We raise heritage Potbelly hogs for meat and have now for 5 years. I’ve really come to like the breed. There’s a non-gruesome video further down.
Potbelly Pigs are great for meat. Also called Asian Heritage Hogs, they are popular in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, and are a quality source of deep-colored and great-tasting, juicy pork, and are also effective producers of high-quality lard.
Potbelly Pig Growth and Feed Requirements
No doubt about it, potbellies are small pigs. To give you a good idea of what you should expect from the growth of potbelly pigs, I’ll share a notation I found in a veterinary manual. This is paraphrased:
“Potbelly pigs of the Con and Lea lines, which are a vast majority of Potbelly Pigs, should fall between 14 and 18 inches at the withers and weigh between 50 and 95 pounds by 1 year old.“
Potbelly pigs have more fat and marbling than modern market hogs. The meat is considerably darker, more flavorful, and juicier. Commercial breeds have been bred to produce little fat, making the pork hard and dry, but heritage breeds still have the traditionally rich, tasty pork.
If you let them, potbelly pigs will eat too much. They have an endless appetite and will gorge themselves every day if allowed to. A good number of potbellies are overweight because of this. If you are trying to maximize a lard harvest, fatten them right up. If not, keep them leaner to keep them healthy.
Feeding them can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. I fed my Wilma almost exclusively kitchen scraps. At 8 months old, she butchered weighed 47 pounds and was butchered. Darn good pork.
You can feed them regular hog feed. It will do fine, just don’t overdo it. Young Potbellies should get 2.5-3 percent of their body weight in dry feed a day, depending on the quality of the feed, their activity level, and the weather.
Pigs in larger pens and housed together get more active and need more food. Pigs need more food in winter to keep warm. go by their body shape. They shouldn’t look thin and boney, or round like a sausage.
They should have a good pot belly and have a little roundness, but also show some hip shape. Ribs shouldn’t be easily seen. You should clearly see a round hip, sway back, and some shoulder and neck muscle shape. If a potbelly is just plump and round or has fat rolls on its forehead, it’s obese.
I know a reputable Potbelly Pig breeder that pastures their Potbellies and gives them just a little grain each day. They report sixty-pound pigs that make thirty- pounds of meat at nine months, feeding on quality pasture.
One breeder said he feeds his potbellies nothing but half to a full coffee can (however much that is) of corn per day to their pigs and butchered them for around eight months. That can work, but not going to raise healthy or meaty hogs. Pigs should have a balanced diet, more like people.
I talked to a guy who fed each pig a handful of hog feed and an equal portion of kitchen scraps each day and was happy enough with the results when he butchered them at eight months. There are lots of different methods.
Now, we have too many pigs to rely on kitchen scraps. Currently, we feed out pigs fermented oats and corn, and leftover produce from the farmer’s market. It seems to be going well.
I feed on the cheap. I hardly ever buy foot for my pigs. When I do, I will go for the cheapest and best value for my methods. My pigs get kitchen scraps and garden scraps before I shell out money for feed. I’m not the only one in this boat, there are lots of people who raise pigs on pennies, not dollars.
You can feed them a standard hog feed. The top three feeds bought by those pinching pennies are corn (whole and cracked), scratch grains, and cheap all-stock feed. Here’s the prices of each, in my neighborhood, for a fifty-pound bag.
- $8 for whole corn (needs soaking or fermenting to be digested fully).
- $9 for cracked corn (more digestible but still should be soaked or fermented first).
- $11 scratch grain
|corn (high calorie)||scratch grains (high calorie)||All Stock feed (moderate calorie)|
|Protein 6%||Protein 8%||Protein 12%|
|Fat 2%||Fat 2%||Fat 2.5%|
|Fiber 3.5%||Fiber 7%||Fiber 21%|
Grains are a high-energy, low-fiber feed. They also don’t contain much protein. The corn, scratch grains, and sweet feed make a good supplement to a diet but are not a very good diet on their own. They will feed a pig, and folks have done it, but the pig will be a bit stunted in size and be quite fat.
Potbelly Pig Feed Consumption
A Potbelly Pig butchered at 9 months will eat about 150-250 pounds of feed and weigh 50-70 pounds live, and will yield 25-35 pounds of meat and lard. Over feeding or poor feed will result in lesser yields and wasted feed.
The best age to butcher a Potbelly pig is between 7 and 9 months. They are beginning to have enough meat for a sizeable harvest in 7 months. After 9 months, they will start to eat a lot more food, and gain only a little weight.
A nine-month-old Potbelly will have a feed conversion ratio somewhere in the area of 4:1, and will have around 50% retained weight after butchering. If you let that same pig go for an extra 1 year, it will eat 75 percent more feed and only gain around 25 percent more weight.
We feed our pigs grasses and greens so they get a good amount of vitamins and fiber. We also grow corn, sunflower, and fodder beet for them, just to help with feed costs. Growing or harvesting wild fodder can help your pigs stay fed and healthy.
Butchering Potbelly Pigs
Now that you’ve read all that (you deserve a reward) it’s time to get on to the topic of butchering. A Potbelly Pig takes around an hour to butcher. An average inexperienced person usually completes their first small pig in three hours. It’s an easy hour or two for those who have done it before.
Myself, I will have the meat deboned and in the kitchen in an hour. Then it’s trimming the roasts and grinding sausage for an hour. For the butchering process, you will need two very sharp knives, a stick or gambrel, a rope, and something to hoist the pig up on. You also need to settle on how to dispatch the animal.
Dispatching and Skinning Your Pig
There are two main methods of dispatch, stick or shoot. The old sticking method was to flip the pig over and slit it deeply into the throat. If you can’t put a razor edge on a knife, don’t do this method. It takes one second with a sharp knife, but won’t work with anything else.
We dispatch our pigs with a 22. A potbelly’s brain is near the size of a golf ball at nine months, and is found in the middle of the skull, directly between the eyes and ears when looking straight on.
Make sure that you are close to the pig. This way you are shooting at a downward angle and should you miss, or the bullet passes through completely, it will lodge in the dirt instead of ricocheting away.
I recommend that after you dispatch, you hoist it up, skin it, then gut the hog.
With a successful shot, the animal will immediately fall limp. Then hoist the animal up, slit the throat to drain the blood (makes the meat a milder flavor) and skin the carcass. The blood can be collected in a pail for making blood sausage, or to use as organic garden fertilizer.
Cut cleanly through the skin around the anus, staying about an inch away from it. That’s your starting point next, cut off the tail at the base. Starting at the bottom cut, slice all the way up the back, to the snout. Cut the belly side the same so the hide can be peeled off in two pieces.
When you get to the head, cut through the cartilage base of the ears, and the tough tissue around the eyelids. You may need to cut the skin around the gums. Make a clean slice through the end of the snout, near the skin.
Now make a shallow cut down the belly and remove the entrails. Cut into the chest cavity and remove the lungs and heart. Pull off the esophagus and trachea. Rinse it well, and make sure you have both kidneys removed. They can be hard to find on a fat one.
Put the heart, liver, and kidneys in the save pile, they’re good stuff. Cut and hack the meat any way you want. You should try and borrow a meat grinder for your first butcher, chances are you will have more hacked-up chunks than nice chops. chunks and pieces make good ground pork.
Save as much fat as you can for lard. Be sure to get all the fat you can off of the hide. Age the meat, covered, in the refrigerator for at least three days before cooking. A week isn’t too much. Cook it any way you like.
My favorites are baked with my wife’s peppermint jelly as a marinade, or sliced thin and pan-fried, then served with gravy. I also love a good sausage, spiced with salt, pepper, and sage.