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Homegrown Pork: Humane, Healthful Techniques for Raising a Pig for Food

Homegrown Pork: Humane, Healthful Techniques for Raising a Pig for Food

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Homegrown Pork: Humane, Healthful Techniques for Raising a Pig for Food

5/5 (1 évaluation)
359 pages
3 heures
Nov 5, 2013


Raising a pig for meat is easy to do, even in a small space like a suburban backyard. In just five months, a 30-pound shoat will become a 250-pound hog and provide you with more than 100 pounds of pork, including tenderloin, ham, ribs, bacon, sausage, and more. Homegrown Pork covers everything you need to know to raise your own pig, from selecting a breed to feeding, housing, fencing, health care, and humane processing. Invite all your friends over for a healthy and succulent pork dinner!

Nov 5, 2013

À propos de l'auteur

Sue Weaver has written hundreds of magazine articles and many books about livestock, horses, and chickens, including The Backyard Cow, The Backyard Goat, The Backyard Sheep, Storey and The Donkey Companion. Weaver and her husband share their ridgetop farmette in the southern Ozarks with an array of animal friends.

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Homegrown Pork - Sue Weaver

This book is dedicated to the great folks at Storey, and especially to Sarah Guare, whose editing makes my writing shine.



Part 1: Meet the Pig

Chapter 1: History

Chapter 2: Physiology and Behavior

Chapter 3: Handling

Part 2: Purchasing and Raising

Chapter 4: Breeds

Chapter 5: Buying

Chapter 6: Housing, Fences, and Equipment

Chapter 7: Feeding

Chapter 8: Health

Part 3: From Pig to Pork

Chapter 9: To the Slaughterhouse

Chapter 10: Home Processing





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Share Your Experience!


When I was a little girl in the early 1950s, Sunday meant church and dinner at Grandma O’Connor’s house. We belonged to the Church of the Brethren, one step from Mennonite in those olden days, and Brethren women knew how to cook.

On a typical Sunday I’d squirm through a long, boring sermon with visions of Grandma’s lard-fried chicken or a plate of scrumptious potpie dancing in my head. Potpie! My favorite! It was a delectable Amish dish my grandma made using stewed ribs from Great-Uncle Leonard’s Spotted Poland China pigs and homemade sauerkraut, topped off with thick dumplings made of flour and eggs from Grandma’s hens. And oh, was that pork so good.

Those were the days when pigs roamed the woods snacking on acorns. They followed the old-fashioned corn picker that spewed corn ears at every corner, munching their fill. They dined on produce from the garden and rooted in the dirt. When slaughtered, their meat was completely unlike today’s bland and dry supermarket pork. Great-Uncle Leonard’s pork was succulent and flavorful and beautifully marbled with sweet, white fat. The chops! The roasts! Grandma’s homemade sausage! Now that was real pork.

You can still have pork like that today if you raise your own pigs. It doesn’t take a world of space (8 square feet of indoor space and 150 additional square feet outdoors, per pig) or require a lot of time (usually 5 to 8 months), and you won’t go broke feeding homegrown pigs. I’ll show you how to buy feeder pigs, which are 8 to 12 weeks of age and have already been weaned, and grow them to slaughtering age. Then I’ll show you what to do with their luscious pork. If you’ve never eaten pork like that from Great-Uncle Leonard’s pigs, trust me: the time and money invested in growing a pig is a drop in the bucket compared to the tummy-tickling, yummy flavor of real homegrown pork.



Meet the Pig




A pig in almost every cottage sty. That is the infallible mark of a happy people.

— William Cobbett

Most of the species eaten by man have other primary uses. Cattle and goats give milk and work in yoke or harness, sheep provide wool, chickens and ducks lay eggs, but pigs have been kept since antiquity for a single purpose: pork.

Humans dined on pork from wild boars long before they domesticated pigs. But wild boars were, and are, formidable prey, especially for hunters armed with ancient weapons, so it made sense to grab piglets belonging to slain sows and take them to the womenfolk to raise. Then, as now in parts of the world, women breast-fed piglets, creating a bond that kept the little porkers close to the fold. Domestication was a breeze — more so than with any other species.

Man Tames the Pig

Eurasian wild boars, the ancestors of today’s domestic pigs, evolved from earlier piglike creatures some 23 to 37 million years ago. They originated in Southeast Asia and spread across the rest of Asia and Europe.

Until recently, scientists believed pigs were domesticated on two fronts — China and eastern Turkey — between 9,000 and 11,000 years ago, and from there domestic pigs spread to Europe and the rest of Asia with migrating Neolithic farmers. Recent research has shown that early domestication was more widespread than this. A team of archaeologists from Durham University in the United Kingdom analyzed DNA material from hundreds of modern and ancient wild boars and domestic pigs across western Eurasia. They concluded that additional domestications of wild boars occurred in such places as Central Europe, Northern India, Southeast Asia, and possibly even Oceania. As research continues, additional sites will undoubtedly surface.

Pigs were ideal candidates for domestication. In fact, pigs may have practically domesticated themselves. Garbage, including human excrement, generated by settlements was a powerful attractant for hungry wild pigs who soon chose to live on the fringes of encampments and villages. Captured piglets were easy to tame, and domesticated pigs cost the community virtually nothing in care or feed; tame pigs ate whatever garbage the settlement provided and ranged nearby for nuts, fruits, and delicacies such as wild bird eggs. They reproduced freely. When the community needed meat, it killed a pig.


A pig is any animal in the genus Sus, within the Suidae family of even-toed hoofed mammals. These include domestic pigs, the Eurasian wild boar, and several other wild relatives, including babirusas, warthogs, forest hogs, red river pigs, and bushpigs.

The word pig comes to us from the Old English word pigh. Euphemisms such as porker, grunter, and squealer are said to have arisen because of British sailors’ dread of uttering the word pig at sea (it’s bad luck). In North America, a pig is, correctly speaking, a juvenile member of the swine family, older than a piglet but younger than a hog. In Britain and colloquially here as well, swine of all ages are called pigs. That’s the term I like and use throughout this book.

As humans migrated to larger settlements, so did pigs. In addition to the tasty meat they provided, pigs kept things tidy. Pigs were often kept specifically to process human waste. According to Robert L. Miller in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, a family of four could raise four young pigs on the 2 kilograms of human waste and 220 grams of garbage they generated each day. Cities used pigs to clean the streets. Garbage pigs roamed New York City well into the nineteenth century. In Naples, even wealthy families kept a pig tethered on their grounds to consume garbage and night soil. Humans and pigs formed a symbiotic and enduring relationship that still exists in backyard pigpens all over the world.

The Rise of Market Pigs

At the insistence of Queen Isabella of Spain, explorer Christopher Columbus carried eight pigs in the hold of his ship on his second voyage in 1493. When he unloaded them at Hispaniola, the Caribbean island that now comprises Haiti and the Dominican Republic, they were the first swine to set hoof on New World soil. The pigs thrived and multiplied; their descendants and those of later importations became walking food supplies for various Spanish expeditions, including Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of Peru, Hernando de Soto’s and Juan Ponce de León’s forays into the southeastern United States, and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s southwestern exploration.

John Smith brought pigs to the Jamestown Colony in 1607. By 1623, the pilgrims at Plymouth Colony had pigs. Two years later, Peter Evertsen of the Dutch East India Company introduced pigs to New York City, then called New Amsterdam, where they roamed the byways as four-legged street cleaners until well into the mid-1800s.

Large-scale pig farms develop. Country folk tended to raise pigs in the time-honored way of releasing them into the forest to rustle their own grub. However, the rise of oil and grist mills in the early to mid-1700s provided cheap and nutritious by-products to feed penned pigs, as did waste from such institutions as hospitals. Larger-scale pig farming soon emerged as a lucrative business, and East Coast pig farmers did a booming export trade throughout the eighteenth century. Virginia shipped bacon to Britain and Europe, while Massachusetts specialized in salt pork.

After the Revolutionary War, settlers began moving westward to establish new farmlands, always taking porkers along. As a growing number of pigs populated farms west of the Appalachians, Eastern entrepreneurs built more processing and packing plants. Since railroads weren’t widely established in the pig-growing western states, such as Ohio, drovers herded their pigs to market on foot along drover’s roads. Droves consisted of several hundred pigs and covered only 5 to 8 miles per day. An estimated 40,000 to 70,000 pigs were driven from Ohio to eastern markets every year.

By the early to mid-1800s, railroads had expanded west, and pigs were shipped, rather than driven, to eastern markets. At the same time, Cincinnati, Ohio — known to pig raisers of the day as Porkopolis — became a major processing and packing center. By 1850, Cincinnati led the nation in pork processing.

Pigs in Ancient Cultures

Ancient peoples in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East all kept pigs, and the pigs became part of each culture.

In Egypt, pigs played a role in religion. Min, a god associated with the city of Coptos in Upper Egypt, was said to be born of a white sow. Set, originally considered the god of the desert, was sometimes depicted as a boar with erect bristles; he was the god of swine and swineherds, and pigs were his favored sacrifice. Nut, the gentle Egyptian sky goddess, was called the Celestial Sow.

The Greeks raised pigs. Aristotle called them the animals most like people. Besides pork, pigs provided sacrifices to various deities, especially to Demeter, the Greek goddess of fertility, agriculture, and abundance.

The Romans developed two types of pigs: one with drooping ears and a large body that they raised for lard, and a prick-eared smaller pig they developed for meat. During the Roman Conquest, pigs of both types made their way to the far-flung corners of the Roman Empire, where they interbred with native domestic swine. Pigs were sacrificed to Ceres, Rome’s equivalent of the goddess Demeter, and to Mars, the god of war.

The ancient Celts honored swine above all other livestock. In addition to representing fertility and wealth, boars symbolized courage — for they are strong, dangerous, and very hard to kill.

Farther east, in India, the Hindu god Varaha, a protector god and third incarnation of all-wise and powerful Vishnu, was pictured as a wild boar or a man with a wild boar’s head, while the Hindu goddess Durga in wild boar form is known as Bajrabarahi.

The Chinese, who have been raising domestic pigs longer than almost anyone else, associate pigs with prosperity and fertility. Hai, or the Year of the Pig, is the 12th sign in the Chinese zodiac. Children born in the Year of the Pig are thought to be happy, healthy, and honest.

In 1887, Swift & Company developed the refrigerated railroad car, an event that revolutionized the meatpacking industry. Now slaughterhouses could be built close to where pigs were raised, and pork, rather than live pigs, was shipped to market. Stockyards and processing centers popped up in major pork and grain production areas such as Sioux City, Iowa; Chicago; St. Joseph, Missouri; and Kansas City, Missouri.

Confinement operations emerge and dominate. Market pigs were often raised in crowded lots but not comparable to today’s intensive conditions, where sows are held in narrow confinement crates for much of their lives and pigs rarely see the light of day. Such operations popped up in the 1960s, when North American big-business farming emerged. Large-scale producers discovered that meat can be produced more economically when animals are raised in closely confined conditions indoors.

Today it is hard to find pork in the grocery store that does not come from a confinement operation. Some of us, however, want to know our meat is raised in humane conditions — and we want flavorful meat. If there aren’t any small farmers around that raise pigs, we need to produce the meat ourselves. Pig raising has gone full circle, from backyard pigpen to feedlot to confinement and back again.

Pig Terms

These are the basic, pig-related terms you should know; for more specialized terms, turn to the glossary at the back of this book.

barrow. A castrated male pig

boar. An adult male pig with intact sexual organs

dressing weight. The percentage of a butchered carcass that is usable, compared to live weight

feeder pig. A young pig between 8 and 12 weeks of age, weighing 40 to 60 pounds

feral pig. A wild pig descended from domestic stock

gilt. A female pig that has not yet given birth

grower pig. A pig weighing between 40 and 260 pounds that is being fed to slaughtering weight

market hog or market pig. A pig that weighs 220 to 250 pounds (market weight) and is ready for slaughter — also referred to as a butcher hog or butcher pig

piglet. An infant pig, from birth to about 8 weeks of age

runt. The smallest piglet in a litter

shoat. A weaned, adolescent pig

sow. An adult female pig

trotters. Pigs’ feet

wallow. A water-filled tank, children’s wading pool, or depression in the ground where pigs cool off in warm weather

weanling or weaner. A recently weaned pig

Wild Boars and Feral Pigs

Beginning about 10,000 years ago, pigs were domesticated in several spots around the world, always from a species known as the Eurasian wild boar.

Both sexes of Eurasian wild boar are called wild boars. They have large heads and front ends, and they range in weight from about 175 to 400 pounds. Wild boars have thick, coarse double hair coats consisting of a harder, bristly top layer with a softer undercoat. The crest of hair that runs along the ridge of the wild boar’s back is longer than the rest. Eurasian wild boar piglets are born a reddish color with black longitudinal stripes. Adult wild boars vary from brown to black, red, or dark gray, depending on where they’re found. Male wild boars are noted for their sharp, curved tusks, which continue growing throughout their lives.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Eurasian wild boars were introduced for hunting in the United States, where they interbred with feral pigs. In South America, New Guinea, New Zealand, and Australia, wild boars were also introduced by humans and interbred with domestic pigs.

The first feral pigs in the United States descended from domestic stock brought to North America by early European explorers and settlers. Today, many hybrid feral and wild pig populations exist throughout the wild pig’s range.

Feral hogs vary widely in appearance, especially as escaped domestic pigs continually join their ranks. Some resemble barnyard pigs in type and coloration, while others resemble wild boars.

Eurasian wild boar



Physiology and Behavior

These are bagpipes. I understand the inventor of bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equaled the purity of sound achieved by the pig.

— Alfred Hitchcock

Pigs have thick bodies, slender legs, short necks, and large heads. A distinctive feature is the pig’s snout — a feature strengthened by an internal prenasal bone called the rostral bone, with a flat disc of cartilage at the tip that’s shaped like an upside-down heart.

Because of the way pigs are built, it’s next to impossible to force a pig to do something he’d rather not. Factor in porcine intelligence and the fact that panicky pigs can quickly die of porcine stress syndrome (see page 130), and the stage is set for disaster unless you know what makes pigs tick. If you do, you can work with a minimum of fuss to pig and person.

Adult size: 25–1,200 lbs. or more

Rectal temperature (grower age to adult pigs): 101.5–102.5°F (38.6–39.2°C)

Respiration (grower age to adult pigs): 25–40 breaths per minute

Days to 250 lbs.: Boars and barrows, 140–170 days; gilts, 150–190 days

Age at puberty for boars: 3–8 months

Age at puberty for gilts: 3–7 months

Heat cycle: 17–25 days

Heat duration: 24–72 hours

Ovulation: 36–42 hours after onset of heat

Length of gestation: 114–115 days (3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days)

Average litter size: 7–15 piglets

Average birth weight: 2–3.5 lbs.

Natural life span: 10–20 years

Parts of a pig

Pig Intelligence

Though some would like to think of pigs as dumb animals or animated pork chops, studies have found that in truth they’re the Einsteins of the farm animal world.

Pigs can learn to use mirrors. Scientists believe this is a sign of complex cognitive processing and a somewhat sophisticated awareness. Consider a study conducted by Dr. Donald M. Broom and his colleagues

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