Pigs can eat nearly anything, right? But, should they, that the question! Is feeding hay to your pigs the right thing to do or would it be best for the pigs to only give them pig feed?
Pigs eating hay are able to express natural behaviors and gain more efficiently, however, they will take more time to finish than pigs feed grain only.
Pigs can eat hay
Our pigs enjoy eating hay. We have a few different age groups and all of them seem to like the chance to snack on something other than their normal pig feed.
I give them left over haylage (fermented hay) from the sheep feeders or a few flakes of a mixed grass and alfalfa hay.
We give the hay in addition to the normal grain ration for the day. The pigs like to have something new to chew on, it adds some interest to their day!
Studies on feeding pigs are done using silage, not hay.
Many countries can not reliably harvest dry hay, so they harvest haylage or silage for their animals instead. This is a wet hay that is fermented so it keeps, think of it like sauerkraut.
The reason you need to know this is that there is little to no data on feeding hay to pigs, but there data regarding feeding a hay based silage to pigs.
We’ll use the silage study, since it is reasonable to think that the results from pigs eating silage and pigs eating hay would be similar.
Here’s a study on pigs eating forages concluding that pigs fed silage (fermented hay) is good for them in two ways:
- improves feed to gain ratio
- expressed more natural behaviors
Feed to gain ratio is improved on forage
The data from the above study shows that pigs eating forage (in this case, silage) are gaining weight more efficiently than pigs eating feed alone.
This means that for every pound of feed a silage fed pig eats, it will gain more weight than a pig eating the same feed but no silage.
The catch is the silage fed pigs are gaining less per day than the feed only pigs. To the tune of 10-15% longer to reach the same weight as feed only pigs.
This means that pigs eating forage (including hay and silage) will take longer to reach market weight than pigs eating just grain.
Why would anyone think forages to pigs are worth it? Here’s why: Eating forages, like hay, make the pigs happier!
Pigs behave more naturally when eating forages
The other big point from this study, at least for me, is that the pigs eating the silage diet were nicer to their pen mates and less inclined to spend time beating on their pen.
In short, pigs eating forage are better behaved. The study did mention that it could be simply that the forage occupies the pig’s attention.
Whatever the reason, the pigs are happier when forages are included in their diets.
Pigs eat less feed when given hay
Our group of market hogs was given extra hay, left over from the sheep, and the pigs loved it!
We found the small amount of extra work involved in giving the pigs hay to be worth it because they needed less grain when they were eating hay.
And the hay in this case was leftover hay that the lambs did not eat. What would be a wasted amount of forage goes to make the pigs happy, nice!
We noticed a definite drop in feed consumption when we started giving the market hogs haylage to snack on.
Let me also point out, that since we fed the leftover haylage the pigs were eating less grain per day, meaning we also slowed the growth of the pigs a bit.
To be clear, these were not small pigs, they were probably 150+ pounds at the time, so they had the ability to eat and digest the hay while eating enough grain for the day to keep growing well.
Here is a great article Forages For Swine that has tons of information. Scroll down to the Economics Of Forage Use, Pasture section for cost comparisons of using pasture vs. feed.
Pigs will sleep on some of the hay
Your pigs will not eat all of the hay, at least mine don’t! They will eat what they want for the day and then lay on the rest.
Even though my pigs have plenty of straw bedding, (which they will also eat), they still like to pile up the uneaten hay and add it to the nesting area.
No worries, let them sleep on it.
If I see them doing a lot of sleeping on the hay and not much eating the hay, I reduce the amount of hay I give them for the day.
Pigs eat dry and fermented hay
Pigs can eat dry hay, this would be the “normal” hay that most folks would be familiar with, and wet or fermented hay, called haylage.
I give our pigs some haylage to chew on and they seem to like it. Once again, their main diet is grain, the haylage is just for interest.
Getting hay for your pigs should be easy, just look through the online ads and see what is available in your area.
You can always go to the farm store and buy bales or hay pellets, but I have found those prices to be a bit scary! Buy from a farmer if you can!
There is a small farmer friendly fermented hay solution available called Chaffhaye. I have never used it but would if I was not able to handle the larger haylage bales that we use daily.
We have found haylage to be so useful and versatile and to be honest are constantly surprised that more farm folks are not using it.
I do have to admit, normally haylage bales would be too big for a small farmer, which is exactly why I am pointing you towards Chaffhaye.
Here’s a link to the Chaffhaye site, the chicken page. I know we are talking pigs here, but the closest animal they have to pigs is chickens, digestively speaking.
In case you are wondering, I don’t get a dime for letting you know about Chaffhaye. (Sad, but true;) )
I feel strongly about fermented hay being great for animals and very underutilized and this is the best small farm friendly solution I have found.
I frequently see small farmers (mostly in Europe) make their own haylage bales from small square bales, but in this country it has not caught on, so far.
Pigs need more than just hay
It has become popular to raise pastured pigs and for good reason, pigs love to be out eating grass and rooting around.
The part that most folks leave out is that they are still feeding grain to these pigs.
Even the special breeds of pastured pigs that are really coming on in popularity are normally fed some grain.
Why feed grain to pastured pigs? Easy, they need the extra calories to grow. Your growing pigs need to be able to eat a high number of calories per day to grow to their potential.
As the pigs get older, they can do a better job of using forages, like grass. When they are younger, their digestive system can not efficiently extract nutrients from the pasture.
This is why most pigs, young pigs especially, need some grain. Small bodies and small stomachs need more calories in the diet than bigger pigs with more capable digestive systems.
If you had gestating (pregnant) sows on pasture, you could get away with very little grain, maybe none depending upon what else you had for them, like leftover produce or dairy waste.
Feed pigs 1 pound of hay per 100 pounds of bodyweight
Here is a farm site that I get a ton of pigs on pasture information from, Sugar Mountain Farm. Owner, Walter Jeffries, writes that he figures on feeding 1 pound of hay per pig per 100 pounds of body weight.
This would mean that a 200 pound pig would need 2 pounds of hay per day.
Figure the weight of each flake of hay
To give you a good idea of what you are feeding, open a bale and count the flakes (also called slabs) of hay that the bale naturally falls apart into.
Since most bales weigh 50 pounds or so, divide 50 by the number of flakes to get the weight per flake.
For example, if your bale has 12 flakes, 50 divided by 12=4.16 pounds per flake
Using the Sugar Mountain suggestion of 1 pound of hay per 100 pound of body weight, each of these 4.16 pound flakes of hay would be good for one adult pig, two pigs at 200 pounds or 4 pigs at 100 pounds.
Feed some hay and see how your pigs like it
For our pigs, I just toss in the hay and see how it goes. If they clean it up, then they can use a bit more at the next feeding.
If there is a noticeable amount of hay leftover, then I need to feed a bit less next time or see if I have something that they would like better.
A small amount of leftover hay, I would consider perfect!
All pigs like to eat hay
While the focus of this article is on raising pigs for meat, the information will apply to all pigs.
Whether your pigs are being kept as pets or being raised for meat, they will benefit from eating hay.