In a Wild Flock System, animals are provided adequate space, shelter and water and allowed to simply do their thing. The farmer or rancher does not pick who gets bred, or who breeds with whom, only who starts in the flock, and who gets eaten or sold. If your livestock would be capable of surviving on their own and raising their own offspring, they can work in a wild flock system. There are some "breeds" that naturally lend themselves to this, and there are some that wonít. Obviously if one were to capture wild animals and simply fence them with an environment adequate for survival, that would work, but is likely not going to be legal in most areas. Livestock can be purchased that are more wild than others. There is a technical difference between a breed and a landrace. Most people are unfamiliar with the term landrace, and so for ease of speech most will simply substitute the term "breed". At the risk of simplifying it to the point of mild inaccuracy, a landrace is basically a species or subspecies of feral animal that has been recaptured and bred as livestock. They therefore have much more "wild" in them. True "breeds" have been bred over several or many generations, usually to get to a particular appearance and are therefore more "inbred" than a landrace. As the degree of inbreeding goes up, so does the expression of potentially dangerous genetics. Obviously any real farmer is going to cull from the herd an animal with blatant physical mutations. However, modern farming and ranching techniques of selectively breeding for a particular growth rate or color etc. have magnified less obvious genetic flaws. They are breeding out survival instincts and parenting abilities. Any animal that requires routine antibiotics, or veterinary care to give birth, special exotic feeds, or canít raise its young without a human to be there, simply canít survive on its own and therefore wonít work in a Wild Flock system. If you start with a landrace, you will likely find it easier to get your animals to care for themselves. This reduces your workload, and frees you up for other tasks, like a day job. Wild Flock animals will tend to be happier and healthier, so you can save on veterinary bills. This reduces the long-term cost, and makes for greater efficiency, and better economics.
Pigs in general are relatively easy to breed back to wild. The general rule is that it takes three generations to get back to wild type. If you start with pigs of any breed or combination of breeds and cull for behavior rather than body size, color or conformation, you will wind up with your own particular farm pig. It is essential that pigs that neglect their litters, or attack their litters, be removed from the breeding program.
WHY RAISE YOUR OWN MEAT
Maybe you are afraid of the commercial food supply because of Mad Cow, Salmonella, terrorist poisonings, etc. Maybe you just like a farming lifestyle, and want your children to know the truth about where food comes from. Personally, I think if you are going to eat meat, you should at least once in a while take part in the raising and butchering, if only to keep the proper perspective. I have noticed my own children are a lot less wasteful with food, since we moved to the farm. For many a homesteader, the full sized animals are either inefficient or impractical.
ADVANTAGES OF SMALL STOCK
They cost less, often less than what many people pay for a pet.
They are easier to transport. You can use a plastic dog kennel in the back seat of a sedan.
They are easier to handle. You can pick them up.
They require less feed and land, so you could raise you own meat on only a few acres, which also means less fencing.
They are less of a risk of injury to you. They canít run over you.
They are easier to butcher. A single individual with no heavy equipment can be done in a few hours.
Meat storage is easier. Only butcher as you need meat, and sell excess live animals as they mature. You store the meat "on the hoof". This also reduces the need for electricity and freezer space. This is designed for self sufficiency first, and commercial markets second. If you cure your meat, smaller hams and cuts are less likely to go bad.
When your animals are smaller you will likely find it is more feasible to keep breeders, and not have to buy weaned or feeder animals every year.
DISADVANTAGES OF SMALL STOCK
Smaller animals require tighter fencing if you want to fence them in. Or if you are secluded you could let them roam free, and fence them out of areas into which you donít want them. You might have some wander off. You might have to hunt them down. If you follow a routine and provide a nice tasty treat every day at the same time of day, you can train them to come into a paddock, and then just close the gate. My original pasture fence is single cattle panels clipped to T-posts. This keeps the sheep, burro, dog, and adult pigs contained but the little piglets can get through. One season the little piglets overnight, dug up my entire garden, which eventually provided extra meat but no home grown vegetables. In the garden I now use cattle panels on T-posts. I then cut another panel lengthwise, and clip one half to the first panel at ground level, with the holes off-set to reduce the size of the holes to one quarter the original. This keeps the pigs out from below, and the sheep and burro out from above. If you have neighbors close by you might invest in pig panels or combo panels, which at the time were not available in my area. If you are going to use a lot of them you can probably deal directly with the wholesaler in your area.
Since our closest neighbors are far away, and the only value I see in a lawn is tick and brushfire control, I decided I didnít mind the piglets getting into the lawn. It can be relaxing, just sitting on the porch and watching piglets having fun, making your lawn look like a mine field. This anti-suburbian attitude has also provided serendipity. When we first moved to the farm, the Japanese Beetles were so thick, my children would go out in the evening with badminton rackets and see who could knock the most out of the air. Usually the count was in the hundreds. After about four years of the little piglets getting out of the main pasture (where the cattle panels are not off-set) and into the wild blackberries, the orchard, the woods etc., they have nearly completely decimated the Japanese beetles at least on our property. In the summer of 2003, my friends were talking about all the sprays they used and the garden damage inflicted, but I only saw four beetles, and do not spray. If you allow them into the orchard they will also eat any rotted or fallen fruit, which will reduce the ground hornet problems. If you do let them in the pasture, be careful of smaller trees, which they might dig up, or girdle by using them as a scratching post. Pigs are very much creatures of habit. Iíve found that if you pay attention to their trails they make in the meadows (lawn), they only seem to girdle trees that are within three feet of their trails. I do recommend putting a little diatomaceous earth (DE) in their feed. I put their corn in a 30-gallon can with a lid that locks. Each time the can is filled, I sprinkle about a cup of DE on top and give it a stir. Each time you scoop some corn, some falls off and trickles into the deeper corn. By the time I get to the bottom of the can, thereís still a little on the feed. DE is harmless to vertebrates especially at this low of a dose. It gets mixed with the manure and kills worms in the gut and fly larvae cant hatch in the droppings.
Because the animals are smaller, the "cuts" are going to be different. I tend to package the meat as sausage, roasts, and whole sides of ribs. I leave the loins attached to the ribs, separate the ribs from the vertebrae at their joint and filet the meat off the spine, rather than cutting through the spinal column and having a conventional "side" of meat. This provides a nice chunk of meat to go with each couple ribs, and not cutting through the spinal column helps in a couple ways. The first is that I donít have any electric meat saws, so Iíve learned to filet. The second advantage, perhaps moreso in other parts of the country, and also maybe for game, is, there is no spilling of the Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF), which is where prions would reside if an animal were infected with one of the prion diseases (Mad Cow Disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis, Chronic Wasting Disease, Creutzfeld-Jacob, Scrapie). The most common if not the only natural way an animal (or Human for that matter) would contract those is to eat it. There is no way of preparing infected meat that will neutralize a prion and still have the meat usable as food. Thatís one reason why I raise my own meat. My animals are pastured and given supplements of whole grains, no feed pellets (animal protein supplements), so they should theoretically not be at risk at all of contracting any of those, but I think itís good practice to filet anyway. At commercial slaughterhouses they typically kill the animal with a "bolt" which will spill some of the CSF, and they saw through the spine which spills CSF. On a commercial level if you want to purchase meat in a way that hasnít been processed in this way, your best bet is to go to a kosher butcher. But I like pork and they wonít do pigs, so Iíve learned to do it myself.
Some people think smaller animals are too cute to eat, and they get upset when others donít bend to their will. Sardines come in cans. Cornish game hens are considered a delicacy, and these are much smaller than potbellies. There is an extremely vocal, very small minority of people who regard pigs as pets. Those people might be a potential market for excess pigs, but I wouldnít count on it. Some of these people would try to deify pigs and place them higher than people, on a value scale. If you mention eating a potbelly, to them, they might go ape-wild. If it comes time to deal with them, selling to the pet market, Iíd only mention that you havenít yet encountered a problem with excess pigs, rather than telling them you eat the excess pigs. As far as Iíve determined, this is their only true downfall, mere politics. Potbellies have simply been the latest pyramid scheme of livestock. There were reports of the earliest progeny procuring tens of thousands of dollars apiece. Some unscrupulous pet breeders, however, crossed them out to lard breeds to increase their numbers quickly. The resultant piglets looked like potbellies when they were sold, but as adult pigs, grew to ridiculous sizes of balls of fat, thus hindering interest in the breed. There are areas where the pet market may still be reasonable, and there will always be a few diehard fans, but since the 80ís the fad is all but over. Many piglets have been purchased as pets, only to end up, a couple years later, in pet pig rescue centers, because, they do get bigger and harder to handle. For livestock, that means the prices are dropping. The pet pig people claim great intelligence of pigs. Perhaps these people donít have much of a point of comparison, but I think more likely their affection is causing them to anthropomorphise instinctive behavior and they are confusing trainability with intelligence. Even on TV, on Animal Planet, the invertebrate octopus is rated as a life form of higher intelligence than the pig. It is true they can be trained to a litterbox, but then, so can rabbits and chickens and virtually any livestock. They will dig up buried food, or go around obstacles for food, but there is a reason the idiom, "he hasnít even got the brains of a pig", is not a compliment.
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