Pork is a versatile and delicious meat option used for a variety of different meal types; whether it is bacon or sausage for breakfast, pork chops for a casual dinner, or ham to be served at a family gathering. A great way to further enjoy and appreciate this experience is getting fresh, local pork. If you are thinking about buying a few piglets and raising them yourself or purchasing a market hog to put in your freezer, D’Agata’s Fine Family Farm can help you get started.
Raising Feeder Pigs
Raising a weaned piglet to market weight could be a possibility to consider if you have the yard space and capability to do so. The first thing you may want to look into is your town’s zoning laws to make sure that you are allowed to have a pig on your property. Most towns, and the town of Suffield usually require at least 5 acres of land to raise any animal traditionally associated with a farm. You can always call and ask to see if it is allowed. Be aware of what your neighbors may think as well, if you are secluded you may be able to raise a few pigs without a problem, but if you live in an area surrounded by houses this is not the best option for you. Also, be aware that pigs are excellent escape artists and they also rut. Anywhere you keep your pigs will turn into a mud pit full of ruts and holes. They will root under fences, eat up tree trunks and ruin your lawn or garden bed if they find access. Secure housing and fencing is a must.
There are a few options if you want to build a pen for your pigs. Remember that these little piglets will grow to 200+ lbs so space is critical. For two pigs I recommend at least a 15×15 ft pen. For fencing you can use hog panels reinforced with posts or electric fencing. Electric fencing will be most effective at keeping your pigs in their enclosure since they will learn every fast not to go near it. If you plan on raising pigs year after year, I would suggest going all out and building a permanent enclosure with hog panels and reinforce with a strand or two of electric fence on the lower half. Making sure the pigs cannot root under the fence or push down the fence is critical to keeping them in their pen. Build the pen in a space that you would not mind if it got muddy or ruined, but also try to put it in an area of your yard that stays particularly dry, since you do not want your pigs to be belly deep in mud all the time. The larger your pen is, the easier it will be to keep it clean. You will also need a shelter for your pigs. In the summer and early fall, which is when you will most likely be raising feeder pigs, the only shelter they need is something to give them shade, so a simple lean-to will do just fine. Pigs will not defecate where they sleep or eat so, as long as you keep their hut or lean-to dry, it will stay clean.
There are options to consider for feeding your pigs. I highly recommend asking what they were being fed when you purchase them and continue feeding them that for a few weeks before phasing to something else. If you get pigs from us they will be started with a starter grain. This is a crumble grain that helps with their absorption and digestion. I recommend getting 1 bag of that and then going to a grower/finisher grain. For the first 12 weeks it is a good idea to keep feed in front of them at all times. If you do this, make sure to have a secure feed pan with a cover to keep birds and pests away. If you choose not to keep food out all the time I recommend feeding 2-3 times a day. You can also feed your pigs vegetables or table scraps (so long as they do not contain meat and are not spoiled or moldy). You can phase the vegetables into the pigs diet slowly by adding a little at a time to their daily grain. If your goal is to feed solely vegetables you can phase until your pigs are used to eating the vegetables and then feed only those. Remember that an abrupt change in diet can cause digestion issues so, phasing out the grain is important. Also note that your pigs will grow much slower if fed only vegetables. I usually recommend feeding half vegetable and half grain so you know for sure that the pigs are getting all their nutritional needs and that they are growing properly. Take notice to changes in feces consistency to make sure that your pigs are staying healthy.
Pigs can be very hardy animals, but when they get sick they get very sick. This is another reason I recommend feeding 2-3 times a day. Make sure you are watching your pigs and noticing changes in behavior and health. Your pigs should be coming to greet you every time you go to their pen and should be getting up to eat. They should also be doing pig things like rooting and playing. Temperature can have a big impact on how your pigs behave, if it is a hot day make sure they have plenty of water and that they are drinking. Their eyes should be bright, their bellies and shoulders should be rounded, and their ears should be perked up (unless they are a breed with floppy ears). If your pig is moving slowly or has his nose resting on the ground while just standing then your pig may be sick. You can also tell a lot from their coat. They should be shiny and their hair should be sleek. If your pig looks like it has a lot of hair that is sticking out and it’s skin looks pale and dry your pig may have parasites, be dehydrated or malnourished. Loss of body condition or redness of the skin are also signs of sickness. The more you interact with your pigs the more you will be able to tell when something is off and as with humans, the sooner you catch an issue the sooner it can be treated and the better chances your piglet has of recovering. Before purchasing pigs read up on common illnesses and learn to recognize them. You should also know a veterinarian that can help you if you run into trouble or someone who is well-versed in pig care. If you buy pigs from our farm we cannot guarantee their health since a number of factors can influence their well-being. However, if a pig you purchase from us does get sick please call me as soon as you see symptoms. I can come to you or you can bring the pig back for me to treat it and when it is healthy again you can bring it back home. It is extremely important to keep a close eye on your pigs and seek help as soon as you think a pig needs it.
Getting your piglet
D’Agata’s Fine Family Farm has piglets ready for you to take home usually in May or June. We charge $120 per piglet, however the cost is subject to change based on market demand and feed costs. Since pigs are extremely social animals and can suffer if housed alone I rarely will sell just one piglet to a customer. If you think two pigs is too much for your freezer see if a friend would like to purchase the second one from you. One benefit of buying your pig from us is that we guarantee to butcher it for you when you are ready to put it in your freezer. I love seeing the finished product of the pigs that we started and sold to you to put your hard work into. I love the start to finish aspect of selling pigs and I am proud to help you raise pigs that you are proud to feed your family.
A pig you purchase in May or June should be ready to package in November of the same year. This will save you from having to house your pigs in the winter and will also supply wonderful food for the following year. You can have the ham you raised yourself for your Christmas and Easter celebrations, enjoy sausage of your preference and fresh smoked bacon for breakfast. I guarantee that there is something significant about raising your own food. Just be careful of getting attached, but also remember, a new set of piglets can always be raised again next year!
In the next section you can see what you might expect from your pig if you raise it to full market weight.
Buying a Market Hog
If you purchase a market hog from D’Agata’s Fine Family Farm we usually charge $450-$500 for the pig and processing. If you want sausage made, we charge an extra $2.00/lb and we also charge extra to smoke the hams and bacon. Here is a link to our order form. This form can be filled out and sent to us via email. Go to our website and click the “order forms” tab for more information. A non-refundable deposit is required to order a pig.
The standard size for a market hog is 280 lbs and will yield about 160 lbs of take-home meat. Pork checkoff does a good job of breaking it all down for you:
When you pick up your pork from of us, obviously you will need somewhere to put it. A whole hog will fit in about 4-5 cubic feet of freezer space. Remember that whole hams will take up the most space with their awkward shape at about 20 lbs each. When you pick up your meat it will be fresh or smoked. Remember to bring enough coolers to fit all of your meat so you can take it home safely.
FAQs about our pigs:
Q: What are they fed?
A: Our pigs get a combination of grain (corn and soy), food waste and vegetables, along with any grubs, bugs or plants they find foraging in their pasture. When they are piglets they are started on grain diets and we eventually phase in peanuts, organic granola, bakery waste and fruits and vegetables from our garden or surrounding farms. They eat a lot of summer squash and cucumbers in the summer and pumpkins and apples in the fall. Our pigs are never fed “garbage” or cooked food waste, but we do get peanuts and bakery waste from producers whose batches are not up to standard for human consumption. I have a blog about Feeding Food Waste to Livestock if you are interested in reading more.
Q: How do we raise our pigs?
A: Our piglets and young pigs are raised on concrete outside and our sows, boar and finishing hogs have pasture and shelter. The concrete is for cleanliness and to keep the young pigs safe and close to shelter. Our mama pigs will either farrow in a pen in the barn or in farrowing crates depending on her mothering capabilities and farrowing ease. I have another article on farrowing systems and piglet care and management if you are interested in reading more about why we use the systems and practices we do.
Q: Are they raised Antibiotic-Free?
A: We use antibiotics responsibly and judiciously on our farm. We will treat our pigs with appropriate antibiotics if they get sick or injured so that they can get back to being healthy. I also have a blog about antibiotic use on our farm and you can read that here.
Q: What breed of pigs do we raise?
A: I am a fan of Yorkshire pigs. I love their personalities and appearance. We have 4 Yorkshire sows right now and one Hampshire. We have 3 gilts that we will hopefully mix into our breeding herd: 2 Yorkshire and 1 Landrace. Our girls are all beautiful and well-tempered. Our boar is a Berkshire cross. Crossbreeds allow our pigs to have the many great qualities of different breeds.