In summer 2008, we were just starting thinking about raising animals for food. (We had some chickens that came with the property, but we used them only as a source of eggs.)
Then Neil and Emily got a pair of piglets as a wedding present. We read whatever we could find about raising pigs naturally, talked to neighbors, watched a lot of YouTube videos, and just jumped in. Over the following few years, we raised more piglets, and in 2011 we started breeding pigs ourselves.
Like humans, pigs are omnivores – if people can eat it, so can pigs. Like people, pigs love fat and sugar. (They’ll also eat a lot of things that people wouldn’t touch!)
We feed our pigs some grain, to make sure they have a balanced diet, but we supplement that with produce and expired food products from local stores and restaurants – so on any given day, a pig might be eating several bunches of bananas, half a dozen green peppers, a head or two of lettuce, a few bags of potato chips, a couple of loaves of day-old artisan bread, a dozen containers of organic yogurt, a pound of cheese, and a quart of macaroni salad from a deli.
(Once, a local grocery had a power outage and had to get rid of most of their frozen foods. The pigs practically lived on ice cream products for a week, and as far as we could tell, loved it.)
This makes the process of feeding the pigs somewhat time-consuming (and messy), since everything has to be removed from whatever packaging it comes in. But it’s one of those situations where ‘many hands make light work’, and it’s become a community activity, around which the rest of the day revolves.
As a pig gets close to market weight, we’ll often ‘finish’ him on a diet of fruit and other produce, which makes the meat sweeter and more tender.
Our pigs are woodland/pasture-raised. They can’t go wherever they want, but they have large pens where they can use their strong and sensitive noses to root for nuts, insects, and whatever else there is to be found hiding under roots and rocks. They have fun, and we get help clearing our fields.
Not only are they great at clearing land, the exercise they get from this creates leaner, healthier meat.
Pigs are remarkably resistant to cold, which makes them a good animal to raise in our climate. On hot summer days, they will often roll in mud to keep cool, which is why they have a reputation of being dirty animals – although in reality, if they have access to water and dry bedding, they stay cleaner than some people we know.