Pigs are farmstead favorites as a cost-effective food source, putting weight on faster and with less feed than most other meat animals require. A butchered pig can feed a family of five for a year, and small-scale pork operations, once called “mortgage lifters” for their small farm profit potential, offer creative individuals an income source. Though relatively easy to raise in an established system, there are cost considerations that pig farmers and homesteaders must face.
Pigs' voracious appetites are more than just cultural caricature -- hogs love to eat. Though they have a profit-friendly feed conversion rate, their food requirements are not negligible; in fact, feeding a pig intended for meat is potentially a pig farmer's biggest cost. Feed costs are variable and subject to inflation, with conventional versus organic price differentials and available supplements affecting final numbers. In 2012, conventional feed cost about 30 cents a pound and organic averaged 80 cents a pound. A single pig consumed an average of 800 pounds of feed in the time required to reach slaughter weight, so one hog will consume more than $200 in food.
Water Your Hog
Pigs cannot sweat. They need a lot of water to stay cool and maintain biological functions. In fact, a pig denied water will die in a matter of hours, and improper water cleanliness is a potential source of pathogenic disease. By the time a pig has reached finishing weight, he'll need 3 to 5 gallons of clean water every day. Water prices are highly variable, ranging from free well water to city water prices from a local municipality, so hydration costs can only be calculated on a case-by-case basis. Alternative water sources such as rainwater collection/cistern storage systems or on-site bodies of water can greatly offset water costs.
One of the biggest challenges to keeping pigs is keeping the pigs: These highly intelligent creatures are adept escape artists who require adequate containment to prevent their mad dash to the woods. Technically, one pig needs only a 10-square-foot space to live in, so a minimalist enclosure is possible -- though many prefer to pasture their pigs to decrease waste buildup and offset feed costs. Electric fencing is a popular containment system, though costs for this run well over $200. Hog panel fencing is another option, with one 16-foot section costing around $20.
Pigs raised for food require one final and all-important set of costs: Processing. Home slaughter and butchering are a solution for family food sources, but most states require USDA-inspected facilities handle any meat intended for public sale. Slaughter of one hog runs around $50, butchering around $150 and further processing, such as sausage making or bacon and ham preparation, around $60 . Informed decisions made with a trusted processor can reduce costs, but the average price for processing one hog will likely run between $250 and $300.
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Rodney Wilson is owner and manager of Goldfinch Farm in central Kentucky, where he oversees veterinary and management practices for a diverse group of animals, from dogs and cats to pigs and chickens. He's written professionally since 2001, with articles appearing in such publications as The Cincinnati Enquirer, CiN Weekly, Baby Guide and Akron Life.