Pig Raising Basics: Bringing Home Your Feeder Pigs

Your Guide to Raising Feeder Pigs

Pig Raising Basics: Bringing Home Your Feeder Pigs

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If you’re just starting out with feeder pigs, these pig-raising basics will help you on your new journey.

The day has come. Your feeder pigs are ready to be picked up. But are you ready? Most pigs are weaned and ready to go home with their new owners between four to 12 weeks of age. Knowing what age your pigs will be and how big they are at the time you pick them up is important knowledge to have prior to picking them up.  

Some additional and key pig raising basics to consider are the time of year your pigs will be ready and what the weather conditions will be like. Your shelter areas and bedding will vary greatly if your pigs will be coming home to you in February or in May. Where you live in the United States will also impact all of your preparations and decisions. In the southern states, where it does not get as cold, there will be less concern about warmth for the pigs as much as immediate shade and wallows. 

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If you get feeder pigs each year, then you more than likely have shelters and pig waterers already in place, you know how much and what type of feed you need, and you have their pens or pastures already in place. But, if you are just getting into raising your own feeders for pork, you will have a lot to get ready. The most crucial decision should be what breed of pig is going to work the best for you on your property. Researching the pros and cons and then deciding on the breed that fits best is going to make the next few months or a year much more enjoyable. Once you have decided on the breed, you will need to determine the best type of housing for pigs. Keep in mind that most feeders start out between 20-40 pounds and will be butchered between 230-275 pounds. Getting to this weight will take anywhere from five to 11 months depending on the breed. Some breeds, like the Kunekune pigs or the American Guinea hogs, mature to a smaller size and take a little longer to reach their butcher weight, so knowing your goal is an essential pig raising basic.  

Your shelter should be something that works from the time of purchase all the way through to butcher. Some good examples are A-frame pig shelters, calf hutches, Quonset huts, or stall-type areas. The best shelter is going to be the one that provides the best shelter and warmth for your pigs. Living in northern Wisconsin, the stall-type setting does not provide ideal warmth throughout the frigid winter months but could work well in the warmer, southern states.

The A-frame and calf hutches are both small enough to allow the pigs to basically heat themselves. The heat that they give off rises to the peak and then comes right back down on top of them creating their own warmth. In a stall or a Quonset-type building, there is too much rise to the heat, and it just dissipates above the pigs. This works great in the warmer states where they do not want or need that additional heat but is not ideal in the colder states during the colder months. Bedding is going to be needed if your weather is cold or cooler. Straw works the best for loft and keeping your pigs warm. Hay can be used but does not provide the loft of straw.  

Another important pig raising basic is to have already figured out prior to picking the pigs up is feed. Do the pigs you are purchasing eat free-choice feed or do they get hand-fed? Do they eat hay and if so, what kind works best for this type of pig? Do the pigs require additional minerals in their diet? Can you purchase the feed they are already used to at the same mill as the breeder? If hand feeding, how much is fed at each feeding? And, is the feed being fed now ground or pelleted? Having the correct feed prior to pick up will make the transition easier and will ensure better results. The Idaho Pasture Pigs we personally raise are grazing pigs and the key to making sure they graze and eat grass instead of just digging in the dirt to find more minerals is to make sure the mineral content in your feed is correct. Not all swine feed is the same and you need to be very conscientious of the feed requirements for your new pigs.  

Having fresh water is also essential in having healthy pigs. One thing most people do not realize is that pigs do eat snow and do very well. Having access to water is still a good idea. Different types of waters for pigs include a 55-gallon drum with a gravity nipple attached, water lines with pressurized nipples, automatic waterers, and short troughs to fill with water.

Deciding what type of water system fits your weather and location is going to make watering much more stress-free. If the weather is going to be warm when you bring your pigs home, you will need to not only have sufficient water but will also need a nice wallow and sufficient shade for your pigs to cool off.  

Now, you have your shelter, water, food, and bedding, it is time to pick up the pigs. Whether picking them up in a trailer, dog crate (plastic or wire), a home-built container, or the bed of your truck with a topper attached, you need to make sure you have some dry bedding. Straw or hay works the best as it provides comfort and warmth as well as helps prevent the pigs from sliding around on the slippery bottom. Blankets are not ideal as they just slide and bunch up, providing no aid and allowing the pigs to just slide around in the crate causing possible injury during transport. Make sure you have adequate ventilation for the pigs and again, this needs to be based on the temperature and weather conditions in your area at the time of pick up. Cold and windy conditions will require more bedding and less wind flow through the crate or trailer. Really hot temperatures will still require bedding to keep them comfortable and prevent slipping and injury, but more ventilation is advised and is going to keep them cool on the ride home.  

You have researched and found the breed of pig that best fits you and your farm, you have prepared for the pigs’ arrival, and you have the travel arrangements all set. You should feel confident that this is going to be a wonderful experience and that some delicious homegrown pork is in your future. Have fun and enjoy! 

Originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

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