What a pig pen!
Now that you have chosen your breed, you will need to build a pig pen. The most important thing is deciding on if you are going to have a boar and sows or if you are just going to have a pig or two to raise for meat. The best way to decide this depends on how much land you have. If you only have an acre, then I would suggest raising one to fatten for meat. If you have anything larger than two acres, I would recommend that you have a boar and a sow or two. The more land you have the more sows you can have. One boar can handle eight sows. If you are going to raise a boar and sows, you must have a pig pen designated for males and females. It is even more important that you have a birthing pen for your expecting sow. Each pen needs to have a “house” for the pigs to seek shelter during times of bad weather. The houses will be different in sizes. The one for the boar or birthing mother should be just big enough for a full size pig to turn around in.
As for your sow’s pig pen, the size of your house will be determined on how many you have. The house needs to be large enough for them to be able to turn around in but it also needs to be large enough for all of them to be sheltered in times of cold or bad storms.
The other things that your pen will need are a feed and water trough. Since we try to reuse everything, we recycled an old bathtub for the feeding trough. You can find these in old houses or your local Habitat for Humanity. For the water trough, we bought a water tub from our local Tractor Supply. The reason I do not recommend an old tub for holding water is twofold. First, old tubs will rust over time, while the plastic ones will not. Second, an old tub has a drain but no seal, while the plastic one comes with a seal over the drain. This is important here in Georgia because it gets hot during the summer. If a pig rolls its mud hole dry, this is always a sturdy alternative to cool off.
Now how do you keep them in the pen? Believe me when I tell you it can be a challenge. A lot of it depends on your breed of pig, which we learned the hard way with the razorbacks. You can use anything to keep them in their pen from pig fencing to old pallets, or even tin roofing. The options are endless; the only requirement is that it needs to be strong since they will test it and use it to scratch an itch.
We used a combination of hog fencing and pallets to build our pig pen. We placed the pallets side by side, and then connected them with dog-eared fence planks. Every 8 feet, we drove down a metal T fence post. On the corners of the pig pen, we dug down and placed a 4×4 down about 2 to 4 feet in the ground, which became our corner fence post the on the inside of the pig pen. We connected the dog-eared fence planks. Then behind the pallets, we stretched four foot high pig fencing and connected them to the T post and the corner posts. That style of pig pen has been successful for us even with the razorbacks. We came up with this style of pen after many hours of chasing pigs that have gotten out of their pens.
The gate to your pig pen has to be stronger than the fence so it can withstand the test of a curious pig. This part of the fence will give a little, so you must make sure it is very strong and secure. You can make your gate out of left over pallets and fencing, or you can use 4×4”s and a piece of ¾ inch plywood. The post that you use to attach your gate must be 4×4 or larger, in order to support the weight of the gate. We use trunks of large pine trees that we have cut down on our homestead. You will also need heavy hinges on your gate for the weight and the pressure that the pigs will put on it. Strong hinges and a strong gate latch are a must for your pig pen!!!
You will hear stories of people letting their pigs “free range.” That is ok if you have a very large amount of land, but the majority of us do not have that. We do let our pigs “free range” on a limited basis. When the acorns fall, we will take a Saturday afternoon or Sunday after church for a couple of hours to go outside with the whole family and set a human fence in the area where we want the pigs to “free range”. We also do this after we harvest all that we can from our garden. That way the pigs can eat all the roots and any leftover vegetable matter.
Not only does this help with the feed bill, but it also helps with the garden. How does that help with the garden you ask? First, they help by removing all the old vegetable matter, and they root up the ground to make it easier for you to plant the next time. They also dung the ground which keeps the ground fertile for you. This is the main reason that the Irish name the pig the “gentleman that pays the rent”. As a side note, pigs can also “plant” crops through their dung. Every year, we have a game of who can find and identify the most mystery plants on our farm! The size of your homestead will determine how many pigs you can raise. We have 5 acres and we keep three: one boar and two sows. This is our breeding set. We breed one sow at a time since she will throw anywhere from 6 to 12 piglets. We will raise two or three up for ourselves for meat and then sell the rest. The money that we make from the remaining weaners helps to pay for any extra feed needed.
We have three pens that we keep the pigs in most of the time. A larger one is for the sows and a smaller one is for the boar. The last one is our birthing pen. The birthing pen needs everything that the others have plus a little bit more. In some books, you will read about a birthing rail. The purpose of a birthing rail in the pig pen is to prevent the mother from rolling over and crushing the babies. We have not used one; we have lost a piglet or two to crushing but it was a once in a blue moon thing. Some books will tell you that bedding is a must. I don’t share that opinion because a sow will make her nest out of anything, including dirt. Now in the winter time I do give them straw, but I give all of them straw not just the birthing mom to be.
If you follow these simple guidelines for your pig pen, you should be on your way to successfully raising pigs! I will tell you this, I have eaten pork from the store and wild pig that I have hunted and killed. Trust me when I tell you this, there is nothing in the world that will taste like a pig you raised yourself. It will be healthier for you and you will have all of that hard work that you did to remind you of where it came from and the pride that you know you can feed yourself and your family. Knowing you can provide for you and your family just seems to make the pork taste better. So, do the hard work, then sit back and enjoy your road to true freedom via the pig.