Pigs have a reputation as hardy and hard-headed animals, ones able to be just as happy in a nice, dry barn as they are wallowing in a filthy mud puddle.
But it might surprise you to learn that pigs actually have pretty particular requirements when it comes to their environment, and this is doubly true if you want them to grow big and quickly.
Because they are usually sheathed in a layer of fat, some folks think that pigs are entirely insulated against cold weather that would set our teeth to chattering.
But is it true? Do pigs ever get cold?
Yes, pigs can and will get cold when the temperature drops. Pigs are more vulnerable to cold than most people think, and require supplemental shelter and heating in cold temperatures to stay healthy.
You already know that pigs require plenty of care, but unless you are living in a region that is hot to pleasant year round you will need to take even more care to ensure they stay warm enough when it gets cold.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about keeping your pigs warm enough in cold weather.
What Low Temps Can Pigs Tolerate?
Pigs are fairly tolerant of cool weather, depending on their age, health, and other conditions but they don’t do well when it is truly cold.
Young pigs, those between four and eight weeks old, can develop hypothermia quickly if the temperature drops too low. At this age, they have not yet grown their full coat of adult hair and are more prone to chilling.
Older pigs fare better in cold weather, but are still at severe risk if the temperature falls near or below freezing for extended periods of time.
Generally, adult, healthy pigs will be okay anywhere between 50 and 60 degrees, though weight gain may be hampered.
Sustained exposure to cold temps will increase the likelihood of illness and their calorie demands but might not result in weight gain.
Brief exposure to temps down around freezing is okay, but prolonged exposure will injure pigs.
Do Pigs Shiver When they are Cold?
Yes. Pigs will shiver just like people do when they are cold. This is the pigs’ way of generating heat to warm their bodies through muscle contractions.
You might not see it when it is merely cool because pigs don’t usually start shivering until they are quite cold.
How Will You Know If Your Pig is Cold?
Pigs display several symptoms and behaviors when they get cold. Shivering, as mentioned, is one, but so is huddling together and lying in groups with their feet tucked beneath them.
Like most animals, the extremities are most vulnerable to frostbite and usually start to feel discomfort first. Also, look for coughing and excess mucous production or “snotting”.
What Happens When Pigs Get Cold?
Several things happen when pigs get cold. First, they start to feel uncomfortable and that causes stress.
When pigs are stressed, they are less happy but also their immune system is weakened and they become more susceptible to illness. Injuries will not heal as quickly when a pig is stressed, too.
Pigs also burn more calories when they are cold in an attempt to generate body heat. If they don’t have access to enough food, they will start to lose weight.
In extreme cases, pigs can eat more than enough calories and still lose weight, which isn’t good if you’re raising them for meat.
Increased food intake is just part and parcel of helping pigs get through the winter, but poor shelter or severe conditions can dramatically increase your costs and hurt your pigs.
Are Pigs Prone to Hypothermia?
Adult pigs are not especially prone to hypothermia compared to other animals, but neither are they resistant to it. Piglets and underweight or sick pigs are vulnerable, however.
Pigs will seek shelter and group together when it gets cold so if you see your pigs doing this it is a good sign they are feeling the chill, but this does not mean they won’t be affected.
What Factors Make a Pig More Vulnerable to Cold Weather?
The two major factors that affect a pig’s vulnerability to cold weather are age and weight. Younger pigs and those that are lighter in weight will “feel” the cold more and will only thrive in warmer temps.
Older pigs with plenty of fat and muscle can tolerate cooler temps far better. Piglets and underweight adolescent pigs are especially vulnerable to the cold because they lack body mass.
This is why it is so important to provide adequate shelter for your pigs and make sure they have plenty of food to help them generate body heat.
How Should You Keep Pigs Warm?
You have a couple of options for keeping pigs warm in chilly weather. Generally, these are unheated shelter, heated shelter, and insulation.
An unheated shelter is exactly what it sounds like: a place for your pigs to get out of the wind and rain or snow but not enjoy a climate-controlled space.
However, protection from the elements in conjunction with their own body heat and some good bedding might make all the difference.
A heated shelter is, again, exactly what it sounds like: a place where your pigs can go to get away from the cold only this time they will enjoy warm air to boot.
This can be anything from a heated stall in a barn to a heat lamp in a small pen. Insulation is something you do to help keep the heat in whatever shelter you are using.
This can be as simple as covering the floor with clean, dry straw or putting up walls made of hay bales. Anything that keeps cold out and heat in is insulation!
Pigs Should Be Protected from Dampness in Cold Weather
A major detriment to the health of your pigs in cold weather is dampness or even high humidity.
Dampness will suck the heat right out of your pigs, so keeping them and their bedding dry is imperative as it can lead to health problems like pneumonia or even hypothermia even in relatively mild temps.
Be sure that any shelter you provide is well-ventilated and that there is no standing water inside or near the pigs’ shelter.
Do Pigs Need Blankets?
Though the notion of “pigs in a blanket” is a common one thanks to the party snack of the same name, pigs don’t make good use of blankets except as bedding. In fact, they often root around and tear blankets to pieces or knock them off.
Now, blankets can be of use when helping an individual pig that is too cold warm up, or when using heated blankets or pads to warm up bedding, especially for piglets.
Wrapping each pig in its own blanket is usually a non-starter, though…
Frequently Asked Questions
If your pigs are staying outside in the winter make sure they get plenty of food and have room to move around.
Also make sure that they have access to one another so they can bunch up to stay warm when needed.
Consider building a tall windbreak from hay bales or other obstacles to give them some protection from the wind.
Yes, and like we said above they are especially vulnerable to cold due to their low body mass. If you have a mini pig make sure to provide extra food, warm bedding and a good, warmed shelter since they are smaller.
It depends on the size of the pig. A mature adult, especially a sow that is gestating or nursing young will do best in a cooler environment. Conversely, young piglets like it much warmer.
Pigs might be comfortable and reasonably happy in a wide temperature range, but they need a specific temperature range for optimum health and weight gain in different phases of life. See this study from Penn State for more.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.