From Bacon Bits to The Whole Hog: Our First Experience Raising Pastured Pigs

Giving the pigs some scritches in their final week on the pasture.

It’s taken some time for me to figure out what I wanted to cover with this blog post, but I finally decided I should just start writing and see where it takes me. Many of our friends, family members, and customers have asked us how it feels to have raised our own pork. The question isn’t always phrased in that way, but that’s the information most folks are seeking when they ask. This blog post will hopefully answer that question, and a whole lot more.

Back in March, we decided pigs were something we needed on the farm. Bob installed a hot wire around the perimeter of what would become the pig pasture, and we started picking up the supplies we’d need.

At the end of April, Christian, Kate, and Luca from Ham Sweet Farm delivered our first three American Guinea Hog bacon bits, with the intention of us picking up two more from another litter once they were ready. As we thought about it, we decided to get some pink pigs to raise alongside the heritage breed, so that we could have pork ready sooner. We also wanted some pigs that weren’t as lardy for the customers who would not be interested in a super thick fat cap.

The pink pigs struggled at first. Going from being raised in a barn to being out on pasture was definitely an adjustment. They all ended up with “dippity pig”, despite our best efforts to avoid it (shade, mud wallows, and lots of fresh cool water to drink). Dippity pig is a weird thing that happens when pigs get sun burnt. Generally, the darker breeds don’t deal with it as often or as severely. It took a little while for them to heal up, but they got better and their skin got tougher. Once they got through that, they didn’t have any other issues being raised outdoors. We did learn that we want to stick with pigs that were born outside, as opposed to pigs that were destined for life in a barn. Some individual lines of pigs just end up doing better raised outdoors.

Shortly after bringing them home, we built them a nipple drinker to make watering them a little easier. Many people have issues with water barrels, but we were quite lucky that the pigs chose not to destroy it. They did however really enjoy carting around their feed pans, and hiding them from us. This is one BIG change we are going to make for next year. No feed pans, and instead we will use a feed trough, or a more standard style hog feeder.

In addition to their regular feed ration, we picked up extra food for them on an almost weekly basis. Bread, apples, pears, sweet corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, and walnuts made up a big part of their diet. We are so grateful to our friends and farm customers for helping us acquire all these snackies! Several market vendors were giving us bags and boxes of food after the market, and none of it went to waste. We are hoping that with our next batch of pigs, we can actually manage to decrease our overall feed costs per hog with all this food. Some of the items are very seasonal, but some can be stored for a few weeks before being fed out, so we are going to figure out how to make the most of the abundance we get.

Our farm vet took a look at them on the few farm visits she made for other animals. We are very lucky to have an awesome working relationship with our vets, and they have become good friends of ours. Any time any of our animals has an issue, I can text her pictures and whatever questions I have, and she is always so helpful. The hogs stayed healthy the entire time they were here, other than the four that got dippity pig. We made sure they got extra care while they weren’t feeling their best, but overall, they did very well. We know that this isn’t always the case, and some people have not so good luck with pigs, and we know that will probably happen to us one day as well.

Leading into the final weeks of raising the pigs, I was sure to give some extra scritches and extra snacks to all of them. We wanted them to have a happy life until the last possible moment. We borrowed a stock trailer from our friends Rita and Tess, and got up dark and early on a Friday morning for the pigs final day. Since we spent time with them daily, it was really easy to get them to follow us where we wanted them. Until they realized it was somewhere completely new. Once they got past the small fence we took down, all bets were off. They wanted nothing to do with us. Except for the first two who loaded up, ready for anything! After some cussing, and sweating, and having to lift little fatty Warthog onto the trailer by hand (she had short legs…), we got them all loaded up with a little time to spare.

We got changed into less sweaty clothes, and hit the road, with Gunthorp Farms as our final destination. We were VERY lucky to get in with them for processing. They are just over an hour from us, USDA certified, and just generally pleasant, helpful folks. We chatted with Greg in the road before Evan came with the trailer to move our pigs into. The pigs gave us just as much of a fight to unload them as they did to load them up. We’ve learned… And we know how to do it better next time.

A week after dropping them off, it was time to pick them back up. In a slightly different shape. We loaded up over 1200 pounds of meat and brought it home. Then a week after that, we brought home another few hundred pounds of bacon, ham, and other smoked parts. Let me tell you, their smoked products are incredible. Many of our customers have already made a second trip to pick up more bacon, ham, and hocks. We have already sold a ton of pork, and we are so excited to share it with everyone.

Overall, raising pigs was relatively uneventful, and simple. In the end, we decided to get all nine pigs processed at the same time, just to simplify our lives a little. When we do this next year, I think we might stagger our processing dates, and get two batches of pigs done. This may make our precariously over-full freezer situation slightly less scary. We both thoroughly enjoyed raising hogs. Our customers have been enjoying the meat. And our soil will see the benefit from their natural rooting and tilling action. We are looking forward to raising more next year!

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