How to Build A-Frame Pig Shelters
A Simple, Yet Efficient Pig Shelter Design
Reading Time: 7 minutes
We have found that our A-frame pig shelters are the best protection for our pigs when raising pigs on pasture. Whether farrowing outdoors or just providing shelter to your adult pigs, some of the important things to consider are shape, space, dryness, and function. When farrowing outside, the most important concern is a warm, dry place to deliver the new little piglets. All piglets need shelter from the heat of summer and warmth and dryness from the inclement weather. This is why we love our A-frame pig shelters.
They provide good coverage with an amazing amount of warmth in the winter, whereas in the summer, these same A-frame houses provide shade as well as a cool dry ground to lie on. We build our A-frame pig shelters out of two full sheets of 3⁄4-inch green-treated plywood for each side as well as a triangle section cut out for the back section.
The frame is made out of eight 2x4s. We do not put any floors into our A-frame pig shelters. The measurements we use are one 8-foot 2×4 across the top peak, two 2x4s cut at 65 inches (one for the front and one for the back bottom sections), four 2x4s cut at 48-inches (two for the front and two for the back sections running from the bottom to the top and completing a triangle shape). I cut these pieces at a 45-degree angle on both sides to allow them to fit snug to both the bottom section as well as the top peak section.
There are four more pieces to cut now with two being cut at 89.5-inches. These sections will be positioned on either side of the shelter running between the front and back triangle sections you just built. When
I put these boards in place, I like to follow the angle of the 48-inch boards so that the plywood will lay flat when it is put on. The last two boards are support boards and will run from top to bottom at the middle of the 89.5-inch board and the top peak board. The top of these boards is cut at a 45-degree angle again to allow for it to lay flat onto the top peak board,
but the bottom is left square to sit onto the angle of the 89.5-inch board. To get the exact measurement of these two boards, I recommend measuring the space once all of the other boards are in place.
After the frame is built, it is easiest if you have a helper so that the full sheets of plywood can get attached correctly. If you overlap the top of the right side over the left (or vice versa) and screw it down tight, it makes the top angle nearly waterproof. To get the exact shape of the back-plywood sections, I like to just stand my last sheet up next to the back and trace the outline.
Different measurements can very easily be used, but we have found that the measurements we have provided allow for an A-frame that is tall enough to accommodate the majority of our full-grown adult Idaho Pasture pigs, and wide enough to allow ample room for a sow and piglets. The shape of the A-frame is such that as the sow starts to lie down, her back will hit the side and she will lie down at that point. Because of her height, her back will hit higher up on the side of the ceiling section and when she lies down, she will still have ample space behind her for the piglets. The A-frame shape allows a great spot for the piglets to get away from their mom when she lies down. If you make the A-frame too narrow, it won’t allow adequate space along the edges.
When we farrow in the A-frame pig shelters, we fill it full of straw. It is best
if you can get the straw into the A-frame a few days prior to your sow delivering. This will allow her to have time to move things around, reposition the straw the way she wants, and make a nice nest. It also gives her time to lie on it and flatten it down slightly. If the straw is too fluffy, then the newborn piglets may get hidden under it and they can potentially get laid on because the sow doesn’t see them. Because there is no floor in the A-frames, the piglets will naturally get iron as they play and nose along the ground.
During the cold winter months, the A-frames have straw in them to provide warmth. We recommend re-bedding as needed. We have found that we normally re-bed every couple of weeks in the winter. We have found that the straw provides the best bedding because it has more loft than hay, and therefore, provides a better overall warmth. Each winter, when I go
out to feed in the mornings, I am amazed at how warm the pigs are when they are coming out of their shelters.
We have many days during the winter where the weather gets or stays below zero degrees F. I love to see the pigs come out of their beds and watch the steam billowing out behind them. I have been very tempted to sneak in and warm up when the wind is hollowing and the snow is coming down like crazy.
Considering that “my girls” have spent quite a bit of time cuddled
up to me throughout the years, I don’t think anyone would mind in the least. During the warm summer months, the pigs will pull all of the straw out of the A-frames so they can lie on the nice cool dirt that is located in the shade of the A-frame. When the sow has piglets, she will not pull all of the straw out of the entire A-frame, but will position the straw in the back of the shelter for the piglets, and have a cooler dirt area in the front of the shelter. Because the A-frames are eight feet long, it allows ample room for the sow to have a dirt floor in the front with a nice, comfy straw bed in that back section.
We normally plan our litters to arrive in the warmer months of spring through late fall, but on occasion, we have had litters arrive in the cold months of winter. When we first started out, we had a couple of litters born in stall areas with run-in doors to their pastures. We would use heat lamps and the piglets did great. But we had problems keeping the sows healthy.
Our sows would get cold and a couple of times, the sows got frostbite on their ears. Our KuneKune sow, Angel, got severe frostbite one winter and
we declared that there had to be a better way. That was the last time we used a heat lamp.
A couple of years later, another sow ended up delivering in January on one of the coldest nights of the year. We kept this sow in her A-frame pig shelter with a bunch of straw and no heat lamp. We checked on her periodically throughout the night and kept straw built up in front of her opening to prevent any piglets from sneaking out. She delivered nine healthy piglets and one stillborn. One died the next evening when the temperature dropped to below -28 degrees F. The night she delivered, it was -20 F and it stayed at -20 F for two solid weeks. That sow, Marie, lost two piglets out of 10 in some of the worst weather possible with no heat lamps.
There is no better proof of how warm the A-frame shelters are than the birth of piglets in such inclement weather. Because pigs give off a lot of their own BTU’s, the heat rises naturally and hits the peak of the A-frame. That same heat, then drops right back down on top of the pigs, thereby keeping them warm with their own heat. When in a stall or barn area there is nothing to trap the heat and as the heat rises, it simply dissipates into the area above them.
Our adult boars mature to about 350–450 pounds and our adult sows mature to about 250–350 pounds. These pigs have no problem fitting into the shelters. We have two A-frame shelters in each pasture for the winter and even with extra space, they choose to sleep together as much as possible. It is very common to see a full-grown boar and four or five of his sows all in the same house. If you have ever seen a group of sleeping pigs, you will note that they love to pile on top of each other. It doesn’t matter if they are all in their shelters or out in the middle of the pasture. They will still make a pile on top of or as close to each other as possible.
Keep in mind that if your pigs are larger than the pigs I deal with normally, you may have to adjust the measurements to accommodate their size.
We position all of our shelters with the opening to the southeast. The majority of the wind and weather comes from the northwest where we live, so facing the opening away from that will allow the best protection for the pigs. Depending on how the weather travels across your property
will determine how you should face the opening on the A-frame pig shelters. Keeping them warm and dry in the winter, as well as cool and comfortable in the summer months, is the most important thing to consider when positioning the pigs’ houses.
What type of housing do you use for your pigs? Will you be trying A-frame pig shelters? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Originally published in the September/October 2020 issue of Countryside and regularly vetted for accuracy.