Raising Pigs for Meat
Raising pigs for meat can be difficult, but it can also be profitable and rewarding in many ways.
I’ve raised pigs for a large portion of my life. There are many reasons to raise pigs, but whatever your reasons are, you need to have a basic understanding about how to go about raising pigs.
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Why should I consider raising pigs for meat?
Raising pigs can be hard work. And messy. And smelly. But, it can also be extremely rewarding.
I’ve found that there are five solid reasons why you should raise pigs at home for meat.
1. Decide what goes into your meat
Raising meat pigs is an excellent way to take charge of what’s in your meat and how the animal is being treated while it’s being raised.
You can decide what goes into your pig every single day.
If you want to avoid feeding hormones or GMO-feed, then you can. Raise you pigs on pasture (or concrete) if that’s what you want to do.
2. Raising pigs for meat can be fun
Pigs are very intelligent and are social animals. You’ll soon be able to tell your pigs apart just by their habits and sounds.
We love spending time with our pigs because they can be downright hilarious.
They love to play with toys and always come greet us.
One of our pigs had a blankie at one time that she carried around with her. They all have unique personalities and it’s nice knowing that they are happy and well-cared for before they are slaughtered.
3. Raising pigs for meat means less wasted food
Think about all of the food that you throw out on a weekly basis…
With pigs, no more food has to go to waste.
Don’t know what to do with those corn husks or corn cobs? Pig food. What about those black-eyed pea hulls? Pig food. Have leftover salad that wilted? Pig food.
Seriously, pigs will eat just about anything.
Sometimes you have to be careful NOT to feed pigs something that they shouldn’t eat because they don’t turn down much (except maybe grapefruit peels. Mine turn their noses up at grapefruit peels, but can you blame them?)
4. Raising pigs for meat teaches responsibility and respect for the animal.
At our house, the pigs have evolved into a chore for the kids.
Forrest, my son, is responsible for feeding and watering them each evening. He also takes any scrap food out to them.
Dallas, my daughter, is just now getting to where she can help him and helps him with the pigs most days. It’s been a really good way for the kids to learn responsibility.
We currently water our pigs with large plastic tubs that were leftover from cattle protein licks. When the water gets low, they knock the buckets over. Annoying, but, it’s been a good way for the kids to learn that animals need a steady supply of water. If the pigs are out of water for more than a few hours, they tend to knock the water tub over while you’re trying to fill it. Super annoying… Lesson- keep the pig’s water filled and it doesn’t become an issue.
Kids that raise animals for meat also learn to respect the animal more. When that animal becomes food on the table, the are much more appreciative than if it was store-bought.
5. Lastly, raising pigs for meat can be profitable if done properly.
Take this with a grain of salt…
It’s hard to make money with pigs, especially if you’re raising them as meat animals. It’s important to understand how to raise pigs efficiently so that you’re not pouring tons of money into them.
Many people that make money raising pigs either raise purebred or show animals or have found a small niche market.
If you live in the Corn Belt in the U.S., it’s easier to make a profit from raising pigs as meat animals because corn is cheaper for you.
If you’re interested in raising pigs, you’re probably planning on either raising them for meat or to sell for a profit. It can be easy to raise pigs that are profitable and productive, if you know how. You can learn how to do this with my free eBook ‘Profitable and Productive Backyard Pigs’.
Housing and Space for Pigs
If you’re going to raise pigs, one of the first things that you need to decide is whether you want to raise them on pasture or on concrete. Contrary to popular belief, pigs actually like to stay pretty clean when given the chance.
I personally prefer to keep my pigs on concrete. However, I understand that raising pigs on pasture can be very sustainable as well. If you have enough room, pasture pigs may be the better choice for you.
Make sure that if you raise your pigs on pasture that you have sturdy fencing. Pigs can tear through fences very easily if they want to. You can fence an area with hog panels, although this would be costly to fence large areas in. Our pig pen is made with hog panels but it’s pretty small.
You can also use a strand or two of electric fencing to deter them from fencing.
Raising pigs on pasture
There are some benefits to raising pigs on pasture. First of all, raising them on pasture can lower your feed costs, especially with good pasture. However, keep in mind that they will root up your pastures and they will test your fences.
If you raise pigs on pasture, you need to provide them with housing they they can escape the elements in. A run in shed will do just fine for this, but make sure that they have adequate room. In the winter, they’ll need heat lamps to stay warm. This can also be done in a run in shed.
Raising pigs on pasture can eliminate some of the concerns with odor or manure management, as the pigs will poop on the pasture and the poop can fertilize the ground. This only works when the pigs have ample room. Pigs that are crowded on pasture will simply turn the ‘pasture’ into a large mud rut.
Raising pigs on concrete
I have tried raising pigs on pasture a couple of times and I never figured out a system that would work for me, so we chose to raise our pigs on concrete. I like that I can sanitize their living area if needed (not that we’ve had to, but if we needed to it’s easy to clean and sanitize).
Contrary to belief, pigs do like to stay clean if they can. Pigs roll or lie in the mud to keep bugs off and to keep themselves cool. They poop in one area and generally stay out of that area. Keeping them on concrete allows them to stay clean.
Pigs raised on concrete also gain weight faster. You can monitor how much feed they get and less feed is wasted on concrete. If you’re raising pigs to butcher, you may want to consider concrete because the time it will take for them to reach slaughter size (250-270 lbs) is reduced.
The downfall to raising pigs on concrete is the need for manure management. The pigs are going to produce manure and you’ll need to figure out what to do with it. Check out this post about pig manure management.
Keeping pigs cool
No matter which way you decide to raise your pigs, you’ll need to have a plan to keep them cool.
Pigs don’t sweat, so they need help keeping cool in the warmer months.
When we go outside and it’s hot, we sweat. When the sweat evaporates, it cools us down. Pigs don’t sweat, so they need help cooling off. You can do this in a few different ways.
Provide them access to shade, preferably shade with a breeze.
I mentioned earlier that run in sheds will work to provide pigs shelter from the elements. If the shed is smaller or doesn’t get a decent breeze, consider adding a fan to create airflow.
Provide plenty of water, not just for drinking.
Since pigs don’t sweat, you can provide them with water to help cool them off. If you raise pigs on pasture, ponds or muddy areas can be used to cool the pigs off. They may even root around soggy pasture areas and lay in the mud to cool off.
Misting fans or even sprinklers can be used to get the pig’s skin wet to mimic sweating. Just like sweat, when the water evaporates from the skin it will cool them off.
Pigs that don’t have access to a way to cool themselves off will go off of feed, become stressed or even die. Make sure they have a way to cool themselves off.
Feeding pigs seems simple. However, you need to ensure that you’re giving them proper nutrition, especially if you are raising them for meat. You’ll want to spend the least amount of money possible on feed while growing healthy pigs.
No, your pig will not gain weight if it only eats table scraps.
I’m sure you’ve seen in movies where the scraps were fed to the pigs every day, usually as ‘slop’. Even though pigs enjoy table scraps, they can’t thrive on table scraps alone. Think of table scraps as a treat for them, not their main source of food.
With that being said, you can provide them human food as a large part of their diet (it just probably won’t come out of your kitchen).
If you live near a bakery, bread factory or even a dairy, then you’re in luck. Many commercial pig farmers will purchase surplus food from bakeries or nearby food factories and feed their pigs with it.
It’s a cheap source of feed that is nutritionally sound for pigs. You can even hit up your local grocery stores for expiring food. They will probably sell you items cheap that you can feed your pigs.
Premixed pig feed is expensive
I would recommend purchasing bagged pig feed as a last resort. It’s pretty costly and if you’re raising pigs for meat, then you may end up paying more per pound of meat if you feed them commercial bagged feed than if you can avoid it.
Pastured pigs will only require feed as a supplement, not as their entire diet. Make sure that pastured pigs are gaining weight well and have a good body condition. If they look a little on the lean side, increase their supplemental feed supply.
Corn is the most popular source of pig feed because it aligns almost perfectly with the nutritional needs of pigs.
Most commercial pig farms are located in the Corn Belt in the United States.
That’s because corn is an excellent pig feed and creates rapid growth in pigs. Corn can create extra fat on pigs but is unmatched in the nutritional value for pigs by any other single grain.
Breeders of purebred and show pigs often mix their own feed.
If you can source the various feed components cheaply, then you can mix your own feed as well. Doing this on a large scale can become expensive but is manageable for a few pigs.
Raising Pigs for Meat: Pig Health
Pigs are pretty tough animals and have few faults and issues.
Pigs bred today are often referred to as ‘cookie-cutter’ pigs because they all appear so similar. This is good in many ways, one of them being the structural correctness that many pigs today have. Structural correctness prevents pigs from having joint or movement issues.
There are a few problems that you should be aware of.
Piglets are born with copper and iron deficiencies.
Older pigs can get these nutrients from the soil, but younger piglets don’t since they are nursing.
Copper and iron are not generally passed onto the piglets in the milk. These two minerals are important for proper bone and joint health and development.
It’s a good idea to provide piglets with injections of copper and iron before they are 10 days old to prevent any issues from developing. I would try to have copper and iron on hand already if I had sows that would be giving birth and inject the piglets ASAP.
Copper and iron deficiencies can lead to malformed legs or joints, slower growth rates and even death of piglets. Providing iron and copper shots to piglets has been shown to decrease piglet mortality by as much as 30%.
Legs and Feet
You always want to choose breeding pigs that have good leg structure.
The hind legs should not be tucked under the pig’s body. Dewclaws should not touch the ground. Avoid pigs with swollen knees or hocks.
Pigs that have poor leg or feet structure will break down over time.
They will be unable to move around and will even go off of feed if it is painful to move around.
Avoid feet and leg problems by selecting breeding animals with good leg structure.
Poor hind leg structure can also create back issues.
Pigs with hind legs that are tucked under the body will have an arched back, which will also break down over time. Pigs should have a long, flat top line.
It’s especially important to have sound legs on pigs that will be raised on concrete.
Think about how your feet feel if you stand up on a hard surface for several hours at a time.
Now consider the fact that your feet are much larger in proportion to your body weight than a pig’s.
Pigs with poor leg and foot structure will break down rapidly on concrete. These pigs will eventually break down on pasture as well, but it will be much faster on concrete.
Pig skin is naturally dry and flaky. If you see dandruff on your pig, don’t freak out!
Pigs that will be raised on pasture or will be outside should be dark colored. Light colored pigs will sunburn very easily. Sunburned pig skin will quickly become even drier, will crack and bleed.
The dry skin can become itchy and will cause the pigs to want to rub.
Pigs love to be brushed with a stiff bristled brush to scratch their itchy skin. If they scratch aggressively, they may have lice. If you notice that your pigs are scratching so much that they are creating wounds, check them for lice. You can buy livestock dust to kill any lice that are on your pigs.
Keep any wounds clean and treated. Spray the wound with fly spray to keep the flies off of it. Horseflies are also attracted to pigs, so keep fly spray handy to help keep the flies off of your pigs.
Raising Pigs for Meat: Genetic disorders
Porcine Stress Syndrome gene
Pig breeders have bred pigs to grow rapidly, create lean meat and create more pounds of meat per carcass.
Unfortunately, one of the downsides of selective breeding is the emergence of hidden genes. Porcine Stress Syndrome (PSS) is a genetic disorder that affects pigs.
PSS causes pigs to stress excessively, especially when handled or transported.
Pigs with PSS are more likely to die unexpectedly after handling, transporting or in warm temperatures.
Pigs can be genetically tested for PSS genes and pigs with the PSS gene should not be bred to prevent the passing of this gene. Any breed of pig can be affected by the PSS gene.
Another genetic disorder to look out for is the Napole gene.
The Napole gene is commonly seen in Hampshire pigs and Hampshire crosses. This gene is often called the ‘acid meat gene’ and creates poor meat quality in these pigs.
The meat is hard, dry and acidic. Pigs can be tested for the Napole gene and pigs found to carry it should not be bred.
Raising Pigs for Meat: Breeding Pigs
Breeding pigs can be as simple as having a boar and sows or you can opt for artificial insemination. Want to know the benefits of artificial insemination?
Boars aren’t usually kept with the sows once they give birth, as a lot of times they will try to eat the offspring. They do this to bring the sow back into heat so that he can breed her again.
That’s not the case 100% of the time though, so it really just depends on the boar. If you decide to keep a boar around you should have plans to separate him into another pen or pasture if necessary. Learn what you need to know when choosing a boar for breeding.
Boars and breeding sows can get quite large.
Make plans for a mature boar to weigh upwards of 600 pounds. Mature sows can weigh close to that amount.
Artificial insemination of pigs is pretty straight forward (read about the process step by step here).
Using AI allows you to use semen from top quality boars without having to keep a boar on your property. You can easily order high quality semen through the mail and breed your sows for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a boar.
Pig Pregnancy: Remember the rule of 3’s
Pig pregnancy lasts for three months, three weeks, three days (the rule of 3’s). You can expect farrowing to happen within a couple of days of that window. Pigs rarely give birth far from that date. Get all of your pig pregnancy questions answered here.
When the sow gives birth, expect anywhere from 9-14 piglets. Some breeds are more prolific, like the Meishan, and will have upwards to 20 piglets in a litter. I would consider 13 piglets a good sized litter. When you’re picking out a sow to breed, make sure that she has at least 14 functional teats so that all piglets are able to nurse.
Breeds of Pigs
There are many breeds of pigs that you can choose from. Learn more about the most popular breeds of pigs here.
White skinned pigs are referred to as maternal pigs. These breeds are usually good mothers and have larger litters. They produce milk well and wean good sized piglets.
Dark skinned pigs are referred to as terminal breeds. These breeds usually have exceptional growth rates and meat quality characteristics.
Don’t think that you have to decide between maternal traits or meat quality. Many commercial breeders choose to cross maternal breeds with terminal breeds to get the best of both worlds. You can do the same thing.
Final Thoughts About Raising Pigs
Raising pigs is different than raising other types of livestock. They require hard work, but they’ll grow on you, too. They’re smart and social animals.
Always provide them with a way to cool themselves off. Make sure that they have their nutritional needs met with corn, pig feed, leftover bread or even feed you mixed yourself.
Choose the best quality pigs that you can. Avoid pigs with feet or leg issues. Don’t breed pigs that are carriers of the PSS or Napole genes.
Choose a breed that suits your needs, or choose two (or even three) and crossbreed to raise pigs that fit your individual needs.
You might also be interested in these pig-related articles:
- Choosing a Boar
- Pig Pregnancy- What You Need to Know
- Artificial Insemination of Pigs
- Meat Pig Breeds
- Heritage Livestock
- Why I Chose to Raise My Pigs on Concrete
- Common Pig Diseases
Are you raising backyard pigs? Do you raise pigs for meat or profit? Let me know below!