I get some odd questions about this. The oddest of which is probably “Are you keeping them as pets?”
Since I didn’t know how big adult pigs get until I started looking into getting some I’m going to forgive people that one. But a full grown pig weighs about 500-600 pounds (200-250 kg). So, no, we are not keeping them as pets.
I guess I should get this out of the way. Yes, we are going to slaughter them and eat them. Christmas dinner is a pork roast this year.
Yes, it will be hard to kill animals that we know. And it should be hard.
If you eat meat, animals died to be your dinner. If you have a fundamental problem with this, I suggest that you become a vegetarian.
We do not have a problem with the idea of killing animals for our food.
We do have a problem with confining large numbers of animals in barns for their whole lives, feeding foraging animals on grain out of a bucket, and doing all the things you need to do to keep those animals reasonably healthy in those conditions (routine antibiotics, etc).
Hog farming has become very industrialized in North America. We think this is wrong.
We raise pigs because the animal welfare gain over pork bought from the store is huge.
Pigs dig. They eat roots and bugs and other stuff that is in the soil.
We want to expand our vegetable garden considerably.
Pigs can help dig the new vegetable garden.
That isn’t happening yet because pigs also love vegetables. But we have built them a shelter in the field the vegetable garden is in, and once we’ve harvested the tomatoes, they are moving in there to start digging it up.
Now that they are bigger, you should see the state of my farmyard. And the big chunks of rock you find in the ground here (I’m on the Canadian Shield if you remember your geography class) are no obstacle. They have strong snouts.
This was one of the reasons I started to look into raising pigs. They are pretty easy to look after (except for their basic position that fencing is a suggestion). And getting someone else to dig the garden, someone who fertilizes while they go, seemed like a cool idea.
To get back to the dinner, I actually like the taste of meat. And most commercial meat these days is bred to be lean and not to have a strong flavour.
I don’t need to be eating the fat, but fat is what adds flavour. I want the fat and the bone in my roast so it tastes good.
And I want meat to have a strong flavour. If I didn’t like the taste of meat, I’d be vegetarian. We were vegetarian for many years and my partner is an excellent vegetarian cook.
But hanging meat takes time and space. Which cost money. So supermarkets don’t do it any more (nor do most butchers, I think). And that means most consumers are used to their meat not tasting like much of anything.
Also the taste of meat is affected by what the animals eat. Most commercial hogs are fed on mixed grain with a high protein content (so they grow fast).
My pigs eat all kinds of stuff, including kitchen scraps and apples. I plan to feed them lots of apples in the weeks before they are slaughtered to see what kind of difference that makes. (A friend told me about a friend of his in Georgia who fed his pigs peaches. Yummy pork resulted.)
Raising our own pigs means that we can control much more of this process. And yes, we are currently planning to slaughter and butcher them ourselves. And our to do list has “build a smokehouse” on it.
The other thing about consumer tastes in meat is that they tend towards the better cuts. Chickens are being bred to have huge breasts because that is what consumers want to buy, for example.
But we believe that if you are going to kill animals to eat them, you should make good use of the whole animal. Killing an animal and then only using a fraction of the meat seems unethical as well as wasteful.
So sausages are also on the agenda. And making those ourselves gives us a bit more control of what’s in them. I don’t object to ears, it’s all the other crap I want to know about. And we can season them ourselves.
Luckily my parents really like things like pork hocks and pigtails. And I bet if I tried them now, I might, too. I’ve even made homemade sauerkraut to go with them. (My dad grew up in Kitchener. He likes German food.)
The politics of food
Although we fully expect the food to taste better and be healthier, our main motivation for raising pigs, as for other food producing activities we do, is political/ethical.
We are generally opposed to the increasing control big business has over our food supply. We are opposed to the transportation costs that engenders. We are opposed to the consequences for animal welfare. We believe that concentrated control of the food supply is risky for everyone in terms of food security.
Right now we are mostly focused on our own food needs. We recognize that this is not sufficient. That with this land we could be supplying food for more than 3 people. But supplying our own food needs is where we are starting. That said, I think my parents are getting pork chops and sausages along with their hocks and tails for Christmas this year.
Yes we are a bunch of socialist hippies. Yes we are idealists. No neither of us comes from a farming background (though only city people ever ask that; farmers can tell). And yes, we are both academics so we learn a lot from books and then go out and try stuff.
And we are having fun. Pigs are really nice animals though when a 150 pound pig decides he wants to do something, it is not easy to persuade him otherwise. They are friendly, even when you don’t have a bucket in your hand. And they love having their bellies scratched. It’ll be hard to kill them. But that just reminds us to respect where our food comes from.