Bacon. Ham. Pork chops. Sausages. Pastry. Lard. So many great products from one animal.
My husband and I have been raising our own animals for meat, dairy, eggs and honey for the last few years. Up until last fall, the only meat we had produced ourselves was chicken. And farm-raised, free-range chicken is unbeatable. But you can’t make bacon out of chicken, and while we aren’t huge pork eaters, we do appreciate good quality pork on occasion. The problem was, I couldn’t find organic pork locally, and if I could, we would be paying a horrific price for it.
We are huge supporters of local, pasture-raised meat. We are also huge fans of certified organic products to avoid GMOs. We soon discovered that it was going to be impossible to find these products locally, and so if we were going to eat it, we would have to produce it ourselves. Bring on the pigs.
As usual, we jumped in. Sink or swim… we have learned to swim. And with pigs we learned fast.
We had a secure location for them, a nice, small barn, and… three bags of organic feed. We picked up 2 Yorkshire female piglets, age 6 weeks. They were just starting to get past the cute stage… a good thing. And they loved to eat. And eat. And eat. At $24 a bag for organic hog feed, we learned pretty quickly that we would have to come up with a better solution for food. At the rate we were going, our pigs would cost their weight in gold!
Pigs can do really well on pasture. They root up everything, eat weeds, roots, shoots, greens… everything. If you have an area you want cleared, as long as it is properly fenced, they will clear it for you and you won’t have to buy much food for them. If you DON’T have a secure field for them, you will have to provide a lot of food. LOTS of food. We live on just under 2 acres, and much of it is heavily treed. We really are only using about an acre, if that. Fencing is very expensive and our property is challenging to fence. So we knew that, at least this time, our pigs would be relying on twice-daily feedings of good, quality food.
In my opinion, hog feed isn’t awesome. In our area, the hog feed that is available, even the organic feed, is chock full of corn (pig junk food), and soy (cheap protein). Unless it is certified organic, both ingredients are likely to be GMO products. (Unless you are raising them on your own corn). Corn isn’t great for pigs… especially exclusively. It makes for a lot of fat, and not so much meat. Hog feed also generally contains vitamins and minerals, which may or may not be sourced naturally or GMO-free. And it is dry. I honestly can’t think of any mammal that would enjoy eating dry food its entire life. Or any mammal who would benefit from it. We don’t even feed our dog dry dog food. (She gets raw, frozen dog food).
Everyone knows pigs will eat anything. We needed to come up with something that was healthy, easy to source, and cheap. And everyone knows that it is who you know, not what you know. We raised our pigs on stale certified organic bread, and all the vegetable trimmings they could eat, provided from a local produce store. We also produced the best tasting ham, bacon, pork chops, and roasts you can ever imagine.
Sourcing free food:
Most bakeries have extra, stale bread that they need to get rid of. I found several local bakeries that gave away their stale bread. And stale?? Not really… more like, not sellable. 2 day old stuff won’t sell if there is fresh stuff. Phone around, talk to the local bakeries, and see if you can find one who will give you stale bread. And if you want organic, you might get as lucky as we did. We found a bakery that produces certified organic sourdough bread, and that would give us their extra. BIG TIME SCORE!
Here is where you might have some issues. Don’t go to the big box stores, unless you know someone who can pull some strings for you. Go to the smaller, independently owned ones, and ask the owner or manager. We have connections with a small grocery store with a large produce section, and they gave us bags and bags of vegetable trimmings and fruit that was no longer sellable. Those pigs got everything from kale and chard to strawberries, watermelon and pumpkins! Their favorite, believe it or not, was kale. They didn’t like whole potatoes, eggplant, peppers, or citrus peels.
Pigs loooooove dairy. If you are so lucky as to have a cheese-making business nearby, ask them for their leftover whey. Pigs drink up whey like I would (like to) drink chocolate, and they benefit from the protein in it. Again, whey is a by-product and companies like to give it away rather than pay to dispose of it.
Another tip… pigs need clean bedding. They are messy eaters, and they tend to get their bedding full of potato peelings and banana peels. If you don’t get wood chips delivered by the ton (and we don’t have storage for that kind of thing), then you know that wood chips by the bag are expensive. Head out to your local high school. Chances are they have a wood chipper and all their wood ends go through the chipper. I get bags and bags of wood chips for FREE from a local high school. Occasionally I drop off a dozen eggs for the teacher who lets me in, but that trade is worth it! The schools in our area have to bag it up and put it in the trash otherwise, which costs more to dispose of, so they are usually very willing to give it away.
We brought our pigs in to be processed almost a month ago now. We had the butcher package up the ground pork, roasts and chops, and the rest they gave us back fresh, uncured, unsmoked, to do ourselves. We spent the better part of 2 weeks curing 4 hams and 35 lb of bacon, then smoking it all on the BBQ. It wasn’t hard, although it was time consuming. But WORTH IT! Oh man was it worth it!
The flavour, the texture, the richness, made it worth it. Knowing that we raised our own pigs for our own meat in a humane, healthy environment, was worth it. Even the hard work made us feel good. We knew every mouthful of food that went into those pigs. We knew exactly how they were raised. We were happy to say that up until the very last moment, where they were killed humanely and efficiently by a local butcher, they were in our hands and well taken care of. Hard work pays off! In the end, we sold most of one pig, and kept the rest for ourselves. The cost of the butchering and packaging was paid off by the meat we sold. The benefit of having a local butcher do the processing was that the meat was inspected and so was legal to sell. And everyone wanted some! I think if we had raised 10 pigs we would have had no trouble selling the meat.
Thank you pigs. Indeed, it was your life for ours; we are very grateful.