Pigs come to my farm once they’ve been weaned, at one to two months old. At this age, they are called “feeder pigs.” It’s a bit self-explanatory: You feed them to butchering size, so they’re “feeders.” These young pigs, usually a cross of a number of common breeds such as Yorkshire, Berkshire, or Hampshire, grow well in an outdoor setting so long as they have plenty of high protein feed available.
Pigs love to root around in the dirt. It’s what they’re known for, right?! They plow up the dirt with their sturdy noses, flipping rocks with their thickly muscled necks, and hunt for delicious and tasty underground morsels. They are in search of grubs, worms, and roots. I like to plant beets for them to find, specifically sugar or mangel beets. Sugar beets, as the name says, are high in sugar. Mangel beets are considered livestock beets as they are gnarly, huge beets that can get to 10 pounds or more!
Since they are such diggers and can turn so much earth so quickly, the pigs never stay in one spot for too long. When they first arrive to the farm, they are given a cozy place to hang out and get to learn the ropes…the electric ropes that is. Freshly weaned pigs have not yet had to deal with an electric fence, so they need to be trained. It doesn’t take much to train them, but to do so correctly takes a lot of juice and the right set up.
Pigs are placed in a small area in which they are contained by two strands of electric wire, the first a few inches from the ground and the second about six inches about the first. Beyond that is an electric net fence, which is more visible and built more like a standard fence, but it also electrified. Finally, outside of the electrified netting is a solid fence such as field fence or a chicken wire fence. Animals tend to run forward when shocked, so having a physical barrier in front of them ensures that they back up since they are almost always shocked in the nose as they explore.
One or two strong shocks is often all it takes for a young pig to learn that they never want to touch the wire again. I can’t blame them! I’ve been shocked more times than I have fingers and it has never left me with a desire to touch the fence ever again! Once they’ve learned the ropes, the exterior fencing comes down and before long, the pigs are contained with two measly little metal wires. In the past, I’ve even had people stop to tell me my pigs are out because the wire is practically invisible!
Having only these two wires containing the pigs makes moving them to a fresh area super easy. And they need frequent moves, because, as I said, they are quite the diggers! in the first month or so, their little noses don’t turn much earth, but once they start packing on the pounds, ground goes flying! They get moved only about 7 or 8 times while they are here, but if I had more room to move them, and a different set up, they could get moved as often as every few days.
For now, while I’m at this farm, they are my garden tillers. I mark out the area of my garden with the electric fence posts, and they turn the earth and eat the roots of grasses and other weeds like burdock that make life hard for my crops. The efficiently till for me and find rocks which they toss as though they were pebbles! I think pound for pound, pigs are the strongest creatures on the planet. They can flip rocks that I can barely roll…and for those that have seen more work, you know I’m not a weakling.
So the pigs find a lot of their food, and I give them a pelleted feed designed for them from the mill. But beyond that, I try to give them all the best natural foods I can round up. The pigs get all the extra eggs and they slurp them down and crunch on the shells too! An apple producer nearby sells his bruised apples to me cheaply and the pigs love to chow down on them! Of course, since I raise pigs almost always starting in the fall, pumpkins are a big favorite! I also supplement them with spent grain from a local brewery. They get veggie scraps from the garden and if I can find a dairy that has extra whey or milk, maybe one day they will get that too!
When the pigs have been at the farm for about five months and are 250-300 pounds, it’s time to head to the butcher. It’s a sad day for the farm, but the pigs don’t realize this. They are lured into the trailer with their favorite treats: apples and eggs. If they are good and hungry and have time to explore the trailer before they must be loaded, it’s an easy task. They ride to the butcher and have a short day. While it’s not a fun day like all the others, I take comfort in knowing that they were able to live their lives as pigs ought to live: Outside digging in the dirt eating their favorite foods and sunbathing on warm spring days, being able to run laps and chase each other, living carefree and happy just as they should.