Did you know we went from living in town on a teeny tiny city lot to renting an acre south of Calgary to here–our four-acre off grid property in Central Alberta? (Click here for part one of that story! )
Did you also know that we got our first ever weaner pigs the very next day? Three of them! We got a ginormous bitch of a sow the day after that.
This was all Dave’s doing–obviously–but if I’m being honest–if Dave hadn’t set it all up before I’d had a chance to research it first, we might not have jumped in to pigs at all! We certainly wouldn’t have connected with friends over pigs, tasted the difference farm fresh pork makes, or learned all of these ‘valuable’ tidbits of knowledge to share with you at this point.
1. Pigs are disgusting.
I mean, pigs are delicious, but they’re fucking disgusting.
Pigs are waaaay messier than I anticipated! They poop and pee in their water and then wallow in it for hourrrrs. More often than naught, they drink it, too, and I mean they slurrrrp it right up like an ice cold beer on a hot day!
Also, a 750lb sow with gas is pretty nasty. A huge gassy sow wallowing in butt-hole-deep mud? A thousand times nastier.
Do you want to know what the worst thing was that I witnessed? Braden and I went outside to visit our pigs and the boar we rented for his stud services began air humping. We thought it was pretty hilarious–until he jizzed in his feed and then turned around and ate it.
Yes, that happened, and apparently it happens often. Enjoy your pork chops tonight, folks!
2. They’re Are A Lot Like Dogs
I could practically smell the sizzling bacon when I started raising pigs for pork, so it was a hard pill to swallow when I realized just how akin pigs and dogs are.
Like dogs, pigs have distinct personalities. If they trust you, they’ll love you. If they don’t trust you, you’ll know that too.
Like dogs, pigs learn their names and if they like you, they’ll come when called. This came in handy more than once when the pigs got out of their pen! Yes, we named our pigs. It made it easier to convey to each other who was bullying who, who was close to farrowing, who’d gotten out of the pen, who was ‘hogging’ the feed and water, and so on. No, we didn’t label the packages of meat with their names. Like, come on, you guys–that would be fucked up.
Pigs love pets and scratches on their bellies or behind their ears, just like dogs. My two very favourite sows, Dot and Sheniqua, leaned right in to their scratches and Dot would even lay on her side for scratches when she was smaller. We knew what their fate would be one day, but we always gave them the best possible treatment while they were living, just as it should be, and that included the belly rubs that they adored so very much.
It’s easy to get attached to such lovable, smart animals and that makes freezer camp day a really hard day. Even Dave who hunts, doesn’t relish it, but this is the cost of feeding our family and, quite frankly, we eat meat and an animal raised and slaughtered with love and dignity is much preferred to the mass produced pork that sits in the grocery store for weeks on end before we, the consumer, buys it.
3. They’re Escape Artists
Imagine coming home from work and school. You’ve had a long day and you’re tired. You’re looking forward to making supper and curling up by the fire with a fuzzy blanket and a drink, but as you make your way up the driveway you see five huge behooved beasts wandering freely around your property, thunder thighs clapping with every step.
One is devouring the contents of the chicken feed outside the coop, two are harassing chickens at the back of the property, and two are grazing waaaay out in the field at the edge of your land. There are four of you home and one of you is too young and small to help. It’s getting dark and there’s no sign of the pigs returning on their own.
One pig is wandering awfully close to the road now…
What will you do?
Our pigs all had ‘free range’ of the multiple fenced in pens on our property, so when one managed to break down a fence eeeveryone got out. A pursued or cornered pig is a scared and stressed out pig–and that, my friends, is dangerous as fuck. Rounding up escapees was the worst.
Typically when someone broke out, it was Penny. Penny–who I mentioned earlier–was a 750lb biotch, and that is putting it nicely.
Honestly, there is another word I’d use to describe her, but although I personally love said word, I know it is a word that many find super offensive–so I won’t say it. No, I won’t say it…but, it starts with a ‘c’ and rhymes with ‘punt’.
Despite my best efforts to love Penny, she was simply not a lovable sow. She bullied the other pigs, killed my chickens and ducks, and she found her way out of the pig pens over and over and over again. I don’t think any of us were sad about Penny’s freezer camp day because she caused us so much stress while she was with us.
Once, Penny broke out in the early morning before anyone had woken up. Thankfully, our only other sow at the time, Sheniqua, decided to stick around the pen and didn’t follow her out. Penny, however, decided she needed an adventure and wandered miles down the road into a neighbour’s field where she somehow got herself stuck. She couldn’t get passed the cattle guard at the gate along the road, and all of the cross fencing in the fields between his field and ours was up. We couldn’t figure out how she got in in the first place, and we had no idea how to get her back out.
We did some sleuthing and figured out whose property she was on and then got his permission to herd her back to our land, but even with help from friends and neighbours, Penny wasn’t having it. It took us two weeks to get her back into her pen–and in the end, it was a simple trail of apple chunks that enticed her. Or, maybe she knew Dave’s promise to go get the gun was sincere?
Yes, Penny tasted great.
Question: How do pigs break out of their pens? Answer: They’re smart as hell! They test the fences and find weak spots just like the dinosaurs did in Jurassic Park. They’re smart enough to wait until you’re not around before they pick away at those weak spots and voila!–Freedom! We tried electric fencing, too, but again, they knew if and when the fence went out or they simply found a way to get around one of the poles and boom!
4. Fresh Pork Tastes 1000x Better Than Grocery Store Pork
If you’ve tasted farm fresh anything, you know it tastes infinitely better than store bought. Farm fresh strawberries and carrots are sweeter, potatoes creamier, eggs richer–and pork is no different!
I didn’t expect for the pork to have a stronger flavour or be darker in colour–but it is! Braden can tell when the pork is farm fresh or when it comes from a store just by tasting it now. Straight up–grocery store pork lacks flavour. We compare it to cardboard soaked in water.
In addition, I didn’t realize that the male piglets needed to be castrated in order to preserve their deliciousness because the testosterone will eventually taint the flavour of the meat! If you’ve ever tasted ‘boar-y’ meat–you know exactly what I’m talking about.
5. They Fucking Eat Everything
Pigs are omnivores, which means they eat plants and meat.
We fed our drift a daily ration which was a blend of barley, wheat, corn, peas, fava beans, oats, and sunflower seeds. The sunflower seeds made the feed smell divine, so I loved when the feed totes started coming with that added ingredient.
We also fed them table scraps including some left over meat (with the exception of pork, of course!) and any and all excess eggs that were about to spoil or that might have been a handful of days fertilized rather than tossing them in the garbage or compost. The pigs grazed for grass and weeds throughout the day as well.
That being said–keeping them well fed did not keep them from developing a taste for chicken and duck…live chicken and duck. Since our birds free range, they sometimes walked too close to the fence or they simply hopped in to the pig pen for a snack and they became the snack. May you rest in peace Howard, Prim, Lucy, and so many of my other feathered friends!
If you have pigs, be careful! They’re smart, strong, fast, and pigs have consumed human flesh in the past! The wrong pig + the wrong timing = you just never know.
6. They’re Excellent For Garden Prep
Because it’s natural to root while they forage, pigs are a great addition to readying a garden space! Many farmers and homesteaders actually rotate their pigs through their garden spaces to help their gardens thrive.
We only had one space for the pigs and one for the garden, but now that we’ve taken a break from raising pigs, we’ve planted in part of the pen and things are growing like crazy! We counted eight volunteer pumpkin plants in the very back pen, too, and although it totally makes sense after feeding them a crap-ton of Halloween pumpkins, I didn’t expect it.
Note: Manure can house a plethora of icky parasites in it, so it’s best to let it compost before using it in your garden.
7. Motherhood Isn’t For Every Sow
Motherhood doesn’t come naturally to every pig. Like people, each sow is different. I had one sow kill every one of her babies because she repeatedly laid on them and ignored their squeals. I had another farrow quickly and quietly but then she immediately abandoned her six piglets in favour of endless hours of sunbathing!
In that instance, I ended up intervening as a last resort, but we lost the two surviving piglets four days later because they didn’t get their mother’s colostrum which is vital to their survival.
Thankfully, we never had to intervene when it came to farrowing! Every one of our sows were total naturals when it came to giving birth! Fortunately, too, most of our sows were wonderful mothers. Dot’s farrow was quick! Start to finish it was only two hours long and she gave birth to thirteen healthy piglets and only lost one during the first night.
Farrowing is definitely exciting, over all. I loved seeing all the adorable little bacon seeds running and playing before they went to their new homes.
Fun fact! Sows happily nurse each and every piglet that wants to suckle, so my sows were kind of like sister wives taking care of each other’s young. It was pretty neat to see!
8. They Won’t Make You Rich
If you plan to make a living as a pig farmer, think again, girl, because pigs cost a pretty penny to raise. What’s more, so many people are more than willing to sacrifice ethically raised, flavourful meat in lieu of the discounted garbage at their local grocery store to save money.
I get it. Times are hard. What’s important to one family is not important to another, and that is fine. This is just another point to consider if you’re thinking about raising and selling pork and hope to make a profit.
9. They’re Hardy!
Heck yes–pigs are hardy! Throw them a couple bails of dry straw and give them some sort of shelter and they will survive even the coldest of Alberta winters!
Contrary to what some people believe, pigs do not need a heated shelter. They simply need enough straw to burrow in and something to block the wind. As long as you provide them with plenty of food and water–they’re golden!
That being said, farrowing in -30 is not a good idea without heat, so plan ahead to provide heat during a winter farrow or breed your pigs intentionally so that they farrow in warmer weather. Yes, this is a lesson we learned our first winter raising pigs when Sheniqua farrowed in -35 degree weather and lost every single one of her piglets immediately.
Piglets are born every bit as wet as a human baby, and anything wet in -35 temps doesn’t have much of a chance without heat. Yes, it was a hard lesson.
Well, folks–these are the biggest surprises we encountered when we decided to raise pigs for pork. I definitely could have lived without some of these surprises, especially the jizz-eating.
Hopefully you’ve learned something new here!
If you raise or have raised pigs, what surprised you? Leave a comment and let us know!