I’ve said this time and again here, but when my wife and I welcomed two piglets onto our central Kentucky farm just months after moving onto the land ourselves, we didn’t quite know what we were getting into. Thanks to the sage mentorship of farming friends and hours of online reading (we wore out some books on pigs, too) we figured it out. Looking back, though, I can clearly see that we put ourselves through a lot of unnecessary trouble when setting it all up.
So, if you’re new to farming (and I hope some of you are—the world needs a lot more folks willing to take up food production, regardless of previous experience) and considering adding some porcine friends to your farm, here’s a list of pointers, compiled by me without any claim of authority other than my own experience. It’s not a comprehensive rundown on how to become a person who raises pigs, but it provides a basic start.
1. Evaluate Your Land
Before anything else, study your land to determine whether it fits with how you want to raise pigs. Do you wish to raise hogs solely on grass? You need a lot of land, ideally laid out in a way that accommodates a “wagon wheel” pasture method. At the very least, you need the room to move your pigs to fresh grass every week or so. Do you want to silvopasture (raise pigs in the woods)? You should know what kind of trees you have and which ones produce fruits and nuts that supplement a feeding program. Do you plan to raise pigs in a barn with access to sun and grass? Make sure your barn is accessible and large enough to accommodate the numbers you hope to raise.
2. Consider Security: Install a Fence
Purchase and set up fencing before you bring your pigs onto the farm. You might say, “duh,” but folks do drop their pigs into a barn, then puzzle over how to get them out into a secure area. Also, if you’re on the fence (sorry/not sorry) about what materials to use—wire fencing, hog panels, electric and so on—that you buy electric wiring powered by a portable charger and solar array. It’s easy to be daunted by the setup cost, and you might doubt that your pigs will respect those three or four little wires, but trust me. After dealing with your umpteenth breakout from the budget fencing, you’ll turn to electric anyway, because it works. An added bonus: An electric fence sets up easy—the portable charger will have you rotating pastures in no time.
3. Provide Shelter for Your Pigs
Research and decide what kind of shelters you want. Pigs require little—a dry spot to hunker down in inclement weather and shelter from the sun. That said, they do need a place to call home. A tarp-and-panel hoop is easy to set up and tear down. Or, you can build moveable pens if you’re rotating pastures.
Barns are easy to modify for pig purposes, though make sure any walls outside the fencing are heavily secured (or the pigs will bust through). Farrowing shelters must offer extra protection, so consider that if you’re thinking of bringing a sow to the farm.
4. Make Feeding Easy
This is just my opinion, but don’t mess with pig feeders you find at the farm supply store. Pigs treat them like toys, and they let in water and pests, no matter the claims. Instead, feed your pigs their rations twice a day, morning and evening, and just dump it on the ground. We arrived at this after trying a number of frustrating feeding techniques. And I can promise you our pigs don’t grow any slower now than before.
5. Identify Your Helpers
Find your professionals now. Will you need a veterinarian or outside help to maintain health, castrate males, clip wolf teeth and so on? Find those people now, before you really need them. Do the research to find a processor, be it USDA-approved slaughterhouse or community abattoir, that will do what you want, whether it’s nitrate-free bacon or nose-to-tail butchering.
6. Happy Trail(er)s
Get a trailer. We got a bumper horse trailer on Craigslist years ago and have transported more pigs in it than I can even count.
7. Stick to the Schedule
Once you’ve located your pigs and can identify an arrival date, sit down with a notebook and make a schedule. Pigs provided with rations are typically ready for processing at around 6 to 8 months old, with various adjustments and markers along the way (especially in recommended amounts of feed). So plan everything based on the hogs’ ages when they move in. Then call your processor and reserve your dates, because availability disappears fast.
Pigs are fun animals that produce copious amounts of delicious protein, and I highly recommend getting a few (at least two—they’re herd animals) for your farm. And if you plan and get everything ready before becoming a hog keeper, you’ll enjoy your animals all the more, starting on day one.