In the past, animals were seen to have two distinct phases of their lives: Growing the frame and Fattening. Animals would be raised in near starvation situations for years until it was time to put fat on, in which they would then be fed all the food they needed in order to reach the appropriate weight for slaughter. Because of this two phase method, cows often were three or four years old before placed on pasture of high enough quality to put on fat and two or three years for sheep. This two phase process was eventually combined into a quicker and more economical method of fattening the animal as it grew.
Start fattening pigs when they’re young
We recently bought some American Guinea Hogs, which were rescued originally. Evidently, the pigs were so thin that you could see their ribs. I wish I had pictures of this because I have never in my life seen a ribby pig. I own one of their piglets whom I raised from 8 weeks old. Hamlet was one of the first pigs I ever raised and I basically fed him as much as he wanted to eat. Hamlet is larger than both of his parents combined. Not only does he have more fat than them (I actually had to put him on a diet), but his skeletal frame itself is significantly larger. This is important because it means that he can also grow more meat on those bones.
A 100 lb pig, on average, requires 2 lbs of food daily to keep it alive so that if it lives 6 months longer than is needed for it to reach butchering age, it has wasted 300 lbs of feed. Additionally, nature seems to have designed animals so that both growing the frame as well as putting on the meat and fat worked best when done together. An animal that is provided with high quality feed of enough quantity will be a larger framed animal than one that grows up eating poorly.
Pig Feeding Research
Attitudes towards feeding pigs really changed in the early 1900s with the World Wars. Food production had to be made more efficient and so many experiments were done to see the quickest and most efficient ways of growing a pig to slaughter.
- Ironically, although farmers used to (and some still do) believe that fattening was the last phase of a farm animal’s life, it has been shown that younger animals are able to convert feed into fat and meat quicker and more economically than older animals. A pig weighting about 275lbs live weight require nearly twice as much food to gain weight than pigs weighing 35 to 75 lbs.
- One experiment showed that if 10% of the pig’s grain was replaced with vegetables/fruits, growth rate didn’t slow. This could result in a significant savings when you grew your own garden or had leftovers from big meals.
- Another experiment showed that pigs grow significantly faster when fed a variety of food.
- A fourth experiment showed that a pig fed three times a day would put on weight faster than our traditional two times a day even when fed the same amount of food. We’ve always fed twice a day, but after studying up for this blog post, we are going to try our best to change to a three times a day regime.
If you raise pigs, what do you do to make sure they are nice and plump by the time they go to slaughter?