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Pot belly pigs as homestead pigs

 
Renate Howard
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On another forum people post pretty regularly about problems with the sows accidentally stepping on their piglets and making large gashes. One sow even ate her babies, alive. Some feel the need to use farrowing crates to prevent injuries in the piglets.

I just wanted to throw out there that it doesn't have to be this way. Pigs that are more land race pigs have good parenting instincts and won't harm their babies (unless they're overbred). Just wanted to share some photos of my first-time pot belly mother and her babies so show what it *should* be like.

She went off by herself and made a large nest out of grass she pulled up and carried over to her chosen spot. She had 6 active, healthy babies and none were injured or stillborn. She did this by herself without any human intervention or "birth assistance". Healthy baby pigs can get themselves out of the birth sac and find the teats to nurse. She is very careful around them to not step on them or lay on them.





 
Milo Jones
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Thanks Renate, that looks like a happy little family!
 
Cameron VanBuskirk
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Good nest she made. Great picture. Are you raising these to eat? I have eaten a few. They make great lard hogs most of there weight is fat. I have started with a 250 lb hog and wound up with a small dog size carcass.lol. They are good tasting though.
 
Renate Howard
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I'm selling a lot of the pure pot belly piglets for $35 as pets to people. Folks are telling me they're allergic to dogs and cats and not to pigs, so I guess that makes sense. We'll catch a 6 - 8 week old piglet and keep it in the house a few days in a cage and they get pretty friendly - we hand-feed them multiple times a day and get them used to being petted and touched, teach them about belly rubs. Then they're ready for people to pick up and bond with. They really do recognize people - my husband tried to go in with a sow with 8 week old babies and she bit his boots! She'd never been the least bit aggressive with me so it was a surprise, but he doesn't interact with them much.

But yeah, we're going to keep and eat enough to keep our family in fresh pork, and maybe build a smoker too. I got a boar that's Guinea Hog and Tamworth, so his offspring will be a little bigger and more meaty - he's actually nicer than the pot belly pigs, as far as temperament, and plays with the little babies (that aren't his - so far). The litter in the photo is the first that he's the father of, so we can't wait to see how they turn out. The spotted one looks to be a bit bigger than the others these days. I'll be selling them as outdoor pets or mini meat pigs, they should have great temperaments and get just a little bigger than a pot belly pig. The boar is just a little bigger than the pot belly sows, and boars do usually get bigger so I don't think he'll hurt them breeding them or make too large babies for them to birth.

If a pot belly pig is 250 pounds and it's mostly fat then that pig has been overfed. It's easy to do when they're pets - they love to eat and they beg so well, but it's not healthy for an animal to be obese, and they don't make good breeders like that. I feed mine twice a day plus they have paddocks of green grassy pasture. They stay pretty lean - the males' bellies clear the ground by 4-5 inches, and the females don't carry a whole lot of weight either, tho they put on a bit more than the males, as a reserve for making milk. When they have babies it gets used up and they start to look a little skinny by weaning time. I think at weaning you wouldn't find a whole lot of fat on the sow but the rest have maybe 1/2 inch of fat under the skin. They're not underfed - the evidence is there - the sows have good sized litters (for pot belly pigs - 6 - 8 is the norm), make plenty of milk and the babies grow very quickly (and the babies are fat).

If I wanted more lard I could feed them more and they'd gain quickly, but the quality of the lard would depend on what they're fed. I'm thinking now of trying quality organic corn, because that's known to fatten pigs so well, and I imagine if you had a dairy excess and the dairy animals were grass- or alfalfa-fed that would make good quality fat, but if you fatten them on pellets of questionable content or GMO corn or bakery leftovers then for my family at least, that's not worth it, because all kinds of chemicals, drugs, etc. end up stored in the fat. One thing that's been left unclear so far with pork is that "pasture-raised" or "pasture-fed" rarely means they eat 100% what they find in a pasture. Most producers feed them and just keep them in a pasture (with some it's a bare dirt one). But still, we feed the chickens which are free-range but their yolks reflect the rest of their diet - dark orange and excellent flavor, I imagine if a pig has unlimited access to green grass but is fed some grain the fat will still reflect the health benefits of the green grass. Some times of year the sugars in the grass go really high and they could probably even get fat on grass, but during the heat of summer and all winter the other feed is pretty necessary, I believe.
 
Renate Howard
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This is a healthy weight for a male

 
Ben Plummer
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Somehow missed this latest update on your pigs, thanks for sharing the photos. That spotted piglet is adorable. About how many pounds is a healthy weight for a male? Pretty sure I'll go with pot bellied pigs when it is time for livestock, a more manageable amount of food for one person when it is time to butcher. Glad you are trying it and sharing!
 
Renate Howard
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The healthy weight for the male depends on his age because they keep growing for years, up to around 150lbs. Some are bigger because there are a range of sizes and then some have been outcrossed with farm pigs, too, so some folks get pot belly pigs that get up to 250 or more lbs and aren't obese.
 
Adam Klaus
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I'm really enjoying your experience with the pot bellied pigs. I have raised standard hogs for meat before, and said never again. Your pot bellied pigs are making me reconsider, in a major way. Glad that things are working so well for you, and I look forward to reading more about the unique opportunities afforded by raising pot bellied pigs for meat.

Thanks for sharing!
 
Renate Howard
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Well we finally got around to butchering the pig named "Bacon" (above). Not knowing my way around a pig carcass, it took me about 2 hours to gut and skin it. After that things went pretty quickly - another hour to cut off the feet and skin them for stock (the hooves really do just peel right off after you boil them for a few minutes!), and cut off the shoulder roasts and hams, then wash off everything I got dirty (including me). DH will go at it in a few minutes to cut off the ribs with his cordless saw and we'll freeze them. I've already got a good sized bag of miscellaneous parts for sausage, and another bag of fat for lard, and once we get the ribs there will be a lot more - of the belly (it really is too thin to make bacon unless you roll it), neck meat, tenderloin and chops. Sausage is one of my favorite pork dishes, so unless the chops look decent-sized to cook I'll probably grind them.

He had between 1/4" and 3/4" fat on his back.

It was around 60 degrees outside so I put the body in the ice chest once skinned and gutted - I had to cut off the head and lower legs/feet to fit it in there. That cooled it off while I fiddled with skinning the trotters.

He was right around 9 months - was born December 15 and today is Sept. 18. He weighed 65 lbs after bleeding out some, and after skinning and gutting closer to 35lbs (not including the head, which I later cut the jowls off of). I could have saved more fat if I'd been better with my knife, there was a fair bit of it on the skin.

I saved out the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and "fries" for the dogs, and froze the remainder of the head as well.
 
Renate Howard
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We got two hams the size of large turkey legs (you know the really BIG turkey legs), two blade roasts and two arm roasts that are about 1 - 2 lbs each, enough ribs for the 4 of us for a meal, 4 cuts of meaty bones (spine area) for soup stock that are around 3lbs each, a big bag of fat for lard (that's currently in the freezer to make it easier to slice), 2 bags of miscellaneous bits for sausage, with plenty of fat in there too (also in the freezer - I cut it smaller before grinding and I've read half-frozen is the perfect temperature for grinding if you want really good texture in the finished product). We did decide to just grind the loin in with the sausage, it was around 3 inches across, probably less by the time we inexpertly got it cut off the bones.

What I like the most is that we have the cuts we like the most - I love making soup stock out of meaty bones, picking the meat off the bones and putting it in the broth at the end for winter soups and stews, and sausage is just about my favorite breakfast food, I can eat it 4 days a week every week forever. We like a good roast as well, and usually slow-cook it in the crockpot smothered in homemade sauerkraut, we pick the meat off the bones and reserve the sauerkraut and sauce to serve over mashed potatoes as a delicious supper.

I did save the belly and now am wondering if I need to clean/trim it before making it into bacon, because there's a kind of "skin" on what would be the inside of the belly. So I have to look that up - the instructions I have for making bacon use belly from the butcher and I'm sure they assume any cleaning up or trimming has already been done.

Yesterday this seemed like a *lot* of work and I was exhausted by the end of the day (the bit with DH and his saw took longer than we expected, too - I forgot about loin meat, LOL!) and I thought the amount we'd have paid the butcher seemed like a bargain. Today, looking at the results of our work I'm feeling rather pleased, and would do it again, but with better preparation so things go more smoothly. DH was trying to console me that in the old days people made learning mistakes too but I believe in the old days knowing how to break down a carcass must have been as much a part of life as knowing how to use a cellphone is these days.
 
Renate Howard
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This looks like a really good site of clear instructions on how to break down a pig. Not to knock Farmstead Meatsmith - that is awesome but I need written instruction so I can easily go back and read the parts I need.

http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/05/the-nasty-bits-how-to-break-down-a-pig-deep-fried-pigs-tails.html
 
Renate Howard
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& another picture - of the fat in the crockpot, getting ready to render lard. I put a cup of water in the bottom and top it off as the day goes by if I need to.

 
Renate Howard
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One more quick note - the lard I rendered yesterday is liquid at room temperature like cooking oil. I've read pigs can get fat that is so unsaturated that it is liquid at room temperature but I thought with the oats mine were eating that wouldn't be the case. They used to feed pigs corn before butchering to harden up the fat because people preferred it solid, but the health folks say unsaturated is healthier, right?

There was a smell when I was cooking the fat, not really strong but there, I guess like a raw meat smell but different from store pork. It went away when the fat was fully cooked. I wonder if it was the acorns I fed them? The broth I made from the trotters was fine - no taint or off flavor at all.
 
Adam Klaus
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good work, inspired even more than before. any chance you have a rough breakdown of total feed in poundage vs. meat yield? I am trying to sell this idea to the wife and need to setup my case.

Butchering gets much much easier the second time and beyond. It really is satisfying work. We just put 33 chickens in the freezer yesterday, and it was a half day affair. Easier every time.
 
Renate Howard
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I don't want to feed GMO's so I pay a premium price for oats ($16/50lb bag, usually) instead of corn, which is often half that. It takes about 3 50lb bags to take them from birth to 9 months, with full access to good pasture, so about 150lbs of feed for a 65 lb pig for around 35 lbs of meat which includes bones for soup but not the skin which would make great gelatin/broth if I would have taken the time to scald it and scrape off the bristles (looked like a daunting amount of work!), nor the head, which would make head cheese, jowl bacon, etc. At my prices that would be around $48 total for #35 of meat, or around $1.37/lb for pasture-raised non-GMO pork, lard, etc. If you want more lard you can feed more the last few months, I'd guess the amount of lard would increase exponentially since they are lard types and put on fat very quickly.

It cost a little more for straw/hay in winter but we used the rotten bales that I didn't want to give the cattle so for me that wasn't an issue. They got really excited over the rotten bales and were doing a happy dance for the hay, which they never did for the "good" stuff. $5 for a kiddie wading pool on sale (buy one now if you really want to do this), and $$ for cattle/hog panels for fencing (but they last forever and retain most of their value). Plus around $30 total for materials for the shed I built them but if you have scrap wood that's negligible too. On the other side, they tilled and fertilized my new garden and the crops grew wonderfully well there all summer, and they consumed all the wormy apples so hopefully there were be fewer pests in the orchard next year. And they cleared a section of the pasture of ironweed, which most of them like (one or two don't eat it).

If you have a milk cow/goat, you can feed surplus milk or whey instead of a large portion of the grain to save even more plus you'll get the best pork you've ever had. Mine wouldn't touch a living animal (to eat) but did eat all the dead ones that were killed by predators, or our puppy when he was in training, and the chicks the cat killed. So it saved us having to bury stuff, with your chicken butchering they'd probably eat all the chicken guts for you as well as any other parts you don't use.

You can teach them to follow you with a bucket (or handful of bread) and let them out to eat acorns, etc. but I've got too many to try that these days, they breed like rabbits! Some of mine used to be "yard pigs" at their former homes but I keep them safely fenced in so they don't bother neighbors or tear up my garden, etc.
 
Renate Howard
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I just wanted to add, if you'll feed oats you need to soak them for around 12 hours so they plump so the pigs can chew them up and "hull" them that way (bigger pigs swallow the hulls, babies spit them out). Dry whole oats mostly pass right through the pig, but whole oats IMHO are more nutritious than the rolled oats which have lost some of the nutrients. When I feed the pigs, I refill the bucket and add water, leaving it in the kitchen so I can throw in food scraps.
 
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