What’s for Dinner?
(This starts our look at some of our four legged opportunities.)
- Provides meat.
- Feed requirements are up for grabs. Pigs will consider items that other homestead animals would pass on. There is a reason the term `slop the hog` exists.
- Meat is high protein with with a good feed conversion ratio.
- Can raise a lot of meat in a descent space.
- Can be used as four legged rototillers.
- They are your compost pile. All your grass clippings, vegetable and garden scraps go to the pig. Their wastes are used to fertilize the plants.
- Litters are typically 6-12 in most pigs. Reproductive rate is good.
- Time to market is longer, typically nine months to a year.
- Moderate space requirements.
- Can be free ranged. They do however need to be penned to control access. You don’t want them rooting up Aunt Mays petunias.
- Storage of end product. Single slaughter can end up with lots of meat. If you don’t have reliable refrigeration then you need to have a trade/buy deal setup with neighbors or friends for the excess.
- Start up costs are higher than with fowl.
- The USDA classifies pigs as livestock. As a consequence keeping pigs in some locales is restricted due to zoning laws. Check before you proceed.
- To maintain a sustainable herd requires a couple of animals impacting the housing requirements.
Pigs have been a staple of the American diet since before the colonies. The Spanish introduced hogs to the SW US back in the 1600’s. They have been with us ever since.
Something to keep in mind at the outset. Most breeds of pig never really stop growing till some physical abnormality prevents it, environment restricts it or death occurs. The Pot Bellied Pig which were all the rage years ago and oh so `cute` can grow to 200# or more. Some breeds of pig can reach half a ton. That is not the common case as more of the commercial breeds are marketed long before then. Their fastest growth being with the first 6-9 months then off to market.
So should a suburban homesteader consider a pig? The answer of course depends. What breed of pig? Your intent for raising it? More than one? For the average suburban homeowner probably not. Lets discuss the negatives and a possible alternative.
The first issue is space and the nature of the average hog. The ancestral pig earned its living eating acorns and grubs. Which means they turned the earth in pursuit of the morsels. That nature is innate in pigs, even commercial ones who have not seen the sunlit side of a barn their entire lives. This translates that unless you like seeing a plowed backyard, pigs won’t be considered your friend. Now multiply that by the 3-4 hogs you need to sustain a herd. Oooops.
There is also the output side of things. A 300-400# animal is going to leave at slaughter 150-200# of product. Do you have a freezer for it all? And when the power goes out? In that size range it is not exactly fresh on the hoof. (Chickens are involved, pigs are committed. At least when it comes to bacon and eggs for breakfast.) The other factor is the boar. You have to keep him around all the time to do 5mins duty maybe twice a year. That is not really efficient. So do we cross them off?
Maybe not. We generally think commercial breeds. Hampshire. Duroc. Herford just to name a few. But those are not the only breed of swine out there. So if one had say an eighth to a quarter acre to dedicate to pigs you want 3-4 that are small in stature and once processed would be consumed reasonably quickly. And they exist —
American Guinea Hog
A standard homestead breed that is making a comeback. Their biggest advantage is a docile disposition, fend for itself nature and no vet bills. They’re hardy. Boars can run to 300#, sows to 200# or so. One could sell all but one or two piglets then process them at around 100-125# live weight. You would have 60-80# of meat. For a family of four that can be consumed in a reasonable time frame. If you are into sausage making so much the better.
Also known as Yucatan pig. There are two variants of which we wish the smaller of the two. Boars top out at about 150#, sows 100-125#. Processed as the Guinea Hog above, a family would end up with 50-60# of meat per pig.
Originates from New Zealand. Considered a rare breed and there is a concerted effort to expand the breed. Boars 120#, sows 80#. A very docile hog. Due to its current rarity, the start up costs are pretty high however. But at processed weight we are now in the range where you don’t fill up an entire freezer with meat.
One of the smallest pigs around. They top out at about 30# live weight. Were a common holding among Mexican households just a century ago. Now believed a threatened species. Interestingly, the Cuino is raised for medical research due to their small size and applicability to human medical trials. The breed does not appear to be actively pursed for livestock purposes now and what literature I can find on them is scant. A breed of this size would be perfect for backyard culture if their processed weights are reasonable. Just about right for a throwdown on the barbie with a tad for leftovers.
If a suburban home wanted to keep hogs it will require a different set of strategies.
1) Have a co-op. Each household maintains a sow in a pen on their property. The co-op shares a boar for breeding. The co-op sells the piglets at market and the proceeds are used to defray feed costs. Each household retains one or two piglets till market weight then its off to a processor and the freezer.
2) A variation of (1) is that only sows are kept and breeding is by artificial insemination. All other factors remain the same.
3) Go with an even smaller breed so that a boar and two sows can be kept. keep offspring till your desired market weight is reached.
But even with smaller breeds and unusual strategies, there are easier ways to provide for the family meat locker. Personally, I would probably look up a farmer or rural homestead that would be willing to do a broker deal. I buy the livestock and provide the feed. My partner does the husbandry. End of the season they deliver the animal and I have it processed.