The pig business is pretty good these days; it's to the point that I don't advertise anymore; all of my production is sold to people who come to me from word of mouth, and I'm able to sell everything that I produce at my farm gate, or pretty close to it, which is nice.
the 1910 wooden barn on the new farm
I purchased my current farm in 2013, as an upgrade from some land i was farming in the flood plain, and it's been a good 6 years here. This property came with big barns and a 4 bedroom house, and while I do like having half an acre under roof I'm not in love with the county government taxing me to death for owning it, and my special neighbor is on her 6th year of harassing me. I'll take my profit and move to something better.
I'm going to put this farm up for sale soon; I'll offer it as four parts, and an interested buyer can buy any or all of it:
4br/3ba 2500sq ft house on 10 acres, with 4000 square foot horse barn
35000 square feet of commercial barn, milking parlor on 10 acres
45 acres of great, flat cropland
5 acre building lot, off flood plain.
I'll be moving my operation 8 miles to the east, to a larger farm (larger in the land sense), but smaller in the house and barn sense. there's a single 1910 barn on the property, a wood barn, and a 1200 square foot house. 2 br, 2 baths.
over the next year I'll be designing and building a farm that is purpose-built for my operation. The last few years have been an exercise in trying to fit a pig operation into a cattle structure, and while i've done it, to be honest, I'll would never have built the barns like the guy did here. he lost his farm because of it.
I'll be doing all of the things I did here on the new property; a survey to figure out where the edges are. Fencing along the property lines. Remodel the house a little before I move - paint and flooring, update the bathrooms, make sure that it has proper insulation and ventilation.
The new farm has a pretty substantial gravel deposit on it; a couple of million tons of it, and I'm going to take a stab at permitting a gravel mine on that property over the next year or two as another income stream for the farm, and I'll continue with the pig business, but I'll probably build a processing area as part of the new farm to accommodate those folks who like to process their own pigs.
Life has had its ups and downs in the last two years, and I'm liking the direction its taking now.
The summer before last my husband and I bought two pigs from you that 6 months later we butchered. (Great pigs.) We also left with 4 baby piglets that needed bottle feeding. I volunteered to take them so my summer camp kids could help raise them. (They loved them). You thought they would most likely not make it since they didn't get colostrum from their mother who had abandoned them. Well, two did die but two survived and they are now giant pigs. A male and a female. Friendly pigs that now I don't know what to do with them. The boy never got castrated, and the female doesn't seem to be pregnant. I am wondering what to do. If you have any advice or may know someone who would want them? A breeding pair? I don't have the proper set up for them anymore. They have plowed the extent of my pasture, using an electric fence and now in the barnyard..they have outgrown the barn space. I am told they are too old to butcher and that uncastrated male meat should not be eaten. Sorry to bother you I know you are busy but any advice would be appreciated.
So there's two possible questions here: (a) what do I do with a pig that I've become attached to and can't see slaughtered or (b) is it ok to eat boars or older sows?
There's nothing wrong with the meat from older pigs; it tends to be tougher than the meat from younger pigs, but cooked low and slow or braised and it'll be as tender as you want it to be. Crock pots, pressure cookers, or just slow roasting will get you to the degree of tenderness you want in your pork. Older animals will tend to have a higher amount of fat, and for things like salami or other charcuterie may actually work better than a younger pig that isn't as fat. A good salami is about 30% fat in my opinion.
The meat from boars can be eaten; the concern is with boar taint, which is an unpleasant smell which can be present in the fat of uncastrated male pigs. But there's a couple of things you should know. 1) not everyone can smell or detect boar taint - I had one boar processed that I could not eat because of it, but my brother happily at it - I can smell it, he can't. About 20% of the population can detect boar taint, and the other 80% cannot.
And not all boars have detectable taint. The easy way to test this is at slaughter time - you slice off some of the fat and fry it up. If you smell frying fat and no unpleasant odor either you can't smell boar taint or there isn't any in that particular animal.
If there is boar taint you can use that pork in highly spiced sausages. Chorizo or pepperoni being popular choices.
With respect to keeping a pig that you're attached to, a full-sized sow or boar will maintain weight on 6lbs of feed per day. They'll want more, but my feed price is about $0.19/lb, and so it costs about $1.20/day to feed a full-grown pig, about $36/month. So that's the price of your very large pet.
With that said, there are several pigs that have died of old age on my farm because I couldn't bring myself to shoot them. Each had a particular story, and each lived a long and happy life.
Part of the business I do on my farm are people who want to have a pig and process it in the way that their tradition and culture has done for ages. One of those groups that I serve is the the Moldovan community that lives in and around Seattle.
What they like the best is a relatively large pig; 300lbs or so, with a good amount of back fat. They aren't particularly picky on color, and do like to choose the pig that they are going to process, and see it live.
It's often a little bit of a problem to make sure that they get a pig that they are happy with - I'm asking them on the phone what size pig, they're consulting (pig purchases are often a group endeavor, with 3 or 4 families splitting the pig) and it's a bit of a parlimentary process, and no matter what they tell me on the phone, they almost never pick a pig like the one that they describe. So I smile, and talk slowly, and don't take careful notes; I know that the final decision will be made on the day they come to the farm.
I bought a digital scale with a cage around it to help with their choice; after a decade of this I've got a pretty good eye for pig. I can tell a pigs weight, plus or minus 5 pounds, consistently, but the customers are always skeptical, and so what I do now is ask what size pig they're after, find a pig that weight, and then put it on the scale to show them the weight.
Some of the folks are skeptical about my scale, too, so I usually ask the person who is closest in weight to the pig that they're after to step on the scale and they usually see that it's pretty accurate, and then we put the pig on and discuss.
So we put the first pig on the scale, and it's almost always too small. There's a discussion about this, which I'm excluded from because I don't speak the language, but I can get a feel for each faction. There's the "fatter is better" there's the "cost is most important" and then there's the "it's the holidays, lets get the best pig!" and the discussions are usually pretty good natured.
So I show them the pigs they have a choice of, and they pick one, and I tell them that I need payment up front for the pig - after it's shot, there's no going back! - and after we've settled the pig is killed and stuck and they proceed to process it.
They almost always bring a bottle of something to drink; whisky, schnapps, wine - it's the holidays, and this is a celebration for them. they'll be eating well tonight, with friends and family, and another year past. The older people show the younger people and I'm guessing that there's always the story about the really hard work that they used to do. You know the deal - when we walked to school it was uphill both ways, in the snow! that sort of story.
After they've got the pig scraped they'll cut it up, and eat a bit of the back fat, with salt, directly off the fresh pig, and this is an important part of the ritual of the holiday pig. I'm not a big fan of fat back, but heck, with a shot or two of whiskey, all things are possible!
It has become a part of my own holiday tradition now, and come november I'm looking at the herd and setting aside a few great pigs for these families.
Happy holidays to everyone, and here's to a prosperous 2019 for you and yours!
One of the things that I get questions on from customers is what I feed my pigs. A mixture of complete feed, produce from super markets, bread and other human food that is past its prime or there's been some sort of accident that makes it available to me. (Accidents like spearing the side of a container of pumpkin pie filling with a forklift. The pie filling is just pureed pumpkin, but they can't use it in the food production because it's punctured - but the pigs like it just fine.
click on picture for more detail
There's a segment of the customers who are puzzled by that - why don't I raise my pigs on grass alone, like the guy in vermont? Or on acorns like the farmers in spain? It's happened often enough that I have a standard talk - "well, that guy in vermont who claims to raise pigs on pasture alone, I offered him $10,000 to raise pigs per his claimed standards, and he declined. "
There's no question that you could raise pigs on forage alone; wild pigs manage to do that every year, and in warmer areas of the country they've been so successful that they have become pests and are basically hunted without restriction. If that's true, why not raise my pigs on forage alone?
The claim made was that you could keep 20 pigs on an acre of ground and have those 20 pigs grow from weaned pig size to market weight on the forage they got from that amount of ground alone.
So lets put some numbers on that: to grow from 40lb feeder pig size to finished pig size at 250lbs is 210lbs of weight gain. In a heated barn with very good nutrition and no immune challenges like the common cold - that amount of weight gain would take 520lbs of feed (2.5 lbs of feed per pound of gain).
There's a lot of research on what to feed pigs and their nutritional needs vary by the growth stage they are in, but in a general sense we can get close enough for discussion by using the calorie value of a pound of corn (1660) and a pound of soybeans (2030). Pig feed is about 70% corn and 30% soybeans, so (.7 * 1660 + .3 * 2030 = ) 1771 calories per pound of feed.
To raise one pig from 40lbs to 250lbs takes a little under a million calories in perfect conditions - remember, these pigs are in temperature controlled barns and are protected from disease or anything else that would impede their growth.
That's different than the environment when they are raised outdoors. My experience with pigs raised on pasture is that they consume more feed; in the early parts of the year they're using the calories to keep themselves warm, in the later parts to keep themselves cool, and all of the time to fight off all of the small ailments that they're exposed to in nature. Every time they get a sniffle it doesn't hurt them, but it does hurt the efficiency of gain.
So for this hypothetical pasture I'd need to grow roughly 20 million calories worth of food at a minimum, with the real number probably being closer to 30, in order to meet the nutritional needs of the pigs.
Corn: 15 million Potatoes: 15 million Rice: 11 million Soybeans: 6 million Wheat: 4 million Broccoli: 2.5 million Spinach: 1.7 million
To get 15 million calories of corn from an acre you can't keep the pigs in the same area. The corn has to be planted, grow and mature in order to get the full calorie advantage. That is not what the claim is: the claim is you can keep 20 pigs an acre and have them get all of the food they need from that acre while they live here. Even if you reduced the number of pigs by half - 10 pigs per acre - you'd still need to have the entire acre covered with either corn or potatoes that grew unmolested and were harvested when maximum calories were available.
That's why I don't believe the claims of having raised pigs on forage alone. Not in the area described, and not at the speed claimed ("10% to 20% slower than on regular feed").
Now it's entirely possible to raise enough crops to feed pigs on your own. I'm doing that on my farm now - I plant separate acreage with corn and harvest that corn to form the bulk of my pig feed. My pigs are kept outdoors, on vegetation - mostly alfalfa, which they enjoy eating - and they're given a ration of last-years corn to grow on. In the winter the pigs allowed out,but choose to spend most of their time in the barn, sheltered from the weather.
What would it take to grow a pig on pasture forage alone?
To raise 10 pigs on pasture you need an acre of corn somewhere to feed them, or you need to provide enough acreage so that each hog has multiple acres to forage from, as wild pigs often do. And you'll get a result that is closer to wild pig than farm pig - a much leaner body, a much smaller body, and much less fat. I am not aware of any commercial pig venture that is doing that now. Even iberico pigs in spain are fed a grain ration: