Raising pigs is what started our farm and to this day is one of my favorite things. From the moment the sow becomes pregnant to the day the pig reaches butcher weight, each stage of the journey is critical in ensuring the well-being and quality of the end product. Below, we'll walk you through the different stages of swine gestation, farrowing, and raising pigs until they reach the ideal butcher weight and head off to freezer camp.
1. Swine Gestation Period
The swine gestation period, or the time the sow is pregnant, lasts approximately 114 days (3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days). During this time, proper care and nutrition are crucial to support the sow's health and the developing piglets. Ensure she has a comfortable and clean space with access to fresh water and a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients.
2. Preparing for Farrowing
As the gestation period nears its end, it's time to prepare for farrowing, which is when the sow gives birth to piglets. Create a separate farrowing area equipped with a safe and warm space for the sow and her litter. We farrow in open pens inside of our barn (heated in the winter) with a location in the back of the pen that the babies can get under a heat lamp and be safe from momma stepping or laying on them. We provide soft bedding to keep the piglets comfortable during their early days.
3. Farrowing and Early Piglet Care
When farrowing begins, we closely monitor the process to ensure it goes smoothly. If needed, we intervene to assist the sow or piglets. Immediately after birth, the piglets have access to the sow's colostrum, which is rich in essential antibodies, to boost their immune system. Sometimes we need to help them get started nursing. Did you know that mamas will "sing" to their babies while they nurse? This helps their milk drop for the babies.
We try to keep their pens as clean as possible to prevent the spread of disease. The first few days is where it is essential to have that safe place for babies to safe and have access to a heat lamp.
4. Nursing and Weaning
During the nursing phase, the piglets rely entirely on the sow's milk for nutrition. As they grow, they start eating solid feed gradually. We wean our babies at around 8 weeks old. At this age, they are eating a good diet of pig feed and drinking water on their own.
5. Growing Phase
After weaning, the piglets enter the growing phase. Once we feel they have adjusted to weaning we deworm them and then move them to their new home outside. There is plenty of room for them to roam and exercise and dig in the dirt as pigs naturally like to do. This is also called our "all you can eat" pen as they have 24/7 access to all the feed they want.
6. Reaching Butcher Weight
The ideal butcher weight that we like for our pigs typically ranges from 275 to 300 pounds. The time it takes to reach this weight varies based on the pig's genetics and good hybrid vigor. Our crossbred piglets tend to grow faster than our purebred ones. On average, it takes our pigs around 7 to 8 months for pigs to reach the desired butcher weight. Once processed, you get about 70% of the pig's live weight in meat. That means on average a 300 pound hog will yield or "hang" at 210 pounds.
7. Maintaining Health and Well-being
Throughout the entire growing process, we monitor for signs of illness and promptly address any concerns. They have access to automated waterers to ensure clean fresh water is always available and during the hot months they get mud holes. During the cold months they have shelter and lots of straw to bury into.
8. Harvesting and Processing
When our pigs reach the ideal butcher weight, it's time for them to go to "freezer camp". We load them up in the trailer and they are hauled to Perham Locker Plant where we have all of our processing done. Our pigs travel the "road" between the barn and pen a couple of times in their lives so usually the short trip to the trailer is pretty uneventful.
Raising pigs from gestation to butcher weight requires some resilience and sometimes you have "bad" litters that just don't grow as fast or don't seem as healthy as others. I've always said that as a farmer we must be optimistic so we learn what we can and hope for a better litter next time. Each step in the journey is vital, and attention to detail results in a successful and rewarding product that we can be proud to share with our customers.