When envisioning a self-sufficient lifestyle, the inclusion of raising hogs is a common theme. Whether picturing the mountain dwellers of the West or the hill folk of Appalachia, smoked bacon, home-cured hams, homegrown corn, and utilizing leftover scraps all contribute to this image.
Since the establishment of Jamestown and Plymouth, producing pork has played a vital role in the personal autonomy of rural Americans for both consumption and trade. Hogs possess a remarkable ability to survive in challenging environments and convert nearly any edible waste into high-quality meat.
Without hogs, many southern residents, regardless of race, would have struggled to endure the lean years after the Civil War. Additionally, prior to the Cherokee peoples‘ relocation, they maintained their independence and increased their wealth by raising small swine herds for home consumption and trade.
Advantages of a small-scale operation
You may have seen the large, modern swine production facilities that churn out thousands of identical market hogs each year. Competing with such operations may seem daunting, but it’s important to recognize that these owners are beholden to market forces and creditors. Any increase in feed costs, drop in market price, or minor disease outbreak can wipe out years of profits and force them into bankruptcy, costing them their entire farm.
Conversely, small-scale pork producers with 100-500 hogs per year may have an advantage. Selling approximately 110 hogs at a 90% profit can bring in the same amount of spendable dollars as selling 1000 hogs at the typical 10% profit of a factory farm. Raising a single good boar and five quality sows to an optimal weight of 200 pounds per animal and selling at average market price can result in a nice annual profit.
However, small-scale swine production requires preparation and research before diving in. While potentially lucrative, it’s not a venture to be pursued hastily.
Types of hogs
To begin raising hogs on your country property, the first step is to assess your own temperament and abilities as well as the physical aspects of your land. Next, you should choose the type of hog that is best suited for you and your property. There are many breeds and varieties, but they can be divided into two major categories.
The first category includes “confinement” type hogs such as the Duroc, Hampshire, and Yorkshire. These hogs do well in crowded conditions and can breed, bear, and fatten nicely in a relatively small area. However, they require daily care, feeding, and water. These hogs are ideal for smaller farms or homesteads as they don’t require much acreage to produce a reliable and steady income.
The second category includes breeds such as the Tamworth and Holstein (yes, there are Holstein hogs too). These hogs are capable of producing just as well as the confinement breeds but are better suited for large fenced pastures or woodlots. They require minimal care and can thrive on foraged grasses, acorns, and roots. Successful production with these breeds requires a larger homestead acreage.
It’s important to note that confinement breeds do not thrive under forage-type conditions, and vice versa. Therefore, you should make a decision on the type of hog you want to raise before setting up your operation.
The next step is to determine the facilities you will require, including shelter, fencing, farrowing huts, and so on. This decision will depend on the type of hog you choose to raise. However, keep in mind that any structure, regardless of the type of hog, must be sturdy and secure.
Adult hogs are incredibly strong animals that can easily break through poorly maintained fences or weak housing. Additionally, young pigs and shoats take pleasure in wriggling out through the smallest break in any fencing or farrowing house.
Therefore, whether you choose wire field fencing or some form of wooden fence, and whatever type of shelter is suitable for your situation, ensure that your initial installation is robust and secure, and then ensure that it remains so.
Feeding the hogs
The advantage of the smaller producer over the factory farmer is evident in hog feeding. The high cost of commercial feed is what drives these pork factories to operate on a high-volume, low-profit margin system. Although these expensive rations typically fatten hogs faster, they require producing ten market animals to match the profit of a single marketable porker from low-volume breeders due to the cost of feed.
Many small-scale producers of forage-type hogs prefer moving their herd three times annually. Their hogs spend spring and early summer on mixed grass pasture, late summer, fall, and sometimes early winter in the woodlot, and the majority of the winter in a corn, bean, sorghum, or beet field that was planted for them and left unharvested.
With our confinement hogs, and our small operation, we have devised a feeding system that works perfectly for us. We plant a mixture of corn, beans, and sorghum together, and harvest the entire plant for feed. During the summer, we feed fresh-mown hay or grass, reserving the last cutting for winter hay. Moreover, we give the hogs any garden waste, potato peels, damaged or spoiled tomatoes, wormy or bad apples, and thoroughly cooked fish scraps and butchering wastes.
To supplement the feed we produce, we found a bakery outlet store that sells us a pickup load of stale bread, doughnuts, and other outdated bakery items once a week or so for next to nothing. It is a worthwhile and super-inexpensive addition for us, and they are happy to receive even a token payment rather than pay to dump it.
Establishing mutually beneficial arrangements with restaurants, doughnut shops, produce wholesalers, supermarkets, farmer’s markets, and other businesses can be very useful for small-scale breeders of confinement-type hogs. Owners of these businesses are sometimes happy to save their leftovers, damaged and imperfect produce, etc., for token payment. Such arrangements can be the determining factor in deciding the number of hogs that your enterprise can support.
Buying the hogs
When it comes to raising hogs, there are a number of factors to consider. From the facilities needed to the type of feed required, every decision can impact the success of your operation. One of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is what breed of hog to raise. With so many breeds available, the choice may seem overwhelming, but it ultimately comes down to personal preference and the demand in your area.
If there are other swine producers in your area, it may be wise to stick with the breeds that are most popular. This will ensure that there is always a demand for quality breeding stock. You’ll want to select your own original breeding stock as carefully as possible, checking into the records of the producers you purchase your stock from.
Factors such as litter size and survival rates, early weaning abilities, number of days to marketable weight, feed conversion rates, and other related factors are all extremely important to consider. While you may pay more for stock with a high production background, it’s well worth the extra cost.
Once you’ve settled on the breed of hog you want to raise, it’s time to consider the facilities you’ll need. This will depend largely on the type of hog you decide to raise. Whether you choose to raise confinement-type or forage-type hogs, you’ll need to ensure that any structure you use is both strong and tight.
An adult hog is a powerful animal, capable of breaking through poorly maintained fences or collapsing weak housing. Even young pigs and shoats can squirm out through small breaks in fencing or farrowing houses. Whether you opt for wire field fencing or some type of wooden fence, make sure that your original installation is both strong and tight, and then make certain that it stays that way.
When it comes to feeding hogs, smaller producers have an edge over factory farmers. The high cost of commercial feed forces pork factories to work on a high-volume, low-profit margin system. While high-dollar rations will bring hogs to market weight much faster than less expensive feeds, due to the cost of feed, factories usually need to produce ten market animals to match the profit realized by lower-volume breeders with a single marketable porker.
Many small-scale producers of forage-type hogs find that moving their herd three times a year works out best for them. Hogs spend the spring and early summer on mixed grass pasture, the late summer, fall, and sometimes early winter in the woodlot, and the largest share of winter in the corn, bean, sorghum, or beet field that was planted for them and left unharvested.
For confinement-type hogs, there are many different feed options available. At our own operation, we’ve found that a feed system consisting of a mixture of corn, beans, and sorghum works well. We harvest the entire plant, including the stalks, for feed. During the summer, we also feed a lot of fresh-mown hay or grass, saving the last cutting for winter hay.
Additionally, we feed them thoroughly cooked fish scraps and butchering wastes. To supplement the feed we produce ourselves, we’ve found a bakery outlet store that will sell us a pickup load of stale bread, doughnuts, and other outdated bakery products once a week or so, for next to nothing. Such mutually beneficial arrangements are well worth taking the time to find.
Finally, when it comes to the care of your hogs, it’s important to handle them in a way that will make it easier to manage them in unexpected situations. Starting out with just a few young shoats allows you to become familiar with their care while they are still small and easily managed. Hand-raising them like family pets can result in calm, easily managed adult breeders.
This method of hand-raising our hogs also allows us to closely monitor their health and well-being. We can quickly identify any issues and provide the necessary care before they become serious problems. By giving them individual attention, we can ensure that they are receiving the proper nutrition and that their physical and emotional needs are met. This not only results in healthier and happier hogs but also translates into better quality pork.
In addition to hand-raising our hogs, we also prioritize maintaining a clean and sanitary environment for them. We regularly clean their shelters and provide them with fresh bedding to prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria and parasites. This not only benefits the hogs but also reduces the risk of disease transmission to other livestock and humans.
Overall, selecting the right breed of hog, carefully choosing breeding stock, and providing individualized care and attention are crucial factors in the success of a small-scale hog operation. It may require more time and effort than a large-scale factory farm, but the benefits of producing high-quality pork and fostering a personal connection with your animals are well worth it.
Moreover, as consumers become increasingly concerned with the ethical and environmental impact of their food choices, small-scale hog operations that prioritize animal welfare and sustainability are likely to become more popular. By focusing on quality over quantity, small producers can carve out a niche market for themselves and create a more sustainable and responsible food system.
Taking care of your hogs
In order to care for newborn piglets, it’s important to nip off their razor-sharp needle teeth to prevent them from injuring their mother while suckling. Although some may skip this step for piglets they plan to keep as breeders, it’s not recommended as the mothers often find the teeth too painful.
However, leaving the tusks intact may prove useful in areas where feralized dogs attack livestock. Castrating male shoats that won’t be kept or sold as breeders is also important, and can be done with a finely-honed sheepsfoot pocket knife blade. It’s recommended to watch someone else perform the procedure before attempting it yourself.
Apart from these specific tasks, hogs also have other needs. Access to fresh drinking water is the most important part of their diet, as water helps keep them hydrated and healthy. Additionally, providing some way for the hogs to keep cool in the summer is essential.
This can be accomplished through various means, such as shade, mud wallows, sprinklers, creeks, or electric fans. Hogs are sensitive to heat, and too much of it can cause serious health problems or even death.
Winter brings different challenges, as drafts can kill hogs when they sleep. Even forage-type hogs need a place to curl up out of the wind, and any hog shelter for winter use should have a dirt floor or be furnished with a plentiful supply of dry bedding. While forage-type sows can generally care for their offspring through weaning, confinement breeds require more attention.
The adult sow can handle cold temperatures, but not heat, so she’s constantly moving around to stay cool. This can be problematic for her offspring, who need to be kept warm at all times. To solve this, a heat lamp can be hung over one corner of the farrowing pen or hut to provide a steady source of warmth for the piglets. The piglets tend to congregate under the heat lamp while their mother avoids the added heat, reducing the risk of her crushing them accidentally.
As you gain more experience, you’ll be able to estimate when your hogs have reached the ideal market weight just by looking at them. Loading these reluctant animals onto a truck or trailer for transportation to the market is often a challenging task. There are many methods to achieve this, but I have found that the most efficient way to load my hogs into my truck is by using a sturdy ramp with fenced sides and a hard-working dog.
While it may seem like a lot of hard work, raising pigs for profit is not a quick and easy solution to making money. However, it can be a reliable source of income for those living in rural areas who are willing to commit to the daily care and maintenance that is required. Take a moment to assess your own situation and see if raising pigs could be a viable option for you.
In addition to earning income, there is the added benefit of having your own fresh pork products, such as succulent pork roasts and smoked hams, essentially for free. This was a significant factor for us when we first considered raising pigs for profit, and we feel that the delicious results alone have made the effort worthwhile.