Will Raising Pigs Break the Bank Or Your Heart?

I love pigs. I love the squidgy noses of the newly born babies, the contented snuffles as they fall asleep in a pile of trotters. I love how my 800 lb boar lies down when I scratch him behind the ear and how our heavily pregnant sow follows us on our afternoon walk with the dogs.

Pigs have added a lot to our homestead over the past 10 years – clearing invasive vegetation, uprooting non-indigenous trees, deepening dams, and creating new ones. They’ve also taken a lot away in terms of kitchen waste and byproducts from the veggie garden. 

After a decade of breeding pigs and selling the pork, we decided to reassess the situation, asking ourselves, “Is it profitable to raise pigs?” After all, our pigs need feeding twice a day and require robust infrastructure and access to plenty of fresh water for drinking and wallowing.

There is also the labor, feed, fencing, medication, and impact on the land to consider.

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Maybe, we thought, it would prove cheaper to buy piglets in and raise them for slaughter rather than breeding.

After much deliberation and some complex math that I didn’t really follow, these were the questions we asked ourselves and our subsequent conclusions:

How Much Is a Piglet?

Piglet prices vary widely depending on which breed of pig you choose. We’ve been breeding a mix of Large White and Duroc, but many American homesteaders prefer the faster-growing American Yorkshire, which produces leaner meat.

You can find both Duroc and American Yorkshire piglets for sale for as little as $50 to $100 but, for purebred, registered piglets, you’re looking at around $200 per piece.

How Much Do Pigs Cost to Raise

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The cost of keeping a pig varies as much as the price of piglets, with both breed and environment influencing your feed costs.

Pigs that can forage, have access to fresh water and sanitary living conditions, for instance, will be healthier and therefore cheaper to raise

Similarly, a pig with access to good grazing or foraging won’t need as much commercial feed.

Breed and genetics play a big part in the food conversion ratio (FCR) and will therefore impact your feed costs as well. One of the reasons the American Yorkshire is so popular is because it has such an efficient feed conversion ratio.

Both the Landrace and the Yorkshire outperform the Duroc in terms of “average daily gain, feed conversion ratio, selection index, and age at 90 kg body weight.”

We were fortunate as we could supplement our pigs’ diet with cheap milk from the local dairy, vegetables from the garden, and feed that we grow ourselves, such as barley and oats.

Nevertheless, we were still feeding approximately 6 lb of grain per day. This grain was a combination of grower feed and cracked corn that was cooked and soaked overnight. (This is a good complete feed for pigs)

At current prices, that meant we were spending around $3.50 on feed for each pig per day which works out at $1,277.50 per year.

How Long Does It Take to Grow a Pig for Slaughter?

For a long time, the industry-standard slaughter weight for pigs was 250 lbs but, in recent years, that “has slowly crept up to the 290-300 pound range.” 

It takes about six months to get a pig to this size, after which “there is a noted drop in their feed conversion efficiency.” That means you’re looking at feed costs of around $650 per pig.

If you slaughter a 250 lb pig, you can expect a hanging weight of around 175 lbs. Most commercial farmers sell whole or half pigs at $5 per pound, which would mean you have approximately $875 worth of meat.

Not only do you break even – you make a sneaky $100 so you can buy your next piglet.

Pig Raising Cost Breakdown

Piglets (6) $600
Feed (for 6 pigs) $3,900
Total expenses $4,500
Total cost per pig $750
Meat price per pig $875
Profit/loss per pig +$125

If you go the organic route, you can increase the value of the pork even further. 

Organic pork costs, on average, around $6.50 per lb, with bacon costing as much as $9.99, making raising pigs even more profitable.

Is It Cheaper to Buy a Whole Pig Than Raise One?

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Buying a whole pig already slaughtered will cost you around $875 but, as this covers all the slaughter costs, feed, cutting, and packaging, it works out to much the same as rearing your own, assuming you do your own slaughtering and cutting and your labor is free. 

If you decide not to slaughter your pigs yourself, the $125 profit you gained will be quickly consumed by the cost of the slaughter and butchering.

In other words, financially, there’s very little in it.

Of course, if you buy a slaughtered pig, you’ll never experience the joys of going for a walk with a heavily pregnant sow or playing an (admittedly very short) game of tug-o-war with a young boar.

On the other hand, you won’t have to think about Ms. Piggie frolicking in the field when you’re digging into a plate of pork chops!

Is Breeding Piglets More Profitable Than Buying In?

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If you decide to breed your own piglets, you’ll save yourself the $100 to $200 you’d be spending on each piglet.

Assuming you get a litter of around 10 piglets, that means a saving of at least $1,000 – or does it?

A sow with a litter of 10 baby pigs to feed needs a lot to eat so, if you’re dependent on pig feed, all your potential profits will disappear into her stomach.

Many homesteaders look for alternative food sources to reduce the cost of raising pigs and make it more profitable.

Scraps from local restaurants can provide a couple of pounds of feed a day. Fruit and vegetables from the market are also a good option, as are leftovers from your own veggie garden and kitchen.

With 10 piglets, you can sell half the litter to offset the additional cost of feeding your sow, making breeding a more profitable option, although you need to counter that income with the cost of castrating any males you plan to sell for slaughter.

Bearing in mind that boars become sexually active at seven months, you’ll ideally want to slaughter before then otherwise you could be facing unwanted interbreeding and boar taint.

Boar taint occurs in non-castrated male pigs, giving the meat an unpleasant taste or odor. 

A Decade of Raising Pigs

After a decade of living with pigs, we’re not prepared to give them up altogether but have decided to stop breeding for the time being. Buying in feeder pigs once a year will give us more flexibility and our land an annual six-month break which, in turn, should help reduce our feed costs.

If we buy in a couple of piglets each year, we should still get enough free-range pork for ourselves and some excess that can be turned into pork chops and other popular cuts of pork and sold to offset our costs even further. 

Before rushing out to buy a selection of cute, squidgy-nosed piglets, however, make sure you have the necessary infrastructure to keep your hogs out of your garden and anywhere else you don’t want plowing up! 

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While pigs can be destructive, they can also be very cute, so you also need to be sure you’ve got the wherewithal to go through with the slaughter when the time comes. 

As there is more food available during the summer months, it’s cheaper to raise pigs during that time, so buying in Springtime is ideal. A weanling purchased in March or April should be ready for slaughter just as cooler weather begins and the food supply starts to diminish.

Breeding pigs is rarely all about money unless you’re doing it commercially.

We initially got pigs to clear our lands and to provide us with happy, healthy, free-range pork, but they have brought us a lot more than that. Our pigs have played a significant role in our journey toward self-sustainability while bringing us much joy and countless delicious meals along the way.

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