Let’s start by differentiating between hogs and pigs. The difference is mostly thought of as a weight difference: A pig is young, not yet mature; a hog is mature and usually weighs more than 120 lbs. Together they are referred to as swine. That said, feel free to refer to them as you wish.
USDA says there were 370,000 hogs and pigs on Wisconsin farms in 2021. The annual pig crop for 2021 was 1.06 million head. The pig crop is defined as the number of pigs born alive.
Most pigs are raised in southern Wisconsin. Grant county produces the most. Large crops are also raised in Sauk, Dane, Lafayette, Walworth and Rock counties.
In Eau Claire County, where I live, they are hard to find. luckily I bumped into a small hog farm near the town of Brunswick. These are a few photos of the ones I found there, part of a crew of 28.
The day I visited was very hot. Many of the pigs were hiding under a group of trees to the rear. These guys came out to say hello to me, I think. A could of them even ran if you can believe it! You see this last bunch of three lying in the water to cool down!
Lately, pork production has declined in the state. Wisconsin has lost its hog slaughter capacity. Much of the production has come from small local butcher shops and locker plants. Shipping costs have also increased for more distant markets. For the moment, Wisconsin hog producers are at a disadvantage to producers closer to slaughter facilities. Wisconsin had reached peak inventory in the late 1940s.
Farms raising hogs are generally small in Wisconsin, like the one I found here. Wisconsin is blessed with a growing number of small local outlets for pigs and pork. There are a good selection of near-by out-of-state meat packers and large numbers of hog finishers in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. As a result, Wisconsin production could start to rise in the years ahead. As a result, small farms are starting to latch on to pigs.
The industry categorizes hog farmers as growers and finishers. Growers raise their pigs to weigh between 40 and 125 lbs., after which they ship them off to other farms, usually in other states. finishers work with them from 125 to market weight, which can be 230 lbs. or more.
There is a bone of contention with regard to hog production. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been approving plans to build what are known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO, one of which is shown here. These are sometimes known as corporate or factory farms.
A plan for Crawford County expects to house over 8,000 pigs and produce some 140,000 piglets each year. The projection is that will generate 9.4 million gallons of manure and wastewater each year which will be spread on roughly 1,400 acres of land.
There are concerns about the impacts on ground water and the Kickapoo watershed, air quality, human health. There are also concerns about how densely packed hogs will be in CAFOs, packed so closely together they cannot even lie down.
Hog farming is an area to watch closely over the months and years ahead. Gods knows we love pork in Wisconsin! I hope to travel south soon to get a better sense for the small farm vs. the CAFO.