up with mostly grass paddocks leading towards our woods with lots of acorns for the late fall. My question is, do you do anything in particular to finish the pigs over the last couple of months to help make the meat more tender? Do you reduce the paddock size or supplement with anything in particular? Any other tricks for finishing? Thank you!
Bill from Texas
Our pigs eat essentially the same diet all their life: ~80% to 90% pasture and then ~2% to 7% dairy which is mostly whey. We don’t do any particular finishing diet, just keep it good all their lives. See the Pig Page and follow the feed links for more about how we do feeding and the grazing links for more about how we do managed rotational grazing.
Flavor is set in the last one to three months of life and carried in the fat so if you are doing a finishing diet then boost the calories and feed anything special during that time period. Feed for flavor. Breed effects things like general conformation, muscling, marbling, fat but the flavor really comes from the food they eat.
I envy you those acorns. I’m planting oaks but it will be a while before they produce… :)
Thanks! Yes, the life expectancy of an acorn around these guys is pretty short.
Do you see any merit to decreasing paddock size as they get closer to butchering time?
Hi love the website quick question I don’t mean to bother ya but I got a gilt when she was bout 2 weeks old. She’s about 5-6 months now and very little for her age maybe 120 lbs any ideas ? Also I bought a boar that’s about 300 lbs and I tryed putting them together and the gilt wasn’t thrilled at all I don’t think boar was getting aggressive but couldn’t be sure so I got her out thinking it would attack her they are both hampshire hoping to breed the two any idea how to combine them in same pin
Depending on the breed line 120 lbs could be the adult size, that’s rather small. Hampshires are a normal size farm pig so I would expect her to be larger by now. I would also check for parasites as they can slow growth as can a lack of protein in the diet. Do a fecal exam and possibly deworm her. A congenital defect can cause her to be a runt and simply not grow well due to not being able to digest well, etc.
At six months she may be heating but may not yet be ready to breed. Ours generally do sex play starting around four to five months but don’t actually get pregnant until around eight months although an occasional Lolita will take as early as six months.
To introduce pigs, try having them in adjoining pens for a couple of weeks and then opening both pens to a new area providing a buffet there. Let them be able to retreat from each other by still having the old areas open.
Hi, We are setting up a small creamery and would like to be able to return our whey to our farmer for use with their Tamworth pigs and other farm animals (sheep, goats and cattle) or for use on their fields. We will have both sweet and acid whey. How long can the whey be kept safely before feeding it to animals and what is a good ratio of feed/water/whey? When using on pasture, are there recommended rates of application or any issues we need to watch for? The benefit of your experience here or any recommended reading would be much appreciated. Kind regards White Gold Creamery Australia
I would suggest delivering it to the farmers quickly. For more about how we feed whey, see these articles.
Hi Mr. Walters, I love your information. I have a small farm with 6 pigs, some chickens and ducks. In the past I have raised one female feeder pig a year. This year we are starting to keep breeders. We are butchering out first intact male this year and was wondering if you have any tips on how to skin and eviscerate him? Is there much difference than doing a female? Thank you. Lisa
Essentially the same. The only real difference is that on the male there will be testicles if he isn’t castrated and the pizzle (penis). Keep the knife, with either sex, very close to the skin so you don’t lose the nice fat and keep the outside of the skin from touching the carcass that is already skinned (clean meat and fat). If you do get it dirty then trim off that little bit of flesh.