We've spent the better part of the last two weekends preparing for the newest animals to arrive on Beatha Fonn. And this, my friends, was pretty dang exciting for an animal-crazed-farm-loving-homesteader like me. Spring time is the time of new beginnings, new options, and new life. Getting to welcome new animals to the homestead seems so natural with the flow of nature – things are blooming, arising, and blossoming anew!
Our farm is situated on five acres, most of which is pretty hilly. Though this makes it hard for gardening, it's perfect for grazing animals. We quickly chose a paddock of land next to Sal's pasture that our new pigs could call home. It's an acre of land that is full of a variety of vegetation and bugs for them to dig up and poo on.
I know that sounds weird, but I really want them to poo on things.
This land hasn't been used, well, ever? And it shows. It needs some animal action! Animals eat down the weeds, spread seed, till it up, and fertilize it. That's exactly what this patch of land needs.
It was also very important to us that we could “pasture” the pigs as much as possible. We wanted them to have lots of room to run, lots of grass, twigs, brush, and bugs for them to eat, and to be able to soak up lots of sunshine.
So here's a small checklist and cost breakdown of what we did:
1. Find a reputable farmer to purchase pigs from. Just like any farm animal, it's absolutely essential that you bring healthy animals onto your homestead. It can be a more difficult challenge to control this when you're purchasing from large commercial operations. We chose to purchase our pigs from a local farmer, just a quarter mile down the road. We've been able to walk his operation many times and see these piglets on different occasions – from birth to weaning to now. It's been nice to feel comfortable that we're buying from a safe producer. And to be able to hand the money directly over to him. He's also offered us a ton of information and support in getting started.
Yes, it helps to have someone who knows what they're doing. Find someone like that!
*$10 discount from the farmer for the milk that we'd been bringing him for the pigs already
2. Decide on a patch of land. The amount of land that pigs technically “need” is minimal. Commercially, pigs are kept in small 4×2 cement paddocks, inside, with no access to fresh anything. Obviously, this is not what we wanted. We wanted our pigs, like all our animals, to be live as close to their natural way as possible. For pigs, this involves rooting in the dirt and lounging around in mud. We will be raising five pigs total this year, two of which are here now. These five pigs will have an acre of land to roam.
3. Fence the patch of land. Because we were fencing an acre, we held a pig pasture party. It's amazing how many people will show up when food and beer is offered for labor. Within half a day, we were able to sink the posts, nail in the insulators, string the wire, and build the pig shelter. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself…
Based on Joel Salatin's advice, we decided to use an electric fence (what we call a ‘hot wire' fence) in leu of a traditional fence. This worked better for us because the area we were fencing was so large it would have taken a TON of material to fence it all in with lumber. We also already have Sal's pasture in electric fence so it was an easy extension to fence the pig pasture with hot wire as well.
First off, we dug post holes with a rented auger (the best $75 you could ever spend with regard to labor trade-off).
Then, we sunk these nice trellis posts two feet into the ground, leaving four feet above the ground. BONUS: We got these trellis posts for free from a local orchardist who was looking to get rid of them. Talk about saving some money! Dear me. I'm ever thankful for this provision.
After pounding in the posts, we nailed insulators at 6″, 12″, and 28″ above the ground. The fence has three wires in total. Even though the pigs will really only need the bottom two wires to stay contained, we wanted to be able to put Sal in it if need be. And thus, we ran a third wire higher up.
Electric wire: $41.99
Post insulators: $65
Auger rental: $75
4. Get it hot. An electric fence is no good without electricity. Get that sucker up and running. I put my husband in charge of this because I HATE getting shocked and messing with electricity. Plus, the entire concept of how it works is beyond me. I know my role. This isn't it.
Electricity: $5/month, approximate (we pay this amount already to keep Sal's pasture hot)
Electric box: $0, already had and in use
5. Build a wooden gate. Again, per Joel Salatin, one should never use an electric gate with pigs. Pigs, contrary to popular belief, are very smart animals. Once they learn that the fence will shock them, they will respect it. If they learn that a certain area of the fence, such as the gate, will hurt them it can become very difficult to ever get them to cross that area again. Because of this, and because of the ease of not having to open and close an electric fence all the time, we build a simple wooden gate – about 3 feet wide – as an entrance point into the pasture. It keeps them in. They won't fear it. When it's time to harvest, it should be very easy to get them out of it.
The bonus is that it looks prettier, and more “farm-esque” than an electric gate. What? These things matter to me.
Galvanized Hinges: $15
Galvanized Latch: $7
Earth anchor: $6
6. Build a shelter, The “Pig Palace.” I love, love, loooooove the way this shelter turned out. Using the recycled and free posts from that same orchardist, we were able to build the entire shelter for the cost of the roofing and hardware. The area measures 10X10. Each side has three sunken posts, two feet deep. The walls are then reinforced with posts running horizontally and secured with, practically, the biggest nails we could buy. The roof is a nice metal sheeting – the most expensive part of the whole project.
Pig Palace Cost
Metal roofing sheets: $130
Didn't it turn out great? It's so simple and yet so rustic and lovely. I love it and frankly, I sort of want to have a sleep over in their with them. It's like a pig fort!
7. Set up a feed and watering system. I'll talk more about this in a separate post, but for the time being (while our pigs are contained in the Pig Palace and are still very little) they are eating out of a small trough and drinking out of a small, rubber container. We have a large container and pig nipple watering system set up for when they are big enough and are secure, comfortable, and settled with their new surroundings.
Feed/Watering System Costs
55 gallon drums: Free (a score from my brother-in-law's work)
Pig nipple: $11
Trough: $0, already had
Water bucket: $0, already had
There's obviously a million different ways to go about a project like this and a million ways to save and shave off extra spending. I would have loved to salvage used roofing material, but we were scrambling at the last minute and needed to get a roof on…like NOW… so we ended up buying new roofing from the store. It also may be possible to barter for the actual pigs if you've got a wonderful farm good or service you can offer. The options are limitless!
So far, “Chester” and “Wallace” seem quite happy to be on Beatha Fonn. They've been scarfing up lots of cultured milk from Sally and eating all of our food scraps (don't worry, they're organic!) from the kitchen. It's truly like having the cutest garbage disposal you could imagine.
Our pigs are getting a local, organic grain feed as well, though we're hoping to supplement with as much high-quality scraps as possible. While it's an option to hit up grocery stores and bakeries for their “cast-offs” to help and buffer the feed bill, we decided we'd rather raise them for a slightly higher price and keep to a more organic, natural diet. I don't want to feed me animals a bunch of GMOs or pesticides. But that's just me.