Keeping pigs is a popular option for homesteaders who want to produce their own meat, and the usual way to do this is to keep weaners for six months. They are large, intelligent and social animals, and raising them humanely requires quite a bit of space. You will need to keep at least two, as pigs get lonely if they do not have companionship.
Why keep pigs?
Chickens are the first livestock that most new homesteaders tackle, but pigs come close behind them. Some people keep them as pets, but most people are motivated by meat production. The easiest way to raise pigs for meat is to buy a couple of weaners (recently weaned piglets around eight weeks old) and keep them for six months, then take them to an abattoir for slaughter. You can arrange for a local butcher to deal with the meat and sell some of it to cover most of your costs, or you can learn skill up and take care of the butchery yourself. You can even learn how to produce your own salami, sausages, pancetta, cured ham and the like. As well as being easier to store, processed meat is more profitable to sell.
How much work is keeping pigs?
Once your pigs are settled in you need to allow twenty minutes, twice a day. This is enough time for feeding, watering, and checking for problems with the pigs and fencing. Their straw bedding will need to be swept out every four weeks. Other jobs, such as moving them to fresh ground and taking them to the abattoir, take half a day. You need to be available to respond quickly to problems such as an escaped porker heading for the vegetable garden.
How much space do pigs need?
Organic standards require a minimum of a thirtieth of an acre for raising two weaners, or an area of about 60′ x 60′ (18.3m x 18.3m). With enough space, pigs will set themselves up with a wallow and an area well away from their bedding to defecate in. It’s only when they don’t have enough space that these three elements become mixed, leading to the popular misconception that pigs are dirty animals.
Although you can raise pigs in very cramped conditions, we don’t recommend it. Pigs grow to be large, intelligent creatures and it is only fair to give them as much space as you can. Pigs are treated very poorly in intensive agriculture, and this shows in the poor quality of commercially-reared pork. Most consumers don’t know any better: it isn’t until people taste proper outdoor-reared pork that they realise just how inferior the intensive meat is.
Preparing for pigs
Keeping pigs is much more regulated than keeping poultry, so before you get started you will need to come to grips with local legislation. You need licenses to keep pigs and to move them from place to place, and there are forms to be filled in before your first pigs arrive. For England, visit DirectGov; for Scotland, Scotland.gov.uk; for Wales, Wales.gov.uk; and for Northern Ireland, DardNI. Unless you’re keeping the pigs as pets, you will also need to find a local abattoir that will slaughter the pigs for you. The time to research this is not when your weaners reach slaughter weight!
Naturally, you will need enough freezer space to handle your own portion of the meat, but if at all possible you should know exactly where all the remaining meat will go. If you end up with half a carcass left over you are far more likely to end up accepting a poor price for it, so arrange your customers early. Make sure they understand exactly what they will be getting and ask for a deposit. Not only does this make it less easy for a customer to change their mind at the last moment, but it will help you with the considerable feed bills.