Let’s take a minute to talk about homestead hogs.
I feel like I haven’t talked about our pigs on this blog nearly enough. I spoke about the tubby little monsters at our homestead conference last Saturday, and I realized then that I’ve only mentioned them a few time here on ye olde web. But the truth is, they’re easily one of my favorite critters here on the homestead.
Pigs get a bad rap as being smelly, dirty, destructive — and on and on. And truthfully if they’re not done right, they can be all of those things. Pigs, perhaps more than any other species, need adequate space if you don’t want them to stink to high heaven and live in literal slop 24/7. Even though they come with their own set of challenges, pigs can be a huge asset to a homestead under the right circumstances.
5 Reasons Your Homestead Needs Pigs
Pigs aren’t for everyone, it’s true. That said, there are some very good reasons to add these marvelous creatures to your sustainable, diversified homestead.
1. Pigs are walking compost bins.
Pigs are omnivores, which means that they’ll eat pretty much anything. (It also means that, unlike some animals like cows, pigs cannot be 100% grass fed — their digestive system isn’t set up for it.) Goats get that reputation of being indiscriminate eaters, but the truth is that goats are much more picky, sensitive, and needy in their diet than pigs. Pigs are such a fantastic animal for a diverse homestead because they make use of so much that would otherwise go to waste. Anything from excess dairy and old eggs to kitchen scraps and garden wastes can be fed to pigs.
Pigs will slurp up milk like its candy. They’ll eat your corn stalks after you’ve picked off the ears of corn. They’ll grub on turnips that have gone past their prime. They’ll happily lay waste to the excess eggs your couldn’t sell or eat in time. And they don’t just eat the stuff — they love it! Too much of certain foods, like baked good or sweets, aren’t good for them and will lower the meat quality, but fruits, veggies, and dairy are all great supplements.
I’m not advocating for feeding pigs solely on scraps and pasture, because they have complex nutritional needs that can’t usually be met on that kind of diet, but they can absolutely make otherwise wasted food into something useful.
2. Pigs are funny.
One big reason I like my homestead hogs is simply because they’re enjoyable to have around. They are definitely a unique species. For example, pigs recognize (or perhaps don’t recognize) strangers. They usually sleep through the night like humans. They like to take mud baths and play in the water, because they’re sensitive to the heat. They love food more than I do — and I love food. They explore the world with their noses and mouths, and this includes determining if your feet are edible by biting them. Overall, pigs are gentle giants — assuming you’re not dealing with an aggressive boar or a sow whose piglets are upset — and they’re a lot of fun to watch.
Pigs can also be quirky and talkative. They enjoy burrowing down into tall grass or hay and completely covering themselves. They can be a little noisy at times as well, especially when food is involved. Our gilt Myrtle is particularly talkative and will answer back with an oink if you speak to her. Piglets are especially adorable, of course, and bring a lot of joy to a homestead.
3. One Word: Pork.
As much as I love bacon, it ain’t all just about the bacon, folks. It’s about pork chops. Pork roast. Ground pork. Pork sausage. Lard. Pork loin. Pork ribs. Hams. Shoulders. Leaf lard. Even pork feet, pork tail, and pork head cheese. The world is your oyster when you raise the meat and have it processed according to your liking. (Or even process it yourself if you have the infrastructure.) Pork also has a very high conversion from live weight to finished product — roughly 57%.
When you buy meat at the store, it’s likely confinement raised, GMO soy and corn fed, standard cuts of meat. You can find chops, loins, bacon, sausage, hams around the holidays, and if you’re lucky maybe some plain ground pork (which is excellent to mix with beef or venison for meatloaf). It’s usually fairly expensive, especially if you try to buy better quality stuff, and there isn’t much variety. Compare that to home-raised pastured pork fed non-GMO and soy-free feed AND the ability to use every bit of the pig — that’s a whole ‘nother ball game.
4. Pigs are highly productive.
Most large livestock species (rabbits not included) have an average of 1-3 offspring per litter and typically only give birth once a year. Cows, goats, and sheep all only give birth once a year. The largest litter ever recorded of goat kids has been 7 offspring in one litter and that is highly unusual — typically four or five is the common max, and even that is rare. Most of these larger creatures also have a specific breeding season, and typically will breed in fall and give birth in spring, with some exceptions.
Pigs on the other hand have an average litter size of 4-10 piglets. They come into heat year round on a roughly 21 day cycle, so there is no specific breeding or birthing season for pigs. Pigs can also be bred two times a year if desired, and commercial hog operations sometimes breed a sow up to three times a year. (Personally, I would stick to 1-2 litters.) That’s a whole lot more offspring per year than any other large livestock will give you — and it’s a whole lotta bacon to put in the freezer or sell.
5. Pigs are low maintenance.
In addition to being useful for things like recycling excess food and clearing land, pigs are also one of the most low maintenance creatures on a homestead. In comparison to the very high-maintenance nature of dairy goats, caring for pigs is a walk in the park. They’re not without their special considerations — pigs are strong, can sometimes be aggressive, and can be destructive — but overall, they’re not hard to care for.
Just like any livestock, they do have basic needs and requirements. Adequate food, shelter, water, space, and a place to cool off on hot summer days are all they need on a daily basis. Pigs do require a hot electric fence or an extremely sturdy physical fence, because they have the strength to easily burst through or root under most types of fencing, but once they’re successfully contained all one must do is keep an eye on the fence and do maintenance as needed. Pigs are easy to please creatures who are quite content with the bare necessities of life.
I love my pigs, and it’s become obvious to me why “yard pigs” were such a commonplace animal back in the days of my great-grandparents when most people still homesteaded. They’re an excellent addition to an old fashioned, diversified homestead or small farm.