There is no doubt that raising hogs is not for everyone. I doubt you would find many situations for the urban or suburban homesteader that would allow them to keep pigs. But for those of us with a bit of land outside of the city limits, there is no reason not to raise a hog or two. Still, people turn away from the idea of raising hogs because of the smell. I think that’s where the hog gets a bad rap. I’m not saying that it’s not a legitimate concern, but there are ways to reduce the smells associated with raising pigs.
First off, your livestock need room. The moment you start cramming animals into small areas of containment, you begin to increase the potential for foul odors. Over the years, commercial farming has proven this time and time again. If you’ve ever driven past a large cattle feed lot, you know exactly what I mean. The traditional rule of thumb for pasture space per animal is 1 acre/1000 lbs of animal weight. Growing up, my grandfather always told me to figure on one acre for every cow or horse you were running. Based on that ratio, you can figure on keeping three to five hogs per acre. A well fenced section of pasture (with hog panel or smaller size panels) can provide plenty of open space for your hogs. If you’ve ever had to deal with wild hogs, you know that hogs naturally love to roam and forage. Culturally, we’ve got this idea that hogs are supposed to be kept up in a confined space. But I assure you, hogs enjoy being able to move around.
Hogs also do just fine with open shelters (although your regional climate may require better winter quarters for your pigs). A hog’s main shelter needs are somewhere to get out of the sun and a way to keep the rain off of them. Of course you can make your hog shelter’s as fancy or as simple as you like. I’ve seen everything from simple A-frames to elaborate sheds. Figure on at least 20-25 square feet per hog (maybe a bit more if you have larger hogs). The one exception would be if you plan to farrow out a sow. That requires additional considerations that I hope to cover in a separate article.
Just like people, what you feed your hogs can affect how they smell. Eat a lot of garlic or curry and everyone around you is going to know about it. The same sort of logic holds true for hogs. Hogs are omnivores and will eat vegetables or meat. When I was a kid there was a hog farmer that made the rounds of all the school cafeterias for their scraps. I can only imagine how bad those hogs smelled. If you treat your hogs like porcine garbage disposals, they are going to smell like garbage disposals. I’m not saying you can’t feed them anything from the kitchen. There is certainly no harm in giving them vegetable scraps from your food preparation. But be aware that muscle protein can cause their manure to have a stronger odor.
Keeping your hogs well watered can also help with odors. With a constant source of fresh clean water, the hogs will be more likely to stay well hydrated. Concentrated urine will have a stronger ammonia smell, but if they have been drinking plenty, the urine will be naturally diluted and less likely to smell.
In the process of keeping livestock, there are times where it’s necessary to utilize antibiotics. In my opinion however, commercial animal husbandry has taken this to an extreme. Many commercial feeds contain low levels of antibiotics. To a commercial farmer who is cramming too many animals into tiny areas, maybe that makes sense. For the self sufficient homesteader, we just don’t need those prophylactic antibiotics. From an odor standpoint, those antibiotics certainly make the hog manure smell worse. From a bacterial standpoint, the constant exposure to low levels of antibiotics fosters resistance in some strains of bacteria. These antibiotic resistant bacteria then can cause trouble for both animals and humans. If your animals need antibiotics for an acute problem, by all means use them. But I urge to you seek out feeds that don’t contain medications.
By following these simple living space and feeding guidelines, you can raise hogs that break the stereotypical “stink like a pig” description. Hogs can be one of the easiest types of livestock to raise.
For more information about manure in general, check out Wikipedia’s page about Manure.