You might be saying to yourself, I have no interest in pigs. I don’t have room for them. I don’t know anything about them. I don’t WANT to know anything about them.
I get it. Not too long ago, I was at least in the neighborhood of this kind of thinking. Give me cows. Give me goats. Give me lots of chickens. But pigs???
But then I did what I normally do. I made a decision out of haste to purchase a couple pigs, and stumbled into something kinda wonderful.
I can’t really tell you why we went ahead and bought the pigs. All I can tell you is that we knew very little about what we were getting into. But that didn’t scare us away.
Much of what we learn on the farm comes by experience. For me, that has always been the best of teachers. This has been just as true with our experience with pigs as anything else.
We haven’t once regretted our decision to raise heritage pigs. It’s not the easiest thing we’ve ever done, but it is rewarding. I’m not here to evangelize to those unwilling to be burdened by the idea of piggery. If pigs aren’t for you, that’s okay. But if you are considering taking a gamble on these snout-faced creatures, or if there is a chance you’re on the fence and I can talk you down onto my side of the field, here are a few reasons why you might consider raising your own pork on the homestead.
A source of meat that has a traceable history
At one time it was almost taboo to demand to know where our food came from. But with every hamburger or lettuce recall, this sentiment is gaining more steam. I don’t think this is a fad either. I think this idea is here to stay.
Raising pigs is a great way to fill your freezer all year. But even better than that, YOU get decide how your pigs are raised. Whether they are in a barn or on pasture, you decide. You decide what they eat. Don’t like GMO? Don’t feed them corn and soybeans. You are in control. Plus, the meat tastes better than what you’ll ever get at the grocery store. No doubt about that.
Compost, compost, compost
Our first year market gardening, we spent an ungodly amount of money on compost. The compost we had available to us came from recycled yard waste shipped from the city, so the quality of what we were spending all that money on was suspect.
With just five pigs, we have been able to amass as much or more compost as we bought that first year, and at no additional cost. Pigs eat. Pigs poop. Simple as that.
Right now our pigs are on concrete paddocks. We clean those paddocks out once a week in the summer months, shoveling manure into the loader bucket and dumping it into a large pile out in the market garden to be frequently turned over. We cover the concrete with rye straw to absorb moisture, so the manure is already mixed with a good organic material that will help it break down. It’s a never ending supply of nutrients for the garden soil.
Even better, if you let your pigs go to pasture they’ll do the spreading for you.
They’re living rototillers
If you’re brave enough you might consider letting your pigs into the garden early spring or late fall. Their snouts were made for rooting through even the toughest patch of dirt, and in little time they’ll have your soil turned over as they search for grubs and roots. Set up a temporary fence made from hog paneling around the garden, or use movable electric netting, but make sure its secure or else they will be in the neighbors year rooting before you know it.
A source of income
Raising pigs can create multiple streams of diversified income to your homestead. You can breed your sows and sell the litter (after they’re weaned) to people looking for feeder pigs or to add to their own homestead herd. You can raise pigs to butcher and sell the meat. If you raise heritage pigs, you can specialize in certain high quality cuts that demand a premium price. Restaurants are often looking for new avenues to source farm to table pork.
Start small. Do your research. Know that you won’t get rich with a small herd. But don’t be afraid to experiment with your local market. You might be surprised about the opportunities you find.
They will enrich your life
When we first started out with pigs I had no idea how they would affect our lives. I was nervous, because I had no clue what I was doing. But pigs are resilient. They are not very difficult to take care of (make sure you have solid fencing!). And they will enrich your life. I promise.
Pigs will give you purpose. They will teach you things about yourself you didn’t know. They will challenge you. They will love you. And they will teach you things about the rhythm of life you wouldn’t otherwise understand. I think this is true with raising animals in general, but pigs have a special quality about them that adds a little more character to the experience. They are endlessly curious. They will seek to entertain themselves in the funniest ways, and in so doing will entertain their keepers at the same time.
As with anything you want to take on, do your research. If you know people who raise pigs, ask them lots of questions. Find a group on Facebook. Read some books. Don’t jump in with both feet unless you’re committed. But if you decide to take on this challenge, it’ll be worth the adventure in more ways than I’ve outlined here.
And that’s the gospel truth.