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PHOTO: Rachael Brugger
With enough work, you can adapt just about any animal to any farming situation, but few animals exemplify this idea quite like pigs. They can live in large pastureland, roaming free and eating legumes, or they can just as easily spend their days in the dense woods, chomping on roots and nuts. Maybe all you have is a barn and some corn—they can do that, too. Pigs can thrive on almost any farm, so long as a few small things—and a few big ones—are taken into consideration.
1. Different Breeds Have Different Needs
Determining what kind of pig you want to raise is a good first step to deciding if pigs are right for your farm. Heritage-breed pigs, such as Red Wattles or Tamworths, will not thrive in a contained situation as well as crossbreeds, such as Spots or Durocs. Heritage hogs like to browse, and though they’ll eat corn and other grains, they prefer legumes, grass, roots and nuts. Non-heritage crossbreeds, on the other hand, are bred for eating high-density starch and protein. Also, the heritage breeds take longer to mature, so a farmer cannot generally expect to get the same amount of meat in the same amount of time from both types. In other words, if raising them up and selling them off quickly is your intention, the heritage breed may require more patience.
2. Diverse Food Equals Tastier Meat
Most pigs, regardless of breed, are fond of alfalfa, clover and other legumes. They’ll eat a little grass, but because they aren’t ruminants, will not make the most efficient use of pastureland alone. If keeping them on pasture, provide access to a woodlot so they can forage high-protein nuts and offer a small supplement of grain in colder months. It’s not required to give pigs grass, nuts and legumes, but they’ll be healthier and happier (and their meat will be tastier) if you can.
If you plan to park your hogs in one spot, consider making that location under the branches of some white oak trees so acorns might fall into their paddock every autumn as a bonus treat. You can also place their paddock at the end of your garden so you can easily feed them garden scraps. Any extras you can offer—even hay and kitchen slop—will help pay off in flavor and health.
3. Avoid Confinement If Possible
If you want to keep pigs in a small, permanent area, you should probably think twice. Pigs are prone to parasites and rotating them through woods or pasture is a great way to reduce their exposure, even though it takes more work. In rotational grazing, you’re constantly moving them away from the parasites every few days or so. Plus, as mentioned above, variety in their diet will not only make them healthier and happier, but tastier come processing time.
However, if you have no choice but confine the herd, frequently give them new hay to bed on, pick through and cover their manure with while mixing diatomaceous earth—a natural dewormer—into their feed. As an environmental bonus, the hay will also help lessen the mud issues that can occur in penned situations.
4. Feed Is Pricey
Before getting hogs, it’s always a good idea to ask around and see what kind of corn or feed is available from neighbors and local co-ops. One hog can eat up to 800 pounds of corn before it’s finished, and you’ll need to factor in the time and the cost of gas required to get it.
While, many of the heritage breed hogs can technically fatten themselves almost entirely on pasture and woodlot foraging alone, they’ll take considerably longer to finish—a year and a half or more, depending on the forage and breed—compared to non-heritage breeds at six to eight months. As for protein, many people opt for soybeans, but you can also look into fish meal as an alternative. Again, see what’s available nearby.
5. Pigs Don’t Sweat
Pigs are not heavy water drinkers, but they do need constant access to it, especially in the summer. Pigs don’t sweat, so water helps keep them cool and hydrated. You’ll need to be able to supply them with unlimited fresh water every day in the hotter months. If you’re able to mist them in the summer, even better.
6. Fencing Must Be Secure
Look at your fencing—or how much you’re willing to invest in fencing—before getting pigs. Standard pig fences are 34-inch-by-16-foot hog panels secured with T-posts, but if you’ll be keeping them penned for a long time, consider adding extra protection. Although pigs are strong and can plow up or through a weak fence, they’re also relatively thin-skinned, so electric wire tends to be a good deterrent.
For pigs in confined situations, a strand of wire at shin height in front of the hog paneling will help keep pigs from escaping. For rotational grazing, 8-by-16-inch electrified polywire works well, as the wires are highly adaptable and don’t easily get hung up on sticks and saplings like nets do. Premier1Supplies offers electric nets specific for pigs; they’re raised a few inches off the ground, which works well for rotating on pasture and doesn’t get buried as easily by pigs’ rooting.
7. Shelter Needs Are Minimal
If you plan to breed hogs, you’ll need a small, enclosed structure that can be filled with hay for farrowing. Preferably, this structure would be equipped with a heat lamp and electricity. If you’re just wanting to raise feeder pigs—that is, young pigs you buy from another farmer—they don’t need a lot in terms of shelter: only shade in the summer and protection from cold in the winter.
How much shade and winter housing you provide will depend on the breed and the climate. In a colder climate, certain heritage breeds can handle the cold better than others, while many of the other breeds are bred for indoor living and may need heat lamps. That doesn’t mean these hogs can’t thrive outdoors; it just means they can’t handle extreme temperatures.
Learn more about pigs on Our Site:
- Raise Pigs In Woodlots for Tastier Pork
- Artificial Insemination In Pigs
- How to Cut Down On Pig Odors
- What Is PED and How Can I Keep My Hogs Healthy?
- 8 Reasons to Buy Heritage Pork Despite the Price