If you’ve recently made the decision to raise pigs for meat, you’ve made a fantastic choice. Pigs are an enjoyable animal to raise, offering a high volume of meat and an even higher level of enjoyment for even the novice farmer.
Pigs are intelligent and learn quickly, picking up new tricks even faster than dogs! They can respond when called and are social animals, forming close bonds with each other and other species.
That being said, there is a learning curve involved to raising pigs. You need to provide good management of your animals, for without proper husbandry practices, you will find it difficult to manage your animals in a way that offers profit and minimal hassle.
The easiest way to learn about pigs is to get back to the basics and start with learning some basic pig terminology.
This A to Z guide will put you on the fast track to raising happy, healthy (and tasty!) pigs for years to come.
There are several breeds of pigs to consider when you are starting your pig farm. While any breed will produce tasty, edible meat, think about your overall pig rearing goals when selecting your breed.
Yorkshires are the most common breed in the United States and Canada. These pigs are aw whitish-pink, producing large litters with docile behaviors.
These pigs are frequently raised in confinement, and while they grow to be one of the largest of all breeds, they have a slow feed conversion rate.
Berkshires are some of the most efficient pigs, offering a high feed conversion rate. They produce lean meat with streaks of fat, offering a unique marbling effect. They are usually fully black but may have a few white spots as well.
Large Blacks look somewhat like Berkshires, but are known for fattier meats and slower growth rates, as well as delicious hams and bacons.
Duroc pigs grow very quickly, offering a red coloring with an arched back. They can be raised in a number of production practices, and are known to be good breeders as well. Tamworth pigs, too, are red in color, offering excellent bacon production.
These pigs are incredibly rugged, and are best raised in pastured settings. They are also noted for being excellent mothers.
The headline of this pig management topic is castrate, but really, this topic is about every aspect of piglet management that is necessary to ensure you raise healthy, fast-growing animals.
When your piglets are born, you must first disinfect the umbilical cord to prevent infection. In some cases, you may need to clip the cord yourself, too. You should also clip their tusks at birth to prevent injuries to the sow’s teat when they are suckling.
You will, unfortunately, also need to castrate any male piglets that you do not plan to raise as breeder boars. Boars must be castrated by fourteen days of age, or the testosterone that they will begin to produce will taint the flavor of the meat.
Make sure you receive proper training in castration or have a veterinarian do it, as it is not a simple procedure.
It’s important to know when your breeding boars and sows need to be taken out of service. Boars should be taken out of service when they are too large to serve most of the sows.
This is usually when they are about eighteen to twenty-four months of age. You can often keep them ins service for another year or so.
It is rare for a boar to be infertile, but you may acquire a boar with a low sex drive. This is a common reason, besides age, for culling a boar.
Sows, on the other hand, can be culled for a number of reasons. If she continually fails to get pregnant, conceive, or come into heat, you may need to cull your sow prematurely.
Other issues include old age, poor litter size or milk production, or abortions. Disease is another common reason to cull your sows.
Pigs are hardy animals, and aren’t susceptible to many diseases if they are kept in safe, healthy conditions. That being said, you may find your pigs threatened by parasites (both internal and external), microbes, or viruses.
Believe it or not, pigs can also have allergies or even diseases familiar to humans, such as cancers or degenerative disease.
Some of the most common diseases in pigs are those related to parasites. Internal parasites are common in pigs that are raised on pasture, as they may access new organisms as they root in the mud.
The round worm, for example, can cause serious damage in the form of weight loss. Tapeworms are also common. Both types of parasites are caused by water contamination, so providing pens that are free of feces, as well as fresh, clean water, is especially important.
Pigs may also be susceptible to external parasites, like flies, ticks, and lice These mostly just cause irritation to the skin, but can lead to deeper infection if irritated.
One of the most dangerous viruses that pigs can come into contact with is hog cholera. This is typically fatal, and is spread by animal contact or through bodily secretions.
It results in high body temperatures, discharge in the eyes, loss of appetite, and lack of coordination.
Swine influenza and erysipelas are also common and can lead to death. Vaccination can help prevent these diseases, but giving your animals plenty of room to spread out and avoiding crowding conditions is even more effective.
This parasitic disease is very common in pork production, but it doesn’t need to be. This parasitic infection can result in abdominal pain and diarrhea. It is usually acquired by humans when we eat undercooked pork.
While the disease can be killed by fully cooking meat, it can also be prevented by not allowing pigs to eat any kinds of meat.
This parasite is carried through other meats, so removing that factor will eliminate the likelihood of your pork containing this dangerous disease.
Vaccinating for disease is not required when raising piglets, although many farmers do opt to do this. Good management can help prevent the vast majority of pig diseases. Make sure your pigs have plenty of room to root around and to develop.
Most diseases in pigs are caused by them wallowing in their own waste, so if you provide your pigs with ample space, you won’t have to worry about them contracting a large number of parasites, viruses, or bacteria.
Providing sufficient feed and water is also a good way to reduce the likelihood of disease. Studies have shown that pigs who are given free-choice food and water have a significantly lower likelihood of coming down with an illness.
Pigs who are deprived of water will often root round in their own mud pits (usually containing a high amount of their own waste), and drink the water from the muddy pools. As can be expected, this makes it much more likely that your pigs will consume parasites.
While you can engage in practices like dipping, deworming, and vaccinating to prevent and treat diseases, it’s much easier to rely on good management techniques to avoid the diseases altogether.
Other natural remedies, such as garlic to prevent parasites, can also be highly effective, and eliminate the need for pharmaceutical intervention.
Pigs are one of the most economical animals you can raise, but they are not without expense. You need to make sure you have enough money to purchase feed, as well as to buy and erect fixed and movable features, such as housing and fences.
Consider the following expenses when you are planning for pigs, and remember that while some can be built or purchased on the cheap, others may have steeper costs and will need to be budgeted for accordingly:
- Land for the pigs to pasture
- Housing, either temporary or permanent
- Water facilities, such as drinking nipples, reservoirs, and tanks
- Vehicles to transport feed
- Butchering fees
- Repair costs
- Breeding animals or equipment for artificial insemination
Breeding is a great way to keep your farm entirely full-circle. The goal of good breeding is to produce piglets that grow fast and have good ratios of lean, low-fat meat.
When you first purchase breeding animals, acquire them from farms that have high standards of hygiene and good management.
Buy good purebred boars with records. Consider the breed you want to introduce and make sure your gilts are also of good breeding.
Boars should be free from defects and grow faster than average. Ask your farmer about feeding ratios for these pigs, as you want those that can eat less feed than average to reach a specific weight and have less backfat than their competitors.
Ideally, you want a boar that can reach about 200 pounds before it is 140 days old.
Sows will be ready to bred at about eight months of age. Select the sow you want to breed before this, when she is about six moths of age, so that you can begin to feed her slightly more to prepare her for breeding.
A good sow will have a straight walk and straight, strong legs. She will have prominent teats and a well-developed ham.
Your boar will be ready to breed when it is about eight months old. It should be about the same size as the sow.
You need to make sure that the boar is introduced to the pen, which should be free from any obstructions, before the sow so that it has time to get used to the new area.
When you introduce the animals to each other, don’t hurry them. Don’t force the breeding, but you can gently guide them to each other.
A young boar may not “serve,” or breed, the sow at first. You can retry a few times a week. Older boars, particularly those who are used to the breeding process, can breed with sows several times a week.
Sows come into heat every twenty-one days, but keep in mind that just because your sow has been serviced by a boar, she will not necessarily be pregnant.
To make sure she becomes pregnant, bring her to a boar nineteen days after she has been served for three to seven days. If she is regularly coming to heat after being served by a boar, you may need to slaughter her, as she could be infertile.
If you have a pregnant sow, make sure she is free of parasites and is in otherwise good health. She needs to be provided with a farrowing house that is clean, dry, and warm. Dirty or wet bedding must be removed on a daily basis.
An average pig will gestate for about 114 days. As in humans, this is merely an average. Once your sow has been served, you should check her frequently for signs of pregnancy.
Offer her well-fortified feed to supplement the fetus. You should be feeding breeder pellets, milled barley, and vegetables, and you will need to dramatically increase her feed in the few days before she farrows.
Green leaves and vegetables are important, so raising pigs on pasture offers a distinct advantage in this way.
Keep in mind, however, that the more they move around, the more calories they burn, so they’ll weigh less when it’s time to butcher them. Make sure your pregnant sow has a place to go to avoid the heat as well.
Lactation can be a tricky time for both a mother sow and her piglets. You must make sure your sow is as comfortable as possible during this time. High temperatures will cause your sow to lose weight, which will reduce milk production.
Piglets will feed for about four weeks, after which time they should be weaned. To wean your piglets, take them away from the litter and move them to the growing pens.
After your piglets have been weaned, your sow can come in heat as little as three days later and can be bred immediately after weaning. When you move the piglets, keep them together in the same pen. If you house piglets from different litters together, they will fight.
Pigs are very friendly animals, and will engage in instinctual behaviors that may surprise you. They can be aggressive over food, both with humans and with each other. It is not uncommon to see pigs bite each other to assert their dominance.
Exercise caution when interacting with your pigs, as they can grow to be hundreds of pounds and can be potentially harmful. Try to cull pigs that don’t have good temperaments, particularly those that you plan on raising as breeders.
In some cases, you may be able to raise your pigs with over livestock. This is rare, and usually not recommended.
A pig has a high sex drive and may attempt to breed with non-pig animals. They can be aggressive, and in some cases, may go after other livestock – such as chickens – as potential prey species.
Many people forego the breeding process and instead purchase pigs when they are a little bit older, either as juveniles or as older piglets.
At this time, they will cost you anywhere between $175 and $125 per head, but this is often more cost-effective than keeping a sow and boar to breed. These animals are usually sold between six and eight weeks of age.
This is not an ideal topic for a beginner, however, it is a breeding process that all intermediate and expert pig farmers will consider at some point.
Artificial insemination is not a new technique, but it is growing in popularity as more farmers consider the economics of keeping a whole herd of boars and sows for breeding purposes, which can be expensive and restrictive if you don’t have a ton of space.
Artificial insemination, or AI, involves breeding a sow with pre-purchased and frozen semen instead of through the use of a traditional mature boar.
AI allows you to take advantage of superior genetics and reap the benefits of a quicker, more efficient reproductive cycle.
To engage in AI, you will need to wait until your sow goes into heat. Then, you can inseminate her with shipped semen, but make sure you brush up on your technique first.
A frightened pig is difficult to impregnate, and since semen is expensive, poor management can result in a breeding process that is not terribly efficient or pleasant.
AI is not for the faint of heart, nor is it a cheap fix. A single “dose” of semen can cost up to $200 per pop – making it something you want to research thoroughly before committing to.
Nearly half of all pigs that die prematurely on a farm die before they are fourteen days old. Therefore, you must provide good care for your pigs when they are in the farrowing stage.
Before you put the sow in the farrowing pen, wash her thoroughly. You need to move her into the pen about four days before the piglets are born to give her plenty of time to get used to it.
Once you do this, you may notice that the sow will become restless and start to make a nest. When her vulva begins to swell, this is an indicator that birth is about to begin.
While you don’t need to intervene much while your sow is giving birth, you should keep an eye on her, particularly if this is her first time.
When the piglets are born, you need to make sure they do not suffocate in mucus or amniotic fluid, and the sow also needs to be kept calm so she doesn’t trample the piglets. Piglets usually break their own umbilical cords.
After farrowing, keep an eye on the sow to make sure she is not constipated and that afterbirth has been discharged. Watch for fever and mastitis, which are common in lactating sows.
Design your farrowing pen so that the sow cannot lie on top of the piglets. Piglets are incredibly susceptible to cold, drafts, and wet bedding.
Any change in temperature can spell disaster, and they’ll often curl up next to their mother for warmth. She often rolls unknowingly on the piglets, or can even trample them by mistake.
Provide plenty of room and potentially a low-ceilinged side room where your piglets can get away from their mother to avoid being stepped or rolled on.
Another common issue in newborn piglets is the failure to feed. All piglets need to suckle immediately after birth to take in colostrum.
Colostrum is the milk that is produced by the sow immediately after birth, and it plays a major role in protecting the piglets against disease in their first few weeks of life.
During the early days, piglets have minimal immune systems. While they are developing their immune responses, the colostrum helps to guard them against potential illness.
That being said, a sow does not always take to her piglets right away. It’s a good idea to keep multiple sows to act as mothers.
If your sow has more piglets than teats, she won’t have enough room to feed them all. You can place the piglets with another sow who has fewer piglets if the piglets are all born within a few days of each other.
Sometimes – most often in the case of a sow’s first litter – a sow will reject her piglets altogether. This is known as birth shock. If this happens, you can take the piglets away for a few hours and wait it out.
If she still refuses them, place them with another sow. If your sow reacts violent, biting them or acting aggressively in another way, you must slaughter the sow, as she will not be able to raise a litter of piglets.
If you do not have another sow with which to place your rejected piglets, you can raise them artificially. This is not ideal, because it takes a lot of time and is more difficult to raise healthy piglets in this manner.
To do this, you need to feed the piglets a mixture of fresh cow’s milk and cream every two to three hours. This should be done until they are at least three weeks of age – until the can begin to take in solid food.
Keeping Pigs Contained
This is arguably one of the most challenging aspects of raising pigs. Pigs are smart, and they can easily break free of a housing system.
Electric is a good way to guard your pigs if you are hoping to raise pastured pork. Otherwise, you can keep them indoors to protect them against inordinately high or low temperatures.
Boars should be housed in their own pens. Usually, you only need about one boar for every fifteen sows. When your pigs are ready to breed, you will bring the sows to the boar in his pen.
The floor and walls should be made out of durable material, like concrete, and the floor should be covered in a natural bedding like straw or sawdust.
You can raise pigs either indoor or out. If you are keeping pigs in confinement, be aware that there are many issues with this system.
You will have to invest in permanent buildings and you must monitor your pigs’ diets vigilantly, because they won’t have access to any external sources of nutrients. You will also have issues with manure disposal and flies, as well as the general concerns related to animal welfare.
Raising pigs outdoors is a viable alternative, but keep in mind that you will need to be more vigilant in regards to fencing and predation. Also, they don’t see well at night so make sure they are at the pig pen before night falls.
Feed is obviously the biggest factor in pig production, and can account for up to eighty percent of your total cost or production.
Adequately fed pigs will ensure that you have good quality meat and maximum profit, while at the same time ensuring efficient reproduction and feed utilization.
The nutrient requirements for your pigs will vary only slightly depending on the status of your pigs.
For example, if you have boars or pregnant sows, their nutritional needs will increase dramatically, as will that of sows with piglets. Young pigs and growing pigs also have varying nutritional needs.
In general, a dry sow or boar will need about four pounds of feed per day, while a lactating sow will need four times this amount. Piglets will need about a quarter-pound of food per day for the first twenty-eight days.
You can produce your own feed mixtures or produce them from a commercial grower. Regardless of your choice, you need to make sure you contain appropriate quantities of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and digestible energy.
Many people falsely believe that you can feed a pig anything – including garbage – and the pig will turn it into delicious bacon.
While it’s true that pigs will eat just about anything, you should avoid feeding them anything but the highest quality feeds. Pigs have the unique ability to taste much like what they were feed, meaning if you feed them garbage, they will taste like…well, we don’t need to go there!
Regardless, consider the source of your feed carefully. Many people feed their pigs grain. This should constitute about 50% to 70% of a pig’s diet. This will provide quick energy with a low protein content.
Corn is usually used as a grain source in pigs, but grain sorghum and feed-grade wheat is also often used. Barley and oats are rarely used, but can be found in some blends, too.
Plant protein is another good source of fuel for pigs. Think about ingredients like oilcake meals and oilseed, along with lucerne.
Lucerne in particular is often used as a diluent in pig feed mixtures, offering high fiber. Providing your pigs with calcium and phosphorus is also important.
All said, pigs need a lot of food. Find ways to supplement their diet, such as old brewer’s grain from a local brewery or day-old bread from a bakery. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t only feed them these items, but that they should serve as occasional treats.
The same goes for garden scraps, leftover dairy, and other low-cost or free feed items. You need to make sure your pigs have a balanced diet and that they aren’t being fed nutrient-poor foods in excess.
Open access to food and water
Some beginning pig farmers make the mistake of hauling food and water out to their pigs daily. This is problematic in a number of ways.
First of all, it increases the labor load on you, by requiring you to make daily trips to the pig pen. Second, it reduces the amount of food and water the pigs can access.
This can lead to dehydration and weight loss. A thirsty pig will not eat, and a hungry pig will begin to destroy everything in sight.
Furthermore, pigs like to play with their food and drink. If you supply feed or water in a trough, there’s a good chance they will soil it pretty quickly.
Instead, erect a durable feeder and watering system that can be filled about once a week and then left alone. You can make auto feeders and waters out of recycled materials like trash cans.
This will allow them to snack and drink all day. Use watering nipples to reduce the contamination of their waterer, and make sure your feeder is made out of a sturdy material so they aren’t able to knock it over.
Feeding pigs a balanced diet is important. While their carbohydrate and protein requirements are pretty basic and can be met with typical feed, it should also be noted that pigs have requirements for essential amino acids that cannot be produced naturally by the body.
One of these amino acids is lysine. Without adequate dietary lysine, other amino acids cannot form muscle proteins.
Commercial feed will have lysine in it, but some will have higher contents than others.
Barley is the best, highest-quality grain for lysine production, but it should also be noted that most grains in themselves still do not supply enough amino acids. You may need to supplement with things like soybean meal and other proteins.
Pens, Pasturing, and Poop
Providing your pigs with plenty of space is important throughout all stages of their lives. Pigs will bite each other’s tails when stressed, which can lead to cannibalism. If you crowd your pigs, they will grow sick and injured.
Make sure your pigs are provided with a pen that is neither too hot nor too cold, and is free of drafts. Give them plenty of clean bedding and a self-feeder, along with clean water. Avoid crowding too many pigs into one area.
It is perfectly safe to keep pigs outside. Just make sure they have access to protection from the elements, like excessive heat or wind. Outdoor pig farming is significantly less expensive than having to build a barn, so it is a great way to start if you have limited resources.
And, of course, let’s not forget the poop – an article on pigs would not be complete without discussing their poop!
Pigs are known for being slovenly, disgusting creatures, but in fact, the opposite is true. Pigs prefer to be kept in clean conditions, and will often “clean” their own pens by pushing dirty bedding to one side or defecating only in one area.
That being said, pig manure has a potent smell, and should be disposed of in a timely fashion. Stacked manure, or manure left in one area, is a breeding ground for flies and toxic diseases.
Make sure you turn manure to help it develop into compost, or dispose of it in another manner in a timely fashion.
To eliminate this concern altogether, you might consider pasturing your pigs. You can raise healthier pigs on a pastured system, since they’ll have plenty of room to root around in the mud for tasty worms and other dietary staples.
They are less likely to become bored and try to escape, and there will be significantly less labor as you won’t need to dispose of their manure.
Pig manure is a great fertilizer, so rotating pigs on pasture is a good way to keep your fields fertile and to allow the earth to be constantly worked.
That being said, keeping pigs on pasture can be a bit more challenging in that your pigs may grow slightly slower.
This challenge can be mitigated by providing free choice food and water, and also by making sure the area in which they are pastured contains plenty of vegetation instead of bare dirt.
You also need to make sure you have plenty of fencing. Predation of pigs is not as common as that of other livestock, such as chickens, but is definitely a factor.
Piglets in particular are especially susceptible to predation by animals like wolves and coyotes. Containing your pigs in a smaller area and encasing the area with three-strand electrical fencing can help reduce predator problems.
Electric fencing is also a good way to make sure curious pigs do not escape the boundaries of your predetermined pen area to explore the nearby neighbor’s lawn or your own vegetable garden, too.
Pigs are social creatures. Many people believe you cannot raise just one pig, but this is a common misconception.
Pigs prefer to live in the company of others, but can also be overcrowded. If you only have room for one pig, just raise one pig, as you won’t see the benefits of cramming multiple pigs into a tight area.
Pigs will play with each other and engage in social relationships just as humans will, but it is possible to raise a single pig, too.
Just make sure you have the animal fenced in adequately, so that it doesn’t become bored and try to escape, and provide it with frequent human interaction and quality time.
Pigs love to dig, and this is, in fact, a natural behavior for them.
Rooting is the process in which pigs use their snouts to nudge into something. It is usually done out of boredom, to communicate, to cool off, or search for food.
Give your pigs plenty of outlets to root. If you’re worried about this behavior leading to escapee pigs or other similar situations, purchase durable fencing, like hog paneling, to prevent them from bending or flexing to get underneath it.
Pigs are more tolerant of cold temperatures than they are of hot temperatures. They don’t have sweat glands, so sweating is not an option.
Instead, pigs will roll around in the mud – or wallow – to cool themselves. The layer of dried, crusty mud helps protect them from the sun. Pigs are also great swimmers, and will swim whenever given the chance!
Keep good records of your pig breeding and all other aspects of raising pigs. This will help you keep track of which animals are ready for market or slaughter, as well as which sows have been served by a boar.
Good record keeping will also enable you to keep track of weaning and farrowing dates, as well as the approximate cull date for your sows and boars.
Transporting pigs is a major factor. Excessive stress during transportation is a common cause of pig mortality. To ensure a smooth trip, consider the following tips.
Don’t feed your pigs twelve hours before loading them. If you are transporting the pigs to market and they are fully grown, provide a loading ramp to help them get into the trailer. Spray the pigs with cold water and avoid traveling during the hot periods of the day.
Cover the area, but make sure there is adequate ventilation. Never transport pigs of different herds, sizes, or ages together, as this can cause fighting.
Did you know that pigs can actually get sunburned? Making sure you have a shelter with at least three sides and a roof will give them a place to get out of the sun and other elements
Raising a pig with darker skin can also help prevent sunburns, which can be quite painful for a pig and cause them to drop a lot of weight.
Uterine prolapse and other reproductive disorders
Reproductive disorders are not common in pigs, but it’s important to know how to treat them if they do occur.
Uterine prolapse is one of the most common issues, and it is when the uterus appears outside the vulva of the pig. This is very traumatic for pigs, and often results in you having to slaughter the sow, as typically only half of all pigs will live through treatment.
Other common – but thankfully more treatable – reproductive disorders include brucellosis (in boars), leptospirosis, mastitis, and endometritis
You Need Patience To Raise Pigs… But It’s Worth It!
Pigs are great animals to raise, offering high feed conversion rates as well as excellent companionship. They turn over quickly, making them a low-cost, high-return option for any farm.
That said, you may be tempted to try to raise dozens of pigs on your first go. Don’t. Start small, perhaps raising a few piglets – bred and weaned by another farmer – to butchering weight for the first few years.
Once you’re comfortable in your ability to feed, house, and butcher these animals, then you can progress to breeding and farrowing your own piglets.
You don’t want to start off too big and find yourself overwhelmed.
Pigs are smart creatures, as we have mentioned time and time again, and will quickly outsmart you fi you are not prepared to deal with them. Instead, start off small and enjoy the process of raising pigs.
Once you’re ready, you’ll be able to have a large-scale pig farming operation that will provide you with years of profit, productivity, and serious enjoyment.
When you are raising pigs, you need to exercise tons of patience. There is a learning curve involved in pig farming, and if you are not patient, you will easily find yourself giving up on the process.
Expect to have your pigs escape from their housing, damage their feeder, fight with each other, and – occasionally – become ill.
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Remember that this is a learning process, and the reward will be totally worth it when you are enjoying the end-result of your hard work – that is, pounds of delicious ham and bacon!
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep, and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor. Learn more about Rebekah here.