The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Getting Ready For Pigs

We spent part of today getting ready for the arrival of our American Guinea Hog piglets. The original plans included doing some of this work yesterday while the sun shined, but a relative's unscheduled hospital stay, changed our plans. We were glad we had the opportunity to visit him for a while. So today before the rains arrived again, we rearranged some of the goats, brush hogged down some wet, wet, tall grass and weeds, and got ready for the pigs. Well, not really before it rained, because we got some light showers shortly before dawn. Thus, the grass was extra wet, but sometimes these things just can't be helped, and you make do with the circumstances you've been given.

American Guinea Hogs. I had never heard of them until I read an article from Leigh at 5 Acres and a Dream last June. I had no idea a pig could grow so small. That is what captured my attention and started a slow,
gradual bit of research that has landed us in the current predicament, the adventure of becoming not only goat herders and chicken cluckers, but pig farmers as well. We can only pray it is not the misadventures of becoming pig farmers. If you have read here very long you have probably run across a statement from me saying something like this. "I hate pigs." And I did. I just hope I don't anymore. Part of that sentiment is because I am afraid of pigs. I think they will bite me. It's kind of like being afraid of dogs. It's just a fear that I have decided I want to get over, because the benefits of raising American Guinea Hogs can far outweigh this fear.

I am including a number of links throughout this article so you can see where my research has taken me. The first thing that captured my attention when reading Leigh's description of her new pig was that they only grow to be about 200 to 250 pounds full grown, even the boars. I was very surprised. I had never seen anything about pigs being less than 800 to 1000 pounds or more full grown, and I didn't want anything to do with animals that large. So I read the link she provided and thought it was very interesting that these pigs are naturally small. They aren't miniatures, dwarfs or midgets of any sort, they are just naturally smaller than most commercial pigs.

Then I started looking up more articles, and found that another characteristic of these pigs is their docile, friendly nature. Well now, how is
a person that is afraid a pig is going to bite them going to handle a pig that wants to run over and be petted and scratched? I've decided I'm going to treat them like a dog. Sounds funny, doesn't it? But if a dog does something that is unacceptable they get corrected and trained to exhibit behavior that is acceptable. I plan, or hope, to do the same things with the pigs. I've read that they may try to jump up on you like a dog, but are easily trained not to, so their friendly personalities are another plus.

The next major plus from my perspective is that these pigs thrive on pasture and do poorly if they are confined and only fed grain, or fed too much grain. That's great! We have been trying to produce more and more of our animal feed, and if these pigs are healthier and happier grazing in
a pasture, then wonderful, we have plenty of room for them to graze and grow. Another example Leigh has given me is that she feeds very little grain, and what she does feed, she sprinkles on the ground for the pigs to forage and root. I thought that was a great idea and will be doing the same. I will also now have another bucket to take to the barn at feeding time. The pigs will get whey from our cheese making projects as well as garden scraps and other kitchen waste. For instance. Today at lunch I emptied a jar of beets, and told Frank that after the pigs arrive the water from the beet jar will go into the pig bucket instead of down the drain. They will get all of the scraps that don't go to the chickens or dog, and that will be great.

When I realized how small these pigs grow, I like to think of them as small, even though a 200 pound animal isn't really very small, I thought about having another source of meat on the hoof. That's how I think of our
goat wethers. They are just meat walking around in the pasture waiting to make it into the freezer. Frank and I can handle butchering a 150 to 200 pound pig, and it would be another great source of meat. But not only that, Guinea Hogs are well known for the quality of their lard, like some old heritage breeds used to be. These hogs will not only provide us with meat and lard, they don't require a lot of feed to do so. The lard will provide us with a natural cooking oil, and we hopefully will also be able to use it in our goat milk soap recipe. The smaller carcass of these pigs will mean less meat to preserve before spoilage if we live in a grid down situation, as well. Just like with our goats, I view a smaller carcass to be to our advantage.
 
The breeders in the area that I have talked to all agree that these pigs are healthy, friendly, easy to manage and very productive. They don't require vaccinations or worming, even in our area that is known for wet years that are very conducive to the worm population, like this year. Guinea hogs will have litters of six to eight piglets about three times every two years on average, according to my research. This is yet another benefit to raising this small, heritage breed pig.

These are the reasons why we are embarking on the adventure of adding pigs to our homestead. These animals don't grow very large, they thrive on pasture, they are naturally healthy, friendly and easy to manage, the meat and lard are well known to be of excellent quality and we will be able to butcher them ourselves. A concern I have, and will for a while, is if they will stay in their pasture. Our fencing should hold them just fine according to all I have read, but this is my biggest concern so far. We'll see if more arise after their arrival.

Friday, if the weather cooperates, we will be bringing home two boars and one gilt. This is new vocabulary for us. I had this vague notion that a male pig was a boar because you hear of wild boars being hunted in these
parts, but that was about it for my pig vocabulary. One of these boars will become a barrow when we have it castrated to raise for meat. We will keep them both intact for a while until we decide which one we want to keep for a boar. The gilt, or young female, will become a sow when she has her first piglets. We have debated back and forth about whether to get one gilt or two, and actually thought we had been able to line up two boars and two gilts that we could pick up all in one trip from two different locations. Then when I called to make the arrangements, I found that one of the gilts had been injured, so there was only one available. I don't know if you ever have these feelings, but I felt like that was an answer to our question. God answered our question by only having one available for us at this time. It's interesting how things happen sometimes.


I hope to have a report for you Friday or Saturday, with pictures and hopefully no mishaps. I freely admit we are entering this adventure with a little trepidation and doubt, especially on Frank's part, but entering it we are. Fear is a powerful thing. It can control nations, it can preclude success, it can tear down dreams. But only if you let it. There is a quote somewhere that says something like, courage is fear in action. Maybe that would be a good name for a pig...... I wonder what the goats and Pearl are going to think. That should be interesting.

Until next time - Fern

27 comments:

  1. I'm afraid of pigs too, Fern. Yet I watch the kids at the county fair with their big pigs and they manage them just fine. I have to admit that our two current Hampshire gilts are curious and quite personable, although I'm not going in the pen with them. I think they're friendlier than the potbelly/Hampshire crosses we've raised in the past.

    I think a young boar is called a barrow.

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    1. Well, Kathi, this time I am going in the pen. Everyday, twice a day. Period. If we are going to be successful with these pigs, that's something I have to get over. So, I'm going to try to be just as friendly as they are. These will be eight week old babies so surely they won't be too intimidating.

      I looked up barrow again, and it indicates this is the name for a castrated boar. Thank you for helping me confirm our new vocabulary.

      Fern

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    2. Kathi at Oak Hill HomesteadMay 14, 2015 at 9:48 AM

      You're right - it's a castrated male. Ooops!

      Our gilts will only be here until this fall, so I can do it without going in their pen. I do pet them through the fence. With our previous pigs I did go in the pen until they got big enough to be intimidating - and since they were half potbelly they weren't as big as these will be.

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  2. I am so looking forward to how this goes for you...for anyone who is leery of pigs I wrote a post on some of my pig adventures and how good the home pasture raised pork is compared to CAFO pork. It involved commercial cross pigs taken out of the hog barn environment. They were big! I love your plans to have smaller breed. Good Luck and God Bless.

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    1. Thank you, Fiona. We've never had midgets, dwarfs or miniatures, primarily for their breeding problems. We just wanted a naturally smaller pig. Frank is a tad bit more apprehensive than I am, better yet, a whole lot more apprehensive. We'll let you know how the trip goes. Thank you for letting us know about your article.

      Fern

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    2. I agree with you about the "Miniature"...dwarfism in Hereford cattle decimated the breed at one point. These Guinea Hogs are naturally smaller arn't they..not selected or bred specifically small size but naturally selected to be smaller by environment?

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    3. Yes, they are naturally smaller. I have read/heard of some breeders that choose to keep the smaller or larger ones in their herd and breed for those particular characteristics, just like dogs of the same breed. But the genetic makeup of the American Guinea Hogs creates a smaller pig. The more commercial grain they are fed, the fatter they get, not larger. The extra weight causes health issues and problems with pregnancy and birthing, so that is something we will watch closely. If the goat milk puts on too much weight we will restrict their intake. We have lots to learn about keeping them at a healthy, optimum weight.

      These hogs also come with slightly different coloring, some may have more redish tones, some more black. Some have a shorter, pushed in kind of snout, some have a long snout like wild pigs. It's interesting. I like the looks of the shorter noses. We'll see how our piglets turn out. Both breeders had pigs with both kinds of snouts. It was very interesting. Thank you for the question.

      Fern

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  3. Fern, You might google (Adventures in the good land) Pig raising chick in Ohio. She has butchering tutorials,,, feeding, & fencing tips. Uses a lot of goat milk for feed. Good luck!

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    1. Thank you for the source of information, Beth. It looks like there is a lot to read on her site. I have the feeling we will need all the luck we can get. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

      Fern

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  4. You should check out Walter Jeffries at Sugar Mountain Farm. He is a wealth of pig information, raises large numbers of pigs on pasture. He has also done some very interesting studies on whether or not it is necessary to castrate male pigs if you are going to butcher them (he does not). He is also great at answering questions and sharing information. Here is a link to his blog http://sugarmtnfarm.com/

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    1. I have Sugar Mountain Farm bookmarked, Mary, I just didn't list them on this first article. There is some very good information there and I'm sure I will be referencing them in some of my future articles.

      Although we may not need to castrate the boars before butchering, to prevent fighting at breeding time, we will only keep one boar intact. We don't plan to separate the pigs, we want them to be able to graze together. That's the plan anyway. We'll see how it all works out. Thank you for sharing.

      Fern

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    2. Castration is as much for handling safety and tradition as anything. The reduction in testosterone makes for a quieter animal and cuts down on 'mounting' behavior. Castrated males also fatten faster. However we do not need layers of outer fat if the meat is from a breed of swine** or bovine that marble well. Bulls are good eating, they are just leaner and a bit harder to cook.
      ** Modern Market breeds of pig have become ultra lean...the older lard types have so much more flavor because they are not lean.

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    3. Thank you for the information, Fiona. Another reason we will have the extra boars castrated is the fighting behavior when our one lone gilt comes into heat. Also the reason we are having the tusks cut, which we didn't originally plan to do.

      Fern

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  5. Fern,

    I've been researching animals, and reading certain blogs(like Leigh's) to educate myself on those animals which work well on homesteads. This way, when the time comes, and were situated and have our own place, we will have the land, fencing, and living quarters for our animals totally prepared.

    I look forward to reading more posts about your preparations, and the arrival of your new American Guinea Hogs.

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    1. Sandy, we research things for a long time before we make a decision or start something new. Especially Frank. There have been many times we went to purchase an item, some of them big items, like vehicles, that Frank knew more about the product than the salesman. It's hard to get answers to your questions sometimes if you know more than the person you are asking.

      Dealing with animals can be a different issue. Animals have different personalities, just like people, so there is no guarantee you will get what you expect from an animal. That is what worries me sometimes about this pig adventure. Sometimes I think we're nuts, other times I'm excited. I guess I'll know a little more by this time tomorrow. Thank you for sharing.

      Fern

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  6. My BIL in Mississippi raises only heritage breed pigs. They are grazers and he says that they are very easy to deal with. One of the pig breeds have hooves like a mule! Donna in Texas

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    1. I have read the same thing many times, Donna, and I really hope that is the case for us. Thank you for sharing this.

      Fern

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  7. Good luck! I have to say, if we ever get livestock I do plan to go with similer "older style" types. If I want commercial type meat I can get it at the grocery store. Its the same reason I prefer to grow heirloom varieties in my garden, I want something other than whats in the store!

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    1. There is nothing like homegrown anything, Ruth. Part of it is the work that goes into it, and part of it is what you keep out of it. Either way, it just plain tastes better. Thank you for sharing.

      Fern

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  8. I would suggest that you use your future gilt to breed the first time or two around. This will save your from looking for a new boar two years from now. Would try and get this critter if possible from a different blood line. ASK them. Same litter not the best but different sow and boar the better way. Not sure anymore about % of personalities pass along in the genetics but sounds like this may not be an issue with the breed,

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    1. Our plans are to keep this breeding pair with a few barrows from each litter to raise for our meat supply. All young gilts will be sold, along with any extra boars we don't plan to eat. We did ask the breeders if the pigs we were buying could be related, because that is something we wanted to avoid. We were just glad the two locations were close enough, and that both breeders had pigs at weaning age at the same time. It saved us an extra trip.

      We usually get a new buck for our goat herd every couple of years, because we keep new young does. We don't plan to use this same routine with the pigs.

      Good information. Thank you for sharing.

      Fern

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  9. Hi Fern! Have been visiting for awhile. I like what you and Frank manage to do. Knowing what the purpose is for the pigs..... How do you keep your emotions separate? Another site I visit they also raised a pig and named it. They then said bye bye Princess! Your thoughts?

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    1. Sue, we have been raising animals for meat for many years, chickens, sheep, pigs and goats. When we have animals born here I am much more excited if it is a girl than a boy. That means I will name it and give it more attention, unless it is a chicken, that is. They are just chickens, and we have butchered both roosters and hens. With most male animals on our homestead, we know from the time they are born, or arrive, that they are destined to be meat on our table. The only names we give male goats are Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, or some variation of that, and I separate my emotions then. The same thing will happen with the young boars we just brought home, the two extras will probably be named something like Ham and Bacon. We used to call all of the male sheep born at our place Lamb Chops.

      Even though we don't like the killing of an animal, it is something we do to provide for ourselves. At butchering time we always thank the animal for the meat it is providing us. We conduct the process with efficiency and respect. Is it pleasant? No. But the meat is so much healthier, tastes better, and is stored on it's natural frame, walking around in the pasture until it is needed.

      I appreciate the opportunity to live this way. I know many people that will take an animal that someone else raised to the butcher for their family to eat, but they don't want to eat an animal that they have raised themselves. I guess the difference is that from the time of birth or arrival, I look at certain animals as our meat supply and choose not to get attached to them. But even if I do get somewhat attached, we still eat the animal, it's just a little more difficult. It's just the culmination of our long-term plan. A choice we make.

      Great questions, Sue, thank you for asking, and visiting here.

      Fern

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  10. This is a really exciting step and i am so glad you are getting the American Guinea Hogs. You're right that they're almost like big dogs in many ways. They are the perfect size for a homestead. You've done a great job on your research, really interesting to read.

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    1. Thank you, Leigh. I was happy to see the size of the adult hogs yesterday when we picked up the piglets, and especially glad to see their demeanor. Now, our real learning will begin as well figure out pig behavior and personalities. This is all your fault, you know, you and Waldo. Thank you for the inspiration to add more adventure to our journey.

      Fern

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  11. What I am about to post gives the impression of a leftist whacko, which is definitely not the case; however, how can anyone contemplate eating something they call 'friendly, and manageable?'
    My cats and dogs are very friendly and somewhat manageable, therefore they have no resemblance to 'dinner.'

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    1. Take a look at it from a business perspective. No matter what product line you carry or distribute, you want it to be customer friendly and manageable. Pet stores want their animals to be friendly and manageable. Zoos want their animals to be friendly and manageable. It's the same with sale barns, who also want the animals to be friendly and manageable. Even the butcher wants the animals to be friendly and manageable.

      Manageable is relatively easy to define. Friendly is determined by the type of product you're dealing with. Even if you're a pesticide dealer, you want your product to be friendly and manageable.

      We here, at Frank and Fern, require that all of our animals, plants or whatever we deal with needs to be friendly and manageable. That's why we chose not to do cattle, bovine dairy animals, or commercial pigs. We do not eat our dogs or cats, but we require that our rooster and chickens be friendly and manageable, and we do eat them, and the products they provide us with. We had a rooster once attacked Fern. He was not friendly, he was not manageable, and within a prompt, timely manner, approximately 2 minutes, he was removed from our management plan. Now that year we did not hatch any baby chickens.

      We have also removed dogs, cats, billy goats, and female goats that did not work out in the category of friendly and manageable. We did not eat them, but we sold them. Hope this helps.

      Frank

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