Things to ponder before you get a pig, by Brian Wright.
This is a question we get all the time from people considering whether to raise their own pork. It is natural to think that raising pigs is hard, or that it takes a special building or constant care. The truth is that pigs are one of the easiest farm animals to raise; if you let them, they will take care of themselves. The best environment for pigs is a piece of pasture and woods large enough so they have an area to eat, drink and wallow, area to sleep and area to poop with good barriers to keep the pig in and predators out.
Feed: Pigs need a balanced diet just like all animals. You can buy commercial pig feed that contains all the right proteins, fats, carbohydrates and minerals for around $8.00 per 50 lb bag (as of this writing). What many people don’t realize is that you can cut down on the cost and provide a healthier diet by letting pigs eat natural food that grows on your property. What is a pig’s natural diet?
Pigs are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. They are very opportunistic feeders and much of their diet is based on seasonal availability. Foods include grasses, weeds, forbs, roots and tubers, browse, mast (acorns), fruits, bulbs and mushrooms. Animal matter includes invertebrates (insects, snails, earthworms, etc.), reptiles, amphibians, and eggs. They are especially fond of domestic crops such as corn, milo, rice, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, watermelons and cantaloupe, so they will eat just about anything from your garden or your kitchen. Pigs also need minerals and they get those from the dirt they eat. If you let them, your pigs will happily feed themselves off the land. This is one of the reasons we raise pigs on pasture; all the grass and browse is free feed and it is good for them! You may still need to supplement their diet by giving them prepared feed but allowing them access to pasture can significantly reduce the amount of prepared feed needed.
One of the common mistakes that some people make is to think they can just feed cheap corn to their pigs. Pigs will grow fast on corn and this deludes some people into thinking they are getting big pigs fast. The problem is that pigs fed only on corn really are just getting fat. Corn only contains 9 percent protein and 70 percent starch (that’s why corn is used to make sugar and sweeteners). All of the extra starch in the pig’s diet is stored as fat, especially for confined pigs that don’t get adequate exercise. All that extra fat grows around the pig’s internal organs leading to all kinds of health problems. Pigs need a balanced diet just like every animal. They need about 12 to 16 percent protein with the rest of their diet consisting of carbohydrates, fiber, minerals and amino acids. Most feed stores sell good pig feed that works as a feed supplement if they also have other, natural food. Corn does work well as a treat since it is so sweet. You can use it to keep the pig preoccupied while you clean its pen or do other maintenance chores. Soak the corn in water first to make it soft and easier to digest or use cracked corn.
Water: Obviously pigs need clean water to drink but many people don’t know that a pig also needs water to control it’s body temperature. Pigs don’t sweat like you and I; we sweat to cool off as the sweat evaporates. Since pigs can’t do that they have to cool off in other ways. Shade and a cool breeze helps, but the best way to keep your pigs cool is to give them a place in which to bathe when they get hot. If you let some water trickle from their water bowl, the pigs will happily turn the muddy dirt into their own mud puddle (wallow). Not only will the wallow cool them off, but the mud that adheres to their skin will shield them from the sun and keep parasites (flies and lice) from hanging around. A muddy pig is a happy pig! We provide showers for our pigs; you can also just hose them down when it’s hot.
Shelter: In the daytime your pigs may just lay down and sleep anywhere but at night they prefer a quiet place to bed down. Any suitable shelter will be fine; we use old dog houses from a local dog rescue, “Port-A-Huts” that we found on Craigslist and we make hoop houses from cattle panels and tarps. Our pigs also have favorite places in the woods. These shelters double as shade in the day where they can get away from the sun and warm places in the winter.
Bathroom: Yeah, I know, when you think of pigs you think of nasty, smelly pig pens. Unfortunately this is the way many people raise pigs, letting them live in their own filth. The truth is that pigs are very clean animals, in their own way. If given the room, a pig will choose a corner to use as its bathroom, far away from where it eats, wallows and sleeps. Again, pasture is the best environment because the breeze helps keep the odor down and all manner of little critters help decompose the waste. If you have to raise your pigs in a barn or other enclosure, you must be the critter to remove the waste…
The problem is if you give them total freedom, they will eat your and your neighbor’s flower bed, rototill your lawn, sleep on your front porch, poop in your garage and, perhaps worse of all, be chased by and killed by your neighbor’s dog. You must limit their freedom to keep their natural behaviors from becoming a nuisance and keep the pigs safe from predators. There are many ways to do that; from building strong walls or fences to making natural barriers such as thick hedges or moats. We keep our pigs within large paddocks made of wire fencing and electric wire. Cattle panels are great for keeping large pigs controlled; pigs quickly learn to stay away from electric fencing but any barrier must be modified so that the pig can’t go under or over it. Wire fences must be on or slightly buried under the ground and you must quickly fix any area where the pig has tried to burrow under it. Electric fencing, whether tight wire or loose polywire, must have gaps no larger than six inches from the ground and between the first two or three strands. The advantage of electric fencing is that you can move it to give your pigs access to new pasture or rotate them between paddocks of pasture.
Although we don’t recommend it sometimes all you have is a barn or old shed in which to raise your pig. This will work IF it gives them the needed space for all their natural behaviors. In a barn you will need to keep their bedding fresh by using hay or other dry bedding as needed. You will also need to ensure there is adequate ventilation to keep the air healthy and neither too hot nor too cold. If the floor isn’t dirt you will need to provide a feed that contains minerals, a mineral block or dirt such as that which adheres to plant roots that you feed them. You will also need to give any babies an iron shot to prevent them from becoming anemic due to lack of iron (piglets raised on dirt get their iron from it naturally). Remember to provide them with natural food (grass, hay, vegetables, etc.) daily.
So, given that healthy pigs need good food, adequate areas in which to eat, sleep, cool off and poop, and barriers to protect them and the rest of your property, look at what you have before you decide to get a pig. Remember, you are going to either eat the pig, let it raise healthy babies, or just have a pet. Give it what it needs to live a good life and it will happily, and easily, return the favor!
– by Brian Wright
Copyright © 2010 Homegrown Acres. Used with permission.