Fern, the Pig Trainer

Just typing the title for this article makes me laugh. If you’ve been reading here for long, you’ve read that I hate pigs. I’m afraid of pigs. I want to raise pigs for food, but don’t like them at all. I’m just not a pig person. Or wasn’t until recently, as recent as May 15, 2015, five and a half short months ago.
 

May 19, 2015


Well, after we decided to add pigs to our homestead for the benefits they will provide after the SHTF, I decided it was time to change my tune. So I did. Now we have pigs, and they’re decent enough animals. I’m not afraid they’re going to bite me all the time anymore. I’ve realized that their behavior can be shaped, similar to any other animal, whether it is a dog, or a goat, or a pig.

I admit, I do pay more attention to Lance, the boar, and Liberty, our gilt, than I do the barrows, our future dinner. We plan on having Lance and Liberty around for a very long time, so we want them to be relatively tame and easy to work with. This is very similar to the way I treat the goats. I pay a whole lot more attention to the does and very little to the buck or wethers. It’s just the nature of things. American Guinea Hogs are smaller pigs, 150 to 250 pounds full grown, and known to be slow growers. We originally thought about butchering the barrows in December when they will be nine months old, but there is just not a lot of meat on them yet. For now, the plan is to wait until February or March when they will be close to a year old.

barrow


We still feed the pigs very little grain. They get scraps from the kitchen, stuff out of the pantry we don’t eat anymore, like macaroni or cereal, old powdered milk mixed with water or the liquid from a jar of green beans or squash. Stuff like that. In the morning they get two small green bean cans of dairy goat ration. We don’t by pig feed specifically for them. They graze to their hearts content in their one to two acre pasture, and appear to be healthy, happy pigs.

We have been asking folks questions about pigs, their health and behavior, since we have never raised them before. The consensus appears to be that Liberty looks pregnant, which is good. We are hoping she is, and have a rough guesstimate of a January 10thish due date. With that in mind, seeing how she is low pig on the pecking order, um, make that oinking order, I wanted to make sure she is getting enough to eat so not only can she feed her growing babies, but continue to grow herself since she is not an adult, or sow yet. Thus the title of this article.

Pigs are strong, quick, scrappy creatures. Once the feed is poured out in the pan, it’s every pig for themselves. Since we haven’t raised pigs before, I’m not real sure how to think like a pig yet, but I’m learning. Lance is the largest of the four and can easily move the others out of his way to get the most food. I noticed this a month or so ago and started feeding in two pans instead of one. This resulted in Lance eating out of one pan, while Liberty and the two barrows ate out of the other. I used this observation to try to develop a way to feed Liberty by herself.

I moved the feed pans over by the pen we have set up. If I could get Liberty to go into the pen to eat, I could shut the gate, let her eat, then when she was finished, let her out. First I tried feeding everyone in there and running the boys out. That definitely didn’t work. Then I tried feeding everyone right outside the pen in one pan, and trying to get Liberty to go into the pen to eat. That didn’t work. I ended up waiting for her to be on the pen side of the feed pan, they always go around in a circle as they eat trying to get to the ‘good stuff’. At first I kind of lifted Liberty’s front end by the shoulders and aiming her at the pan in the pen. This didn’t work for a day or two, then all of a sudden it did. Yea!

Lance

The next day, Liberty walked right into the pen and I shut the gate, fed the boys, but when I opened the gate to feed her, out she came, not to go back in. Humphf. Now what? Keep trying. I did the lifting by the shoulder thing for several more days. Sometimes she was willing to go in and eat, and sometimes she wasn’t. After about 10 days there was around a 60% success rate. Not bad for a novice pig trainer, I thought. I realized that if I put food in the pan closest to the pen, then in the pan farthest from the pen, Lance would go to the far pan and the others, including Liberty would stay closer to the pen. I stayed consistent in this routine for a few days and it worked.

Liberty

For the last few days I have been pouring out some feed in pan #1 by the pen, then pan #2 for Lance, then pan #3 in Liberty’s pen. As I pour out Liberty’s feed, I tap the side of the bucket to draw her attention, then I walk out and pat her on the shoulders and tell her to come on. For three consecutive feedings it worked great. Then, this morning as I was tapping the side of the bucket, in walks Liberty to the pan at my feet and starts eating. Hallelujah!

Twirling barrows
Liberty

At first Liberty was fussy and anxious when she finished eating and found herself penned up alone. Now she just talks to me as I come back to let her out. Once I open the gate she walks right up to me waiting for more food or a pat on the back. Now that we’ve reached this point, I’m hoping she continues to trust us a little more. It will be very interesting to see how birthing and raising piglets works out. The docile nature of this breed of pig is well documented. Most folks don’t even separate the sows and boars during, or after the piglets are born. Since Liberty is getting used to eating alone, I should be able to continue this routine while she is nursing, insuring adequate nutrition for her and the piglets, at least that is my theory for now. Again, we’ll just have to see how it all works out.

Fern, the pig trainer. I never thought in a million years I would ever be doing anything like this, or writing about it either, for that matter. Just goes to show that you never know what life will bring you. Sometimes it something that will increase your chance of survival, and in that case, it’s a gift for which I am truly thankful.

Until next time – Fern

 

This is not Liberty.

This is not Liberty either.

This is Liberty.

23 thoughts on “Fern, the Pig Trainer

  1. Good Evening, PlantLady. You're correct about the many things you covered in your comment. We are trying to learn how to smoke, I hope we have time to add that to our list of things to do. Just to address one of the issues you mentioned, salt. Most people don't realize that salt is a critical nutrient. Besides making food taste better, it is essential for food preservation. We do not have a natural source of salt in our area. Yes there are some plants that can extract it from the soil. We have recently started using sea salt. We also have iodized salt, but our bulk storage is non-iodized. Thank you for your excellent comment. Certainly food for thought.Frank

  2. Frank, I have found that sometimes it is easier to learn from someone just a few steps ahead of you…rather than an \”expert\”. The experts have often forgotten what it is like to be new to the subject – and all those \”little things\” a beginner really needs to know. And finding an expert that is also a good teacher is a rare event.Hope you can work a smokehouse into your plans, especially since you already have pigs. The simplest, easiest way to preserve meat for the long term without relying on modern conveniences. Sure, you can dry meat to store it…but it has to be bone dry and ends up rock hard. Not like the soft modern jerky that is not suitable for long term storage. Ummm…would I rather have hard, nearly un-chewable meat rocks or succulent, juicy ham, bacon, sausage? That is a no-brainer! (hehe) And in the meantime, have you seen the price for smoked salmon or trout? Ouch! Lots of folks in this area have old metal refridgerators set up just to smoke salmon and trout, since they abound in this area. Just remember to stock a lot of salt, cure, sugar and spices. I get Morton Pure Salt at the local grain mill for about $6 for 50 lbs – a much better deal than nearly a dollar a pound at the grocery store. Starting to fill my second 55 gal. barrel now…I don't think most folks realize how critically important salt will be in the coming Darker Ages. Speaking of which, \”Darker Ages\” is a lot less cumbersome than TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It), and more descriptive. Without electricity, it will be a whole lot darker both physically and mentally.PlantLady

  3. Hi, Jamie. Pigs can be very intimidating. Fern is a lot more comfortable with them than I am. I still have my apprehension and fears, but it's getting better. This is still just an experiment, I hope it works out. Yes, I like pork, but I'm really looking forward to the lard, not just for cooking, but also for making soap. Someday when we're not so busy, we're going to try making lye soap. Thanks for the comment.Frank

  4. Hi, Jason. Funny story, but at the time it wasn't funny. Sometimes we'll go to the local animal shows and see these little bitty 50 pound kids out there with 500 pound hogs. It's cute, but scary, but the kids seem capable and competent, especially with their parents nearby. Take care.Frank

  5. Well, not everyday, Wendy, but many days it does. I just can't see being grumpy or glum, it's just no fun and pretty boring. Frank and I laugh a lot and we can't picture life any other way. We can all choose to be happy regardless of our circumstances. Thank you very much for your comment.Fern

  6. PlantLady, thank you for your recommendation for a smoke house as part of the outdoor kitchen. We will be new to food preservation by curing and smoking, but it is something that we want to learn and try to become proficient.In relation to pigs, this is also a brand new endeavor. If you want to follow along, please do, but remember we are first timers with pigs. That's part of the reason we chose a naturally small breed. We wanted a smaller carcass that would give us the products that we need and want, especially lard. Your comments are certainly appreciated. I like the way you use the term 'Darker Ages'. It's coming to a homestead near you. Thank you again.Frank

  7. Hi, Louise. Interesting thought. I'm sure my dog, Pearl, considers me to be the hired help, but I guess there are lots of animals that way. I've often found that if you feed an animal, it will love you, except for goats.Frank

  8. Hi, Kymber. It is interesting to address a difficult issue and find it somewhat surprising and enjoyable. Here in a couple of months we'll be having piglets. We'll see if they're still enjoyable. Hopefully this experience will also surpass our expectations. Take care.Frank

  9. Herdog, funny story. I'm sure glad I don't have neighbors that can see my pasture. Well, actually I have a public road on three sides, but no houses. Thanks for the story.Frank

  10. I am not a hog fan, either. I love them in my freezer, but that's about it. If we ever get crazy enough to try them, I'll have to learn more about this breed. I have heard that they are smart critters.(Your Hilary picture made me snort like a pig, BTW. ha!)

  11. I have never liked pigs – I do like to eat them though because bacon and pork chops are delicious! When I was about 7 or 8, my family went to a livestock show and we happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as several show participants were moving their hogs from the ring to the pens. Nothing like seeing a massive, squealing herd of hogs at eye level, heading right at you to scare the pants off ya!!

  12. More on pigs, please? Had hoped to get some this year, but expanding the garden for ourselves and farm market endeavors took precedence. That way, will be better set to get all the stuff needed for pigs with money raised at the farm markets and saved by not having to buy so much food, so still sort of on track (hehe). Having the usual dilemma…what kind to get? Took me two years to narrow down chicken breeds from 21 varieties to 3 (and I still want more). The goats were easy…once I saw those Nubian ears and Roman noses, knew what I wanted…and the practicalities didn't hurt, with their milks high butterfat and protein content. And in this major deer hunting area, Nubians look the least like whitetails…especially if you choose black or dark red colouring. Heck, idiot city folks often shoot cows and horses here \”by mistake\”, so this was a very important factor in my choice of breed.Have narrowed down the pig choices to American Guinea Hogs, Large Black Hogs or Mulefoot pigs. Was tending toward the AGH, but with our plans for the trading post, starting to think something larger might be more suitable. Then again, with our low ground, the Mulefoots might work better. But the large Black hogs produce so much lard. For sure don't want any of the modern \”lean\” breeds…one of the main reasons to get pigs is for their fat – fats are going to be worth far more than gold in the coming Darker Ages. Have another hard decision to make this winter!Some folks would say \”Just get some of each\”. Well, we are poor and can't afford everything we want. And with wishing to be prepared for the coming Darker Ages, need to get good breeding stock for a perpetual supply. One male and one female just isn't safe, in case one dies…so you need at least two of each. And since most animals need to live in groups, even two of each probably isn't enough, because if one dies, then the other is alone. This is because you don't want to keep your males and females together, because then they can breed and produce young whenever the urge strikes – and you may not have enough housing, fenced pasture/forest, winter food, etc. to keep unlimited numbers healthy – or be able to eat the excess fast enough. And they need to be unrelated, so you have a decent gene pool to start with for years of productive breeding…since once the hard times come, chances of finding \”good\” breeding stock or stud service within walking distance will be slim to none.So, please…more about pigs, if you don't mind me hanging on your coattails learning the ropes before I start this new endeavor? Do you also have plans to build a smokehouse? Going to have to have one for the coming Darker Ages. Trying to make it work out that the chimney for the outdoor kitchens cooking area will work for part of the wall of the smokehouse, so smoke can easily be diverted for smoking meats while cooking or preserving the fall harvest. And that way your smokehouse will be close to your living quarters, for ease of protection in the coming hard times…ready to eat meat will be a serious target for hungry folks. Something to think about when building your new outdoor kitchen.PlantLady

  13. Your story and the comments gave me a good laugh. I couldn't help but think of that wonderful move 'Pig'. I have watched it many times and have read how smart pigs can be. I wish you much success with you little herd, or whatever you call them!

  14. it sounds to me like you are a \”pig whisperer\” – bahahahaha! congrats on tackling something that you didn't think that you would like…but learned and now enjoy! good job Fern!your friend,kymber

  15. Joshua, you just stole my thunder. Sugar Mtn is a great blog and lots great info can be gleamed from them. Fren, you'll love it.As for pigs, I was hooked to their fun nature when we raised them when I was a teenager. They really do have personality and are much like a dog. The only time I was NOT happy with them was when I came home to find Penny out of her pen enjoying herself and have a good old time. Of course it was raining and the rest of the family was out shopping, so no help from them. That pig and I danced all over 5 acres. My neighbor said she couldn't stop laughing as she watched us from her window, playing tag. She finally came over after she collected herself and helped me get Penny in the shop. Mom still likes to tell that for the next year, over the 5 acres they would fine pig prints followed by Herdog prints. BTW, Penny was well over 300 big ones, was a sweetheart of a pig and not a mean bone in her pretty pink body.Enjoy them!

  16. Walter at Sugar Mountain Farm is a wealth of information! He's also a mod in the pig sub forum at homesteading today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s