To raise healthy pork is easy, to raise healthy pork efficiently requires some knowledge. We have been raising pigs for close to 20 years; both on a commercial scale and now on a very small scale. We have found a formula that works with the natural tendency and physiology of pigs. We hope it will help you.
As with all livestock ventures, the quality of the weaner pig you purchase will have direct bearing on the cost to raise that animal, the amount of time required to raise that animal and ultimately the quality of meat from that animal. So with that in mind what should you look for in a weaner pig?
First the healthy fully weaned pig should resemble a plump football or cask shape, depending upon the breed. They should be alert and quick on their feet, and scream bloody murder when you pick them up. Evidence of diarrhea or dehydration, a pot belly or patchy coat should all raise red flags. If you are going to raise your pork on pasture, your ideal piglet will have had at least some access to the outside. Ask questions of the seller. How old are the piglets, have they been fully weaned, by the sow or by the farmer? What are they eating now, how much and how often? Do they drink from water nipples or from a bucket / tub? These are all important, and things you should expect direct answers to. The seller should know how much each piglets is eating. When we have piglets, Gary can tell you how much each individual piglet is eating, their personality traits and in what situation they should flourish in. He can do this with one litter of 5 piglets or ten litters of 12 piglets on the go. Be wary of evasive answers.
The first rule we have is, feed wet. This could be as simple as adding water to your feed just before you feed it, to soaking feed over night or having it soak until fermentation occurs. A pigs normal diet should be acidic. Their gut works better on an acidic diet. Weaner pigs can suffer from scours when they
transition off a sows milk diet to commercial feed. This can be minimized or
avoided altogether by feeding wet, and specifically by feeding wet fermented
Fermenting feed is not difficult it does require planning. To start fermenting feed add hot water to three or four days of feed, place in a bucket or barrel large enough to hold. Stir the mixture a couple of times per day. When it starts to bubble, and you get a slight yeasty smell it is ready to feed. Remove the amount of feed for a feeding, then add the equivalent amount of feed soaked in hot water, stir thoroughly. Continue to remove and add feed in this manner and you are feeding fermented feed. It is similar to sourdough bread, you always add more mix after removing some. Your mix should stay acidic enough that you will not have a mold issue. If you do see mold, do not feed! Never feed anything with mold to pigs. Mold gives off toxins in the gut. This toxin can and will kill pigs.
By fermenting the feed you are increasing the digestibility of the feed. Normal pig rations are only about 80% digestible. Anything you can do to increase the digestibility will decrease the amount of feed required to gain. The fermentation breaks down the starches into sugars, which are easier to digest; and makes other nutrients more readily available to the digestive tract.
They do not need to be cooked as we would cook a potato. More of a heat
treating. Covering your cut up potatoes or turnip with boiling water and
letting them sit until the water cools will be sufficient. Feeding young pigs a
diet of strictly vegetables is not a good idea. Pigs have a digestive system
that is very close to humans, if something will put weight on you it will put
weight on a pig. Remember that we are looking for marbled meat.... cakes and
cookies will not give you healthy meat.
We supplement our ration with fodder. Specifically sprouted barley. We feed this to all of our farm animals from the steer to the boar. Right now our bred sow and boar are eating 25 lbs of fodder every day. You will find commercial fodder systems available that will probably bankrupt your homesteading venture, you do not need to have a high tech system to produce fodder. We produce close to 100 lbs of fodder / day, summer and winter in our basement on a footprint of 3' X 7'. The entire system cost approximately $300. Fodder gives our pigs a higher digestible protein. Barley has a digestible protein in the range of 60% for pigs. By sprouting the barley, the digestibility raises to 85-90%. This is due to the conversion of starch to sugar. It also provides a higher digestible fibre and it contains many digestible micronutrients. It is a viable alternative to grass feeding. However, as with grass, pigs cannot grow on fodder alone.
Pigs will gain better if fed smaller portions more often. Three times a day is
what we have settled on. Our pigs get fermented grower morning and evening, with their fodder at lunch time. If this does not work for your schedule that's fine. maybe feed morning, late afternoon, and evening. Consistency is the important factor.
Remember that pigs will build frame until they reach 180- 200 lbs. This is when they have the highest nutritional requirements. From 200lbs and up you should limit feed them. They will put on mostly fat from this point. The breed you are working with will determine where and how heavy the fat is. Feed fed during this period will also have a greater influence on the flavour of the meat.
Fat = flavour. There is a fine line to walk here as this is the cheapest weight you will put on the pig. More bang for your buck sort of speak. So you want to
exploit this, but you need to work within the characteristics of the breed, if
you go much over 250lbs with commercial breed pigs you will have greasy fatty
pork. Slaughter weight is a crucial consideration. We slaughter or Berkshire
Tamworth crosses at 300lbs. This means our average production feed costs are just slightly over $ 2.00/ pound of meat in the freezer, (not hanging
If you want to forgo commercial feed mixes and try to formulate your own, make sure that you don't use whole grains as pigs cannot digest whole grains, and your ration must be balanced to 16% digestible protein.
As always, I hope this has given you some ideas and insights. Please feel free to ask questions if you have them! Have a great day everyone.