True North is:

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Michigan, United States

Monday, April 6, 2009

Build it and they will come.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, taking care of our pigs has been nothing compared to the preparation in getting our homestead ready for them. Fencing and housing were the big concerns...and our budget...under $100 for a large pen and their pig house.

The Plan: Our first chore was deciding where to put the pigs. Although at first this seemed like a relative easy decision to make, it turned out to be harder than it looked. We have quite a bit of property, but wanted to keep the pigs close, so as to be able to keep a close eye on them and make feeding and watering convenient...but how close? Having never raised any farm animals before we were concerned about smell; everyone told us how bad pigs stink. We also considered our view. From our deck we have a beautiful view. One of our favorite pastimes is to sit on our deck, with a cold brew after a hard days work, and watch the local wildlife. The last thing we wanted to do was spoil this view with a pig pen.
After much deliberation we decided on an area off to the North side of our house. There's a lot of briers and thorns in the area and I thought it would be nice if the pigs could rid us of the eye-sore. We would be able to see our pigs from the deck, but our view of the Landscape would not be obstructed.

Fence Materials: When we first started researching getting the pigs I wanted to be able to graze them as much as possible to cut down on purchased food for them. With this in mind we needed a large pen, but our budget had to be kept in mind, and fencing isn't cheap.
Most people, who had experience with pigs, were saying that we needed to have an electric fence. This made a lot of sense to me; better containment and move-ability if I chose to "fold" them into a different area. However, I decide against this because of the initial start up cost, and, more importantly, I didn't want one more thing running off the electric meter. Our goal here is self sufficiency...not dependency. I had to take stock of what supplies I had.
Awhile back a friend of mine was doing some yard cleaning and he had quite a bit of privacy fencing that was in pretty bad shape. I helped him take it down (what was still standing!) and brought it out here to our property. At the time I planned to use it for our paintball field but never got around to it. So, for the last few years, this fencing layed useless on the edge of our woods. That was all about to change.
The fence was mostly 6' tall and was in sections of 8' lenghts. I figured I could cut it down so it was just over 3' high and use it for the enclosure. I had just enough of good sections to fence in the side of the pen that would be most visible from our house. Since the fence came with wooden posts I wouldn't need to buy any.
Now, this fencing, which was surprisingly in better condition than I thought, was painted a ghastly orange on one side. Melissa, however, had the great idea of using the unpainted side, which was a fantastic grey-weathered look, as the side we could see. the result was us a really cool rustic style fence.
As for the rest of the pen, my parents, some years ago, had raised some cows for beef. They had mostly used electric fence, but in some areas had used wire fencing. There were quite a bit of metal posts scattered throughout the property (some in good condition, others not) , that after a day of collecting them we had just enough to cover the area we needed. The wire fencing was another matter altogether.
There was plenty of the metal fence, but time and weather had knocked most of it down, entangled it in weeds, and frankly left it in pretty poor condition. The good news was that it hadn't rusted! I wont bore you with the details, but after a lot of hard work, an out of control fire, and prying it up from frozen ground, we managed to get enough of it to finish the pig pen. The cost so far....calloused hands, a few cuts and bruises, and zero dollars. Perfect.

The Pig House: After looking at a few different designs online, I decided to make a simple 'A' frame style house. We still had quite a lot of the old privacy fence left, so I figured I could use that to cover the frame work. Throughout the years we've managed to collect a number of wood supplies, through various projects and salvage, that I had no trouble finding enough 2x4's. The decking I used for the floor of the house came from the bottom of an old water bed I had dismantled long ago. With the frame built, me and Melissa, cut the privacy fence to size, and assembled (the far bigger than expected) house. We were really happy with the outcome, but due to the gaps in the fence it wasn't water proof. We needed to due something about that as I wanted my pigs to have a nice dry home.
When the basement for our house was built (7 years ago) the construction guys had left 2 very large canvas bags, the kind they fill with bags of cement and use a fork lift to carry around. These two bags have laid around the property, covered in weeds for all that time, and amazingly were still in really good condition. We decided to use the canvas, once we had cut it into usable sections as our water-proofing. We didn't want it to go on the outside since we liked the gray wood look, so with a staple gun we attached it to the inside.
Lastly, we needed something to go on the top. As it happens, back when my great-grandparents farmed this land they had pigs, and deep in the woods, lost to the wilderness, were the remnants of some old wooden pig houses. The houses were in terrible shape, rotted and fallen, but one still had a metal top piece that although rusted, was intact and ready to be placed on our new pig house. It was nice to add a bit of the old farm (we figured the pig house were at least 50 years old) to the new homestead. I'm sure when my relatives built those pig houses they never dreamed that a part of them would be used to cover swine so many years later.

The Gate: Nothing fancy here, just an old gate my father had built during his cow raising days. I think he'd be happy to see it in use once again

Me and Melissa worked really hard on this project and it was all we had hoped it would be. Spending time together, accomplishing a task, being frugal...all ingredients for our homesteading recipe. By the cost of the pen and house: $0

Note: I still have enough of the privacy fence to use for a chicken coup. Thanks Hugh, the fence has been a great boon for us!


  1. Read about you in USA Today. There is an apple orchard in Alma that raises organic Berkshire hogs to help clear away their dropped apples. Berkshires are some of the best eating anywhere. Just thought I would pass along the info in case you want to get some of their feeders. More info at:

    Best wishes

  2. Any escapes yet? I grew up on a pig farm and they are escapre artists. The larger they get the more this may become a problem. Pigs are great at clearing land if you want an area picked clean of weeds and brush.

  3. Most electric fences these days come with solar panels you can install on them so they are off the grid.

  4. Solar/electric works fine for pigs; they are very sensitive to electric, whereas structure fences give them no fear so they work it to escape - not so with electric fence, one shock and they are trained. It is a lot less hassel too.
    You are very new to this homesteading thing, aren't you??

  5. So far no escapes. I have the two pigs in quite a large area and they seem to not be bored as they spend a lot of time 'rooting' around and playing with their bowling I had heard from other people that raise pigs that boredom is a cause of escape attempts.
    More than likely we will eventually go to electric...the ability to move pigs from one area to another would be simpler, but right now it's not in the budget.

    And yes, we are very new to homesteading:)

    Frank- thanks for the link on the Berkshire's...I'll check it out.