Suburban Homestead Pork

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pig Portions

Can a suburban homesteader raise a pig on their city lot? The answer is YES…sort of.

Any time I talk about raising livestock the first question I ask is “What are you zoned for?” This is the first question any suburban homesteader should ask when thinking about raising livestock, because there is nothing worse than disgruntled neighbors or an angry city.

The next question you should ask yourself is, “Can you do the big “B”?” The big “B” being butchering your pig. You don’t have to do it yourself, someone else can, but the question is, are you okay with butchering something that you’ve feed and cared for, for months. If the answer is no, then you’d better stop right here. But, if the answer is yes, you’ll soon be on your way to providing your family with fresh, tasty pork that has been well cared for and humanely processed.

First things first, though. First decide if you have the space to raise a pig.

Although a small piglet can live in smaller quarters a full grown pig will need about 80-square feet and a shelter to be happy and content. That’s an 8’x10’ pen, with a simple shade area so pig can get out of the sun. Next you’ll need to decide if you have the materials to build a pig pen or do you want to spend the money to buy materials. Pigs are notorious escape artists and the pen will need to be strong. Some of my friends use cemented posts with panels welded to them, but my pig raising friends say that’s overkill. No matter what you use it needs to be secure.

If you’re still onboard with raising a pig, the next question to ask yourself is “How many pigs should I raise” and “Where can I buy a piglet?”

Contrary to popular belief, pigs don’t need to be raised in pairs or larger groups like sheep and goats. A single pig will do just fine by itself. Where to buy may be relatively simple depending on where you live. In my area I have several 4-H Clubs and FFA chapters I can call to inquire about feeder pigs. But, if you don’t have these resources you may have to travel farther a field to purchase a piglet. Still, county 4-H offices and high school FFA Chapters are a good place to start. They should at least be able to guide you to a reputable breeder. If all else fails, call your county Farm Bureau office and ask for a list of local pig breeders.

One word of caution here: NEVER, EVER buy an animal at sale barns or livestock auctions that are not associated with quality stock. Most of these places are “dumping grounds” (as we livestock peeps call them) for unproductive, poor doing or diseased animals. No matter how cute they may be, you don’t want or need their problems on your small homestead.

So, your pen is built, you have a place to purchase a feeder pig, now you need to prepare for the pigs arrival.

The most important thing for any animals’ well-being and growth is a source for good clean water, and plenty of it. With the playful pig however, buckets and tubs do not work well, they step in them, getting them muddy and full of manure, and play in them to cool off. The easiest remedy is to install an automatic waterer or a lick-it, which is similar to the dog water nipple that fits onto a water faucet. A pig lick-it can be attached to a hose, then mounted to the pig pen. If this is more work for you or you want a portable solution try using a flat-backed water bucket with mounting brackets that can be bolted to the pen. These are available at most feed stores or livestock supply companies.

You’ll also want to buy a shallow, heavy rubber or metal tub for feeding. When it comes to pig feed you have several choices. You can feed corn, a commercially mixed feed or organic feed. Organic livestock feeds tend to be very expensive, making your pig raising project less cost effective, and although corn may be inexpensive it is not a well rounded diet for your pig. You can however, feed corn as a supplement in the last few weeks to one month before butchering as a way to help your pig put on more fat. Pre-mixed pig feed seems to be the best solution because it has all the protein, vitamins and nutrients to keep you pig healthy. Many feed dealers will also carry feed that does not contain hormones, antibiotics or animal products.

A long time ago pigs roamed free and were able to root for their food. Vegetation, nuts and berries, and other kinds of “mast” were major food sources for wild pigs. So, be creative with treats like vegetable scraps, garden scraps, weeds and trimmings. Generally, any kind of fruit or vegetable will send your pigs’ tail wagging, but I would stay clear of feeding your pig restaurant waste or garbage, since it may contain meat products that could be harmful to your animal and your family.

Long before it’s time for your pig to be processed, track down and arrange for a butcher to handle the slaughtering. In suburban areas, processing facilities may be few and far between. If someone comes from out of the area they may want to process several animals in one trip, so early scheduling is important. Contact local butcher shops to see if they handle custom orders and if they have resources for a butcher. Some may already have a relationship with people they like to work with.

This is also a good time to determine how you want the carcass cut up, and to decide if you want sausage, bacon, smoked hams and the like. Remember, animals only have so many body parts and they can only do so many things. If you want loin chops you won’t be getting pork tenderloin because both cuts come from the same part of the pig. The butcher can tell you what the options are. Within days of the processing you and your family can be feasting on your own succulent homegrown pork.

So, take a few cold winter days and let your mind dream of your own pig plans for next summer, you might find that raising a backyard pig is just right for your suburban homestead.

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