Gardening with Pig Power

We first started keeping a couple of pigs nearly twenty years ago and had only a two year break of having none. Now that’s eighteen years of pig keeping, and as you might guess, we like having them. This means that we have a steady supply of free range pork, bacon and sausages at our finger tips. There is nothing like the taste of a bit of bacon fried in onions or a smoked sausage for breakfast with an egg and sauerkraut all made and grown on the farm.

Keeping a pig or two is a must if you have a cow, as the cow will mostly feed the pigs.

Gardening with Pig Power

The left over whey from cheese making is shared by both the pigs and the chooks and this makes feeding them very cost effective.

Keeping pigs is very much a part of the whole process of growing your own food. Not only do they feed you eventually and give you fertilser in the process, but they can help you to grow more food.

Our pig housing is placed on a concrete floor with a set of concrete laundry tubs for their feed and water. Three large runs are attached to a courtyard where the pig housing is situated. Usually the gate of one run is open for the pigs whilst the other two are kept closed and are growing a crop of some sort.

Both runs have been used to grow sunflowers, cow pea and brassicas in the past. This is all food that is thrown over the fence to the pigs and it is also collected for the chooks. The sunflower heads are very much appreciated by both pigs and chooks. Just cutting off the sunflower heads and collecting them into a bucket is not a lot of work. In fact the only work involved was broadcasting the seed and watching them grow! How easy is that?

In the distant past I’ve also grown a crop of wheat with the intention of milling my own flour for bread making and although I harvested the wheat, I didn’t quite make it to the end product. Lack of time and energy saw me fall short of winnowing the wheat prior to grinding it into flour for bread making but it does goes to show that you don’t need machinery to grow a grain crop.

When broadcasting the seed for the next crop, it is important to time it with the coming rain. If seed is left lying on the bare soil for too long, then of course the birds will eat them up for you. Generally though, I have had more success with germination than I’ve had failures. I generally buy seed from the local livestock supplier but have noticed that hybrid seed are becoming more inferior in quality than ever before.

Use open pollinated seed wherever you can to ensure a good germination and a healthy crop.

For about ten years we’ve bred saddleback pigs. These pigs are an old fashioned barn yard variety that are very docile and placid; well, lazy really. I think this might be due to their fat build up as they are a very fat dense breed. This has been a bonus for me as there is always plenty of fat for soap making. I usually make a couple of batches of soap a year, using a total of six kilo of rendered down fat. This will last me for well over a years’ supply of soap.

I have made an ointment with pig fat over the years and this is the true secret for my youthful complexion and general good looks.

Ha!

Really, a day without a smear of pig fat on my face leaves me feeling a bit despondent. The ointment has bees wax and comfrey root in it and we have used it over the years as a face moisturizer. I don’t think there is anything else that could replace it. Pig fat is about the closest thing to the human skin and although it is greasy, it has no trouble absorbing itself into the skin and making it feel soft and supple. The combination of the bees wax firms up the ointment and stops it from melting in hot weather. When pig fat has been rendered down it is a very stable product. I still have a couple of buckets of rendered down pig fat from several years ago and it’s still perfectly good to use. It’s just been kept in the cellar all this time and it doesn’t deteriorate. I make the face ointment about once every two or three years and it is a very stable product.

 My late husband Frank had memories of his native Slovenia where they used pig fat for frying their food in and also for spreading on their bread. They also used it on their wooden gardening handles and tools. I’ve also used it as a shoe polish and it works really well. If you want to make this ointment I would recommend you only use fat from an organically raised pig.

For those people that have kept a pig in the past and can only think of it as an expensive exercise, there is a lot you can feed your pig that will keep the cost of pig raising in check. Buying pig raising pellets may meet their growing requirements, but like chook pellets - do you really know what’s in them?

In the past when I bought turkey crumbs for our little turkey chicks I was told by the proprietor that there are anti-biotics in it, so when you buy pig raising pellets, not only does it cost you a lot of money, but you don’t really know what you’re feeding them. As alternatives to buying the pig feed, for some time we collected old bread from a bakery, we collect greens around the farm, such as cow cane, sugar cane and sweet potato vines.

If you are growing Permaculture gardens there could also be a lot of arrowroot available as well as any other abundant source of greens such as comfrey. Pigs also love eating bamboo leaves as it is high in protein.

Pigs are very close to humans with their digestion and they can take a lot of nutrients from food scraps. Anything that we can eat pigs can eat and do well on.

There are some health regulations on what to feed pigs as a precaution against disease and some of these include:

  • Don’t feed food from restaurants to pigs
  • Leftovers from plates are best given to the chooks
  • Dairy and meat aren’t recommended as pig food

Having said this, giving pigs the whey from cheese making has been traditionally done over time, as well as giving them skimmed milk. Only when this is done with commonsense and hygiene; a backyard farmer will find this a very cost effective and safe way of feeding pigs. The whey is rich in the amino acid lysine, and this is very important for the growing piglet. Lysine is an animal based protein and it is very hard to give with a grain based diet.

We raised countless numbers of piglets over the years with whey, minerals and pollard. The only cost involved being pollard, a by- product of the wheat milling process and some minerals in the form of kelp, dolomite, rock salt and sulphur. The sale of weaner piglets has been very profitable indeed whilst having more than adequate pork to eat in the form of bacon and sausages.

Worming your pig is not necessary as long as some basic conditions are in place. The pig will defecate furthest away from the feeding area and will visit this area only to do its business. When the pig has enough room to roam on and the ground is not constantly wet, then there are generally no worm issues. We have slaughtered many pigs over the years and have never had any found any parasites. At the time of slaughter we do a quick poke around in the intestinal tract and have never seen anything to worry about.

We did however at one time do a homekill with a couple of pigs from a neighbour, and on opening them up found them to be rife with pin worms. He was feeding his pigs with lots of vegetables scraps from the local shop and the pig pen was full of uneaten slimy and rotting food. No wonder there was a parasite problem!

Keeping a pig or two is very rewarding as you can see. For those two years of having no pigs at all, it made me feel there was something missing in my life. We since bought a couple of large white weaner piglets. When we slaughtered the first one I was rather disappointed as there was hardly any fat to be seen. The meat tasted dry and boring and after chewing the meat for an eternity, I really wasn’t impressed.

I knew we had to look for the heritage breeds again so we could have pork with real taste. The fad for lean meat has gone too far when pork has had all the fat bred out of it. Give me some pork with a layer of fat around it for taste that some can only dream of. The real taste of free range pork is something to savor and not be afraid of. We have been bullied into having a fat phobia along with cholesterol scares and obesity problems from consuming fats. Fat from pasture fed and free range livestock does not contribute to ill health and obesity. Rancid vegetable oils, sugar and refined carbohydrates are the real culprits.

I do recommend that if you are considering taking on a pig or two that you look for the heritage breeds. You might even want to breed them and sell their offspring. This is to be encouraged as we need to get the old fashioned breeds back into circulation again and enjoy pork as we did in days of old.

In conclusion, all I can say is that we love our piggies twice; before and after.

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