I never set out to be a pig farmer. It just kind of … happened.
I started my first garden in college, while taking an environmental biology class (pesticides!) and digging into my family history of farmers, country folks and other rural types. It didn’t go great—raccoons ate all my sweet corn, my tomatoes dried up and the green beans got gobbled by some kind of caterpillar.
Fast-forward to a decade or so later. My wife and I have purchased a modest home on a corner lot, on a street chock-a-block with amateur (but avid) horticulturalists. As we watch our next-door neighbor’s side yard fill with plump red tomatoes, our thoughts turned to starting a garden of our own. In just a few seasons, this notion has grown into multiple beds of greens, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash and herbs. We also established a backyard pocket orchard of pear, apple and cherry trees, as well as patches teeming with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.
And then, moved by our agricultural endeavors and inspired by the subscription to Hobby Farms we’d recently purchased, we added four Golden Comet hens to our little homestead, installed in a hand-built coop tucked behind our little brick house.
It was a suburban agricultural wonderland … and we wanted more. Within a few years, we’d sold off our business and moved with my parents to a Civil War-era farmhouse out in the county in central Kentucky.
“Please Take Some Baby Pigs!”
This is where pigs entered our bucolic (and chaotic) life. On the way back from closing on the sale of our redbrick homestead, we stopped off at a friend’s organic farm to say farewell. There, our friend entreated us to please purchase two Berkshire growers from her, as her farming partner had returned from a meet-and-greet with an unexpected litter in tow.
We have headed to our new farm anyway, and pigs sounded like a good plan. So we loaded the little porkers into our Labrador’s large dog crate and drove six hours south with two young pigs in the back of a Honda Pilot (functional but not advisable; swine do carry an odor…).
Our family enjoyed watching the two purebred baby pigs grow, finally loading and transporting our full-grown (well … in time we learned they could have finished out a bit more, a common mistake) porkers to the processor. Then, a few days later, we returned to pick up our meat.
Oh, it was so much pork. We crammed cuts into a dedicated freezer, surmised we had plenty to spare and hooked up with the local farmers market, where our Berkshire meat—red, marbled and almost beef-like in flavor—quickly drew a dedicated following.
And that is how one becomes an accidental pig farmer (or, this is how we entered the fray, at least). My wife and I found a breeder within driving distance, where we coaxed baby pigs into a retrofitted horse trailer for delivery to our farm. We made this trip a handful of times, until a breeding pair of Berkshires came up for sale locally, at which point we found ourselves learning the fine art of pig breeding.
We don’t breed and raise baby pigs anymore. After some years as market farmers, we dialed things back to a small chicken flock and large garden once again. (This, it turns out, is our sweet spot.) But our slapdash, learn-as-you-go lessons in pig husbandry did leave us with some critical knowledge surrounding adventures in porcine entrepreneurialism. Here are three things you should take the time to think about before getting baby pigs for your farm.
Plan Your Season
Pigs breed by the book, with a 115-day gestation period—three months, three weeks and three days. Then, if you provide rations, a pig should reach the ideal processing weight in about 6 months (maybe more, if you’re raising heritage hogs in the colder seasons; pure pasturing can take up to two years).
So you have all the information you need to make a solid pig-raising plan. Try not to farrow in the dead of winter, when baby pigs need heat and protection against hostile elements to survive. Breed with a plan in mind to have enough meat to get you through the market season and keep your own freezers stocked through the winter.
If you’re considering getting pigs, grab a notebook and pencil, sit down for an hour or so, and make a plan before any baby pigs set hoof in your barn or pasture.
As I said earlier, folks quickly took a liking to our Berkshire meat, which is distinctively tasty. So when we changed course to raise and sell meat from a litter of Large Blacks, people noticed—and they voiced their preferences.
Before you start raising pigs, spend some time thinking about what you want to raise. Distinctive hogs are great for marketing, but you do need to decide if this is the breed for you—before customers make the decision for you. There’s some variation in heritage hogs (lard pigs, bacon pigs, etc.), but if you train your customers to appreciate the variety, pasture-raising herds of different (or mixed) breeds is a good option, too.
Breeding or Buying Baby Pigs?
You can breed your own baby pigs to raise up for pork. Or you can establish a relationship with a breeder who will provide pigs for you.
Both avenues for acquiring baby pigs is viable, just as each has pros and cons. Breeding offers up-front cost advantages, but the cost of feeding a hungry boar and sow(s) absolutely needs to be considered, too. Buying baby pigs eliminates the losses (like, actual loss of baby pigs, who do not always make it) breeding all but guarantees, but you should know that the breeder’s sale price is set to recoup these lost funds.
A properly equipped farrowing setup requires some upfront investment, too, that you won’t encounter when simply loosing little baby pigs into a lush pasture.
So spend some time thinking about what experience you want to have with your pigs—the breeding to birth to market route, or the raise ’em and repeat method.
Baby pigs are a lot of fun, and many days I miss watching them cavort in our Kentucky pastures. Maximize your enjoyment of these delightful little creatures by planning out just how you want your time with them to go.