Has it really been that long? Did we really have pigs for a whole year? Sometimes it’s hard to believe…a year ago I was a newbie, hardly knew anything, and now I feel like I’ve lived it all even though I know there is always more to learn. From large breed to small breed, births to deaths, the past year gave me the full experience on raising pigs.
Which breed was best? If you are familiar with my earlier blogs and the happenings here at the farm then you know we cared for some large breed sows in early 2015, they were a trial for us; to see if we were up for this whole pig thing. They were a great learning experience, friendly, gave us lots of babies, but were very destructive and required a bit of infrastructure and labor on our part as we were trying to manage them on rotational pasture/woodlot system. Some of the areas they lived in still haven’t recovered. So after that, we invested in a smaller breed, American Guinea Hogs. AGH’s are known to be less destructive, friendly, hearty, delicious and the ideal breed for homesteaders. So do I think AGH’s are all they are cracked up to be? The jury is still out…
Were they less destructive? yes… we were able to leave them in their paddocks for much longer periods of time compared to the large breeds that rooted much more, and at times they even preferred the woods over the pasture.
Were they friendly? yes… we never had any issues with them being aggressive, always very docile.
Were they hardy? yes… I would even say extremely hardy, our sow never skipped a beat when she farrowed it was just another day and she was an excellent mother. The adults did not need any shelter, despite snow and rain, they managed just fine. The only time we provided shelter was when the piglets were new and we provided a bed of straw, covered with a tarp between some trees and we wondered if that was overkill. We never treated for worms and their internal organs appeared healthy on inspection. Their only weakness was heat (but this would apply to any pig), we always made sure they had water and either a kiddie pool or wallow (glorified mud puddle) to cool off on warm days.
Were they delicious? Supposedly, AGH is supposed to be the best pork you have ever had in your life, I don’t think I can quite make this claim. It is very, very good, good enough to fill up our freezer, but I’m not convinced that it is the best I’ve ever had.
So you might ask, what’s the problem? In the end the biggest problem we had with them was keeping them in their fence. They are too smart for their own good and eventually this led to their time coming to an end here at Campbell Family Farm. Especially the piglets, never stayed in their fence; luckily we knew they would always come back to ‘Mama’ but most of the time they were literally free-ranging wherever they pleased, including the neighbors’ yard. The adults minded for a while, but once they figured out one system we could never use it again because they would always get out. Polynet- fencing worked for a while and one day it was accidentally left off and it never worked again, they figured out how to lift up the bottom string and sneak out; then we resorted to another type of electric fence inside the Polynet, again this worked for a while then they figured out they could go through; cattle panels they busted out of, electric inside the panels didn’t matter, so eventually we ran out of options. Good fencing is certainly something we underestimated the benefits of in our first year, so currently we are working on improving our fencing situation to something that will better fit out needs. The second downfall was that they were slow growing, we knew this would happen, but it was significantly slower than we expected and we are still debating about whether or not they are efficient to raise for meat, we made much more profit from breeding.
Even with all the drama, I loved having pigs, especially breeding pigs and raising piglets. It was one of those things that I can feel like we ‘accomplished’ and did well, despite being new to raising pigs.
I was worried that eating the pigs I cared about so much might bother me, but it hasn’t. I know they had a good life and I was so over chasing them around the property to get them back into their paddocks. Now I’m just enjoying them in a different way 😉 Life on the farm does seem much simpler…this evening I went out for farm chores and it felt so easy to just feed the goats, chickens, and ducks. I even took the time to take the goats for a walk around the property (they are still babies and follow me easily), it felt nice to have an easier routine. I’m sure we will get pigs again in the future, maybe even AGHs, but either way we will be more prepared, my best advice is to always have a back-up plan.