Pork has for many years been a vital part of the American diet.
This is also the most widely consumed meat in the world.
Pork is eaten in the form of bacon, ham, gammon, pork chops and sausage.
The modern pig farming industry is a vibrant one.
Statistics from June 2017 show that the total number of pigs and hogs around the country was 71.7 million.
This is a slight increase from the 2016 total of 70.921 million. In that year a total of 114 million pigs were slaughtered while 6 million were retained for breeding. Total value of pigs and hogs in the U.S. was $6.6 billion. 24.517 billion pounds of pork was produced with a value of $19.3 billion.
Pigs are raised in 50 states but the three biggest pork producers are Iowa, North Carolina and Minnesota.
As a potential pork producer it is worth appreciating the fact that you will be dealing with very intelligent animals which have often proven to be capable of learning faster than dogs.
Pigs, cats and dogs do share a common trait; their tails movements signal their moods. A curly tail often means that a pig is happy but if it is tucked between the legs it means the pig is unhappy or stressed.
Contrary to popular belief, pigs are essentially very clean animals. Pigs love for rolling in the mud isn’t about a love for dirt but rather an effort to keep cool in hot weather – and which is a necessity because they don’t have sweat glands.
PS: Male pigs are known as boars, females are known as gilts, and a group of pigs is referred to as a drift.
Read on to learn about what it takes to raise hogs.
1. Buying pigs and starting a herd
The foremost thing you want to be sure of is that you are buying pigs from a breeder who has purebred registered stock. Doing this will give you the much required credibility needed for later on when you start marketing your pigs.
During this initial purchase it is recommended that you buy at least one boar (male) and three gilts (females). Once you’ve gotten a small herd a desirable ratio can be 15-18 sows per boar.
Selecting a suitable boar is of the essence considering how influential a boar is within a herd. You therefore want to go for a physically sound boar that has excellent genetic potential. The selection criterion for desirable gilts is provided here.
If you’ll be buying all the animals from the same breeder insist that the male and females are from separate bloodlines; it’s vital to keep the bloodline pure.
There are four ways to breed pigs as follows:
- Pure breeding – This involves mating purebreds of the same breed
- Out breeding – It involves mating members of the same breed but who are somewhat distantly related than the average of the breed
- In breeding – The members are of the same breed but more closely related than the average of the breed
- Cross breeding – The boar and gilt are from different breeds; the progeny will therefore have a gene combination different from either parent or from the breed of either parent
Read more about these breeding strategies here.
It is also advisable to buy pigs with a minimum weight of 50 lbs, more so if you intend to raise them outdoors. Pigs of a lighter weight won’t thrive as well in cooler weather.
Moderate temperatures, in the 60-70°F range, are best for optimal pig growth. As such, it’s recommended to start this business in early spring, mid-April, or in late summer.
It is unwise to purchase pigs at a livestock auction as your animals may have been exposed to sickly pigs and may subsequently fall sick. You’ll be better off buying them from a farm that’s reputable for good quality pigs.
Raising a single animal is ill-advised; just like humans, pigs grow better if they have friends around.
2. Go for suitable breeds
There are several modern commercial breeds that you can choose from and which will all do well for your business.
Some of the breeds you can go for include Hampshire, Berkshire, Duroc, Poland, Gloucestershire Old Spots, and China.
Avoid the Landrace breed which is shunned for being light-muscled, and the exotic Pot Bellied Pig which is generally considered to be unsuitable.
3. Considerations for housing the drift in an outdoor pig pen
It is advisable to provide each pig with adequate roaming space; a minimum of 50 sq. ft. for each will be quite appropriate.
- The water supply should be at the far end of the pen, as far as possible from the feed and shelter. This is because pigs tend to manure near their water supply.
- A barn can also be converted into a pen. Nevertheless, raising your pigs here will be more laborious considering that you’ll regularly need to remove the manure. An outdoor pen is more appropriate in this regard because the manure is absorbed into the ground.
- The roof should provide adequate shade during warm weather. Eaves will do for the openings.
- Ensure that the pen is dry and that the younger pigs have adequate bedding during the cooler months. You can use wood shavings (natural and chemical-free if possible) for bedding because pigs love to be scratched. Hay is another option but it is known to cause itching and hair loss for young pigs. Read this for more pig pen bedding options.
- Set the pen’s roof at a height of about four feet
- The pen’s length should be twice as long as the width
- A three-sided pen, with the fourth side open, will be quite ideal.
- Pen size depends on the number of pigs being raised
- Since pigs will try to dig their way under the fence and out of the pen, you can consider installing a single strand of electric wire at ground level. Don’t let this wire go across the pen’s entrance though. The pigs will remember it and refuse to exit the pen when it’s time to go to the market.
- A fence will become necessary in the first 4-6 weeks. There are various options you can explore including perimeter fencing with hotwire, hog wire roll fencing with metal T and wood posts, and hog panels with metal T posts for support.
NB: A revolutionary approach to pig housing is the “wean to finish” barn. Pigs are brought here immediately after they have been weaned and stay until they are ready for the market.
There are two main advantages of using these structures.
First, because your pigs will only move once during their lifetime their stress-risk will be greatly reduced.
Second, these structures need not be cleaned until after the pigs have been sold off. This translates into reduced labor costs.
4. Feeding your pigs
Generally, provided that your pigs can constantly access their food, it should take approximately 100 days for a 50 lbs pig to grow to a market weight of 250 lbs.
Pigs and humans have a similar digestive system, which is unlike that for ruminants which can eat grasses and forage.
In addition, pigs need minerals and vitamins.
Feed rations are tailored to suit pigs’ optimal growth and health requirements at each stage of their growth, as well as by gender especially at the grow-finish stage.
Raising a 50 lbs hog to a market weight of 250 lbs requires an estimated 650-750 lbs of commercial feed.
The following feeding guidelines should be helpful:
- The commercial feed for 50 lbs pigs should contain around 16% protein. Once the pigs get to 125 lbs you can start giving them a 14% protein feed. Nevertheless, it’s quite okay to stick with the 16% protein feed all the way.
- Table scraps are no substitute for commercial feed. Solely relying on table scraps (an unbalanced diet) will result in slow growth.
- Piglets’ feed should not supply more than 20% protein as this can cause potentially-lethal scours. A free-choice diet is much better at this stage.
- Once the piglets reach 125 lbs (at about 16 weeks of age) begin feeding them 10 lbs of feed daily until they attain a weight of 175-200 lbs. This is a temporary measure done to prepare them for the breeding season. Learn more about feeding breeding boars here; for feeding breeding gilts go here.
- After breeding reduce the ration to 5 lbs per day. A boar’s feed should stay at this weight for the rest of its life lest it become too heavy for the gilts and sows. A gilt’s feed should remain at the 5 lbs per day level until a month to the time she’ll deliver her babies.
5. Supplying water for the pigs
A pig needs lots of fresh clean water, approximately 1.5-2 gallons of water daily over 6 months.
This water must be in constant supply, and for good reason: pigs don’t sweat.
Daily water consumption of swine on full rations
|Weight of pig in Pounds||Water consumed in Gallons|
|During winter gestation||1.0|
|During lactation||3.7 to 5.0 (varies with temperature, season, etc.)|
Pigs have three options with regards to dealing with heat; rapid breathing, drinking lots of water, and building wallows to lie in.
You need to get creative about supplying your drift with water though. Simply placing a bucket in the pen won’t do; it will soon be converted into a plaything.
In case you opt to direct a hose into the pen, ensure that it’s buried 1-2 inches under the soil. This will ensure that the water will constantly be cool even during warm weather; pigs typically refuse to drink heated water.
6. Worming the drift
To rid your pigs of internal parasites, especially intestinal roundworms and tapeworms, give them worming shots every six months. For this purpose you can use Fenbendazole, Ivermectin, and Levamisole.
Your pigs will also be under threat from a host of external parasites including mange, lice and flies. Read more about how to take care of this here.
7. Pig breeding and what you need to look out for
Your pigs will typically attain the 200-250 lbs weight range after six months. They will also be ready to breed at this time.
Gilts first go into heat after 3-5 months, and then after every 21 days until they are successfully bred.
You’ll have two options at this time; to bring the gilt to the boar OR to build a separate breeding pen and bring the pair there.
To know whether your gilt is ready for breeding, check for the following:
- Some swelling, followed by redness and wetness (this means the time is close)
- Signs of “standing heat” which should tell you that it’s definitely time. There are two ways to confirm First, you may see the gilt trying to mount other females in the drift. Second, you can confirm this by applying pressure on her back with your hands. If she stands still this is a sure confirmation that she’s ready.
A new boar may require your help to breed; you’ll just need to hold the pouch, guide him into the penetrating position, and then step back to allow for successful breeding.
Read more about pig breeding here.
8. Gestation stage
One month to the farrowing day you will need to transfer the gilt to a separate area, ideally one that has some fresh grass on which she’ll have her babies. You will also need to alter her feed ration to an 18% protein 12-15 lbs per day diet.
In addition, you’ll need to supply some hay to the gilt’s hut which she’ll use to build a nest. This should tell you that the babies aren’t too far off.
Two weeks to the farrowing date you should give her a suitable worming shot to ensure that her babies will be healthy at birth. During the last week you’ll notice that the gilt will eat less food and drink more water. Constantly monitor her until she finally gives birth.
Here are successful farrowing tips to remember.
9. Farrowing stage
When farrowing time finally arrives you will notice that the gilt will lie down and start breathing very heavily, in addition to showing signs of discomfort.
Her position may also change several times during the farrowing process. This process may take several hours and you can almost always expect that some of the babies will be born dead.
Typically, newly-born piglets, i.e. a litter, are 8-12 in number. They are born with 8 sharp teeth which you’ll need to clip to prevent the piglets from injuring the gilt’s udder and themselves as well.
You’ll also need to shorten the piglets’ tails to prevent tail biting.
10. Weaning the piglets
Soon after the nursing period is over the piglets will try to start leaving the farrowing enclosure.
Weaning will involve separating the litter from the gilt, and it may require you to get creative. Distracting the gilt with feed while you move the piglets one at a time to their new quarters should work. It is in this new location that you’ll raise the piglets to market weight.
At this time you should also give the gilt and piglets Ivermectin worming shots or Diatomaceous Earth. Worm infestation represents the greatest threat to the health of young piglets.
Your young piglets’ diet will now be similar to the one you provided for the pigs you purchased i.e. a free-choice diet with no more than 20% protein for the first three months, followed by the 16% protein regimen for 6 months until a market weight of 250 lbs is attained.
11. Taking the pigs to the market
After the pigs reach the required market weight you’ll need to transport them to a USDA-inspected or State-inspected processing facility. You’ll need a pickup truck or horse trailer to take them there.
First though, you’ll need to get the pigs out of the pen and into the truck or trailer. For this you’ll need a loading ramp with solid sides to prevent escape, and a pig “hurdle” to ensure that a pig won’t be able to turn back once on the ramp.
A 250 lbs market hog should yield a 184 lbs carcass. After this is sliced up into retail cuts you should get 140 lbs of pork, depending on how much fat will be removed.
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