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A Pigpen for the Backyard

From GENE LOGSDON (1985)

Garden Farm Skills

[Please visit the upgraded pages for Gene's Books here and Post Archive by Title here. -DS]

Loose talk about pigpens in the yard will send the blood pressure soaring in the veins of local zoning officials, if not your neighbors. It’s perfectly all right in our culture to keep a dog half the size of a cow in the yard, letting it bark all night and running all over town dropping manure in its wake. But a quiet, clean hog producing something useful like pork chops? Heaven forbid.

People think hogs are dirty because hogs will survive in crowded conditions. Because hogs will survive in crowded conditions, humans have always raised them that way, the better to make a buck. Try raising cats like we do hogs, and you’ll know what dirt and stench are really like.

A neighbor woman has for twelve years raised a hog every summer in a pen in her yard. The pig and its pen are so clean I doubt close neighbors, if there were any, would know the pig was there unless she told them. The pen is simplicity itself. Sometimes she uses a simple V-shaped hut for a shelter. One side is a discarded tub once used for mixing cement in, and the other side consists of three 2 x 4s covered with roof paneling. At other times, she stacks some old hay bales together to make a warm, snug hut. The hay protects against the cool, moist drafts of spring and gives shade in summer, although plenty of shade is now supplied by trees that have grown up and over the pen.

The pen consists of an 8-foot-square platform of fifteen 2 x 6s, spaced 7/8 inch apart. The 7/8-inch crack between the floor planks is critical. If wider, the pig might get its foot caught; if narrower, manure tends to build up on the flor rather than work its way through. The floor sits on a square frame of four 2 x 10s, with a fifth 2 x 10 down the middle. And the frame sits on cement blocks at each corner.

The pen sits on a slight slope. On the front side, the platform is nearly level with the ground, but on the other side it is about 2 feet above ground level, so it is easy to clean out the manure under the floor. To hold the pig in its pen, there are posts set into the ground at each corner of the pen to which picket fencing is wired. The fence is in two sections, 32 feet in all. A horizontal bar of 2 x 4s extends all around the bottom of the fence from post to post to strengthen the picket fencing. When the pig needs to be moved to a truck for hauling to the butcher, always a difficult job on a homestead, the neighbor lady and her husband unwire one of the picket fence sections and curl it around the pig. The pig is accustomed to being surrounded by the fence anyway, and by carrying the fence along as it surrounds the pig, they can move the animal quite easily to the truck. Then they open the fence only enough so the hog has nowhere to go but up the ramp into the truck — or if the truck is backed against a bank (which is a much better way) the hog can walk right on without climbing a ramp. Or they can back a truck up that side of the pen that is 2 feet above ground level. The picket fence can then be opened so that the hog can walk right onto the truck bed. In my own experience, this is the best way to load a hog easily: have its pen at the same height as the truck bed. Forcing hogs or any animal up a ramp is always difficult.

The neighbors pigpen is surrounded by trees and bushes and so is barely noticeable as one walks across the yard toward it, unless the pig should squeal. It rarely does because it is the most contented pig in the world: overfed, shaded by trees, sprayed with water on hot days, and kept warm and dry on cool rainy days.

The neighbor buys her pig from a farmer in April, at weaning weight of about 40 pounds. She feeds it a commercial ration supplemented by homegrown corn, garden leftovers, and table scraps. She gets about 135 pounds of dressed meat and lard, at a cost of a little over a dollar a pound, counting all costs except her labor. But she says saving money is not her goal, and that she wold go on raising her own hog even if it were costlier than buying pork from the grocery, which her husband says it is. Why? Quality. She says buying good lard at a store is almost out of the question, and that her own meat tastes so much better. She also knows it is not contaminated with drugs.

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