Bedding Pigs on Pasture
What is the Best Bedding for Pigs?
Reading Time: 4 minutes
It’s that time of year again. The nights are longer, the days shorter, and the temperatures colder. With weather like this, it is time to talk about bedding for your pigs on pasture. Whether your pigs are outside in shelters or have access to a barn or stall area, they need the right bedding to stay warm.
For those of you who have read my article on A-frame shelters, you already know how I feel about A-frames. For those of you that don’t know … I absolutely love A-frame shelters and swear by them. Pigs give off a lot of heat of their own and in A-frames or even calf hutches, that heat will rise up to the peak and then come right back down on top of the pigs. They can essentially keep themselves warm. In open stall or barn areas, there is nothing to trap the heat and it just dissipates into the air above them. Whichever shelter you choose though, the same bedding questions arise, “Which is the best bedding for my pigs?”
So, what is the right type of bedding when raising pigs on pasture? Good question! Many different types of bedding can be used and what is best for one person, may not work at all for another person. Climate, temperatures, time of year, and even terrain can play a factor in what will work the best for you and your farm. Farms that are located in the southern U.S. will have different temperatures and factors than those of us that live in the northern U.S. Another thing to consider is what time of year it is. When the temperatures are extremely hot and the pigs want nothing more than to cool down, then the best bedding is actually dirt or sand. Nice cool dirt is what the pigs are going to be looking for to help them lower their body temperatures. In areas where it is extremely rocky, having some nice soft sand for the pigs to lay in is definitely something that will help them keep cool. Shaded or wooded areas will provide additional areas of cool dirt and many times the pigs will take the opportunity to make new wallows in those areas.
Wintering pigs on pasture involves a different set of factors to consider and here is where most of the differences in bedding will be obvious. Areas, where winter nights can routinely get down into the 30s and 40s, will find that their pigs will appreciate some type of bedding to aid in keeping warm. In these circumstances, the best bedding option is probably going to be pine shavings or fine wood chips. The shavings will keep the pigs up off of the cool dirt during the nights, but also allow for cooler bedding than straw or hay when the daytime temperatures still get up into the 70s. Knowing your climate and weather patterns will help in determining what the best bedding choices will be.
For those of us that live in the northern half of the U.S., the bedding is going to be much different. When temperatures drop below zero and stay there for days on end, having bedding with a lot of loft and warmth all day long is going to provide the most comfort for your pigs. Straw is the preferred choice of most people because straw, unlike hay, provides additional loft and won’t pack down as fast. This will help keep the pigs warmer longer and you won’t have to re-bed as often. What type of straw you use is going to be determined primarily by what is grown locally in your area. Whether it is wheat, barley, or oat straw, it will still have more loft than hay. Some people have a personal preference to one type or another, but we have personally used all of these options at our farm and all of them work very well.
Something that we look for specifically when buying straw is how clean it is. For example, if you get straw that has a lot of oats left on it, the pigs are going to dig through the straw looking to eat the leftover oats. It is extremely frustrating to put new straw into all of our A-frames only to come back a couple of hours later and find that the pigs have pulled the majority of the straw outside of the shelters in their search for snacks! For this reason, we prefer to get bedding straw that is very well cleaned. Having a good relationship with your local farmers is also a great way to ensure you know the quality of the bedding you are getting. Straw that is filled with mold is not going to be ideal bedding because no one wants to have their pigs get sick from repetitively breathing in mold spores.
The same applies to hay if you are using it as bedding in your shelter area. Many times, you will see “bedding hay” advertised. Hay that got rained on and lost some of its nutritional value, but was properly dried and then baled, is actually good-quality bedding. Again, you will probably have to bed more often with hay than with straw, but it is overall a good source of bedding. Now, hay that was baled wet and is now moldy is not ideal bedding for the same reason as the straw.
Obviously, with all of the different types of bedding we just talked about, making sure the pigs are dry will aid in their overall health and warmth. Re-bed as necessary and if you have a pig shelter/house in a location that gets really wet, you may even have to move the house to a new area and then re-bed. Facing your opening or doorway away from the direction the wind and weather primarily come from will also help keep the bedding dry longer.
Happy, healthy, dry, and warm pigs are the goal.
What type of bedding do you use for your pigs on pasture? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!
Originally published in Countryside September/October 2021 and regularly vetted for accuracy.