Within this article we hope to run you through the real basics of bacon. How to raise pigs holistically, a summary of butchering, curing the ham and bacon, and finally how to smoke it (we even have another Instructable on how to build a smoker). Admittedly, this isn't for everyone, but the quality of meat you get from happy, healthy, pastured pigs is unsurpassed. If you don't have the space and resources to raise a pig yourself, it pays to get in touch with someone locally who can, or organize a pig-share.
Unfortunately, all our photos of smoked meat, seem to be of the shoulder or of hams. Sorry, you'll just have to think bacon when you see them!
For more information on raising and processing pigs, click here.
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Step 1: Pig Facts
- The size of a litter varies with each sow, her age and breed playing a big role. But let's say the average is 8 piglets. Of those 8, there will normally be a runt (which will always be on the smaller side and is best to avoid buying if you can) and a couple of extra big ones. The latter is what you want ideally when buying a piglet to raise.
- Any pig will produce bacon, but a Landrace is usually longer than most breeds and thus will produce more bacon. It is also a fast growing breed.
- Piglets are usually weaned between 4 and 6 weeks, and this is when they are sold to people to feed up. Prices for a feeder pig vary according to your location. Near us, they sell for about $40.
- The perfect butcher size for a Landrace is about 240 lbs, which will give you about 150 lbs meat. A healthy animal on a good diet can achieve this weight at 6 months old, so 4 1/2 months after purchasing a Feeder pig.
- If you have to buy all the pig's food (no pasture, kitchen scraps, etc.) you will need between 650 and 750 lbs of feed, costing roughly $150. This puts the cost of your meat at about $1.30 a pound, for all kinds of different cuts.
- Pigs are omnivores, which means they eat a large variety of food, including grass, weeds, vegetables, grains, all sorts of kitchen scraps, any slaughter wastes from other animals (like poultry or rabbits). To grow well, they need a fairly high percentage of protein in their diet. So if you can't give them something like slaughter waste or meat scraps, give them a high protein plant like soy. For one or two feeder pigs, you can supplement their food considerably by picking weeds for them and giving them scraps. This will bring down the cost of raising them, and pigs love the variety.
- Pigs are easy to house. They don't need much shelter really, except when they're small or about to give birth. They do however get sunburned, so shade is absolutely essential. Rain isn't much of a problem - our pigs always run out in the rain to play in the mud.
- Pigs can't climb, so you don't need to make your fencing very tall. We use a three-strand electric fence, which they respect very well once they learn what it is. Pigs are very intelligent and usually learn fast.