Raising Pigs for Meat: A Comprehensive Guide for Success

Raising pigs for meat can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for those interested in raising animals for meat. They are one of the first animals to join our new farm (right after chickens).

Not only are pigs intelligent and social, but they also provide entertainment.

A valuable addition to your homestead or small farm, pig is often raised for meat. Farmers sausage is one of our favorite ways to eat pork. 

Not only do they provide a source of high-quality, homegrown meat, but they also help manage food waste by consuming kitchen scraps.

Pigs will eat almost anything.

Contrary to popular opinion, pigs aren’t to messiest animals around.

Sure they like to wallow in mud, but they always poop in the same place, making clean-up easy.

When starting your pig-rearing journey, one of the initial decisions you’ll need to make is whether to raise piglets or invest in breeding stock.

For most beginners, purchasing piglets (or weaner pigs as we call them) is usually the more practical option.

The price of piglets can vary quite a bit based on factors such as location, time of year, and breed.

If you are new to pig raising, it’s important to educate yourself on how to properly care for your pigs.

Providing adequate food, water, and shelter, as well as ensuring their overall health and well-being, are important parts of raising pigs that will thrive and produce quality meat.

Understanding the unique needs and behaviors of pigs will not only help you succeed in your efforts, but it will also make the entire process more enjoyable.

Understanding Pig Breeds

Raising pigs for meat requires an understanding of the different pig breeds and their characteristics. Usually you should be able to ask your supplier about the breed, and the quality of meat. 

Common Pig Breeds for Meat Production

Several pig breeds are commonly used for meat production due to their size, growth rate, and meat quality. Some of the most popular meat pig breeds include:

  • Yorkshire: The most popular breed of pig in North America, characterized by its pink skin, white hair, and erect ears. These pigs are large and fast-growing.

  • Hampshire: Known for its black body and white belt encircling the front legs, the Hampshire pig is another popular choice for meat production.

  • Duroc: This breed has a reddish-brown color and is well-regarded for its meat quality and fast growth rate.

  • Berkshire: A black pig with white points, Berksire pigs are known for their excellent meat quality and flavor.

  • Landrace: A long, lean pig with large, floppy ears, the Landrace is valued for its high-quality meat and prolific breeding abilities.

Selecting the Right Breed

In order to choose the best pig breed for your farm, consider your goals and the specific traits you are looking for in your pigs. Some factors to keep in mind include:

  • Climate: Different pig breeds have varying levels of resilience to different climates. Some breeds thrive in cooler temperatures, while others can handle heat better.

  • Growth rate: Fast-growing pigs will reach market weight more quickly, which can be economically beneficial. However, this may also come with trade-offs in regard to meat quality or flavor. What and how much pigs are fed is very important as well.

  • Temperament: Some pig breeds are known to be more docile and easier to handle, which can be an important factor if you plan to spend time interacting with your pigs. Especially if you plan on breeding pigs, take this into consideration. New mother sows can be very aggressive.

  • Breeding characteristics: If you plan to breed your pigs, consider the breeding characteristics of various pig breeds. Some are prolific breeders, while others may have traits such as large litter sizes or a high rate of successful pregnancies.

When raising pigs for meat, you don’t need to be as careful about the pig breed. How they are fed will make the difference in the amount of fat a pig has, and the quality of the meat. 

Housing and Fencing Requirements

Raising pigs for meat requires proper housing and fencing to ensure their well-being and growth.

Save yourself a headache by setting up the proper fence right from the start. A word of caution…most pigs like to dig. 

Pigpen Design and Construction

Your pigpen should be sturdy and secure to prevent escapes while providing a comfortable environment for the pigs.

You can use a variety of fencing materials, such as electric wire or metal livestock panels. Hog panels are a great start if you are unsure.

Make sure to install a sturdy wire fence around the pen and use a woven fence that is “hog tight” with a board on the bottom to discourage digging.

Pigs need a shelter with a minimum of two or three sides, bedding to nest in, and easy for you to access and clean. The shelter should be spacious enough for the pigs to move around and rest comfortably.

Building your pig pen in a place with good drainage is essential to keep the pigpen clean and maintain good hygiene.

A sloping floor or well-designed drainage system will direct wastewater and manure away from the pigs’ living area.

Indoor vs Outdoor Rearing

There are benefits and challenges to both indoor and outdoor pig rearing. We have so far never been able to raise pigs indoors, as we don’t have a suitable barn.

They also don’t need to live inside, and most likely prefer the outdoors.

Indoor Rearing: If you have a barn with empty stalls, you can consider raising your pigs indoors.

While this can provide better protection from weather elements, be prepared to haul the manure they produce out of the barn regularly. Keeping the indoor environment clean is important for good pig health.

Outdoor Rearing: Allowing pigs to roam outdoors provides them with more space and natural foraging opportunities.

However, free-ranging pigs need proper fencing to protect them from predators and prevent them from wandering off. The more outdoor space your pigs have access to, the less indoor space you’ll need (MeatEater).

It’s recommended to provide a combination of indoor and outdoor space for your pigs.

This allows them to enjoy the benefits of both environments while navigating the challenges associated with each. Ultimately, choose the housing and fencing that best suits your needs and resources.

Feeding and Nutrition

The right nutrition is crucial when raising pigs for meat, as it ensures healthy growth and high-quality meat. Your local feed supplier can be very helpful in guiding you to the right choices for feed.

Feed Types and Formulation

Commercial pig feed is available at feed mills and tractor stores like UFA and local farm stores.

Age and growth stages of your pigs should be considered when choosing the feed, as piglets require different feed formulations than adult pigs.

Feeding a balanced ration helps them to grow efficiently.

Typically, you should reduce the protein content to 12-14% and increase carbohydrates approximately 2-3 months before slaughter to ensure the production of quality fat (Melissa K. Norris).

Essential Nutrients and Supplements

Proper nutrition for pigs involves the careful consideration of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to support their growth and development.

  • Protein: Necessary for muscle development and growth, it should be provided through high-quality sources like soybean meal or canola meal.

  • Fat: An efficient energy source that contributes to overall pig health.

  • Carbohydrates: The main energy source for pigs, it should be included in the ration through grains like corn or barley.

  • Vitamins and Minerals: Essential for overall pig health, vitamins and minerals can be added to their feed as supplements or provided through dietary sources like forages or vegetable scraps.

Ensuring a balanced diet with the appropriate nutrients helps you raise healthy pigs for meat production. Monitor their growth and make dietary adjustments as needed to maintain their well-being.

For feeders, a simple trough will suffice. Water can be in basins but needs to be filled regularly. 

Health and Welfare

Raising pigs for meat requires diligence in ensuring their health and welfare. This section highlights common diseases in pigs and how to prevent them, as well as maintain cleanliness and hygiene within your pig pen.

Common Pig Diseases and Prevention

As a pig owner, you should be aware of some common pig diseases and learn how to prevent them. Here are a few examples:

  • Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS): This viral infection affects both reproduction in sows and respiratory health in young pigs. To prevent PRRS, implement strict biosecurity measures and consider vaccination.

  • Swine Influenza (SI): Pigs can be affected by various strains of the influenza A virus, resulting in fever, coughing, and other respiratory symptoms. Reduce the risk of SI by maintaining good air quality, providing adequate space for your pigs, and considering vaccination.

  • Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia (APP): This bacterial infection causes respiratory problems and can lead to sudden death in pigs. Prevent APP through proper sanitation, ventilation, and responsible antibiotic use when necessary.

Proactive disease prevention methods include regular health checks, vaccination programs, and close observation of your pigs for any signs of illness.

Maintaining Cleanliness and Hygiene

Maintaining a clean and hygienic environment is very important for the health and welfare of your pigs. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Regularly remove manure and soiled bedding to reduce the buildup of harmful bacteria, ammonia, and other contaminants in the pig pen. Left to break down, this makes great compost. 

  1. Ensure proper drainage in your pig pen to prevent standing water, which can promote the growth of harmful microorganisms. 

  1. Provide clean, fresh water sources for your pigs to drink. Pigs need constant access to fresh water.

  1. Establish and maintain a pest control program to reduce the presence of rodents and insects that can transmit diseases to your pigs.

By making a bit of effort to the cleanliness of your operation,  you can help to protect your pigs from illness and ensure their overall health and welfare.

Slaughtering and Processing

Humane Slaughtering Techniques

Before you slaughter your pigs, it’s important to make sure they haven’t been fed solid food for 24 hours, but provide them with plenty of water to help flush out their system.

When slaughtering pigs, it’s crucial to minimize their stress and use humane techniques.

There are several methods, but one recommended way to humanely slaughter is using a captive bolt gun or a firearm.

Both methods render the pig unconscious instantly, and the pig doesn’t suffer.

Meat Cutting and Preservation

Once the pig is slaughtered, you must process the meat.

The first step involves removing the insides and skin. Once the carcass is clean, you can start cutting it into your desired cuts of meat: hams, bacon, chops, and more.

If you’re a beginner, its very helpful to watch and help someone else before tackling the job yourself. It is unfortunate that community butchering days are no longer common. 

To preserve your pork, you have several options, including:

  • Curing: Commonly used for hams and bacon, curing involves rubbing the meat with a mixture of salt, sugar, and other ingredients, then leaving it to dry for several weeks.

  • Smoking: This method requires hanging the meat in a smoker, where it’s exposed to aromatic wood smoke for a specific time to both preserve and flavor the meat.

  • Freezing: For long-term storage, freezing your meat is the simplest method. Just make sure the cuts are sealed properly in airtight packaging to prevent freezer burn and maintain freshness. We started using a vacuum sealer a decade ago, and its been a game changer for preventing freezer burn.

Processing meat at home is a large task to handle, so you can also bring your pig to a local butcher shop for processing. Just make sure to arrange a time before killing your pig. 

We as a family of 7 consume a whole pig in a year.

We make a variety of sausages, hams, pork chops, lard, cracklings, and bacon. As I’m writing this, we are out of pork meat and my husband is building a smoke house.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram for a glimpse into our pig butchering day!

Raising pigs for meat is an exciting endeavor. They are comical animals, that love to eat.

By ensuring you have the right fencing, feeders, feed, and water supply you’ll be fine. As I always say: The best way to learn is to start.

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