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How to... Keep and kill pigs

keeppig06We first started keeping a couple of pigs nearly fifteen years ago and had only a two year break of having none. Now that’s thirteen years of pig keeping, and as you might guess, we like having them. This means that we have a steady supply of organic pork, bacon and sausages at our finger tips. There is nothing like the taste of a bit of bacon fried in onions in the wok or a smoked sausage for breakfast with an egg and sauerkraut all made and grown on the farm.

Keeping a pig or two is a must if you have a cow, as the cow will mostly feed the pig. The left over whey from cheese making is shared by both the pig and the chooks and this makes keeping them very cost effective. I hope you’re starting to see the picture. There is some hard work and plenty of commitment and dedication involved but it certainly can be done. Being largely food self sufficient is not only rewarding and satisfying but will also give you access to healthy organic food at low cost.
Keeping pigs is very much a part of the whole process of growing your own food. Not only do they feed you eventually and give you fertilser in the process, but they can help you to grow more food.

keeppig01Our pig housing is placed on a concrete floor with a set of concrete laundry tubs for their feed and water. A small court yard with three gates and three large runs is attached to the housing. One run is open for the pig whilst the other two are closed. Both runs at the time of writing are growing sunflowers. The sunflowers will help reduce the cost of pig and chook feed and they are very much appreciated by them. Just cutting off the sunflower heads and collecting them into a bucket is not a lot of work. In fact the only work involved was broadcasting the seed and watching them grow! How easy is that.

For about ten years we bred saddleback pigs. These are an old fashioned barn yard variety that are very docile and placid; lazy really. I think this might be due to their fat build up as they are a very fat dense breed. This has been a bonus for me as there was always plenty of fat for soap making. I usually make a couple of batches of soap a year, using a total of six kilo of rendered down fat. This will last me for well over a years’ supply of soap.

I have made an ointment with pig fat over the years and this is the true secret for my youthful complexion and general good looks. It has bees wax and comfrey root in it and we have used it over the years as a face moisturizer. I don’t think there is anything else that could replace it. Pig fat is about the closest thing to the human skin and although it is greasy it has no trouble absorbing itself into the skin and making it feel soft and supple. The combination of the bees wax seems to firm up the ointment and stops it from melting in hot weather. When pig fat has been rendered down it is a very stable product. I still have a couple of buckets of rendered down pig fat from several years ago and it’s still perfectly good to use. It’s just been kept in the cellar all this time and it doesn’t deteriorate. I make the face ointment about once every two or three years and it keeps perfectly well over this time until ready to use.

The recipe for the face ointment.
  • Melt some pig fat in a large pan.
  • Dig up some mature comfrey root, wash and chop it up and simmer in the hot fat for twenty minutes and then strain out any solid bits.
  • Add some bees wax and stir until dissolved. The amount of bees wax added will determine a softer or firmer ointment. In our hot summers we need more beeswax in the ointment to stop it from melting and less in winter as with the cooler weather it can otherwise become too hard to spread on the face.
  • Pour into jars while still warm and fluid.

keeppig05My husband Frank has memories of his native Slovenia where they used pig fat for frying their food in and also for spreading on their bread. They also used it on their wooden gardening handles and tools. I use it as a shoe polish and it works really well. If you want to make this ointment I would recommend you only use fat from an organically raised pig. Generally pig and chook meat should be avoided due to them being fed with growth promoters and antibiotics. The fat will have greater concentrations of these elements in it and these could enter your body by applying it to the skin.

For those people that have kept a pig in the past and can only think of it as an expensive exercise, there is a lot you can feed your pig that will keep the cost of pig raising in check. Buying pig raising pellets may meet their growing requirements, but like chook pellets- do you really know what’s in them? In the past when I bought turkey crumbs for our little turkey chicks I was told by the proprietor that there are anti-biotics in it, so when you buy pig raising pellets, not only does it cost you a lot of money, but you don’t really know what you’re feeding them. As alternatives to buying the pig feed, we used to collect old bread from a bakery, collect greens, in the way of cow cane, sugar cane and sweet potato vines. If you are growing Permaculture gardens there could also be a lot of arrowroot available as well as any other abundant source of greens such as comfrey.

Pigs are very close to humans with their digestion and they can take a lot of nutrients from food scraps. Anything that we can eat pigs can eat and do well on. There are some health regulations on what to feed pigs as a precaution against disease and some of these include:
  • Don’t feed food from restaurants to pigs
  • Leftovers from plates are best given to the chooks
  • Dairy and meat aren’t recommended as pig food

killing16Having said this, giving pigs the whey from cheese making has been traditionally done over time, as well as giving them skimmed milk. Only when this is done with commonsense and relative hygiene, as a backyard farmer will this be a very cost effective and safe way of feeding your pig. The whey is rich in the amino acid lysine, and this is very important for the growing pig. Lysine is an animal based protein and it very hard to give it to them through grain alone. We raised countless numbers of piglets over the years with whey, minerals and pollard. The only cost involved being pollard, a by product of the wheat milling process and some minerals in the form of kelp, dolomite, rock salt, sulphur and copper sulphate. The sale of weaner piglets was very profitable indeed whilst having more than adequate pork to eat in the form of bacon and sausages.

Worming your pig is not necessary as long as some basic conditions are in place. The pig will defecate furthest away from the feeding area and will visit this area only to do its business. When the pig has enough room to roam on and the ground is not wet, then there are generally no worms to speak of. We have slaughtered many pigs over the years and have never had any issues with parasites. Most of the time we do a quick poke around in the intestinal tract and have never seen anything to worry about. We did however at one time have a couple of pigs from a neighbour and on opening them up found them to be rife with pin worms. He was feeding his pigs with lots of vegetables scraps from the local shop and the pig pen was full of uneaten rotting food. No wonder there was a parasite problem!

Keeping a pig or two is very rewarding as you can see. For those two years of having no pigs at all it made me feel there was something missing in my life. We since bought a couple of large white weaner piglets. Nine months on there’s one in the freezer and the other…. Well you know what happens next don’t you? We do love our piggies twice; before and after! The only concern is there’s hardly no fat in this breed. Mmm, I wonder what kind of pig we should try for next?