As I’m getting started with pigs, I was happy to discover Homegrown Pork: Humane, Healthful Techniques for Raising a Pig for Food by Sue Weaver, and I can’t imagine a more comprehensive guide to raising pigs. Not only is the book very well-organized and thorough, but it will certainly endear you to these intelligent and entertaining animals if you’re not already. In fact, Weaver calls pigs “the Einsteins of the farm animal world” explaining that they are so intelligent that they have been found to learn to use mirrors, work together to open gates, and even to play video games! Here’s a snapshot of some of the topics covered in the book:
- Pig history, physiology, and behavior
- Purchasing, handling, and raising pigs
- Housing, fencing, and equipment
- Health and feeding
- Slaughtering and processing options
- Recipes for using homegrown pork including curing, smoking, canning, and freezing pork, making homemade sausage, and rendering lard
How to Tame a Wary Pig
Weaver explains that it is important to spend lots of time with your pigs from the beginning so that they will be easier to handle. She shares the following tips for taming a pig which is wary of humans and teaching pigs to allow people to touch them.
- Put your pigs’ food down and sit near the pigs while they are eating so they get used to having people close by while they are eating. Sit still and make grunting noises. Do not stand up or they will run away. Move closer to your pigs each day until they do not seem bothered, and then gradually touch them.
- If the pig runs away when touched, then pull back your hand and wait until they come back for food. Keep reaching out until the pig allows you to touch them.
- Once the pig allows you to touch them, Weaver recommends teaching them to eat from your hand. She suggests that before mealtimes, you sit on a bucket and hold a handful of food near their eating trough. Once they eat from your hand then scratch their back and rub their tummy. (Editor’s note from Deborah: Many people do not recommend hand feeding pigs, especially before mealtime when it is really hungry, because it’s easy for a pig to accidentally bite you. I’ve heard too many stories of people losing fingers or needing stitches when hand feeding pigs. One reason I love my Guinea Hogs is that I don’t have to bribe them with food. It is easy to go from scratching behind their ears to their backs and ultimately giving them a belly rub. Hand-feeding is an unnecessary risk.)
Learn to Render Lard
Weaver includes many of her family recipes for using homegrown pork such as rendering lard from pork fat. Its important to know that pigs yield three different types of fat – leaf fat, fatback, and caul fat. This recipe calls for leaf fat which is found on the inside of the carcass around the kidneys, but you could use the same process to render other fat. Leaf fat is great for baking and should be rendered separately from the other types of fat, if you want to take advantage of its special properties. However, you can render all of the fat together, if you don’t want to bother with keeping it separate. This is a wet method of rendering lard. Deborah will be sharing her method of dry rendering next month.
Use a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker or Crock-Pot that reaches 260F.
You'll need the following tools:
- Fine-mesh cheesecloth
- Large stainless steel or glass bowl with pouring spout
- Slotted spoon
- Large-mouth, straight-sided glass canning jars with lids (must be freezer-safe jars if you plan to freeze the lard)
- 4 pounds finely chopped or ground leaf fat from the kidney area
- 1/4 cup water
- Turn Crock-Pot on low and add 1/4 cup of water and the leaf fat. Stir the mixture so it does not burn, but try not to open the lid too much to retain heat. Cook for 8-9 hours until it bubbles.
- Stir the fat and increase the temperature to high. Heat the mixture until it reaches 260F.
- Put strainer or colander (lined with cheesecloth) over the large bowl with the pour spout. Wearing oven mitts, pour the fat and cracklings (bits of crisped pork) into the strainer and let it sit.
- Pour the fat into canning jars and put on the lids. The lids will seal as the fat cools. When melted, the fat will be golden-brown. When the rendered leaf lard cools, it should be creamy white.
- Once the lard cools, refrigerate or freeze (if using freezer-safe jars).
Janie Hynson is an aspiring homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.