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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Raisin’ Bacon

raise-a-pig The Baconcyclopedia: The Ultimate Bacon Reference of Baconic Proportions

So you want to raise your own bacon? It makes sense. Everyone wants the freshest, juiciest, most succulent bacon at their disposal and what better way than to raise your own swine?

First off, you need a pig. A baby pig can cost you anywhere from $20 - $65 and they take about 5 - 6 months to reach their most edible weight of 200 – 225 lbs. Now 200 lbs sounds like a lot of pig but think about it like this.

One 200 lb pig will produce approximately:

* 24 lbs of ham
* 20 lbs of bacon
* 17 lbs of pork roast
* 18 lbs of picnic shoulder
* 7 lbs of pork chops
* 8 lbs of sausage
* 7 lbs of “miscellaneous” cuts
* 6 lbs of salt pork
* 31 lbs of lard

Mmmmm… porky goodness. I can hear you salivating already. But if 200 lbs is good then 400 lbs must be better right? Well, not really. Once a pig reaches approximately 225lbs, they start “making pigs of themselves” by eating more food and putting on less weight. Plus they start to get fatty, and since you are going to the trouble of growing yourself some healthy bacon, you might as well do it right.

Tips on buying your piglet:

* Purchase your baby pig in the spring when it is about 6 – 8 weeks old.
* Get your piglet inoculated and wormed before purchase. (You may need to continue to de-worm your pig every 4 – 6 wks.)
* Buy your pig from a reputable breeder or a farmer with clean, disease-free stock.
* Do NOT buy a cute, little runt.
* Choose a long pig – fat pigs produce lots of fat (there’s a big surprise).
* Pick a young sow or a castrated male pig (a barrow).
* The breed doesn’t matter – all breeds have been developed to produce yummy, meaty deliciousness.

How to feed your pig:

* Your pig is not a picky eater. It will be happy eating grain, wheat, grass, corn-on-the-cob, table scraps, leftover garden veggies and even garbage. But, do NOT feed old garbage to your pig, pigs like fresh garbage.
* Pigs reared on fresh greens and plenty of exercise will produce lean, healthy and, (most importantly) juicy pork. Your pig should gain about 1 pound/ day.
* You can use a trough for your pig’s food. However, make sure that you secure the trough so your pig does not tip it over.
* Observe your pig’s eating habits so that you can make sure your pig is getting enough food and still keep waste to a minimum.
* Use a wall-mounted water bucket. This will keep your pigs dirty hooves out of the water and reduce spillage. A growing pig can guzzle 3 gallons of water a day so make sure your pig has a fresh supply at all times.

Your pig is a simple creature and only needs a simple house. But make sure it’s sturdy because pigs like to push and prod and could knock their home down. (And don’t forget about the big, bad wolf, his huffing and puffing is sure to knock down any shoddily built house.)

All your pig needs is a 3-sided shed, approximately 8 x 6 feet, 5 feet high in front, 3 feet high in the rear, with a tar-paper roof. Leave the front open (to let the smell out) and build it in a shaded area to keep your piggy cool in the summer.

Pigs love to roam and forage and keep their snout to the ground. They are also known to be expert escape artists. This means that any fence will need to be well-constructed at ground level to keep your sneaky pig in otherwise your neighbor may be the one dining on free-range pork.

Once your pig is big enough to eat, it is probably easiest to get a professional to slaughter your pig for you. Your feed dealer will know someone who can dress your pigs, smoke the hams, bacon, make sausage, hog’s head cheese, liverwurst, mmmm…. Or if you are feeling adventurous you can do your own curing and smoking once the pig has been slaughtered and dressed. (Refer back to Makin’ Bacon)

It is also an option to slaughter your own pig but make sure to do it when the weather is cool. You don’t want the pig to freeze so 40 – 50 degrees is the perfect temperature for pig killing. Then hang the carcass for at least 24 hours to ensure all of the pig’s body heat has dissipated.

The final thing to remember is that your pig is not your pet; you are raising it for food. Pigs can be fun and entertaining but don’t get too attached to it or you’ll never be able to enjoy the fresh bacon that you worked so hard to raise.