As with most endeavours on our small farm, we seem to jump into new projects feet first without much forethought or research. It seems as though that is the best way for us to learn…if we knew what we were getting ourselves into we might be too intimidated to try!
This is how we found ourselves buying four pigs. I’ll state for the record that although I had been pushing the idea of getting pigs all summer long, I wasn’t the one who brought them home in the back of a truck one day. No, not me. My husband had stated emphatically that we were NOT getting pigs…that if I got pigs he would divorce me (joking of course….kind of :)) So it was to my great delight that it was my father (the one who just can’t pass up a good deal) who came home with two full grown pigs in the back of a truck and two more baby pigs on the way in a few weeks time. And just like that we were pig farmers and I was blameless in the grand scheme of things.
The day the first pigs came home we had no shelter for them, no bedding for them to lay down in, no food for them to eat, and only my fathers knowledge of pigs from the time he raised three of them in the early eighties. Mike and my dad got to work converting a structure we had erected to shelter the chickens from the hot summer sun into a makeshift pig house. We fed the pigs chicken food and scraps, and we bought a few bales of hay from down the road for their bedding.
The kids named the first two pigs “Porkchop” and “Bacon”.
Porkchop and Bacon were ready for butchering within two weeks. We tried to instil in the children the sense that these animals were not pets (luckily they were aptly named!) and although they were pretty cute and quite friendly, when it was time for slaughter the kids were quite nonchalant about it. Indeed, my oldest son watched from start to finish and got an amazingly in-depth and up close lesson in biology.
Although we killed, skinned, and gutted the pigs ourselves we decided to take the carcasses to the butcher for processing because we really don’t have the facility or tools to properly cut a 250 pound pig.
The next set of pigs we raised from weaned babies. This was a whole other experience for us. Pigs are smart. Freaking smart.
My parents were away the first time the pigs escaped from our yard. We found them across the slow flowing river that borders one side of our property. The brush on the other side is too thick for us to get into so we ran around trying to scare them, corral them, and push them back across the water. We chased those pigs for hours. Finally in desperation I phoned my father to ask for advice. Lure them in with food he said.
Not ten minutes later they were back in their pen. A little bit of slop is pretty darn enticing to a pig. With a ladle and bucket I scooped out dollops of food every ten feet while I called to them. It was a little bit like a Hansel and Gretel story.
Over the next few weeks they escaped almost every day. Every day we enticed them back with food (I wonder if they escaped just for the promise of extra slop?) Everyday we beefed up the fencing and extended plastic fencing farther and farther into the water that makes up a natural fence on one side where we had them pastured. Finally we realized that the pigs were not walking across in the shallow places….they were swimming across!
Unfortunately for those two smarty pants pigs we had no choice but to fence them into a smaller pen. No more roaming for them.
We learned that pigs will eat anything. They are omnivores and not selective in their food choices. We learned this by discovering that our pigs were killing and eating our chickens! When we first brought the pigs home they free ranged with the chickens and we had no problems. But something must have happened after we got those pigs penned up that gave them a taste for chicken meat. Maybe they stepped on a chicken and upon investigation they discovered it tasted good…maybe a chicken died close enough to their pen that they could drag it in…..or maybe they were just chicken killers. Whatever the case may be we found them twice, halfway through their meals. Crazy right?
Despite all the craziness of raising our first pigs it was well worth it. We try to eat only ethically sourced meat and now we have a freezer full of pork that we raised ourselves. We know where it came from, how it was raised, what it ate, and how it died. We have a relationship with the meat on our plate, a relationship that most of the first world has lost with its grocery store, factory farmed meat. We get great satisfaction in sitting down to a meal where almost everything on our plate came from our property.
Another satisfying aspect of raising our own meat animals is in the education of our children. They were involved in every step along the way. They fed the pigs the apples we got for free from our local packing house, they got down on all fours and acted like pigs to get close enough to touch the huge beasts, they watched how quickly they grew, they learned about humanely raising them, and to me the most important part was they witnessed their deaths and gave thanks to them for giving their lives for us.
The last two pigs are now at the the butcher shop. This time we are getting the butcher to make most of it into ground pork and we will be attempting to make our own sausages with it.
Next up on the list (after I convince my husband) are meat chickens this spring!
Who wants to come for dinner?