We all know pigs as bacon and sausage—and what better reason could there be for keeping pigs? But these friendly omnivores have so much more potential! The greater our knowledge of the basic nature of this traditional farm animal, the more valuable it can be for our farms.
There’s no animal superior to the pig at converting surplus nutrients into dense, living flesh. You might call pigs on-the-hoof food storage.
Many of us already know how efficiently a pig can turn a bag of corn-and-soy crumbles into pounds of pork. As little as 2 pounds of feed makes a pound of live hog weight.
But if we feed only purchased feeds, we’re missing the boat! Pigs, like humans, are omniovres; they eat just about anything. This quality makes them one of the most useful animals on the farm. Take a look at this list of potential pig foods, many of which are probably already growing on your farm.
How many bushels of weeds do you take out of the garden every week during the growing season? Many of them are highly nutritious!
Carry those weed piles over to the pig pen and throw them in. Then watch your pigs devour them.
Lawn clippings, for example, make great feed. If your mower bags clippings, just dump them right in the pig pen and let Porka dig right in.
Grass—as well as dandelions, clover, plantain and all the ordinary lawn ‘weeds’—is great food for pigs. Do you cut the tall grass in the fence rows or ditches? Rake it up and feed it to Piggie. She’ll be delighted!
Hay is good pig food, too. Give it to them straight from the bale, or offer the leavings from the horse, cow or goat manger. And don’t think they won’t eat the stuff that has fallen on the floor. Other animals may be too picky, but the pig will like it just fine.
Yes, really. Traditionally, soiled bedding from cows, goats, sheep, horses and chickens gets thrown into the pig pen. What isn’t eaten makes great bedding for the hogs.
Don’t worry about parasites, either. These are almost always species-specific.
Many, even most, food scraps are appropriate calories for pigs. If you’ve been throwing your fruit and vegetable peels, rinds, seeds and skins on the compost pile, take a hint and feed them to the pigs instead.
(Ed: Make sure to check with your state’s laws regarding feeding pigs table scraps, especially if you sell or share your pork products.)
Passed through a pig’s interior, wastes such as these become good, solid pork. And what doesn’t become pig flesh is digested and mixed with the pig’s bedding, where it becomes the basis for excellent compost.
Whatever is overripe, underripe, surplus or spoiled—all this finds a welcome in the pig pen. Windfall fruits, cracked tomatoes, giant zucchinis, stringy green beans, starchy ears of corn: These may not be quality enough for your table, but give them to a pig and he’ll turn them into tasty chops.
Stems, rinds, peels, seeds, cores, stalks and vines of almost any garden vegetable can be thrown into the pig pen and they’ll be very welcome. Our garden vegetables work hard to collect sunlight for us and turn it into digestible nutrients. But there are lots of plant parts that don’t end up on the table.
Don’t send these right to the compost pile. Let them do dual service as pig food, first.
Do you keep a dairy animal? Then you almost certainly find yourself with spare dairy products and wastes: surplus skim milk, buttermilk and whey, for example.
This is the highest quality kind of pig food. There’s almost no such thing as more milk and milk by-products than your pig will eat. Think of pigs as your partners in dairying, and enjoy two milk harvests instead of just one.
Apple & Pear Tree Prunings
You’ll be amazed at how excited your piggy will be about the leaves, twigs and small-to-medium-sized branches from your fruit tree prunings.
Note: Wilted leaves of stone fruits like cherry, plum and peach can be toxic to livestock. To stay on the safe side, keep such trimmings out of their reach.
With so much potential pig food already coming from the farm, and a little work on our part, we can raise bacon hogs with next to no purchased feed.
Free bacon and sausage—what a great reward for our homesteading efforts!