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Feeding Pigs Cheaply
Of all of the animals inhabiting the Earth, only one gives us bacon. And bacon is reason enough to love a piggie, right?
Unless you are raising a mini or potbellied pig as a pet, pig keepers are generally raising pigs for food. By raising animals, you can control what they eat, how they grow, how healthy they are and a myriad of other variables that will eventually impact your food source.
It also gives you the awesome responsibility of keeping these animals and caring for them in the kindest possible way during their lives. It's better for them. It's better for you.
That being said, providing a good, varied diet for a pig doesn't have to break the bank. And, you get bacon. BACON! Did I mention bacon??!?
Omnivore, Carnivore, Herbivore, Oh MY!
The first consideration on what to feed your little oinker is what his or her optimum diet would look like in the wild. Left to their own devices, pigs are naturally omnivores. They love to eat pretty much anything they can acquire. This includes bugs, small vertibrates, meat, plants, etc. Where an herbivore or carnivore like to eat a more specialized diet, pigs are pretty easy to please!
This is really good news for the pig farmer. Because pigs aren't picky eaters, they will eat just about anything you give them, including food items that just aren't good enough to be on a human menu. You could definitely give them pretty much anything that would make for good compost, plus left over pieces of meat or cooked foods from your kitchen.
For a homestead with a pig or two, a significant dent can be placed into the pig's diets with just kitchen waste. But, a creative mindset can help the enterprising homesteader obtain a plethora of foods that, while not great for human consumption, are loved by pigs. Every bit of free or low cost food you can supply that is not from commercial feed is a cost savings for your bottom line. Additionally, a varied diet will supply lots of different vitamins and minerals to the pigs, which will, in turn, supply them for you. Healthy pigs mean healthier meats for you and your family.
What's In Your Trash?
The easiest way to start adding free foods and variety to your pig's diet is to examine what usually goes into your trash or compost bin (if you have one). Look for organic items that you wouldn't feed your family, that would still be okay for a pig. One caveat, though, avoid giving too much of stone fruits or sweet items at one time. A little at a time is likely fine, but don't overdo it.
Easy targets are the items you trim off of vegetable or usually save in the freezer for stock making. Celery leaves and root ends, onion skins, garlic skins, carrot nubs, salad fixings that are beginning to turn a bit slimy, herbs that have seen better days, bruised pieces that you cut off of apples, pears, or other items, shriveled potatoes, the root ends of leeks, green onions, etc.
Additionally, do you have a bit of pasta, casserole, soups or other foods that, while edible, aren't enough left over for a full serving? What about citrus peels, coffee grounds, seeds and pulp scraped from a squash, and egg shells? Toss them right into the pig pen.
Do you have a bit of leftover food from a pet you no longer own? Toss that in, too.
Which Livestock Animals Have You Raised?
Portable Pig Pens and Fencing
One of the first decisions you will make when you get your piglets concerns where to keep them. They need a shelter, an area to eat and drink, and a mud slide is nice, too. Pigs are natural foragers who love to exercise by rooting up all manner of roots and plants to munch on.
Friends of ours keep their pig (and one for our family, too, in exchange for splitting the bills and labor) in a section of horribly thick blackberry brambles. Every week or so, we move the pen so that the piggies can clear out another section by chomping at and rooting up the vines. The cleared area will give them a pre-fertilized garden addition next summer while providing both families with additional pig food now.
Farmers Are Your Friends
Especially in the spring and summer months, local farmers may have waste food or orchard drops that they don't want or can't use. Those can be a fantastic resource. If they can provide you with corn shucks, excess milk, vegetable trimmings, cracked or damaged eggs, etc. on a fairly regular basis, your feed bill can be reduced quite a bit.
Build a relationship with local farmers and consider dropping off a couple of pork chops to try out if you think they might appreciate it.
Lately, families both urban and rural are flocking to food co-ops and Consumer Supported Agriculture Programs (CSAs) to expand their access to healthy foods. Occasionally, families may not be able to consume items fast enough to prevent spoilage in their CSA shares or maybe don't care for a certain item. They may not have huge amounts to share, but would usually see the food go to animals rather than the landfill.
In my area, some local food co-ops sometimes give their members far more of a certain item than could be reasonably used for several families. My cousin has found herself in that situation before and has given me case-loads of squishy cucumbers, bunches of wilted parsley, artichokes, slightly slimy grapes, enough leaf and endive lettuce to stock a big city salad bar for a week and other items that made for handy and healthy pig foods. Her family eats what they can of the foods and what they can't use up goes to the pigs. You can bet that her family will also benefit from some pork this fall, too!
Grocery Stores, Outlet Stores, and Day Old Bread
Making friends and building relationships works well when working with local shops and stores. Grocery stores with produce departments occasionally will save boxes of inedible trimmings and damaged fruits and veggies to be used as livestock food. Not every grocery store allows this, but many still do. It helps to assure them that no human will be eating the food and even show a photo or two of your piggies that you (of course) keep on your cell phone.
Mom and Pop stores and farmer's stands might be easier to get to participate, but options abound in all sorts of establishments that sell food items.
If you have a good relationship with a local Bakery Outlet store, you might be able to get moldy or hardened breads to feed your pigs.
The general idea is to make certain that you don't put the employees involved in a bad spot. Many companies discourage the sharing of edible and inedible food because it opens them up to liability if a person were to consume it and get ill. Be gracious and accept any help that you can get. If the store is expecting you to pick up on Tuesdays, then make it a point to be there or call in advance and let them know you can't make it. Don't ever make them regret helping you!
Home Grown Pork Is Worth the Effort
It may sound like a bit of work to obtain non-commercial feed sources for your pigs, but it is totally worth it! Pork grown with a varied diet, a happy and engaging environment, and plenty of fresh air and sunshine (as opposed to a crowded feed lot) make for tastier, healthier food for you and your friends and family.