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Christian Shearer
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Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Wet/Dry Tropical

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Summer Pig Project

Posted by Christian Shearer about 13 years ago

Taiga and I have undertaken a project to raise three pigs for meat this summer. Just yesterday the three little porkers made their debut to their new pen.

Our Summer Pig Project

With meat that has been raised in a humane way in very short supply, my sweetie Taiga and I decided that we would experiment with growing three pigs this summer. 

We have been for some time now on a mostly vegetarian diet after deciding that we would try to eat only meat that we knew was grown in a humane way.  Our challenge with this project is to see if we can truly raise our pigs in a humane way, caring for them and giving them a great, albeit short, life with (as Joel Salatin says) "one bad day." Will we be actually able to slaughter them after living with them and caring for them for four months?  I believe I will be able to, but if I am not, then I think it is time to go vegetarian.  For anyone who has never spent any time with a pig, they are very emotional beings, and can easily catch the heart strings.  They are also the smartest domesticated animal, smarter than dogs.


Taiga and I were inspired by some good friends of ours who have kept pigs for years.  Thank you Peter and Mary!  They and their neighbors have an agreement to each take care of the pigs every other year.  They always get two pigs and then each family gets one each year!  I love it.  This provides enough meat for their low meat diet for most of the year.  Of course they also have chickens for eggs and occasionally cull a hen or the roosters that hatch, but for the most part that one pig serves their needs.  And it only took a few months, every other year to make it happen!


We expect that after keeping them and feeding them twice daily for the next 4.5 months we will have three pigs each weighing just over 100kg.  After slaughter this should provide us with close to 200kg of delicious, home grown pork.  We plan to have a large birthday party for Taiga and our friend Pete where we will do a big pig BBQ, but that probably won't use more than 30kg's of ribs and sausage.  The rest will be shared with family, friends, and even given as a wedding present to our good friend Queen Bee. 

We also hope to render the pig fat into lard which surpiringly enough is one of the best cooking oils that can be had (especially for people who are mostly vegetarian).  Much like coconut oil, pig lard is 100% saturated fats, making it one of the few oils that will not break down at high heats.  And it can be stored for a long time.  Plus it is delicious. (And it makes a great gift!)


Our additional challenge is to see how cheaply we could do this entire project, and it looks like we are going to succeed smashingly in that regard. 


Young pigs can be a challenge to keep in fences. You need to make them strong, as well as having no holes large enough for them to squeeze through, as pigs will find the hole, guaranteed.  People often combat this by using electric fencing.

We started out assuming that we would build a simple metal fence, possibly with some electric fencing.  I found the 110v electric fence charger called "The Wrangler" made by Gallagher that would have been an excellent choice with way more than enough power for this project if we wanted to tie into our pre-existing electric.  Or alternatively, we could choose a solar charger like the S17, also made by Gallagher.  In the end we didn't need electric.

The alternative much more natural, beautiful and without electricity, is to build a wood fence.  We were very fortunate to have a neighbor across the street (thanks Shirley) who is soon to sell her land.  The place used to be a junk yard, and have piles of wood, car parts, and all sorts of other junk.  We went and talked to her and she said that we could basically take whatever we wanted.  it would be a favor to her!  So, all said and done, we built a small but sufficient 1.8 x 1.8 meter eclosure for them to sleep in, and a circular pen with a radius of about 6 meters!  Very big for three small pigs.  The pen is built with about 400 board feet of 2x6's nailed onto 4in diameter lodgepole pine posts.  The posts were sunk 15 inches into the ground and the whole thing is solid.  The boards were spaced 3 inches apart on the lowest rung and 4 inches after that.  This is probably just the right size for our six week old pigs to not escape.


Restaurant Waste

We are also fortunate enough to be going in on this venture with a friend who works in the restaurant business.  Four nights a week he is able to bring home at least 20 Liters of food waste from those restaurants.  This includes, salad, bread, pasta, and other tasties.  The important thing to be aware of is to make sure that if there is meat in the food that it is well cooked and fresh.  Pigs have immune systems much like our own and need to have a healthy diet.  If they are fet food (especially meat) that has sat out for a few days and is going bad they are very likely to get sick.   We only feed our pigs food from the same day or the day before, or we refridgerate it to save it for them. 

Also the great thing is that we get far more food from the restaurant than we need (this may not be the case in a few months when the pigs weigh 100 kilos), so we can pick through it a bit and pitch them the most nutritious bits.  The rest goes into our compost pile, or into the "heavenly tomato" pit.

Brewery Waste

The local Teton Brewery has a huge amount of spent barley that is coming out of their brewing process everyday.  This is an important addition to the restaurant scraps because it includes a solid portion of protien, which is important to the pigs diet.  The amount of waste coming from that one brewery could feed way more pigs than we have so we just take a bit (and actually there is a guy who has an elk farm that takes most of it).  Another resource that is available at the brewery is the spill bucket (where all the foam and flat beer goes when pouring a beer on tap at the bar).  This beer (in moderation of course) is a great treat for the pigs.  If you have ever heard of Korubuta pork, it is very expensive pork that has been massaged and fed beer.  I don't think we will massage ours, but they will get the occasional beer.

Kitchen Waste from our Home

Taiga and I don't procude much kitchen waste, but we now have a pig bucket on the counter.  It is the first thing fed to the pigs at meal times, because it is generally more nutritious that the stuff coming from the restaurant.  We want our pigs to eat their greens (and fruit cores and banana peels, and beet skins, and juicing waste) before they eat the restaurant slop. 

Waste from a Dairy

There is a small dairy nearby that sells raw milk (so good).  We called them to ask about any waste milk they might have and they told us that there isn't any because the farm is now starting in on making cheddar cheese.  Well, this is too bad for us, who want some cheap milk, but it is great for the pigs, because they love to drink whey.  Whey is a very protein and enzyme rich byproduct of cheese making.  So we will try to give them a weekly dose of whey as well. 

Kelp Supplement

With all our farmyard mammals, supplementing their vitamins and minerals with seaweed or kelp is a great idea.  Kelp meal supplies 60 minerals, 21 amino acids, and 12 vitamins that are necessary for good health. There is a whole list of benefits you can see here. Being that we are in the mountains of Idaho, it is doubtful that we will come across kelp for free.  This might be the one part of the food that we purchase.  Then we will mix it in at close to one percent of their food, and they will be much healthier for it (and of course in the end the meat will be tastier and healthier as well).  Also, if they don't need all the minerals then they manure them out, and it ends up in our garden, so nothing wasted.  A 33kg bag costs $40. That may be all we need.

All in all, we are well prepared to fatten up three pigs while we spend very little to do it!


Pick up the Pigs!

We checked craigs list in our area and found that there were a number of offers for weaned pigs.  The prices ranged from $65-$85 per pig.  We ended up getting ours for $70 a piece.  There wasn't that much choice about breeds, and since we are not breeding we didn't feel that it mattered that much.  We were pretty sure we didn't want to conventional pink pig, so we ended up with some muts.  We think they are Hampshire, York and Duroc crosses.  One of them is half black and white and the other two are mostly pink with some light black patches on them  They are six weeks old and weigh about 13 kilos each. 

We picked them up from a very (not sure I can find another word that fits as well) redneck family here in eastern idaho.  Their back yard was an amazing trash-heap of animal husbandry.  There were pallets wired together everywhere and plastic buckets strewn throughout.  There were piles of hay in various stages of decomposition, chickens and one goose running around.  The pigs were in pallet-wood enclosures that immediately told us that we had built ours plenty tight.  The owner of the operation was a very nice man who is mainly out to feed his family, and make a few extra bucks from home.  The had three giant hogs, each weighing about 300 kilos, three young pigs and 10 piglets, from which we could choose.  He feeds his pigs only dry barley and that is it. Sometimes some hay. 

(I congratulate this guy for putting his families food into their own hands, for trying something different than his neighbors and being a little more self reliant! His intention is great and I wish that for more people.  I wish that I could have given a quick permaculture intro on the spot, as he could be getting so much more out of it for less effort, but hey, he wasn't asking, so I wasn't telling. Plus, this is my time to learn, not to teach.)

We asked him all sorts of questions, and feel more knowledgable now than before.  Not that we will follow his techniques, but it is good to know what works for him.

Ongoing Care

So now all these piggies really need is for us to make sure they have clean water everyday and food twice a day.  They are out there right now rooting around in the grass digging up roots and worms, so their food supply never really ends.

I'm going to keep learning at this point.


This is a long way off, and a bit daunting, but we already have a contact in the area who is just learning to slaughter, and most likely would be happy to do it at a cheap rate, especially with us there to help.  I am set on actually doing as much of the slaughtering for at least one of the pigs myself, including the killing.  I have long maintained that if I cannot do the process myself, I should not be outsourcing it to others. If I cannot kill my own meat, then it is time to become a vegetarian, and if that is the result of this experiment, then so be it. 

I am watching for a used meat grinder so that we can make home-made sausage, and we would also like to try to dry-cure some of the meat and attempt something close to prosciutto.  Some friends of ours make some from their home grown pigs and it was excellent. 


Our biggest goal over the next four months is to give these animals a joyful existance, while also producing healthy tasty meat.  We are going to try to love them as we go without getting personally attached.  This is a big challenge.  And has been the topic of conversation over the last few days.  Given that we are going to kill them, is it ok to call them friends?  How much love and trust is it ok to give an animal knowing that you are later going to slaughter it?  My feeling is that it is almost a spiritual journey.  Watch how much I get attached.  Be aware of my feelings for them, now and at slaughtering time, and if the feelings are too intense, and it feels completely cluel and wrong, then I guess I am to become a vegetarian.  I hope and believe, that I can feel fine about their deaths, as we will do it in a quick and relatively painless way that moves them to the next place (wherever that is) without much hassle. 

Maybe easier said than done.

But that being said, I am looking forward to a good sausage.

New%20pigs%20and%20pig%20pen First%20day%20of%20pigs

Comments (2)

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Mark Brown
Mark Brown : Good luck Christian - and don't make a pig of yourself with them sausages now.
Posted about 13 years ago

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Adam MacLean
Adam MacLean : Great update Christian. I'm sure you'll be able to provide those porkers a joyous existence, up until that "one bad day". I'm oh-so-envious of the "waste" resources available in the developed world. I struggle to produce enough food waste to support a pig. . .

I wish the pigs a peaceful transition from animal to "meat".
Posted about 13 years ago

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