This summer we kept pigs with our friends, Andrew and Eva. Neither Alana nor I had any experience with keeping farm animals. The arrangement was that we would get three piglets and keep them at Andrew and Eva’s since they already had a pen. In the beginning of May, we arranged with a local farmer to pick up three piglets for $175 apiece. There was some confusion and we thought that the piglets we were getting were going to be about 10 weeks old. However, we ended up receiving a trio of sows that were about 3 months old and weighed roughly 50 lbs. As a result, there was 20 miles of squealing and excrement producing fun as we piled the three little piggies into the trunk of my Subaru Forester like hot dogs over to the pen.
Day to day care was simple. The pigs did their pig things all day and we came by once a day to feed them. From the beginning, one of the sows, named Commodore Norrington, was much larger than the other two (Cookie/Cleopatra and Bananabubu). She used her weight to bully the others, hogging (ha) the food until she had her fill. Otherwise, there was no aggressive behavior that we witnessed. Midsummer the pigs took to rooting, and made all kinds of holes around their pen. There was an electric fence setup inside the big fence but some of them didn’t really seem to learn from their mistakes as they continued to get shocked all the way up to their last week of life.
Food was our variable cost and one in which we had no desire to inflate beyond what was necessary. Ideally, we would have foods available from the surrounding area that the pigs could feed on. However, the boreal forest provides no such opportunities. To mimic a wilder, foraging style diet and keep costs down, we decided to get food from the local food bank. Like food banks across the country, they receive excess and/or expired produce from all grocery stores, restaurants and bakeries in the area. They receive far more than they need and can store, resulting in food that they deem animal grade and give away to farmers for free. We would go once a week, loading up our cars with what most of the time was perfectly fine food. This was supplemented with barley when the food bank contents were on the lighter side (ie lots of greens) and with Hog 40. Hog 40 is a protein supplement primarily composed of soybeans and peas among other “materials.” It is far from ideal and we tried sourcing other protein alternatives such as excess dairy from local ice cream shops but had no success in finding anything.
We killed the first pig, Commodore Norrington, the largest of the trio, towards the end of August with the hopes of reducing pressure within the pen and allowing the other two the chance to put on some weight. The killing took one more shot than we would have liked but otherwise went smoothly and the other pigs were not perturbed in the slightest. We spent the afternoon processing her and ended up coming away with 126 lbs of meat.
The other 2 ladies did put on quite a bit of weight after that and roughly three weeks later we gathered again along with some friends for slaughter. Like the first go around, there were too many shots in the killing process but after that everything went smoothly. These pigs had less than half the fat amount than that of the first, Commodore. Nonetheless, we were still able to gather plenty of fat from the skin and loose bits. I rendered it down the following day, coming away with over a gallon and a half of lard. Meat wise, these two were on the lighter side and we processed a collective total of 214 lbs.
The total cost of our meat came out to being $2.56/lb. Nearly 2/3 of that cost was allocated to the initial purchase of the pigs. The remaining was food with the protein supplement being the most expensive, costing roughly $1/lb for 50 lb bags. Unlike the MidWest and warmer locales further south, there aren’t any native protein sources like acorns that I know of that could be a replacement for the protein supplement. If we were able to find a replacement, costs would dramatically decrease. I have not done the calculations as to whether or not the costs would be lower if the pigs were held for more than a season and made breeders. It definitely is superior to meat in quality found in the store, and also that of price. For specific cuts of meat we come out far ahead, especially in these times of shortages. For example, a 3lb pack of bacon at Costco now costs ~$24. At the same quantity, ours would cost about $7.50.
At this time, it doesn’t seem like we will do pigs again next year. One thing that would make the experience better going forward is having the pigs on site. While our friends lived less than 5 miles away, it was still somewhat of an annoyance to have to routinely travel there to do the 15 minutes of daily activities. I would be interested in trying out other species, particularly Mangalistas. This Hungarian variety is unique in that it has a much higher level of fat than other pigs (like Berkshires) and as a result, supposedly taste significantly different and better. They are also apparently far more docile and require far fewer fencing requirements. We would still continue with something like the food bank for food if we were not able to find any other option. Overall, the experience was very neutral, not entirely exciting but not something that I dreaded doing either. It is the opposite of hunting, in that you put in daily effort for a more or less guaranteed end product. Whether it’s better than hunting or not, I am unsure. Hunting to me is more satisfying and appealing, but perhaps that will change going forward.