Pigs (or hogs as we call them where I live) make a great survival livestock choice. Unless you live in an urban or suburban area, you most likely have plenty of space to raise a sounder of hogs.
A hog pen and exercise yard takes up very little space. While you surely should provide a pen of humane dimensions while raising the pigs to butcher weight, you do not want to give them too much freedom to roam – they will walk their bulk off in an incredibly short amount of time.
Hogs raised on factory farms, which now sadly comprise the majority of farms in the United States, may never even step foot on grass during their entire lives – instead living inside a climate controlled habitat that passes for a barn on such commercial farming operations.
Pigs are one of the best low-maintenance and least expensive types of livestock to raise. They will eat just about anything, and make great use of your scraps while putting. Once upon a time, raising pigs in a city was nearly commonplace. The animals were used as a precursor to trash trucks and gobbled up all of the rotting food left around the streets and residential living areas.
We Americans do tend to love our bacon and BBQ pork, yet hogs are not native to our country. The animals were brought here during the late 1400s by European explorers. Just a few decades later hog farming was a booming agricultural business in the new world – second only to corn production.
Two Basic Types Of Hogs
Until the early 1900s, two different types of hogs were raised in the United States: bacon and lard pigs. The bacon pigs were fed a combination of low energy and high protein grains and greens. This type of diet turned them into an extremely muscular and long type of livestock. Bacon hogs put on weight far more slowly than lard pigs.
Lard picks had a far more compact and thick body, along with short legs. These type of pigs were fed a corn-based diet to further efforts by keepers to put weight on rapidly. Not only was lard used as the primary cooking agent of the time, it was also use to lubricate machinery of basically all types – it was even used in the creation of explosives during World War II.
Best Types Of Lard Pigs
• Poland China:
photo above: Poland China boars in Florida circa 1917
• Berkshire. A quality meat produce that does well in warmer climates. Sows are great milk producers, and very maternal:
When the vast majority of lard was removed from the public marketplace (and requisitioned for use in the war effort), housewives across America were forced to switch to vegetable oil to meet their cooking and baking needs.
Once World War II ended, the habit of using vegetable oil, coupled with a successful advertising campaign about the supposed health benefits of using the manufactured cooking oil, lard once again all but disappeared from grocery store shelves.
This was a massive blow to formerly successful pig farms across the country. Once advances in the biotech industry prompte the creation of new products for use in lubricating machines and when making explosives, lard hog farmers essentially vanished from the American agricultural landscape.
The lard hog farmers that survived revamped their breeding process to create more muscular pigs that churned leaner pork. Nearly all types of pork sold in grocery stores today are a 3-way cross between Hampshire, Yorkshire, and Duroc.
Berkshire and Poland China hogs are now on the critically endangered list.
• Tamworths – A calm and hardy breed and resistant to sun scalding.
• White Skinned – A docile breed that is also resistant to sun scalding.
• Saddleback – A super grazing breed that does well in colder climates. They are known to consistently produce larger litters of piglets. These pigs are also mostly black and boast a distinctive white band over their shoulder area. They are excellent, and are prone to producing large and top-quality litters.
Pig Raising Basics
Pigs can be kept in a pasture with a shed style or small barn shelter or in a pen with the same type of shelter to protect them from the elements. To avoid a potentially deadly parasite manifestation, the sounder’s shelter must be thoroughly cleaned weekly and their grazing are rotate on a regular basis.
Even though most breeds of pigs can tolerate some degree of damp, drafty, hot, or cold temperatures, their living quarters. The shelter must be large enough for the entire sounder to get inside, and still have room to move about during inclement weather – and also include a warm place for the sow to farrow – give birth to piglets.
Depending upon your climate, the shelter could be farm produce stand-style shelter – a structure that has open wall and front but can be enclosed by flaps.
The pigs will need to have straw or a similar type of livestock bedding on the floor of their shelter (whether the floor is bare ground or wood) to protect them from cold and dampness.
A gravity fed feed system or a feeder that is raised at least slightly from the floor, should also be placed inside the shed. The sounder will also need water. Most pig keepers use a plastic barrel with a hog fountain drip spout.
The typical shelter dimensions for a habitat that will contain three sows and a litter of piglets measures approximately 25 feet long by four feet high by 25 feet wide.
Bathing And Mud Wallow
The pigs will require a mud wallow outside of their shelter, but inside the pen area. Laying and rolling about in the mud helps cool down the hogs and in the removal of parasites.
Contrary to popular belief, pigs are not filthy animals. They love their bath, and only choose on area of their pen to relieve themselves so their shelter or run area stays clean.
Hogs should be bathed weekly and looked over thoroughly for signs of hoof rot or damage, parasites, and any other type of abrasion or illness.
Pigs are strong, very very strong. You will need far more than metal T-posts and barbed wire to prevent them from escaping tearing apart their pen.
They love to burrow and push up against their enclosure to scratch their backs. The best type of fencing to use for a sounder enclosure include pig panels, wood posts, woven wire, wood panels, and even some strands of barbed wire and/or electrical fencing just to make sure the hogs do not push against the wood and metal fencing elements. Place the electrical fencing just above ground level to deter the members of the sounder from burrowing beneath the fenceline and prevent piglet escapes.
The gate to the pen should also be made out of metal. Woven wire rolls of fencing usually come in heights of 26 to 34 inches tall, all varieties are tall enough to prevent a walking over it when the fencing is properly supported.
Space the wood posts holding your fencing 10 to a maximum of 15 feet apart. Make sure the corner posts of the pen use thick hardwood, railroad ties, or solid and large metal posts that have been planted at least three feet in the ground. It is highly recommended to double brace the corner posts of a hog pen.
If you not have the space of the money to build a pen large enough to allow the pigs to browse for food and move about freely, you can train them to go on free range style walks in your yard – just like 4-H children are taught to do for show ring judging.
Hogs are omnivores, and will chow down on grass and just about anything we humans eat, as well.
A pig’s favorite food includes:
• Silver Beets
• Oats – feed only in moderation like a snack
• Cooked Fish
• Bean Meal
When a sow is preparing to give birth, extra protein should be added to her diet to ready her body for nursing. Piglets can get easily crushed when feeding with mature hogs. Buy or build a feed trough with dividers that permit only small piglet heads to fit inside, so the mature hogs will not bother venturing to either the feeder for the weaners or the weaner section of the sole feeder.
Weaners should be fed a feed that contains 18% protein, at least until they are 12 weeks old. The protein ratio can be reduced down to 13% of the young pig’s daily diet after 12 weeks.
A mature hog should consume between 25 to 30 pounds of its body weight in feed on a daily basis. When a hog eats the feed consumed to the butcher meat ratio is about 3 to 1. When temperatures reach and exceed about 80 degrees, the feed to meat ratio decreases, causing the pigs to drop weight.
If a shallow livestock tank or a half barrel are used as a waterer, the hogs may tip it over when attempting to climb into it to cool off during the summer and drown, become injured or trapped, or walk away but we without water all day long.
There should only be one boar per sounder pen. Although you may be excited about mating and raising your own pigs and want to buy a boar, it is best to get at least a year of hog raising under your belt before doing so.
Boars are strong, and can be dangerous when handled by novices, especially during mating season. In most areas, it is feasible to pay for stud services and impregnate a sow without going to the expense or bother of facilitating mating or keeping a boar yourself.
How To Choose And Keep A Quality Boar
1. One boar can service up to 20 sows. But, this rate of mating is generally reserved for factory farms, and can actually harm the boar, and cause a reduced sperm rate.
2. Purchase from a local breeder and not at an auction where its pedigree might not be able to be authenticated. A local breeder often has the parents of the boar on-site for inspection. The rate of a piglets growth will be largely determined by the genes of the boar.
3. Inspect the legs and the feet of the boar for any signs of deformity or weakness. Mating is an extremely strenuous activity, and the bulk of the animal cannot be supported by leg abnormalities. A boar’s toes should not be elongated, this is a sign of lameness. If the legs are stiff when manipulated, this also could be a sign of lameness.
4. The testicles of the boar should be similar in shape and weight. If the testes are either abnormally large or small, the sperm count of the boar could be negatively impacted.
5. Boars that are used to human contact from a very young age typically tend to be far easier to handle as they mature.
6. Once a boar nears maturity, it should be housed with or near a sow to encourage courting behavior.
7. Boars should not be bred until they are at least 30 weeks old, but 1 year old is recommended. When a boar is bred before it is ready, a litter of runt piglets often occurs.
8. A young or small boar should be mated with a gilt (female pig that has not yet been pregnant) to help build its confidence and increase the chances of the female hog accepting a potential inept boar.
9. If a novice boar is rejected or injured by a sow or gilt, it may never attempt to mate again and could actually choose to masturbate the rest of its life instead…yep, you read that correctly. During its first mating session, a young boar may be overly excited and attempt to mount the head or rectum of the sow or gilt instead of the proper spot.
10. Boars will rarely ever mate on a full stomach – mating is best engaged in during the morning hours.
11. It can typically take two or three attempts at a mating session before a sow or gilt becomes pregnant. Allow the boar to rest at least 12 to 15 hours in-between mating sessions.
12. When a sow arches her back and cocks her ears, it’s a sign that she is ready to accept the mating ritual and will soon stand still for the boar.
13. Mating is physically taxing for both animals even though it only takes about three minutes to accomplish.
14. Young boars should only attempt mating sessions about once every two weeks to the same sow.
15. Keep a record of the boar’s mating habits and successful litters to better help detect a decrease in fertility.
Hog Raising Tips
1. Pigs are herd type animals, and do best when raised with at least one other of their own kind. If raised from a young age with other medium livestock, most pigs will intermingle and free range with them without incidents – unless you have an exceptionally rowdy boar or over-protective sow.
2. You can begin by raising the hogs up from a young age or purchasing a sow (female pig that has given birth before) and a male pig – a boar. Weaned piglets, or “weaners” are no longer nursing from their mothers and are three months old or younger. Weaners typically weight between 35 to 40 pounds.
3. If you have never worked pigs before, starting with weaners will likely be the best option. Sows weigh around 350 pounds on average. A typical hog litter is comprised of about 10 piglets.
4. When a sow is getting ready to give birth to her litter, she will begin making a nest out of branches and any other material she can find inside her pen. The nest will serve as a place for the sow to shutter her piglets away from both predators and the prying eyes of everyone else – including her human keepers…that she might also view as predators when nursing her young.
5. A pig is not mature enough to butcher until it weighs around 250 pounds. Unless the hog is being raised on a factory farm where this weight is hit around the six month mark, it takes around nine months for a pig to mature to butcher weight. Typically, hogs are bred to give birth in the spring so they are ready to butcher by fall – negating the cost of wintering them over.
6. Butchering a hog is generally considered a quicker and simpler process than doing the same with cattle or sheep.
7. Hogs are excellent to root around your garden after the harvest. They will till the ground for you so it is ready for the spring planting.
8. Pigs will help you get rid of leftover and all the slop are not going to put into your compost pile – while putting on weight. Hogs even eagerly consume eggs and milk.
9. The lard garnered after butchering the pig can be used for many things around your survival homesteading retreat, like cooking/baking, oiling machinery and firearms, and making soap – just to name a few.
10. White or even light shaded hogs tend to do better when raised in areas without harsh winters and in warm climates. Hogs with dark coloring are better suited for regions of the country with cold winters.
11. Although they are large animals, most hogs are docile and smart enough to be trained and shown by young boys and girls who are members of 4-H.
12. Pigs can traverse hilly portions of your property and do not need quality pasture to feed themselves naturally from the land.
13. If your sow produces a runt or piglets that are struggling to put on weight, sprinkle a half a teaspoon of nutmeg and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil onto their feed for several days to a week.
Learn as much as you can about common pig illnesses and ailments. Knowing how to detect the signs could not only prevent the loss of the sick hog, but the entire sounder if the medical condition is contagious – which is often the case.
During a long-term disaster you will not likely be able to call a vet for help, stock up on over-the-counter medications and natural alternatives now so you are prepared for a SHTF illness in the hog pen and do not lose a valuable source of meat… right when you will need it the most.
To 15 Common Pig Ailments and Diseases
1. Sun Scalding
2. Winter Chill
3. Gastrointestinal Parasites
4. Swine Dysentery – oten deadly
5. Hog Cholera – no known treatment or cure and contagious
6. Atrophic Rhinitis
9. Sarcoptic Mange
11. Lungworms – possibly deadly
12. Pork Measles – possibly deadly to hogs and contagious to people
13. Whipworms – possibly deadly
15. Roundworms – possibly deadly
If you are looking for a quiet, low-space, and inexpensive meat source, pigs should fit the bill nicely. Start small, and do not purchase more pigs than you can handle when learning how to care for them. If you make a mistake, especially when it comes to overall health issues and mating, you could lose the entire sounder before they are old enough to butcher.