Raising Pigs Naturally & Humanely

by Charlotte Walker
berkshire pigs pasture raised napping in their shelter

These Berkshires are a gang of smiling, snorting, curly tail spinning, lip smacking pudgy roll growing food bliss, porkers.  Have you ever heard what hungry excited pigs sound like?

Fermented feed. It’s working for us. We ferment their daily feed ration. We do this in large pails (food grade). The downside of fermented feed is that the pails are heavy and the feed is sloppy. The upside is that they like it better than the dry feed and it is beneficial to their overall health. Homesteaders have been fermenting feed for decades. It’s nothing new. In a few articles I’ve read there have been observations of a 10% increase in weight gain when using fermented feed. We don’t have scales and I have no past years to evaluate this claim but our pigs are very healthy and they are fattening up at a nice rate.

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This is an older photo just before we started using pails (to make sure all of the that liquid goodness goes into the pigs bellies and not the ground).

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These rubber buckets work well, are easy to move and wash.

How we ferment the feed. The fermented feed is essentially their ration of feed a few table spoons of apple cider vinegar mixed with water. You really need to get in there and stir. It should bubble and smell a bit like bread dough (not sour or moldy) when its ready.  We keep a rotation of three pails fermenting. Three days seems to be the magic number for the perfect ferment to occur.

The organic side of the story. Our pigs are being raised organically. They have a large pasture, organic store bought feed, and garden scraps and vegetables. In addition to the feed and organic garden produce they are also enjoying an all you can eat buffet of wild apples that we have been foraging for them. Our pigs are better fed and eating healthier than a lot of humans out there. I should mention that Organic feed is not for the faint of heart. For us, it is about 300% more expensive than the non organic varieties ($38-41CDN per bag)  We had to think long and hard about this but …if you are what you eat – well, really  there is no choice.

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Fresh organic zucchini from our garden. They get everything we don’t want! We have developed a distraction method where I toss them some bread/scraps a while Ryan fills their  troughs. Sometimes this goes awry.  If they are out foraging and have not seen us we will sneak in and load up their trough and then call them over.  This is the best scenario. Watching our food obsessed pigs run across the pasture giddy with excitement never gets old.

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They are also given all of the organic waste that would normally go into the compost. The dude here is munching on a bean bush.

The agony of commercial feed When we first decided to raise pigs for meat, I spent a lot of time researching feed and diet. When you look at the scientific/corporate feed methods of today, the old school feed methods, and everything in-between it takes time to formulate a plan. What I know is this.

I am not comfortable with standard commercial feed. The primary ingredients are corn and soy.  Also, in my experience, the ingredients are not listed on the label (unless you consider “animal protein product” to be an ingredient) nor are they available in the store, nor does anyone know or care when you ask. The Ingredients can be found  but it takes stubborn digging. It really scares me actually. Some feed producers tout on their website their accomplishment in evolving, how essential food science is, some even highlight the fact that they no longer use pork by products in pig feed. Most of what they have to say is hard to understand. It feels like they have purposefully put up a barrier between ordinary farmers and knowledge. People just shut up and buy it. Ugh. Excuse me but I don’t want any part of this racket. IMG_8057

For now, we are doing the next best thing with our organic commercially produced feed. The grain mill is here in New Brunswick. The ingredients are listed up front. We supplement this heavily with pasture and garden veggies/waste. We know exactly what they are eating, and even where it has been grown right down. The feed is just not a sustainable choice for a homesteader at those prices. We are going to get smarter about all of this over time. Next year we will try our hand at growing protein packed grain crops and if that goes well, we will expand. We would like to eventually produce everything we need to feed out own animals right here on this property or in partnership with like minded neighbors.  Our way feels right and it is working. Just look at this boy!

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About Medication  I am fortunate that our animals have so far been very healthy. We do not do any routine medicine, deworming, antibiotics etc. That is not to say that I would never use conventional medicine. In a crisis I would consider it, but I would exhaust all natural methods first.  Our pigs are not fed any meat, and all of their food is fresh (not moldy or bad). I would like to think they like us, can be quite healthy naturally when following the right protocol (clean healthy food and environment).

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a neighbor joked that we should walk the pigs to the apple trees on a leash and make them do all the work. We have been out foraging for wild apples a few times a week.

I have not been able to find many modern day discussions about fermented feed for pigs and a lot of it is focused on large scale operations and non organic/natural practices however there are some studies out there and if you look for “old school”books and magazines, you can often find information. Fermenting food is not a new concept by any means and is all the rage right now in the human foodie world.

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The continuing Story

If you would like to read about the costs, the equipment,  shelter, fencing, calculating feed requirements and so much more, you might be interested in our article titled: The BIG list of things you should know about raising pigs for meat.

If you are interested in fermented feed for your pigs here are a few articles you might find informative. With some of the more technical stuff aimed at commercial producers you need to read between the lines a little bit but don’t let it scare you. It is quite a simple thing.

Science of fermented feed

Pigs benefit from fermented liquid diets

Effect of Fermented Feed on the Microbial Population of the Gastrointestinal Tracts of Pigs

Fermented liquid feed for pigs: an ancient technique for the future

Have you raised pigs in a more natural, humane way? We would love to hear from you about what you did differently (or the same). We love pig stories 🙂

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