Animal Care With 4H Pigs

My children are in 4H.  They are part of a couple of 4H clubs.  One club specializes in learning about raising various farm animals.  We joined the club about seven months ago, and so far the kids have been in workshops learning about chickens, turkeys, cows, goats, pigs, and sheep, and have been to several farms.  They also participated in a chicken hatching project.

The kids chose to raise turkeys to show in the fair this year.  I posted a story a while back about the chickens.  You can read all our 4H stories here  and will post a story soon about the turkeys.

But along side the turkeys that our children are raising, are these curious pigs that some of the other children in our 4H club are raising to show in the upcoming fair too.  My children are learning about pigs even as they care for their turkeys. 



Basic care of the pigs my children have learned:
feeding and watering
providing a safe pen and special fencing from predators
providing water and mud to play in
providing shade

Additional “pig” things the children did not see were castrating, tagging, and vaccines.  (However, they did help castrate, dehorn, trim hooves, and vaccinate goats).


These pigs have this wonderful hog house and shaded arbor in their large pen.   Their feeders are housed in this hog house and the pigs just eat whenever they are hungry. 



The pigs root around in the dirt and mud looking for roots and insects to eat too.  Pigs will eat just about anything.  They even forage through poop to find undigested food to re-use/re-eat.



Their fence is made of welded panels, and has a secondary fence of electric fence to keep the pigs and predators from climbing on the fence. 

The two year old learned real fast that when we say “don’t touch the fence because it will shock your hand”, it really does shock your hand.  Why is it that kids want to push the limits and learn it for themselves instead of taking your word for it?



The pigs love bathing in muddy water and in mud.  Here they climbed into a water trough to soak in the muddy water.  We watched several pigs repeat this same bath and the kids thought it was hilarious to take a bath to get muddy instead of taking a bath to get clean.



Pigs like to coat their bodies and faces in mud, to keep the sun from burning their skin.  They have a natural instinct to wear sunblock.





Growing Up

I raised pigs for several years growing up.  My dad loved farming and especially loved pig farming.  I enjoyed farming too, but not so much farming pigs.   We had 350 head of hogs in the early 80’s and it was a big job for my brother, sister, and for me to take care of. 

I know that my dad enjoyed raising hogs in part because they were an inexpensive source of food, had large litters, and were quick to raise to send to market.  Compared to a cow, pigs offered a short return on your investment.   Cows are expensive to buy, and could take up to five years to get your investment back.   The cow needs to be about 2 years old to breed her.  Then it takes 10 months for her to calf.  If she is a dairy cow, then you start milking her everyday twice a day.  If she is a beef cow, you might leave her calf on to nurse for 4 to six months.  Then the calf needs lots of green grass and hay every day.   Many farmers also feed the calf grain everyday.   It could take18 months to butcher a male calf, or  24 months to raise a female calf until it is ready to breed.  It is a slow process.

When it comes to pigs, multiplication is definitely the word.  One mama sow can easily have 12 to14 baby piglets or more.  We almost always averaged 14 babies per litter.  And the sow can have babies three times a year.   You can market her piglets at any time.  They are typically weaned by two months of age.  There are weight categories that bring high dollar per pound too.  So for my dad, it was a no brainer.  Raising pigs on an 80 acre piece of land, had unlimited potential.  We had a small herd of cows, and a very large herd of pigs.

My dad drove a semi truck cross country and was typically gone for 3 weeks at a time.  So it was up to us kids to keep the farm running smoothly until his return.  He was home for 2 or 3 days, and we would mend fences, and do big jobs while he was home, like butcher a hog for the freezer, castrate the young males, or haul a bunch to market.  Then dad was back on the road again.

While dad was away, we fed and watered the animals twice a day.  The animals in the barn also had their pens cleaned and re-bedded twice a day.  We had to walk the fence line twice a day and check that no pigs had escaped.   Once a week, I drove a tractor and wagon to town and filled a large water barrel with 2,000+ gallons of water.  Then I drove it back to the farm and filled a cistern just up the hill from the barn.  Both the animals and my family used the water.  The water was pumped from the cistern with a simple syphon pump and then gravity helped it build pressure as it flowed down hill to the location we were using it.

Once a week, we also went to town and filled the back of our pickup truck with feed for the animals.  We went to a grain elevator and had them ground corn and a vitamin supplement together to make the feed.  We totally filled the truck bed with this and then covered it with a large tarp.  Once we got home, we unloaded the truck with feed buckets and shovels.  My brother would climb into the large hog feeders, and my sister and I would work the loose ground feed in the truck into buckets and hand them to my brother to be dumped.  Any feed we did not put in the feeders, we stored in the barn in 55 gallon drums, to feed other animals that did not have the automatic feeders.  

Every morning chores started by 4:30 am and again by 4:30 pm in the barn.  I woke every morning, put on my chore clothes, grabbed a flash light and a milk pail and was out the door.   At least once or twice a week,  I was greeted by a racoon or a possum trying to eat the feed we
stored in the barn.  My brother usually killed the animal that had crawled down into the 55 gallon drums we stored the feed in.  More than once I was almost bitten by these critters gorging themselves in our storage bins. 

Life was hard.  Let me repeat that.  LIFE WAS HARD!  Besides taking care of the pigs, we also cared for beef cows, milked a cow, raised chickens for meat and eggs, raised a few rabbits, lots of cats, and a dog.  We also raised two huge gardens which we canned and froze the harvest that wasn’t eaten right away, raised fields of wheat for grain and straw, and we raised hay for animal feed.  Three times a year we baled hay and loaded it on wagons, then unloaded it in the barn.  Once a year we planted wheat, harvested wheat, and baled wheat straw.  Along with the hay for feed, we stored the bales of straw in the barn and used it for animal bedding.   It was a lot of chores, twice a day everyday.  When we got back inside, and after our school work was done, we had inside chores to do too.  Make the meal, set table, wash dishes by hand, clean floors, wash laundry, hang laundry on the clothes line, fold and put away laundry, dust, vacuum, clean bathrooms, etc.  

It amazes me when I hear kids complain they have it hard just because they are asked to step away from the computer and set the table or sweep the floor.  If they only knew what it really means to have it hard, they wouldn’t complain.  Instead, we spoil our kids with TV, computers, and toys.  Yes, I am guilty of doing this too.  My kids knew life on the farm until 2008.  They were young, but they loved the farm.   But by any measure, they barely had chores.  They gathered eggs and filled the chicken waterers and fed the dog and cats.  My husband and I did all of the other chores in addition to running our business too.  Neither of us wanted the children to know the heavy burden of chores that we ourselves knew as young people.  We also watched our Amish friends and neighbors whose children bore the majority of the chores on the farms.  Amish children’s lives resemble very closely the way my life was during part of my childhood.  I am sure this is one of the many reasons the Amish people were such a special population for us to minister too.   But this also just reinforced for us, that though there is some value in having farm chores while raising children, there is a line where the amount of work should not be excessive.  There needs to be a healthy balance. 

Now, in our subdivision home, our kids take care of our dogs (feeding, watering, and walking) and a rabbit.  They also have daily household chores of laundry, vaccuming, and setting the table.  Occasionally they help sweep the kitchen floor and do dishes.  They are getting older now, and we are in the process of establishing more chores and routine, but given my own past of feeling over burdened as a kid, and over the years seeing Amish children who spend 95% of their lives working the chores, I have been reluctant to pile on too much. 

I am looking forward to implementing a new chore system and having the children helping more with dishes, as I am in my seventh month of pregnancy and needing the additional help.  My dishwasher broke a year ago, and I have not had the money yet to replace it.  So it is a lot of work to wash dishes by hand for 7 family members.   The kids dread dishes and I struggle to ask them or make them do it.  Isn’t that sad?  If the dishwasher was working, I would expect them to take on this chore.  But with it broke, and washing for this many people, I have hesitated to implement this.   I recently read an article that having two of them who are squabbling wash the dishes together as a team is beneficial for several reasons.   I plan to implement this on the next squabble too.

I hope to get a new chore chart hung up soon and implement a new and improved chore and reward system.  I have one in mind, but it takes ink to print and money and effort to laminate and cut apart, and then set it all up.  So it is on my to do list.  I plan to post a story soon about the system we currently use, even though I am not happy with it, and also post a story about the new chore system when I get it implemented.

My husband and I miss our farm we left in Indiana a couple of years ago to move to the mountains of North Carolina.    We raised cattle, sheep, goats, horses, chickens, cats and dogs.  We also raised a large garden and hay.  We sold our meat, eggs, produce and also organic groceries in a store we had on our farm.  Our oldest child is now 11 years old.  He was 8 years old when we moved.  We miss the benefits of living on a farm in regards to raising our children, raising fresh food, and enjoying the beauty of the farm we had.




4H

Caring for animals is one of the reasons we were drawn to the 4H club that teaches how to raise farm animals.  I believe having chores, and also raising an animal, teaches so much more than just feeding and watering.   Having a responsibility and caring for an animal that depends on you is an important element in character development.  Raising a farm animal, and taking it to market for food (or to the fair), is an added bonus of learning about business and marketing and raising food.  These are such good qualities to learn. 

For example, look at King David in the bible.  He spent his youth caring for sheep. Eventually he cared for millions of people and his son Solomon became the richest and wisest king who ever lived.   Joseph was also raised as a shepard and learned the business side of farming too.  He went on to save two countries from starvation, cared for millions of people, and was the second most powerful man in the world during the time he lived.  Moses, went from being a prince and living in the Pharaoh’s palace, to raising sheep in the desert for 40 years before God used him to lead over millions of people out of Egypt and then help them survive another 40 years in the desert.  And the stories go on and on.  But raising animals had a huge impact on each of these amazing people’s character. 

We don’t have a farm any more, but 4H offers us an opportunity to give a piece of this training to our children.  Thankfully, we have some great volunteers in the 4H group, and they have let the children keep the animals at their place.  They have helped us by splitting some of the chores with the children too.  This has helped us as parents to be able to give this experience to the kids, but at the same time not feel over burdened by the constant load it requires to take care of a farm on a full time basis. 
 
I was the oldest child growing up, and the majority of the chores were my responsibility to be sure they were done, and done right.  I guess maybe that is why I didn’t enjoy caring for the pigs.  It was a huge job for a child.  They are very messy animals.  Some of our pigs would escape and it would take hours to catch them because sometimes they would travel all the way to a neighboring farm.  It was hard to move some of them to a different pen when it was time to breed them or sort them for market.  Some of them can be very stubborn and some can be dangerously mean.  Pigs are the happies
t covered in mud and they make the biggest messes with their poop.  The chore I hated the most was cleaning the poop out of their water troughs.  But the biggest reason I did not like raising pigs was the smell.  Yes the smell.  It never leaves.  And as a young teenage girl, with the smell of the farm lingering around and never being able to escape it, made me resent raising pigs.

But what I loved about raising pigs was watching the piglets from birth until they were grown.  They are so fun to watch.  They are full of mischief.  They run and play and are very curious about everything.  They squeal when they get into a predicament.  And they are funny!  I was the pig midwife on the farm.  I helped the sows during farrowing.  If they had trouble, I had to assist.  I also had to clean their farrowing pens twice a day.  It was a lot of work.  We usually had 12 sows farrowing at a time on our farm.  After farrowing, you had to make sure each piglet knew how to suckle at the teats to get milk.  If they couldn’t learn it, then they were bottle fed around the clock, another big responsibility.

My brother and I showed pigs in 4H.  This is when I really enjoyed raising our pigs the most.  Instead of just seeing myself as raising a large herd of random pigs,  I began to see the pigs as individuals with different personalities and special traits.   

I loved my 4H pigs, and especially loved a very special pig whom I spent a lot of time with.  I called her Mrs. Piggy.  She was a burnt red color on her back, with black spots on her white belly.  I chose her from birth and watched her grow into a 250 lb animal before fair time, but she was no-where near done growing by then.  Females, typically grow to 500 lb by the time they are mature and can continue to grow much larger.  Males, if allowed to grow, can easily reach over 1,200 lbs. 

Each day, when all the chores were done, my brother and I spent a lot of time playing with our 4H pigs.  We would often sit and rub their bellies just like a puppy dog.  We talked to them, sang to them, and trained them and this was a special time of learning and growing for of us. 

Even though I don’t want to farm pigs again, it is a part of my past and who I am.  I am glad I had the opportunity to learn this skill.  I am thankful 4H had a program then, and has one now that all children can experience raising animals.  I am glad my children are getting this wonderful learning opportunity.





Here are some websites to check out if you would like to learn more about raising pigs:


Basic 4H pig information
http://www.goats4h.com/Pigs.html


Swine Breeds with facts and pictures about them.
http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/swine/


PBS The Joy Of Pigs Video
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/the-joy-of-pigs/video-full-episode/5416/


Pig Coloring Pages
http://coloring.ws/pigs.htm


Pig Coloring and Activities
http://www.first-school.ws/theme/animals/cp_farm/cp_pig.htm


Pig and Farm Animal Coloring Pages
http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/farm_coloring_pages.htm


Pig Coloring Page
http://www.crayola.com/free-coloring-pages/print/pig-coloring-page/


 

Here are some websites to check out if you would like to learn more about 4H:


About 4H
http://www.4-h.org/about/


Find a local 4H office, clubs, and support
http://www.4-h.org/get-involved/find-4-h-clubs-camps-programs/




This post will be linked up with:
Science Sunday
No Time For Flash Cards
Raising Homemakers





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This entry was posted in 4H Clubs & 4H Activities & 4H Fairs, Animal Science, Family Fun, Pigs, Science on by .

About Melinda Weiser

I am a sinner, saved by grace. I am on a journey and offer to share my story with the hope that it will bless you. My one desire is to bring glory to my creator. I am a wife and the mother of 6 children, plus two in heaven. I enjoy homeschooling, research, teaching, homesteading, natural gardening, grass based farming, cooking, fresh raw milk, herbs, children, midwifery, and music. I am a writer, biblical mentor, and also work part time in the healthy foods and vitamin business www.weisernaturalfoods.com I have a BSW degree from Kansas State University, and trained professionally as a medical social worker, biblical counselor, tutor, and vocal performer. Thank you for stopping by to read about our homeschool and family life adventures. Be blessed!

5 thoughts on “Animal Care With 4H Pigs

  1. Ticia

    Okay I learned a lot about pigs and farming, being a city girl and all.

    I was in 4h as a kid, but we didn’t have small animals like that. A few of us raised rabbits, but that’s about it.

    Reply
  2. Weiser Academy

    As a child I lived in Kansas.  My grandparents owned an 80 acre farm and we moved there when I was 10 and took care of it like it was our own.  After college, my husband and I moved to Indiana and bought a farm and truly loved farming.

    Reply
  3. Marcia

    That was an amazing personal history! We have one pig and it’s been an education. I need to call you more tips! We’ve been trying to join the barnyard bandits group off and on for six months but I can’t seem to keep up with meetings. When and where are they at this time? Thanks

    Reply

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