Does the smell of frying bacon make your mouth water? Is snacking on a deliciously cooked whole ham after Easter dinner something you look forward to every year? If so, raising pigs should be part of your homesteading plan.
Pigs, or hogs as we refer to them in Appalachia – the two labels are completely interchangeable, are no more difficult to raise or butcher than goats. Newbie homesteaders who have little to no experience handling large livestock should work their way up to hogs, if they sense timidness, you will lose control quickly and either end up being injured or be unable to properly tend to the sounder – what a group of pigs is officially called.
Hogs roamed around farms for hundreds of years with extremely little intervention or interaction with farmers. The pigs were largely left alone to eat the remains of crops after the garden was harvested – fertilizing the growing plot in the process. Hogs will consume just about anything, making them very economical to feed while reducing waste around the homestead.
Homesteaders should consider purchasing heritage breeds of pigs (and all other types of livestock) to not only help preserve the original breeds that in some cases, are bordering on extinction, but also to raise animals that have not bee subjected to factory farm growth enhancements, antibiotic injections, gene manipulating breeding methods.
Many pigs on the market today are being raised in factory farm on high energy grains to fatten them up quickly. Not only do the pigs rarely, if ever, get to move about naturally, they are also kept in nearly pristine environments to thwart their exposure to germs.
When exposed to germs after arriving at your homestead, the factory farm hogs, generally do not possess the immune system needed to naturally ward off even minor exposure to all the microorganisms that exist in a typical farm or homesteading hog pen.
If you cannot find or afford a heritage breed pig, search for a small breeder or local farmer who raises his sounder naturally, and not in a feedlot or factory farm style. Ask lots of questions about the husbandry practices of the breeder and also about any medications, injections, medicated feed, and type of grains fed to the animal on a daily basis.
When the use of lard became less commonplace, some of the original breeds of pigs raised in the United States, primarily in the Midwest, suffered drastic population losses, some breeds even went extinct during the early to mid 1900s.
Pig Breed Types Then and Now
There were two different types of pig breeds during the decades when the animals were still primarily raised on family farms and in the backyards of rural residents.
These breeds are both strong and muscular. Slow weight gain for this type of hog has long been the husbandry practice used by family farmers. Their low energy and high protein diet routinely consists of dairy byproducts, grains, legumes, and turnips. A quality bacon pig would boast a body comprised almost exclusively of muscle and fat. The Yorkshire and Tamworth have long been among the most popular type of heritage breed bacon pigs.
This type of hog has shorter legs than a bacon pig and has a more compact physique. The diet of a lard pig is based almost solely on corn. They fatten up more rapidly than bacon pigs. The lard harvested from pigs of this breed type was used primarily for making explosives through the World War II era, for cooking and baking, and also as a machinery lubricant. If rendering lard is a common practice on your homestead, or you want it to be, harvest the “leaf lard,” or the white fat found near the pig’s kidney area. The leaf lard was once the most poplar type of lard used for baking in kitchens throughout the Midwest.
After World War II, vegetable oil hit grocery store shelves. Thanks to a massive and clever marketing campaign, vegetable oil became known as a healthy alternative to lard – sending lard hog prices in the country into a death spiral.
At almost the same time, machine lubricants and explosives created not using lard, but a vast array of chemicals were being developed and soon hit the market as well. Lard pigs didn’t know it, but the continuation of many of their lines was about to come to an abrupt end.
What happened to lard pig populations should debunk claims by vegetarians that refusing to eat animals, protects them. Once there was no longer a demand for lard pigs, farmers were no longer interested in giving up time, money, and space to raise them…and breeds died out in record numbers or were erased from the earth entirely.
Hog farmers determined to get some type of return on their investment, began breeding a far leaner variety of lard hog, effectively changing the genetic make up of once thriving breeds, forever.
Once highly praised heritage breeds of lard pigs that no longer exist in their original form include: Yorkshire, the Poland China breed, Duroc, Hampshire, and the Berkshire. Only three true lard pig breeds still exist, the Choctaw, Guinea Hog, and the Mulefoot.
In the years following World War II, hog production shifted from the American family farm barnyard to factory farms. With few exceptions, nearly every bite of store bought pork that you eat comes from hogs that are cross breeds of Hampshire, Duroc, and Yorkshire hogs. Finding a pure bred hog is becoming an increasingly impossible task. The genetic traits that made these original hog breeds so desirable will likely soon be lost forever.
Today, there are still two primary types of hogs raised in the United States: Bacon pigs for cured pork products, bacon, and ham and Meat pigs for the production of fresh pork products. A mature pig typically will weight about 600 pounds. A hog of that weight should produce approximately 250 pound of butcher weight.
Pig Husbandry Facts and Tips
1. The average sow, a female cow that has put forth a litter of piglets, usually weighs about 350 pounds. A litter of piglets commonly consists of approximately 10 babies.
2. Pigs are usually deemed ready to butcher when they hit the 250 pound mark. In a factory farm setting, due to the diet and movement restrictions the hogs are raised under, this takes only about six months. On a traditional farm or homestead, reaching 250 pounds usually takes at least nine to 11 months.
3. Pigs are really and truly not messy animals. They root around in the soil of their pen and create a single spot to relieve themselves to keep their living area clean. Pig pens do smell, quite a lot, depending up the number of animals in the sounder. Locate their pen accordingly – keep it downwind from the homesteading residence.
4. Hogs are surprisingly loving creatures. It is entirely possible to get attached to a baby pig, which you should NEVER name, and end up with a 350 to 500 pound pet instead of pork source for the homestead.
5. Begin your introduction into raising hogs by purchasing a weaner. A weaner is a piglet that is no older than three months and has recently been weaned from its mother – a sow. The small pig will be easy to handle and will not intimidate a first time hog keeper who has little or no experience dealing with large livestock.
6. When a sow is entering active labor, she will make herself a nest out of leaves, branches, and other easily accessible material in and around her pen. The nest is really made to create a comfy place to give birth, but to built a secluded and fairly covered place to put the piglets to protect them from predators – of both the four and two legged variety.
7. Sows, no matter how nice they normally are, may not hesitate to bite you hard enough on the leg to bruise your skin or even draw blood, to keep you away from her litter.
There are three traditional ways to house hogs.
1. Free ranging in the pasture.
2. Exclusively inside a hog pen with a small yard
3. A combination pen and pasture system that allow the pigs to roam in the pasture to find food and help maintain the ground. The pasture area the hogs are let into should be rotated for both maximum benefit and to ensure the pigs do not over graze any one patch of ground.
Hog Housing Tips
• A maximum of 25 pigs per hectare is the recommended number of hogs per enclosure area to prevent an over infestation of parasites or bacteria.
• A simple wood pen is needed to give the sounder protection from the weather. Metal gets too hot for the pigs to live in during the summer months in most regions of the United States.
• Pigs become ill, possibly to the point of death if they are routinely exposed to overly dry, wet, damp, or drafty living conditions.
• The hog pen, shed, or similarly designed shelter, must have a sturdy roof that will prevent sun, snow, or rain from getting inside structure.
• A door is not necessary on the shelter, nor would it be convenient Flaps made out of thick gauge plastic or similar material that will offer weather protection and allow the hogs to enter and exit safely upon their own. The flaps can be secured back during the summer months to increase air flow inside the hog pen.
• The pigs will need straw or similar bedding inside their pen, as well.
• Digging a shallow hole that pigs can use for a mud bath is essential to their overall well being. Pigs cleanse themselves in mud baths regularly to cool down their bodies during the summer and to get rid of parasites. Do not situate the mud bath near where the hogs choose to set up their bathroom, they will not get in “dirty” mud.
• A hog waterer, preferably one that is gravity fed with a drip nipple system designed for pigs, is necessary inside or directly outside of the pen.
• Do not feed the pigs on the ground. Casting about grain for them to eat like you would chickens will expose them to parasites and could provoke a worm infestation. A trough with separate openings large enough for each pig to put its head through, is highly recommended.
• The dimensions of the hog pen will depend upon the age and number of animals to be kept inside. A pig pen that will be home to three sows or 12 weaner pigs should be at least 4 feet high, 25 feet long, and 25 feet wide.
• Pigs will attempt to climb into their waterer to cool off during the summer months. Make sure to weight down the livestock tank or tub, or frame it out with boards, to avoid it tipping over when either the water level gets low or due to the bulk of the hog climbing over the side to prevent injury to members of the sounder.
Hogs are extremely strong animals, that cannot be stated boldly enough. Hogs can and will try to burrow and push their way out of any pen they are in just to taste what is on the other side – no matter how well they are fed or how large their pen is.
Hog panels secured in place with wood posts or five strands of woven wire that stretches at least 26 inches tall, will be necessary to ATTEMPT to prevent break outs by the hogs. The metal T posts used to keep horses and cattle in their pasture will not be strong enough to prevent bending when pressed upon by mature hogs.
The posts should be set no more than 15 feet apart to ensure the fence remains sturdy in between sections when the hogs push on it. Running a row of electric fencing just above ground level many help deter burrowing.
Top 10 Hog Husbandry Tips and Benefits
1. Pigs, like horses and goats, are typically herd animals. It is far easier to raise two pigs than just one, and without any real increase in work load.
2. One of the reasons hogs are known as the least expensive livestock to raise is because there is never a need to winter them over, unless you are also engaged in breeding.
3. Before butchering in the fall or during the early spring, let the pigs wander about your growing plots and till the ground for you with their snouts as they root around for food.
4. The lard harvested from the hog can be used for baking, lubricating machinery, cleaning your guns, and in soap making.
5. Pigs, unlike most varieties of livestock, do not need prime pasture land to find their own food. Pigs enjoying roaming about a wooded forest area to look for food. Make use of a part of the homestead not suitable for growing crops or pasture by designating it as the space for your hog pen.
6. Buy your weaner pigs in the early spring. The piglets will weigh about 40 pounds during that season, giving them plenty of time to hit butcher weight by fall.
7. Wait until after the 4-H livestock purchase deadline has passed to get the best deal on weaner pigs.
8. If the weaner pigs are struggling to keep or put on weight, add approximately ¼ of a teaspoon of nutmeg and a teaspoon of coconut oil to their water or feed for a week.
9. If raising hogs in a warm or hot climate, choose a breed with a light colored or white coat, especially if purchasing a heritage breed hog. Hogs with this shade of a coat tend to have few struggles keeping cool in humid temperatures.
10. Hogs with dark colored coats are most often the hardiest variety for places with cold winters.
Hog Snacks and Safe In-Pen Composting Crops
• Silver beat
• Pumpkins – a definite favorite of every hog I have ever met!
• Whey – also a favorite pig treat
• Fish meal
• Bean meal
• Meat meal
• Cooked fish
• High protein grains – especially good for pregnant sows
Hog Feeding Tips
• Pigs are generally allowed to eat as much of whatever they want during 15 minute intervals only, to avoid it from becoming too large and prompting health problems that could kill the animal before time to butcher.
• Adding more protein to the pig’s diet before butchering is also recommended. Both oats and barley are great sources of high fiber protein – but should only be given in small amounts and incorporated into the routine feed cycle and not account for more than 30 percent of the pig’s diet.
• Corn and sorghum are also good to include in the hog’s diet.
• A hog reaches maturity when it weights approximately 75 pounds. A mature hog should be consuming roughly 1 pound of feed per every 25 pounds of body weight.
• During the summer, right before the fall butchering season, hogs stop fattening up temporarily due to the intense heat. They use up a lot of calories walking around to find shade and wallowing in their mud bath.
• You can increase the oat count in a sow’s diet while she is lactating, but reduce the intake once the litter is weaned.
• A piglet should be offered a diet that is comprised of 18 percent protein.
• When the young pig is about 12 weeks old, reduce the protein content of its diet down to around 13 percent.
Mating and Raising Boars
• Boars, a male hog, will almost always be the leader of a sounder.
• Piglets typically get their health and weight from the boar. Always try to see the boar and learn about its history when purchasing weaners and selecting a male hog for breeding purposes.
• Always investigate the legs and feet of a boar for signs of weakness before buying or renting for breeding purposes. Any signs of weakness could indicate it may not be able to handle the leg and feet strain during mating. The boar’s toes should not be elongated or misshapen. When the animal walks, looks for signs of stiffness that may indicate lameness The testes of the animal should be evenly shaped, not too narrow, and neither too large or too small. Shrunken or enlarged testes could indicate a medical problem.
• Boars are usually more docile if they are raised with other weaners and with or near sows from 8 weeks of age to maturity.
• Board are old enough to breed once they hit 30 weeks, but waiting until a boar is one year old is often recommended. Novice boars have been known to have bad aim and hit the rectum of the sow – she does not like that, or even mate with the head of the sow.
• One boar has the ability to mate with 20 sows, but such a high breeding rate could cause health and breeding problems in the long run.
• Mate a young boar with a gilt (sow that has never mated before) or a very calm and accepting sow the first time out. Being dominated by a sow could deter the boar from ever trying to mate again, or injury to the male animal.
• Boars are known to masturbate, sometimes a lot. If a board grows to enjoy masturbating too much, you may have problems getting him to mate with a sow. Intense or frequent masturbation can even cause sores to develop on the hog’s penis that will further deter him from attempting to mate. How to get a huge boar to stop masturbating? I have absolutely no clue. If you do, please share our tips in the comments section below to help other homesteaders who may have a naughty boar that they had hoped to breed.
• It usually takes two couplings for a successful mating. Wait at least 15 hours before putting the boar and sow back together to allow the male animal enough time to rest and replenish his sperm count.
• After the boar chases and sniffs the sow for a few minutes, the female will arch her back and stand still, noting her acceptance to the boar.
• The actual mating process between a boar and a sow or gilt usually takes only about three minutes.
• Boars do not mate well, or even refuse to mate, if they have a full stomach.
• The best time to put a boar and sow together for mating is in the morning when the animals are not worn out from walking around and wallowing in the mud all day.
Keeping your pen clean and the hogs well fed on a proper diet isn’t always enough to keep them healthy. Listed below are some of the most common health issues and medical problems pigs are prone to an early warning signs that may help save the animal’s life if you detect them quickly and provide proper treatment.
Free ranging hogs or ones that regularly graze in a pasture or the woods may consume plants that cause a photo sensitization disorder to develop. This condition most commonly occurs during the summer months when the hogs are already being exposed to intense heat and possibly already struggling with sun scalding.
Plants that contain tetracycline and sulfonamides, like St. John’s Wort and rape weed, should be removed from within the boundaries of the roaming area. A photo sensitization disorder typically causes the skin of the pig to become very dry and itching and may cause the animal to loose strips of skin from its ears and tail.
Roundworm larvae can migrate from the gut of the hog into its liver causing liver disease and even death. Unfortunately, roundworms that are expelled from the body, either in feces or coughed up through the lungs, often get consumed again as the hog roots about for food.
The presence of worms or their larvae in the lungs can cause pneumonia in pigs. This condition is almost exclusively contracted by hogs that are six months old or younger. If other livestock share the same pen or pasture, they can become very ill or die, if they too swallow the same worms expelled by the pigs. Medications, either natural or store bought, is almost always needed to get rid of roundworms – pen grating or temporary relocation, is also strongly recommended.
While all hogs can contract the winter chill, weaners are likely to be the most effected member of the sounder when the thermometer dips down very low. The piglets could contract hypothermia and have their immune systems compromised. Add tarps to the exterior of the pen and put extra straw inside to help the hogs and piglets stay warm. A heat lamp or electric pig blanket could also be used, but pose a fire risk if placed next to or on straw and the wood pen frame.
The “pork measles” is caused by tapeworm. People with tapeworms infect the hogs when the animals come into contact with human waste. When the eggs of the tapeworm hatch inside the stomach of the pig, they are then carried into the small intestine and ultimately to the rest of the boy. If a human being eats meat from the hog that is under cooked, her or she can get pork measles. To help prevent pork measles from occurring, keep the hog pen clean and do not place it or allow them to roam, near outhouses or septic tanks.
Lameness and Foot Injury
Regularly check the hooves of the hogs for abscesses and rot. Rocky or damp terrain and living areas can cause both types of foot injuries and turn into lameness in a relatively short amount of time.
This condition usually stems from unclear habitats and overcrowded living condition. Swine dysentery usually occurs most often in hogs raised in confining conditions, like at factory farms and in auction breeding operations. If one of your hogs develops intense diarrhea, especially bloody diarrhea, it is time to call the vet for the antibiotics that will likely be required to save the animal’s life.
Summer Sun Scalding
To prevent hogs from being over exposed to the sun, run their bodies with mineral oil, put antiseptic on the scalding spots (looks a lot like human sunburn) and add shade to their living area. When a pig is subjected to sun scalding, it usually loses its appetite and become visibly lethargic.
Hogs can develop anemia if a lice infestation goes untreated. Keeping the living area clean and quarantining new additions to the sounder for two weeks, is the best way to prevent lice. Commercial anti-lice sprays, or a homemade version from a natural recipe that is readily available online, can be regularly sprayed on the hogs to deter such infestations.
This illness is rare, but deadly. Most often, the pig is dead before its keeper even realizes it is sick. Common hog cholera symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, coughing, fever, purple coloring on the underside of the stomach area, lethargy, appetite loss, and eye discharge. This is a contagious disease. The infected hogs must be put down as quickly as possible and the pen cleaned – or burned and the livestock relocated, to prevent spreading of the illness.
This illness of also often referred to as an “infectious abortion.” Swine can pass this condition onto cattle, goats, and even humans – causing people to get flu like symptoms. Brucellosis is both contracted and spread via contaminated feed and water troughs. Hogs that contract Brucellosis must be destroyed and the pen, waterer, and feeder cleaned or destroyed.
This type of worm is contracted through infected manure. The lung worms lay their eggs inside the lungs of the hog – who coughs them up and usually gets them again, just like roundworms. Earth worms like to dine on the lung worms – making them a carrier that can infect any animal that eats them – including the hogs and your chicken flock. Lung worms can be deadly, cause pneumonia. Medications is required to get rid of lung worms – as is cleaning the hog enclosure.
These worms attach to the large intestine walls of the hog and cause both bloody and mucus-filled diarrhea to occur. Intense infestations of whip worms can stunt the growth of the pig and be deadly. Medication and pen cleaning will be required to get rid of the infestation.
This version of mange is also commonly referred to as scabies. It takes about three weeks after coming into contact with a mite for the hog to shown signs of scabies The mange cause a crustiness to develop around the nose, eyes, and ears of the animal. Loss of hair, skin abrasions, and weight loss also typically occurs. Quarantine any pigs that develop mange and clean the entire living area while seeking mange treatment for the sick hog.
Pigs that are between eight to 16 weeks old can contract this terminal type of pneumonia. It is most often caused by calcium and phosphorus imbalance or deficiency. Typically, a vet will recommend giving a “creep feed” to the sick hog, a feed that has a high content of sulfamethazine, to thwart any deficiency and to correct an imbalance.
This is yet another parasite that is spread via contact with feces. Hogs can also contract toxoplasmosis by coming into contact with contaminated dirt, feed, or water. The parasites cause cysts to develop inside the pig’s muscle. It would be rare for a hog to show any signs of an infestation. Cat feces is one of the most common carriers of this potentially deadly infections. Call you vet for medicine and disinfect the pen and everything in it, including grating away topsoil and putting down new dirt – relocating the pen would be safer and less work.
Hog Butchering and Slaughtering
Pigs are typically slaughtered only one of two ways, with a knife slice to the neck or a single shot with even a low caliber rifle, directly to the head. While it will take a while for the hog to bleed out – it seemed like a really long time, the first time I participated in a hog slaughtering and butchering, but the animal is brain dead after the shot and is not feeling pain while bleeding out – but be prepared for the pig to twitch and move about frantically during the process.
Hogs are sometimes scalded in a vat of hot water after the slaughter heated to a minimum of 145 degrees for about three minutes to remove its hide. A bell scraping tool is used to scrape off any remaining hair after the scalding.
Butchering the hog is a lengthy process, but not a difficult one after a moderate amount of hands-on training. The pig is hung from a meet hook or a hook and chain that is attached to a tractor before the butcher or skinner gets to work. Not nicking the stomach or bladder is crucial, doing so will likely spoil the meat.
Butchering a Hog from Start to Finish
When butchering a pig, make sure to use “everything but the squeal.” Virtually every part of the meat on a hog is edible – and yummy!
• Tail – Fry up the tail like you would chicken wings – it is especially delicious when oregano and a small bit of cinnamon is added to the breading.
• Head – Rub the cleaned head with salt, as coarse a salt as you can find. Chill the salted head for two days, rinse it in cold water. Put the head in a pot with just enough water to cover it and simmer on medium to high heat – never boiling, for about three hours. Remove the head from the pot once the meat is easily separating from the skull. Remove the head and pick out any little bones that are stuck in the meat. Put the head back into the pot, added your favorite pork roast spice mix and ingredients. Simmer over medium heat for 20 more minutes. Stir frequently and skim off the fat that floats to the surface. This dish tastes as good cold as it does hot!
• Do not remove from the heat until the meat easily separate from the skull bones – this typically takes at least three hours. Then, lift the head out of the pot of broth and remove the meat and cut it up in fine pieces. Make sure to remove all tiny bones which reman. Put the hog head back into the broth and add your favorite garden goodies (chopped finely) and/or spices. Simmer for 20 minutes over medium heat and sim away the floating fat while stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Pour the contents of the pot into loaf pans and allow to cool enough to eat or chill the loaf pans in the refrigerator until later and then fry or serve chilled as a cold cut on sandwiches.
• Pigs Feet – Prepare the cleaned pigs feet with our favorite BBQ or pickling recipe and snack on them until you simply can’t consume any more – don’t forget to invite some friends over to enjoy the pork treat with you!
• Tongue – This is the least attractive pork dish you can make, but it really does taste great. Boil the cleaned tongue with your favorite spices and herbs until it is tender, that also takes about three hours. You can serve pork gravy over the tongue to make it even more delicious – and to hide the fact that you are serving tongue!
• Hocks – BBQ or smoke the cleaned hocks and serve them as a snack or even the main course alongside some mashed potatoes and green beans.