“Hey- I found a guy with some pigs I want to take a look at.”
This was the beginning of our pig raising venture. At the time we were still living in a typical suburban neighborhood and waiting to close on our farm. The only farm animals in this neighborhood were the ones I was hiding in my backyard. And if you’ve never tried to hide two goats and more than a handful of chickens then you really can’t imagine just how desperately I needed a farm.
My husband is always the practical one. “Why do you want to look at pigs when we don’t have the farm yet?”
Well, I had to look at these pigs because I’d spent the last week or so researching every aspect of pig raising imaginable. I was ready. I knew what I wanted, what breed, how many I needed. I was already deciding what cuts of pork would be filling our freezer in the next 6 months. And now I’d found the pigs.
We arrived at the pig farm. The farmer took us out to the back where the pigs were being raised on pasture (this was good- I’d read about it) in wooden huts with a “yard” enclosed with electric wiring. This was good too, the pigs were already trained to hot wire. After showing us around for a few minutes, I pointed to a large Duroc sow “I’ll take that one.” I turned around, pointed to one of the other huts and said, “and 5 of those wiener pigs” and then, before my husband could say a word “And can you get the sow pregnant for me?”
This was late August. I had no idea what I’d just gotten us into. We were still waiting to close on our farm, so no place to house the pigs. The farmer agreed to keep them at his place until we were ready to pick up as long as we paid to feed them for the duration.
None of the books I had read mentioned that I just set myself up for the worst pasture raised pig scenario possible. I would be taking home 5 wiener pigs to raise on pasture at the end of summer and heading into the hard winter. It normally takes 6 months to raise a pig to market weight, if you know what you are doing and you are doing it before the weather turns bad. Along with that, I was bringing home a grumpy sow that would farrow in December. On pasture.
We did end up closing on the farm that weekend. And we immediately moved pigs, goats, and chickens to their new home. It was a crazy time. We had to learn about fencing with electric wiring, building huts, setting up automatic waterers and the list goes on.
Lucy the sow farrowed in December. She gave us 11 piglets. The 5 wiener pigs escaped the electric fencing every chance they got. On more than one night we were catching pigs with headlamps and nets in the pitch dark. Those 5 pigs never did make a suitable market weight. But we were more than happy to have the mobile slaughter guy come out late January to take them off our hands.
Since that first experience with pigs we have learned more than any book could ever cover regarding raising pigs. There are some things that you just have to jump in and do on your own because you really won’t know until you do it yourself.
Farming is like that in many ways. You can talk to all kinds of people, read all kinds of books and blogs, but still- until you do it yourself you can’t truly appreciate what it’s really like. At the same time, there is a certain rhythm in farming. There are good reasons that old time farmers had their pigs farrow in the spring, not the end of the summer. It’s good to try out new ideas, but also to remember how things were done in the past.