1. To create a small herd that can reproduce onsite, providing my family of four with a reliable source of meat (4 people)
2. To consistently increase the quality of the herd through selective breeding
3. To use the pigs to help build up the quality of my soil (along with chickens and other animals)
4. Same thing as #1, but including also my extended family and friends (15+ people)
5. Sell off excess piglets as feeders and/or breeders
1. Butchering one pig will be quite a bit of food for your family. We have 5 and one pig with a deer or two and we're good for the year. Two would be ok but they take up a bunch of space so don't forget about freezer/storage space.
2. Selective breeding can be done with mixed breeds of pigs or crosses just as well as heritage breeds. See which ones grow faster and save those for breeding purposes. The boar has 1/2 to do with it so unless you get a good proven boar to start with you might find this harder to control.
3. Pigs unless rotated around in paddocks are hard to use to build up quality in soil. Stocking density is the key...and that varies a lot as well. Pigs are rototillers by nature so allow as much space per pig as you can and have some seed handy to follow rotations so the bare land they leave behind doesn't erode. If you're setting up your paddocks, get them set up first if that is your goal, and rotate by eyes...meaning if it looks like they need switched, do it. Otherwise you could have a pasture to raise them in but the nutrients will take longer to build up over a large area and pigs will not disperse "crap" equally for you...they'll typically pick a spot they prefer and dump in that general area.
4. Be careful of this. I've done this and unless you have every detail worked out (costs, butchering, packaging, delivery, which pig is who's) then it can get dicey in a hurry. On a small scale like ours I use an input method on charging...what goes into raising each pig from birth/bought to slaughter. Then I add my fees for raising the animal. Time is not free so don't sell yourself short. I typically charge about $100 plus input so I make $100 per pig at slaughter. People in my area have come out of the woodwork wanting pigs, chickens, and whatever else I have on the farm so be ready to say "no" if you get hit hard with inquiries.
5. Feeder pigs are what most do in my area and they bring in a good price...I'd lean heavy on that before selling breeding stock...but that's just me. If I have a good breeder I'm not selling her, she'd building up my own herd.
Hope it's clear as mud!
Dean Moriarty wrote:But how do I start preparing for the next generation of pigs, when everyone is already related? Should inbreeding be avoided? If so, how? I'd rather not start with two boars, and I'm not sure how much access I'll have to an outside boar.
Have you considered artificial insemination? I'm not a pig breeder, but listening to the Chicken Thistle Farm podcast it seems like it might be a viable way to maintain genetic diversity within a small herd.
Thanks for the detailed response. My plan right now is to start with American Guinea hogs, so I imagine my family will want more than just one per year, but I get what you're saying about not needing too many for one year. We don't have a deep freezer yet, but we'll size it appropriately after we move.
Good to know about selective breeding. I think we'll breed based on a couple of things, including foraging ability, growth rates, quality of meat, personality, and more. Foraging is top priority, though, because my eventual goal is to have little to no outside inputs for the pigs and other staples of the farm. This will take awhile though, since I have mostly grass pastures with few trees.
Great point on the soil build up. I've read that pigs usually create a pile of manure, rather than spreading it around like other grazing animals. I may have to spread it out by hand to start. I'll also follow up with chickens, so they should help spread it a bit as well. Thats something I'll need to experiment with.
Your opinion on breeders vs. feeders sounds a lot like what I read on the sugar mountain farm blog as well, so it's something I'll keep in mind. I would really like to grow feeders and sell them grown when/where my farm can handle the occupancy. Otherwise, selling feeders for a profit will help offset our own costs for the rest of the livestock that we eat, which would be great. If I can have my pigs and eat them too, that's my best case scenario.
Dean Moriarty wrote:Can anyone point me to a good article or book on breed lines? I was wondering how it would work if I get a boar and maybe two sows to start. I'll get a bunch of little piglets, which is great. But how do I start preparing for the next generation of pigs, when everyone is already related? Should inbreeding be avoided? If so, how? I'd rather not start with two boars, and I'm not sure how much access I'll have to an outside boar.
I just wrote some things that answer a very similar question in this post which may be of interest:
As a rule of thumb I figure that it takes six sows if by seed (grain fed) and three if by land (pastured) to justify the cost of maintaining a boar. Sows can produce ten to twenty piglets a year, or more† so that is 60 to 120 pigs a year of production if you want to have a boar. Below that the boar is expensive although possibly enjoyable. You'll have to work the numbers for yourself for your situation.
If you want to do what you say I would suggest getting a pair of least related already bred sows and a boar who is least related to them and least related to the two boars who bred them. This will give you the greatest genetic variation possible with your foundation genetics. The boar could be significantly younger since he won't need breed for a few months. You'll be able to keep the very best gilts from the sow's offspring to expand your herd if you want. We have sows and boars who have been productive to eight years so that would keep you going for a long time.
Line breeding is fine. Inbreeding is bad because it is haphazard unintentional. To do it right always breed the best of the best and eat the rest. It's easy to do with pigs because mistakes taste like bacon. One benefit of line breeding is it lets you weed out recessive traits you don't want.
I figure that I keep about 5% of gilts and 0.5% of boars for test breeding. The rest go to market each week. Cull hard, cull often. Rinse and repeat.
Sugar Mountain Farm
†Don't count your piglets before they're weaned.