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