In this week’s column, rancher David Zirnhelt examines the benefits, and the pleasures, of raising pigs on the ranch. (Black Press photo)

COLUMNS: The many joys of keeping pigs on the ranch

Early in our ranching career many of our neighbours had pigs, often two: one for ourselves and one for sale which paid the purchased feed costs.

We all had beef, but then that is the business we are in. But the pigs were like gardening. Raising your own food can be a lot of fun and contribute to our healthfulness.

When it comes to higher life forms — sentient beings — moral questions are raised about keeping animals for human food.

In this day and age of consumers who are concerned about the welfare of animals in the food chain, we all have to be aware of animal welfare.

Read more: Fall time means herd management through pregnancy testing in the Cariboo

In 2016, a guru of mixed farming and grazing, Joel Salatin (now the editor of the Stockman’s Grassfarmer), released a book called The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs. The subtitle is “Respecting and Caring for all God’s Creations.”

Joel wears his brand of Christianity on his sleeve and he backs up his philosophy of care for pigs with plenty of quotes from the Bible.

Notwithstanding that Muslims and Jews, (even some Christians) don’t eat pork, this book reminds us the ethical side of stewarding the earth and all its creatures, especially pigs which is a major food source the world over.

I remind readers that in many parts of the world, Great Britain, Europe and Eastern America, pigs feed and finish themselves on acorns, the fruit of oak trees. Pigs can crunch the fallen nuts and thus not rely on grain and other feedstuffs.

However, in some confinement, yet with lots of land to roam, pastured pigs like to root with their noses and find feed in the topsoil or in the plants growing on the surface.

We have recently found success with growing a few acres of barley and field peas together and allowing the direct grazing of these immature and mature plants in order to entertain and give nutrition to the pigs.

The flavour of the pork is superior and there is a significant saving on the purchased grain needed to finish the pigs. Needless to say, they seem very happy to be turned out into these small pastures a bit at a time.

Typically, the last month of the growth of the pigs is on the mature peas and barley. We use two strand and one strand electric fence to keep the pigs in and, it seems, the predators out of the pen. Once we repelled a cougar which was stalking the piglets with the electric fence.

Read more: Prices and costs a balancing act in the ranching industry

We first put the pigs into a panel fenced pen and put a training electric fence inside between the pig house and the feed trough so they learn to avoid the electric wires. Should they run through it as they often do, if only once they get a shock, then avoid it.

Our pig pastures are up to one acre each which we subdivide to allow strip grazing of the pasture and the planted crop of peas and barley.

Happy pigs I say, and just the way creation meant it to be.

I caution pig owners about blaspheming the pigs when they escape, as it is usually our own ineptitude that allows that to happen!

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.


Do you have a comment about this story? email:

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Sentencing of Guy Smith set for Dec. 14 in death of Gary Price

A sentencing date for Guy William Smith has been set for Dec. 14 in Williams Lake Supreme Court

VIDEO: Retired Williams Lake couple combine exercise with keeping the road litter free

Roger and Sylvia Hlina can be seen with garbage bag in hand on any given day of the week

Falcons cross-country runners get zone, provincial experience

The Lake City Falcons cross-country running was busy getting its paces in this fall

Williams Lake Bantam Female T-wolves claw to silver at Kamloops rep tourney

Timberwolves win silver at Kamloops Bantam Female Rep Tournament

$50k fine and community service for Vancouver Island tax evader

David Gonyea was given a nine-month conditional sentence

B.C. fire chief learns from California fires

Chief Travis Whiting and Kelowna Fire Department learn from the devasting U.S. fires

1st Indigenous woman to start Canadian airline looks to B.C.’s remote regions

Teara Fraser is the first Indigenous woman in Canada to start her own airline, called Iskwew Air

Prosecutors appeal B.C. cops’ acquittal of sex assault charges in Cuba

Port Moody’ Const. Jordan Long and Vancouver’s Const. Mark Simms were acquitted last week

Examine ‘monstrous’ allegations of forced sterilization of Indigenous women: NDP

The issue of forced sterilizations will also be raised at the UN Committee Against Torture

Canada Post ‘cooling off’ period won’t resolve postal dispute, says CUPW

CUPW national president Mike Palecek says the union isn’t holding rotating strikes to harm the public

Calgary city council votes to shut down bid for 2026 Winter Games

More than half of those who went to the polls voted ‘no’ to bidding for the games

Union offers support following B.C. mine death

Death of B.C. mine worker described as a wake up call for industry

Most Read