Raising Backyard Pigs: Coming Home

Posted on March 25th, 2012 by Tonia 29 Comments

Mike and I paid a visit to Maple Hill Farm this weekend. Maple Hill is a local hog farm that grows most of their own pig feed.

They do a phenomenal job caring for their animals- the quality of life those pigs have is very high- and producing the most delicious product I have ever eaten. Their bacon……holy {bleeeeeep}. Ahem. Anyway, we went there to pick up two young feeder pigs from their recent farrow.

It was a rainy day, and the pigs were loving it. You know the expression “happy as pigs in poop”? Well I have seen something even happier: pigs in poop after a good rain.

We walked around the farm enjoying the happy grunts of the hogs and chatting with Matt, the second generation of farmer-owner of Maple Hill. He filled us in on what we needed to know in order to keep our piglets alive and happy.

Piglets enjoying breakfast in their nice warm manger.

Checking out the sauna {maple syrup being cooked down under the porch roof}.

Matt bottle-feeding a runt.

Inside the farrowing barn, I caught this little video clip of a big sow nursing her piglets:

We picked out two weanlings and Matt hoisted them into the back of the truck.

We only live a few miles away, so they had a very quick trip.

Unloading them into their new home.

All settled in!

They seem to love being on pasture, and at night they snuggle down into a thick bed of hay in one of the stalls of the barn. They’re pretty darn cute at this point…they weight 60-70 lbs and should reach 220 lbs {optimal weight for taste} by the end of June. It’s a short life, but we’re going to make sure it’s a happy one.


  1. Cristy says:

    These beautiful creatures deserve a full life, free from slaughter. Please don’t kill them just for a “tasty treat”. I love your blog and believe you love animals. I’ve read about your love of your dogs and how much you care for nature. Pigs are sentient creatures who feel pain and experience fear. Please don’t kill them. Please let them live out their happy lives naturally. Please show mercy and compassion.

  2. Raechel says:

    What breed of pig is this? Is there a reason you picked this breed?

  3. I’m a vegetarian but I’m pragmatic about it (I used to live by Lake Malawi so I ate the fresh fish that was brought to my door by the local fishermen and recently for health reasons I’ve started eating more fish and less dairy products). I don’t eat pork but I am happy that the restaurant almost next door to me sells meat from the pigs that are raised at the local city farm. It would be nice to think that all pigs would live a long life free from slaughter but I don’t think it’s realistic to think that and better pork from a happy pig than the alternative. I hope your pigs enjoy their lives with you and I’m sure they’ll taste better for having being happy.

  4. Susan says:

    So… do you eat your horses and dogs as a tasty treat when you’re through with them too?

  5. Mike says:

    Raechel, the breed of pig is a Red Wattle/Hereford cross. They are great foragers, relying heavily on pasture, roots, vegetable cuttings, acorns, etc. This reduces dependency on feed mills and all of the negatives that come along with mainstream big-ag.

    Everyone makes their own choices about what they eat. Our decision is to eat meat, eggs, milk, etc. We do our best to grow nearly everything we eat or source it locally, feed the animals from crops we grow ourselves or procure locally, and have an Itty Bitty Impact on the earth.

    A vegetarian/vegan lifestyle fits great for some people, and it is your prerogative. In this northern climate, these diets require foods traveling 1000s of miles, ultimately reduced to things that are nothing less than a manufactured sustenance, not real food.

    I would challenge anyone to trace the food you eat (all of it) back to its source and quantify the damage it causes along the way. We have found that the right choice for us is to eat real food as close to home as possible.


  6. Hannah Lynne says:

    Very well said, Mike. One thing that should be remembered is to respect others and their decisions. You and Tonia have chosen the best path for you and your lifestyle, and are very responsible in those decisions. Good luck on a your new agricultural adventure!

  7. Caitlyn says:

    nice piggies! Hope we get to meet them before the big day. Very entertained by the previous comments.

  8. Cristy says:

    I have loved your blog for almost a year now. Love. I so admire the way you live your lives, so close to nature. Growing your own vegetables and fruits, making such great ties within the community. And all of the posts about the puppies! It is inspiring. It is a lifestyle that makes sense to me.

    But raising sentient animals just to kill and eat them is missing the compassion that I know from your blog. The next several months these beautiful animals will grow to love you and trust you, only to have that trust betrayed in the end. So I’ll choose to focus on the parts of your blog about compassion and love, about nature. That is what I will choose to remember. 

    I also live in Wisconsin (central), so I know how difficult it is to maintain a veg lifestyle. I am learning new things everyday (such as creating a year-round greenhouse to grow food year-round), and I am not perfect. But I am doing the best I can every day. Compromises are made, but for my love of animals and myself. I understand you have chosen to take a different path. And I will keep you and your beautiful little pigs (and puppies and horses) in my thoughts.

    If you are interested in a veg lifestyle, I recommend listening to Vegetarian Food for Thought by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (free on iTunes and her website). She is a great resource for vegetarianism and compassion for both animals and humans.

    “May their hearts be filled with compassion. May my heart remain open so it may open theirs.” – Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

  9. Amber says:

    Oh I so wish I had the ability to do this. To know exactly where my food is from what it has been fed and so on. Have you done this before or is this your first round with pigs? I’m excited to see how it goes.

    We do have the ability to work with a local farmer for our beef so that is good.

    As for some of the comments on this post I greatly respect your response and am excited that you seem to be ‘living up to the people i’ve imagined.’ 😉

    Have a great day!

  10. Kendra says:

    I’m really glad you guys (Mike and Tonia) are willing to engage in the serious discussion of the choices, politics, realities and emotions of food. I enjoy and appreciate your blog, and I’m looking forward to future posts about the full experience of raising pigs to eat. My family raised poultry for food as I grew up, and I’m interested in a more thoughtful and conscious discussion about it than we ever had. Pigs are smart and funny creatures, and I don’t imagine that living with them even for a few months lends itself to light hearts or decisions when it comes time to slaughter. Thanks again for all your posts!

  11. Tonia says:

    That’s exactly it, Kendra. It is NOT going to be easy for us to watch these pigs grow, tend to them daily, and then butcher them. But we have decided that, as omnivores, we need to experience this process in order to fully appreciate what “eating meat” really entails.

    This is the first time we’re raising animals for food ourselves. We don’t intend to offend anyone by sharing this process on the blog, but we have never pretended to be vegetarians or vegans…I have posted many times about how grateful we are to live nearby several free-range, organic farms that we buy our meat, eggs and dairy from. The only difference now is that the pigs are in our own care instead of down the road at the hog farm. We will update as we go…

  12. Bob says:


  13. Danny says:

    I think that the most compassionate and responsible way to be a consumer of meat is to experience the raising and the caring and the butchering. As someone who has known the both of you for a long time (as well as your dogs who live in nirvana everyday of their lives), I know that your pigs are going to lead long, happy, full lives. Much better lives than the ones they would have in any conventional farm where most of our pork comes from. I think one of the most cruel parts of eating meat is not having a personal connection with the animals you are eating. What you eat is your choice. While I definitely believe that it is reasonable to help others make better decisions about their eating habits, I find that there is often a contradiction in the vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

  14. Kay Kay says:

    I can say that I couldnt do this because I would name them and then cry hysterically when they were butchered, but thats me. I find it intriguing though! To each their own.
    I dont think that Tonia and Mike push anyone to do anything; they share their knowledge about how they choose to live and we choose to read about it. If you choose to be veg than great for you; but I find it inappropriate to make negative comments to people that are trying nothing more than to give us tips on how to make a smaller impact on our environment. If everyone lived the same way and did the same thing – the world would be a pretty boring place now wouldnt it? (AND before anyone reads more into that – i dont mean that in a “I think WAR is awesome and criminals should keep up the good work” kind of way)

  15. Trish says:

    I think what you are doing is very courageous – you obviously love animals, and to participate in the life of an animal you will ultimately consume takes more guts than most people who are carnivores.

    As for the issue of slaughter and consumption, and those who argue against it, there is so much that is wrong in the world, and I think it is difficult for anyone to lead a blameless life. Many of our consumer goods are made by people who have a terrible existence. Oil companies have done horrible things in African countries to gain access to oil fields. I just think it is important to live as compassionately as you can, and to not pass judgment on the lives of others who are clearly trying to do the same.

  16. Marc says:

    Last month was my first visit to a small local farm. We spent a lot of time with the animals. I plan to have my own chickens soon.

    I’m quite jealous of your set up and think the pigs are a great addition. Keep us updated!

  17. amanda mae says:

    I admire what you are doing! You are raising animals responsibly, you know where your food comes from, you have a connection to your food that most people do not.

    I do not think people should judge you for eating meat. If someone chooses to eat meat this is the most humane, responsible way to do it!. GOOD FOR YOU GUYS!

  18. Amanda S says:

    Wow! I was going to ask a question about your choice in raising and then butchering the Pigs- but I see several people have already beat me to it!

    My question was primarily regarding *how* you can raise them, butcher them, and then eat them too- is there a certain amount of emotion that you have to set aside or ignore?

    I eat meat, myself. But I also have an extremely huge compassion for animals. Personally, there would be no way I could take on this process. At the same time, I know that you will carry on humanely, as someone else mentioned. And I find peace in that.

  19. Tonia says:

    For me, there is much more emotion I have to set aside in order to eat factory-raised-and-butchered meat. The conditions are insanely terrible in those slaughter houses. I can’t stomach thinking about those poor animals. Raising an animal in our own yard and then butchering it as quickly and painlessly as possible is infinitely more humane than how the factory farms do it. I feel better about this, not worse. However- it will NOT be easy to watch the pigs die. I’m not sure how I will feel or how I’ll handle it. We may decide to never do this again. We may decide we no longer want to eat pork products. We may decide it was a good experience. We shall see.

  20. Amanda S says:

    You bring a really good argument there. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Thanks for sharing- gives me something to contemplate.

    Goodluck in this process!

  21. Kendra says:

    I agree. When and if one has the means to raise our own animals to eat, it can be a much more humane and connected process all down the line. It honestly bothers me a bit when people say they enjoy eating meat but would never want to or be able to participate in the very act that brings the meat to the table. Again, thanks for sharing this process with us. I really appreciate your thoughtful discussion on the topic. As a former vegan and present mostly vegetarian, I would prefer to only eat meat from a source I feel good about. That means I can’t afford to eat much meat–and that’s great for me. It’s better for my health and better environmentally.

  22. Angie says:

    Yo! I’m late to the discussion but wanted to throw this out there: As a long-time vegan I have so much more respect for you and Mike and your approach to eating meat than the “I don’t want to know where my food comes from” omnivore. I think it takes a lot of guts to go through with this… too much guts for me (pun not intended), which is why I choose a vegan lifestyle. Thanks for such an honest discussion on such a touchy subject!

  23. Jared says:

    Mike and Tonia – Thanks for fostering such a fruitful and spirited discussion. I would just echo a number of things that have already been said; namely, that choosing to know and care for the food that will sustain you is a deeply courageous and equitable project. Having a personal investment in our food, our land, our animals, reflects the kind of ecological relationships we were intended for, and it makes for an attitude of gratefulness and blessing. I don’t have much appreciation for the wieners I threw in my shopping cart at the market (or the garbanzo beans if I’m a vegan); but when I have toiled in the mud alongside pigs and chickens, I learn to see my food as a gift from the Creator, the Giver of Life.

  24. Tonia says:

    Jared- Thank you. So well said. We had the opportunity last year to feel that way about the vegetables we grew and ate. And now we’re pursuing that same experience with the meat we eat.

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  27. Mandi says:

    These pigs are beautiful! My family and I mostly raise Yorkshire’s and Hampshire’s for meat and breeding (along with a few potbellies for pet fun lol). I can’t wait to start branching out with more breeds though! We have a small hobby farm with pigs, calves, chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, goats, sheep and lambs. I wanted to not only comment on Your set up being amazing and how much I love and appreciate how you choose to raise your pigs for a healthy and happy life.
    To all those making inconsiderate comments regarding the slaughter of [these] pigs (or any common meat animal for that matter), I feel that you are being very rude, inconsiderate, uneducated, biased and down right ignorant.
    First of all, man was not created to be vegetarian. If you are, that’s great, I have no qualms or biased opinion regarding a vegetarians lifestyle and respect that choice. You should have the same consideration regarding those who choose to eat meatthough. Secondly, I can almost guarantee that those “vegetarians” claiming so are also the same ppl not growing their own organic foods, using animal tested make up and other products, feeding their pets a store bought gmo feed… Etc…
    I am a meat eater. But I raise my animals organically on feed I grow myself that’s non GMO, I care for and love my animals and have a very special appreciation for the meat, milk and products they produce and provide to my family. We waste nothing and even use “spare parts” for coming, pet treats, etc. We grow our own organic garden, make my own cleaning supplies, cloth diaper, cloth tp and unpaper towels, wool dryer balls and so on so forth.
    It is inconsiderate and ignorant for those of you making these comments when I can almost guarantee that none of you are taking these steps to assure a better and healthier lifestyle for you and your family. You simply choose to eat a ” vegetarian” diet (most likely not in season and GMO)) and choose to put down those of us living a clean and honest lifestyle.
    If you don’t eat meat. That’s fine. But please do not be so inconsiderate and ignorant to those of us who do…

  28. Mandi says:

    And Yes, ALL of animals are named, have their own special personalities, and I love and appreciate them all. It is never easy to butcher something so close to the heart (especially when my pigs give me “kisses” every day lol)… But it is a natural process… The circle of life.

  29. Pamela says:

    Just wanted to commend “Christy’s comments…. She is so right…. We need a new paradigm change posthaste… These are sentient creatures that learn and grow and trust and then get killed for human false satiety and greed. change to not kill the animals…. the unfortunate sacrificial pigs…. I changed so can you!!! This world is too populated to eat flesh anymore….. save the environment, the world by being going vegan!!!!

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