5 Things You Need to Start Raising Pigs

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Raising pigs might seem intimidating for some homesteaders, but as long as you have the space and right infrastructure in place, pigs can make a great addition to any farm, ranch, or homestead.

Your needs will change depending on why you’re raising pigs and how long you plan to have them on your farm. If you’re raising them for meat and they’ll only be around for a summer season, your needs will be different than if you’re planning on starting a breeding operation. Regardless of your goals with raising pigs, here are a few basic requirements to get you started.

Space

Pigs don’t need as much space as some livestock, but if you want happy and healthy pigs, you’ll want to set them up for success and make sure they have plenty of room.

There are two different aspects to consider when discussing a place for your future pigs: indoor and outdoor space. While feedlot and conventionally produced pigs might never see the light of day, I highly recommend raising your pigs in a situation where they have access to outdoor space—the more the better. There’s a lot to say for pasture-raised pigs, that is, pigs with access to grass, forage, and space to roam for the majority of their life.

Raising pigs on pasture doesn’t mean you won’t still have to supplement their diet. For the majority of pigs, you’ll likely still need to feed them some version of grain rations. But pigs allowed to range on pasture will get more exercise than conventional pigs and will have a wider and better-supplemented diet. These differences, if you’re raising your pigs for meat, will be apparent in the quality of meat. While pigs raised on pasture tend to take a little longer to reach finishing weight than conventionally raised pigs, their meat will typically be darker and more flavorful.

If you do choose to pasture your pigs, the space you need to do so depends on the size, age, and breed of pigs you raise. Some pigs are less destructive of land than others, but regardless, implementing a good rotational grazing system should help defray the impact as well as lower the risk of parasites. If you can’t or choose not to raise your pigs on pasture, providing them with access to a relatively large outdoor pen is still of great benefit and strongly recommended.

Shelter

Beyond the outdoor space requirement, you’ll also need to provide your pigs some version of shelter, no matter how long you’ll be housing them or what breed you’re raising. A pig shelter can be quite simple but serves several purposes. It protects them from the elements, be that wind, rain, snow, or sun, plus it gives them a cozy dry place to bed down every night. Your shelter should have a minimum of two if not three sides, should contain some sort of bedding your pigs can build a nest in if they want to, and should be at least relatively easy for you to access and clean.

The more outdoor space your pigs have access to, the less indoor space you need. If you’re raising your pigs over the course of only one or two seasons and have a large pasture for them, your shelter need only be big enough for them to create a cozy nest to sleep. However, if you have limited outdoor space or are housing your pigs across seasons with inclement weather, you’ll need proportionately more indoor space.

There are some great recommendations out there regarding indoor space requirements for healthy, happy pigs. Alice Percy’s excellent book on pasture-raised pigs, Happy Pigs Taste Better, takes indoor space requirements into account from several organizations with high standards for animal welfare as well as her own experience and lists space requirements as follows: Growing pigs under 60 pounds each need about 7 square feet of indoor space, growing pigs 60 to 120 pounds need about 10 square feet, growing pigs 120 to 180 pounds need about 12 square feet each and growing pigs larger than 180 pounds need about 16 square feet each. Gestating sows and group-housed boars need 32 square feet each, while boars housed alone and lactating sows each require up to 100 square feet each.

There are lots of good options out there for housing for your pigs, from a permanent structure to something movable and lightweight. Permanent built shelters work great for a herd you plan on housing long term, whether it’s slower growing pigs, a breeding operation, or as pets. If you’ll house your pigs over winter, be sure your shelter has at least three sides, won’t flood, and is faced away from prevailing wind and rain.

Lighter weight, movable shelters are a good option if you’re raising grower pigs for just one season or rotating your pigs across pastures. There are many plans available online. I’ve seen creative pig shelters made of old fuselage parts, truck canopies, Quonset hut-type designs, A-frames, or even tarps spread over hoops. I’d recommend against a tarp system anywhere with extreme weather, as it may not protect your pigs well enough from wind, rain, or heat. Remember if you have a shelter you plan to move, you’ll need something like a tractor or ATV to drag it from pasture to pasture.

Inside your shelter, you’ll want to provide your pigs with a layer of bedding and add more in colder months. Good bedding materials include straw, hay (which doubles as a food source in the winter), wood shavings, corn stover, or newspaper. We’ve found straw to be the easiest, most cost-effective bedding that still seems comfortable and easy to build a nest in for the pigs. It depends on what’s available near you.

Good Fencing

No matter what type of pigs you raise, you’ll need good, strong fencing. Some breeds will tend to test fences more than others, but take it from someone who’s chased down plenty of escaped pigs in the last few years—it’s best if you start with strong fencing. Pigs are notorious for getting through fences for good reason. Their rooting behavior combined with their size means they’re adept at pushing under fences that seem secure and they’re less responsive to electric shock than a lot of other livestock. Even piglets will get through holes smaller than you think they will.

There are lots of ways to set up a strong fencing system, some more economical than others. Stock panels dug down work great. Woven wire fencing is a common solution but be mindful of the strength and consider reinforcing it in heavily trafficked areas. Pipe gates are expensive but can also work well in very heavily trafficked areas. Wood, such as old pallets, can be an economical solution but again, will most likely need to be reinforced in some way. We’ve never tried electric fencing with pigs on our farm but I’ve heard it works well until it doesn’t. Most pigs are extremely smart so will test any fence you present them, but if you provide them enough space, a comfy shelter, food, and water, they might be more content to stay in their space.

Food and Water Access

Once you have your space, shelter, and fencing figured out, you’ll need a good food and watering system for your pigs. Your feeding system will depend on your pigs’ age, breed, and if they have access to pasture or other forage options. Pigs are omnivores that will eat just about anything, but be sure to pay attention that they’re getting a balanced diet with enough protein. We feed our kunekunes a small amount of grain twice daily, always mixed with water, to supplement their grazing. You can (and should) also supplement your pigs’ diet with seasonal kitchen and farm scraps, though be mindful of the various foods pigs shouldn’t eat. If you house your pigs over a cold winter, their nutritional needs will increase, and depending on the breed, you’ll also want to supplement with hay.

Access to clean, abundant water is also critical to your pigs’ health. Pigs get dehydrated easily, especially in the summer. We use a closed food-grade barrel with nipple waterers for our pigs, but simple water troughs are also popular. Water troughs might require more attention to cleaning, so have a plan in mind for keeping it clean before you go that route. If you plan to house your pigs over the winter and live in a cold climate, you’ll also need some way to keep the water from freezing. We use a submersible “de-icer” which is essentially a heater that stays plugged in all winter and sits at the bottom of the barrel, only heating enough to melt the water when it’s cold enough to freeze. They’re not too expensive and work well.

Wallow and Shade

The classic image of a pig covered in mud exists for a reason. While certain breeds are more susceptible to sunburn than others, pigs generally need some protection from the direct, hot sun. If you’re planning on housing your pigs over the hot summer months, they’ll be happiest and healthiest with access to a wallow and shady area separate from their overnight nesting shelter.

The most important of the two, a wallow, is simply a place your pigs can get wet, muddy, and cool down. Mud helps pigs thermoregulate—it dries on their skin more slowly than water, thus keeping them cooler longer, plus the dried mud provides some sun protection. You can build a wallow out of an old kiddie pool, an old shower, a concrete pad you can rinse down occasionally, or just run water into a small section of the pen or pasture that’s designated to get muddy.

I’ve seen some examples of fancy sprinkler systems where the pigs can turn on the water themselves, but a hose works fine. Regardless of how you set it up, the most important thing is they have access to mud and water on hot days. Even if your pigs look hot, resist the urge to spray them directly with a hose, the temperature change can be shocking for them. Building some sort of shade above the wallow, which helps keep them and the wallow cooler, can be super simple. We use a tarp strung up between four t-posts over the wallow. This isn’t meant to be an all-weather shelter, it just gives them a little shade while they cool off in the mud.

And that’s it! With adequate space, good fencing, a reasonable shelter, access to food and water, and a shady wallow, you’ve got everything you need to start raising pigs. As a reminder, pigs don’t like to be solitary animals, so if you’re going to embark on this adventure, get at least two.