Buying your pigs–It is important that you locate a breeder that has purebred registered stock. Having quality purebred stock gives you instant credibility when you are ready for advertising and marketing. You can contact the American Berkshire Association for farms near you. Although you may have to travel it’s worth it for the best pigs, also make friends with the breeder when you arrive because he has a lot of valuable knowledge and can be a great help to you later. When you are first getting started we recommend you buy at least one boar and three gilts (The boar is the male and the gilt is the female). If you are buying your boar and gilts from the same breeder be sure they are from separate blood lines so that you are keeping the bloodline pure.
Housing and Bonding- If you can it’s better to keep new pigs in a stall or safe quarters away from predators for the first four to six weeks. This will also help you keep a close eye on your pigs and an opportunity to bond with them. Remember you will be in close quarters with them during breeding season. They love marshmallows and being scratched, this should do the trick. It is best to use wood shaving for bedding. An all natural chemical free is best if possible. It’s safe for livestock and families. Hay is good also but can sometimes cause itching and loss of hair at young ages. At the end of the four to six week period your pigs should be about 3 months old depending on their age at the time of purchase and should be approximately 125 lbs and ready to be moved to their new home for the next 3 months. At this time you will want to separate the boar from the gilts to prevent any premature breeding.
Fencing and Outdoor Shelters - During the first four to six weeks it is a good time to start fencing. There are many different ways to fence in your pigs. The three most popular is perimeter fencing with hotwire which is cheapest way to go especially for large areas. Hog wire roll fencing with metal T post and wood post for bracing corners and long spans is a little more expensive and hog panels with metal T post for support are the most expensive way to go , but it is also the easiest to install and virtually maintenance free. You can get pricing online for all three at Tractor Supply Company. For outdoor shelter it’s always better to use the natural environment for shade and protection from the elements. If you don’t have a wooded area you will have to build or purchase your own. We have found an easy cost effective way to build your own transportable light weight huts for shade and protection. You can find “how to” building instruction on our poor boy farming article. Of course if you have enough money in your budget there some excellent pre built shelters.
Feeding Schedule – It’s important to get your pigs off to a great start with 18% to 20% pig feed. There are several good livestock feed suppliers out there, but if you want to go the extra mile I have included a link to a site that can help you locate an organic feed supplier. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service has a map to help locate a supplier and a lot of other interesting information. Be sure not to feed your piglets with more than 20% protein because it can cause scours which can be dangerous for young pigs. At this age it is best to put them on a free choice diet. This means that they can eat as much as they want all the time. After being on a free choice 18% to 20% feed and are now reaching about 125 lbs at about 16 weeks of age you will want to cut them back to a 14% hand feeding program at 10 lbs per day until both boar and gilts reach 175 lbs to 200 lbs. The 10 lbs per day is temporary for your boar and gilts because you are trying to put a little bit of back fat on them before breeding starts. Breeding season will take a lot out of your pigs, so you want them to be in good physical condition. After breeding season you will want to cut them both back to 5 lbs a day remaining on the 14% protein diet. Your gilts will continue to be on 5 lbs per day until one month before she has her babies. The boar will remain on 5 lbs per day so that he does not continue to grow at to rapid of a pace, you don’t want him to be too lean or too fat. If you continue to feed at 10lbs a day he would only be good for about 2 years then he will be too heavy for new gilts and young sows. The boar will stay at 5 lbs a day for the rest of his life. There are a lot complicated feeding programs out there, but it’s better to keep it simple. Stick to this plan and you will have happy healthy babies.
Watering and Feed Troughs–You will need to be sure you have adequate water supply, pigs need a lot of fresh clean water and since you will be hand feeding at this point you will need a feeding trough as well. This is probably the most difficult and frustrating task to accomplish. Pigs are notorious for tearing up any and everything they come in to contact with especially water and feed troughs. After many failed attempts we finally came up with the most effective way to water pigs. A plastic or metal 55 gallon barrel (which you can find on craigslist) works extremely well. Once you have your watering barrel you will want to purchase the greatest watering system on earth. We do not own stock in Valley Vet Supply, but they have the best watering systemsknow to manythey are super easy to install. We highly recommend that you buy the screw in style watering nipple that fastens right to the 55 gallon barrel. Feed troughs are a tossup. The best method is to pour a concrete feeding trough out of portland cement or contrary to popular belief if it is perfectly ok to feed them on the ground.
Worming Schedule- If you are concerned about worms, which you should be, you can give your pigs Ivermectin ( see worming schedule below) every six months which kills eternal worms and external parasites. If you do not want to give your pigs worming shots and prefer to go strictly organic there is a fantastic product called Diatomaceous Earth which is an organic worming product for livestock’s, pets and humans too.
Breeding - At the end of about six months your pigs should be reaching 200 lbs to 250 lbs. They are now ready for breeding. Gilts go into heat for the first time in 3 to 5 months then every 21 days thereafter until successfully breed. Now that your pigs are ready to breed you have two options. You can bring the gilt to the boar or you can build a separate breeding pen and bring both of them to that pen. This can be easily constructed with hog panel and T post. You can find “how to” building instruction on our poor boy farming article. So how do to know when your gilts are ready for their first breeding. Here are a few signs to help you know what to look for first she will start to swell then you will notice redness and some wetness, she is not quite ready at this point but she is getting close. You are looking for what is known as “standing heat” the best way to know if she is in standing heat is to apply pressure to her back if she doesn’t move then she is in standing heat she will also try to mount the other females in the pasture this is a sure sign that she is ready for the boar. If you do bring them together to early the gilt will began running around the pen and will not let the boar mount. If this happens she is not ready. Take her out of the pen and try again later she will stand still when she is ready. A new boar will needs some help the first few times he begins to breed. Helping the boar enter the female is quite common. This is not as hard or as bad as it sounds, however it is important that your new boar gets off to a good start, boars that are left to their own inhibitions can become frustrated and unproductive. Guiding him by holding the pouch and helping him to penetrate the guilt is the best method. Once he is in position you can step back. It can take a boar up to 5 minutes to ejaculate completely. If successfully bred your gilt will not come back into heat again until after her first litter is weaned this is usually about 5 days. She can be bred back during this time.
Gestation and Farrowing – Gestation period will last 114 days or 3 months 3 weeks and 3 days. It will be important that you log the days that you breed so that you will have some idea of when your new piglets will arrive. Approximately one month before giving birth your guilt will need to be separated from the other pigs into her own separate area and put on a 18% 12 lbs to 15 lbs diet. A fresh patch of grass has a lot of health benefits and it makes a great place for her to have her babies. During this transition you should be constructing a farrowing hut or if you don’t want to build your hut you can purchase them online from port-a-hut. You will also need to add hay in your hut for her to start nesting at this point her natural instincts will take over and she will make a nest somewhere near the center of the hut with her head facing the open door for protection and to guard her young from predators. Once the nest is built it is not long before the new piglets will arrive. Two weeks before birth she will need a worming shot which is permitted in the organic handbook this promotes healthier babies at birth. The last week before birth she will start to eat less and drink a lot more water which is normal. You will want to check on her frequently up until birth.
Having Babies- Just before birthing begins she will lay down breathing very heavily and show signs of discomfort. She may also change position several times during the birthing process. Once she begins giveing birth which can take up to several hours it is unfortunate but some of the babies may be born dead. This happens even with the best care. The size of the litter will vary. New born piglets will be looking for teats as soon as they are born they won’t need any help but it is important that they nurse as soon as possible. After that mom will do all the work. Once she has had per piglets she will remain on the 15 lbs and 18% protein per day diet. Nursing takes a lot out of a momma pig so she needs this to sustain her until the end of the weaning process about six to eight weeks. After the first week the new born babies will begin nibbling on the same feed as the momma pig which is ok. Keep your piglets inside the farrow hut until they ready to be out by themselves. We found that by placing a couple of 2 x4’s on the exit opening approximately 12” high kept the babies in the hut until it was safe for them to come out. You will know when it is time to take down the 2 X 4’s because they will start crawling out on their own. If you plan to castrate your young boars it needs to be done during the first six weeks the younger the better. We prefer to use a castrating trough which you can see how to build on poor boy farming article to make it easier.
Raising the piglets to market weight–at eight to ten weeks you will want to wean your piglets by separating them from the momma pig. This can be a task so be prepared. You can use feed to distract her while taking the babies one at a time to their new living quarters. We recommend that you have a separate area of pasture to raise the new feeder pigs to market weight. You will need to give a Ivermectin worming short or start an Diatomaceous Earth organic worming program for both mom and babies during this transition. Worms are your biggest threat to healthy pigs. Just like before you will want to have a free choice feeding program starting at 18 to 20% protein for the first 3 months and then 16 percent until finished at approximately six months of age and 250 lbs.
Piggy’s go to market -While you are waiting for your feeder pigs to reach market weight you need to start searching for a processing plant that is a USDA inspected or State inspected facility depending on how you want to market your hogs. Prices for processing vary so be sure to find that out as well. When you arrive you will have a choice on how you want your meat cut. You can find a good example at This is important depending on who your cliental is going to be and what kind of profits you plan to make. I will have more on this subject in an upcoming article called “Pigs for Profits”. I prefer to have my products packaged in clear vacuum sealed packaging it lets you see the great quality of meat and looks more professional than paper wrapping. Most of your processing plants have it available now. Not all processing plants are the same so plan a day to go and visit several plants before making a decision.
Before the Sell- It is important that you take the time to research your states regulations on the sale of meat before you start selling, but don’t let all the rules and regulations hold you back with a little paperwork you can be up and selling in no time. If there is no effort then there usually isn’t any reward. It’s equally important to decide which direction you want to go in your new business. Do you want to be a supplier to restaurants and caters, or an online supplier of Berkshire Pork. Maybe you want to sell at farmers markets or just to family and friends. The opportunities are endless and the market is wide open. So go forth, have fun and sell pork!