People's love for pork makes pig farming a very viable business idea

People’s love for pork makes pig farming a very viable business idea

Pork has for many years been a vital part of the American diet. This is also the most widely consumed meat in the world; it is eaten in the form of bacon, ham, gammon, pork chops and sausage.

Berkshire pork is known to be particularly tasty

Berkshire pork is known to be particularly tasty

The modern pig and hog farming industry is a vibrant one.

Statistics from 2012 show that the total number of pig farms around the country was 67000, with the total number of pigs standing at 113 million.

98% of these farms were family-owned.

In the same year, a total of 23 billion pounds of pork was produced. The pork had a farm value of $13 billion and a market value of $34 billion. Of this quantity, 23.1% was exported.

Pigs are raised in 50 states but the three biggest pork producers are Iowa, North Carolina and Minnesota.

It is therefore not in doubt that pig raising makes good business sense, despite the dynamics and complexities that characterize this venture.

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.

Smile when you see curly tails; this shows that all is well...

Smile when you see curly tails; this shows that all is well…

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). 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.

Invest in robust and healthy piglets supplied by a reputable breeder

Invest in robust and healthy piglets supplied by a reputable breeder

It is best to purchase a castrated boar (referred to as a barrow) because intact boars will most probably produce a “boar taint” which may affect the taste of the pork.

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.

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. Generally, as compared to purebreds, crossbreds tend to grow faster and are also more efficient.

Some of the breeds you can go for include Hampshire, Berkshire, Duroc, Poland, Gloucestershire Old Spots, and China.

The Gloucestershire Old Spots breed is one of those that you can rear successfully

The Gloucestershire Old Spots breed is one of those that you can rear successfully

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.

You can expect good results if you house your pigs in an outdoor pen and provide plenty of roaming space

You can expect good results if you house your pigs in an outdoor pen and provide plenty of roaming space

Bear the following in mind when constructing an outdoor pig pen:

  • 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 scratchedHay is another option but it is known to cause itching and hair loss for young pigs.
Hay is pretty okay for bedding material but watch out for hair loss and itching on piglets

Hay is pretty okay for bedding material but watch out for hair loss and itching on piglets

  • 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: The latest trend in 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.

A pig’s diet primarily needs to supply adequate amounts of energy and protein; ground corn and soybean meal respectively supply these requirements. 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.

Having an ample supply of ground corn and soybean meal will ensure that your drift will be well fed

Having an ample supply of ground corn and soybean meal will ensure that your drift will be well fed

Raising a hog to market weight requires an estimated 750-1000 lbs of feed.

The following feeding guidelines should be helpful:

  • 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.
  • Table scraps are no substitute for commercial feed. Solely relying on table scraps (an unbalanced diet) will result in slow growth.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Ensure that the feed troughs are sturdily set in the ground

Ensure that the feed troughs are sturdily set in the ground

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.

Pigs require lots of fresh, cool water

Pigs require lots of fresh, cool water

Pigs have three options with regards to dealing with heat; rapid breathing, drinking lots of water, and building wallows to lie in.

They resort to wallowing in the mud in a bid to lose heat and cool down

They resort to wallowing in the mud in a bid to lose heat and cool down

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.

Don't supply water in basins or buckets...they'll immediately be converted into toys

Don’t supply water in basins or buckets…they’ll immediately be converted into toys

You’ll need to install an automatic waterer that the pigs will learn to use. This can be the screw-in nipple style that you’ll then affix to a 55 gallon drum.

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 worms and external parasites you can give them Ivermectin worming shots every six months.

If you however wish to combat these parasites organically, use Diatomaceous Earth instead.

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.

When a gilt tries to mount another gilt you should immediately realize that she's ready for breeding

When a gilt tries to mount another gilt you should immediately realize that she’s ready for breeding

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 this. 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.

8. Gestation stage

After breeding the gilt will gestate for 113-116 days (approximately 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days) after which the pigs will be born or farrowed.

A pig's gestation period is typically 113-116 days

A pig’s gestation period is typically 113-116 days

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.

9. Farrowing stage

When the 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. The piglets will start nursing as soon as they are born. You’ll need to supply the gilt with the 12-15 lbs per day diet in order to ensure that she can sufficiently nurse the litter for 6-8 weeks.

Newly-born piglets typically start nursing immediately

Newly-born piglets typically start nursing immediately

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. This should tell you that it’s time to wean the litter. It will also be the right time for you to castrate the young boars.

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 accommodation should work. It is in this new location that you’ll raise the piglets to market weight.

After the piglets have sufficiently been nursed you should separate them from the gilt i.e. weaning

After the piglets have sufficiently been nursed you should separate them from the gilt i.e. weaning

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.

Well fed pigs will eventually give profitable returns with regards to pork weight

Well fed pigs will eventually give profitable returns with regards to pork weight

References:

http://extension.psu.edu/business/start-farming/livestock/pigs/raising-small-groups-of-pigs

http://www.berkshirepigs.net/blogs/2010/12/30/twelve-steps-to-starting-your-own-hog-farm-business.html

http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/printpork.html

http://www.porkcares.org/our-practices/todays-farming/modern-pig-farming-overview

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/04/25/179089297/pork-producers-root-out-market-niche-with-berkshire-pigs

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/business/demand-grows-for-hogs-that-are-raised-humanely.html?_r=0

http://www.dalehead.co.uk/fun-facts-pigs-pig-farming.html

http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Hog_and_Pig_Farming/

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Comments
  1. chetan meena says:

    I want starts pig farming,so please tell about it

    Like

    • Hi Chetan,

      In the post I’ve tried to gather as much relevant information for anyone who is interested in this particular entrepreneurial venture. I believe this will be a nice starting place for you. It’s also a good idea to visit actual pig farming businesses and find out first-hand from the owners what the do’s and don’ts are.
      Thanks.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. sarvesh srivastava says:

    sir I want to know all the legal formality for starting pig farming according to the up or central government.

    Like

  3. Norah Male says:

    can I look after pigs outdoors

    Like

  4. Samuel kwesi says:

    hello sir, thank u for this brief information on such lucrative venture. I am interested and will like to go into as a full time business what do u advice. I am a Ghanaian

    Like

    • Hi Samuel,

      Thanks for visiting my space, I hope you found the information helpful. My advice to someone who’s keen on starting this, and indeed any, related venture is to supplement online information with what’s actually happening on the ground. There’s definitely Ghanaians who’ve already made headway in this industry; seek them out and learn as much as you can from them. Consulting gov’t and private sector players will also help the cause. I hope this will help you as you get started…Cheers and good luck!

      Regards,
      Samuel.

      Like

  5. saurabh says:

    How I can start pig farming

    Like

  6. Baldwin Wachepa says:

    I want to start pig farming but have got limited space, how can o produce more?

    Like

    • Hi Baldwin,

      Unfortunately I don’t know how much space you’ve got right now; I love it that you want to start rearing hogs though. How about starting small and then taking care of the other logistics with time?

      Regards.

      Like

  7. Nero Dee says:

    Very educational, About how many months does a pig takes to reach Market stage at 250lbs.

    Like

  8. Christina says:

    This information is very very helpful.I want to invest too,plz tel me which is best ..buying piglets and raising them or buying matured pigs?

    Like

    • Hi Christina,

      Thanks for the comment, I’m happy you found this helpful.

      For your question I’m assuming you want to get into pig farming. If that’s the case, I’ll offer you the expert advice which you can find in the post’s first paragraph. It’s recommended to start your herd with one male and three females, all sourced from a reputable breeder; insist that the breeder has purebred registered stock.

      Regards.

      Like

  9. Cory says:

    Thanks for the great article. My wife and I have been raising pigs for a few years now and I am always looking for ways to improve my setup. I learned a couple things here that I am going to try out and see if it works for me. Another tip to pig farmers is if you have a garden fence it off and let the pigs in there in the spring and fall. It’s the easiest tilling you’ve ever had to do and they love it. Thanks again!

    Like

  10. Tisetso says:

    Good day, I have an interest in farming. I am interested in starting small but need to get education with regards to the Pig farming from start to finish.
    where can I get more information in terms of where do I get my first few?
    Where Vet & medication(costs involved)
    Where would I resell or is it better to produce my own products?

    Like

    • Hi Tisetso,

      Good day. Thanks for visiting my blog, hopefully I’ve been of some assistance. Well, in response to your questions I’d say there aren’t any hard and fast rules/tips for success. I’ve made reference to several authoritative sites that’ll be of more assistance to you. I also advice you to visit farmers who are already making headway in the business and are located near to where you are. Consult with them and I’m sure you’ll find the right mix to go with. Thanks.

      Like

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