Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
The Happy Homesteader
Last week we had a litter of piglets born and each year I look forward to it so much! Baby piglets might just be the cutest thing on the farm. When you homestead it seems that it is not complete unless you have a pig. Watch any old movie where people lived closer to the land and grew their own food and you always see a pig in a pen. Usually the farm wife is tossing them some garden or kitchen scraps while they wallow in a mud puddle. Ahhh...the life of a pig!
When we began building our homestead getting a pig was quite intimidating to me. Sure, cows were larger and should have been the intimidating species, but in my mind, they moved slower and seemed more afraid than I was which meant that they respected fences and would back up when I waved my arms at them. Pigs however are very smart and have quite a strong personality. I had read all about how pigs were cunning and mischievous. I was afraid that they would break out, run willy nilly, and destroy things. I also felt like they would eat things (maybe me!) since they are omnivores. Yes, those muscular bodies, deep grunts, and sharp tusks scared me. Yet, as I said, no homestead feels complete unless you have a pig!
I convinced my husband to start small by getting just two weaned piglets, which were around 2 months old. I also convinced him to build a strong structure to hold them! He used hog panels, which are sturdy metal panels that can be supported with metal T-posts to build a corral at the edge of the woods. The squares at the bottom of the panels are smaller than at the top so that little piglets can't fit through. He added a very low line of portable electric fencing inside the pen so that the pigs would touch that first and hopefully never even get to test the metal fencing. We found some piglets for sale nearby through an ad on the bulletin board at the feed store. They were a mixed breed, sort of like a mutt in the pig world. It was just some farmer who had kept some backyard hogs and let them breed how ever they wanted. This meant they were cheap! We brought them home in a dog crate and once I saw how small they were I instantly became less intimidated. These guys had no tusks! And they squealed like babies looking for their mama. I wanted to cuddle them rather than run from them!
Our first hog raising experience taught me not to be afraid. It was easy to bring the piglets food, water, and scraps and they were so much fun to watch. Sure enough, they hit the electric wire and never even got to the hog panels. They seemed happy rooting around in the dirt and pulling up the grass. But before long they had grown quite large and their pen looked like a bomb had gone off. There was not a blade of grass, but instead lots of mud or muck and big wallows! While some people choose to raise their pigs this way through processing size in order to provide meat for their family even on a small parcel of land, we had land we could utilize and it seemed a waste to keep them penned up like this. So we made a large contiguous paddock of just portable electric fencing with an opening to their hog panel corral. We made a gate, which would have been much easier with some fore thought but oh well, and released them! The growing pigs slowly ventured to the vegetation on the other side of their pen and by the afternoon they were happily exploring their new land. Since they had already been exposed to the electric wire inside their pen, they didn't even seem to test the new paddock. They would still go back to their pen for sleeping and water, but eventually we closed it off and moved their food and water out so that the original land could get some rest.
Having such success with this, we realized that we could continue to move them down the wood line by adding more portable electric fence paddocks one at a time and opening the gate to them so that they would move to new and fresh land. This kept them on clean ground, gave them forage, and stopped our land from getting destroyed! It was difficult to see those first pigs get on the trailer for processing. I had become quite attached and would regularly scratch them behind their ears or spend long spells watching them bask in the sun. But when the pork came back I simply couldn't believe how delicious it tasted.
We've come a long way with our pig rearing since then. We've tried many breeds and now keep sows and a boar who breed two times a year giving us piglets for growing and selling as well as weaned piglets to supply other farmers and homesteaders with their own pigs. Looking back, I'm glad that we started small and safe on this one and realize that pigs are not a species to be intimidated by, but rather a joy to raise!
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