As a pig farmer who talks to people about what I do, there are common questions I am asked about pigs. I have compiled a list of 12 frequently asked questions about pigs.
1. How many pigs are raised in the U.S. and which states produce the most pigs?
In 2013, there were over 120,000,000 pigs raised on over 73,000 pig farms. Iowa is the top pork-producing state with North Carolina and Minnesota following. Here is a picture of the U.S. and where the majority of pigs are raised.
2. What is the gestation period of a sow and how many piglets does she have?
The gestation period for a sow is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. Sows typically average 10-14 pigs per litter.
3. What do piglets weigh when they are born? How old are pigs when they are weaned? And what do they weigh?
Pigs are about 3 pounds when they are born and are typically weaned at about 3 weeks where they weigh about 13-14 pounds.
4. How much does a pig weigh when it goes to market and how long does it them to grow to market weight?
A typical market pig weighs about 270-280 pounds. It takes about 5 1/2 – 6 months from birth to market. Most people are amazed at how fast they grow.
5. Are pigs given hormones?
No. It is illegal to give pigs hormones for growth promotant. Period.
6. Are pigs given antibiotics?
Pigs are only given antibiotics when necessary. Farmers follow strict antibiotic withdrawal periods before pigs go to market which results in all pork sold is antibiotic-free. Check out this article for more in-depth information about antibiotic usage in livestock.
7. What do pigs eat?
Most farmers feed a diet of corn and soybeans to pigs. Approximately 95% of what they eat are these two ingredients. On our farm, the corn we feed is the corn we raise. The soybean portion comes in the form of soybean meal, which is processed at a nearby soybean processing plant. The soybeans they process come from local farms. The rest of the diet are minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients.
8. Are pigs raised in factory farms?
No, pigs are raised by family farms. Over 97% of pig farms are family farms. The word “factory farm” is only used by those who are against modern agriculture advances. Pigs are typically raised indoors for many reasons such as biosecurity, climate control, better feed and water management, and better health monitoring and care.
9. How many pigs are raised on a corporate farm?
Again, 97% of pig farms are raised by families. Yes, some are large and some are small. The word “corporate farm” is confusing because many family farms are incorporated for legal and business reasons, but the day-to-day care and management of farms are managed just like any other family farm.
10. Are pigs healthier when raised outdoors?
There is no perfect pig housing. All systems have both positive and negative components. What is most important is the animal husbandry or how well they are taken care of. Farmers raise pigs the way they know best based on knowledge, expertise, environmental, market, and financial resources. What works best for one farmer does not always work the same way for another farmer.
11. Is raising pigs sustainable?
Yes. Raising pigs really have a very interesting sustainability story. Starting with the pig’s waste. The waste (or manure) goes into either 8′ cement pits or lagoons, all of which are regulated. Manure is a valuable nutrient replacement when applied to cropland. Manure plans are required so the proper amount of manure is applied to cropland. And commonsense says it’s to the farmer’s advantage to not apply too much manure (which is wasting valuable nutrients) or too little (shorting next years crop nutrients). When you think about it, recycling the pig’s manure really is the ultimate recycling program. The manure goes onto cropland to help grow corn, which is used to feed the animals.
In addition, other ways raising pork is sustainable is by the industry’s research and preparation of foreign animal diseases and other swine health issues so we can continue raising pigs. Also, PQA+ and TQA certification programs for individual farmers and employees are important so we can all stay abreast new technologies and new research in best animal care practices.
12. What other by-products come from pigs?
Pig heart valves are used in humans. 1971 was the first year a pig valve was used in a human. Also included are insulin, suede for shoes and clothing, and gelatin for foods and non-food uses. Swine by-products are also important parts of products such as water filters, insulation, rubber, antifreeze, certain plastics, floor waxes, crayons, chalk, pharmaceuticals, adhesives and fertilizer (USDA, 2012). Lard is fat from pig abdomens and is used in shaving creams, soaps, make-up, baked goods, and other foods.