In the meantime, our own family demographic changed, and we now have a one month old daughter to wrangle. With a new daughter in the picture, adding piglets this year just seems like too much to manage. This weekend we’ll be processing our final two lady pigs as gilts, and holding off on piglets for a few years.
This gives us the unique opportunity, however, to compare costs for pigs raised to 5 months during the summer and fall with pigs raised for 11 months during the whole year. Raising pigs during the winter is less efficient due to extra feed required to keep the pigs warm, and a lack of garden waste to supplement their diet.
Last year we raised 6 pigs, processing 4 of them at 5 months old, and keeping two gilts on through the winter. Brought onto the farm at 2 months of age for $100 each, our 6 pigs ate an average of 5lbs of feed per pig per day (plus ample kitchen/garden slop).
Pig feed costs roughly 25 cents per pound, thus our first 4 pigs ran $400 each total to raise, and weighed in somewhere between 150 lbs at finished hanging weight, or $3-4 per pound. Not bad considering pork currently sells for $6-16 per pound locally.
Our overwintered ladies are another matter. We estimate roughly 2 lbs each at harvest, but they’ve eaten an average of 10lbs per day each through the winter until now. Pigs eat more in the winter to maintain body temperature, and they also eat more as they get larger. All in all the feed conversion rate drops dramatically. Our final two ladies have cost a total of $750 each, or $4-4.50 per pound.
Though the increased cost per pound may not seem like much, it’s a lot when you factor in labor for an extra 6 months of pig raising through the winter. Hauling 5 gallons of fresh water per pig each day, plus 20 pounds of feed per day really takes a toll on the body as you’re trudging through knee and hip deep snow. The pigs account for a minimum of half an hour of labor each day, plus about 5 hours each to process.
For our first 4 young processed pigs, that’s only a total of 80 hours for 600-800lbs of meat. For our overwintered ladies, it’s another 120 hours for 500-600lbs. Those hours, given the water is hand hauled, are much harder on the farmer than the summer hours.
Our pair of overwintered lady pigs should have been inseminated in February to farrow in June, with piglets ready for new homes by August. By then they would have cost roughly $1400 each to raise, which is steep payback when 14 piglet litters are almost unheard of and piglets sell for roughly $100 each. Having a second litter in a year will help some, but piglets are much harder to sell in the winter. Piglet sales can help defer the cost of raising the mother, but they do not cover the costs altogether. You do still get to harvest the sow eventually, which is where the actual payback in meat comes from.
Having done it once, I don’t think we’ll be in a hurry to overwinter lady pigs again. It’s very hard work, and given the payback is minimal we’re happy to stick with purchasing piglets in the spring and harvesting them in the fall.