Happy, healthy pigs live a good life and taste great! So, how do you raise happy pigs? What do pigs need to be happy, healthy and raised as naturally as you can?
Heathy pigs are kept in a comfortable, spacious area with pen mates and free choice food and water and are frequently observed by their owners.
We’ll be going over how to keep your pigs happy and healthy. If you want more specifics, read: How To Raise Backyard Pigs which goes over more of the containment, feed and equipment side of pigs.
Get to know your pigs by spending time with them
Your pigs are curious about you and find you interesting. All of my pigs come over to the edge of their pen and like to be petted, seriously, even the adults.
So, what does this have to do with pigs being healthy? A lot, actually. You spending time with the pigs means that they are getting used to being around you and you are getting used to seeing them behave normally.
When you know what normal behavior looks like, now you can see when the pigs are behaving abnormally.
This is what animal husbandry is all about, getting to know the animals in your care to ensure they have happy lives and get them help when they need it. Spending time observing your pigs is the only way to gain this knowledge.
What Do Pigs Do All Day? is an article I wrote going over a pig’s daily activities, check it out if you want more specifics.
Observe your pigs
You’ll find that in your small group of pigs, one will be the leader and probably a bit pushier than the others.
If your leader ends up having a slow day, that’s something to note. If it’s more than one slow day, that merits a more in depth check.
If the pigs normally zoom right over to the feeder and start snacking when you add a new batch of feed, but this time they go over and taste it then come to you to see what else you have, something is up with the feed.
If you see the pigs beating on the waterer, or there is a ton of pushing and shoving to get a drink, is the nipple or cup waterer plugged so the pigs can’t get a drink? No water = no eating = no growing!
The sooner you notice this kind of stuff, the sooner you can fix the problem and have your pigs back on track.
It’s tempting to get chores done and move on to the next thing for the day, I’m guilty of this one! Make it a habit to pause and observe your pigs for a few minutes a day, you’ll both be better off for it.
Pigs will learn to like you hanging out with them
Pigs of all ages are interested in people and will all respond a bit differently to you. The sows want a snack or they’ll find something else to do and the feeder pigs want to eat my pants.
The funny ones are the piglets. I’ve got a litter of 7 piglets that just turned 6 weeks old and they are characters!
I go into their creep area (the piglet only space where they have a feeder) and they come over and try to eat my shoelaces! They are exploring their world and like to figure things out.
Happy pigs are comfortable
Happy pigs are comfortable. This means having a nice place to live, complete with a couple of pen mates and plenty of bedding.
Having pen mates keeps the pig happy by allowing your pig to live as natural of a life as possible. A group of pigs would never splinter off into individuals, they stay together for safety. Pigs are biologically geared to be in a group.
Making sure your pigs have plenty of bedding will give them a nice spot to hang out in the cooler weather. Pigs are comfortable at a much lower temperature than people.
The way I think of it is, if you are in a sweatshirt or jacket and are fine sitting outside, then your pigs are comfortable at that temperature.
If you are a bit warm in the sweatshirt, the pigs are a bit warm, too. If you are feeling overheated in a T shirt, your pigs are definitely too hot and you should have something too cool them off, like a wallow or a fan, already in use.
Keeping pigs comfortable in the cooler times of the year is pretty easy, cold usually isn’t as big of a deal for pigs as heat.
Remember, if it’s too hot for your pigs to be comfortable, it’s also too hot for them to be eating. If they are not eating, they are not growing!
Pigs need plenty of space
Pigs need plenty of space to exercise and explore.
If you look up the big ag type information on how much space a pig needs, it is shockingly small, 8 sq. ft.! 8 sq. ft. is from Raising Small Groups of Pigs, which has other good information, but I disagree with this number, it’s way too low!
Yikes! That’s not enough space, not even close! Read How Much Space Do Pigs Need? for more details on pen and pasture sizes that will be appropriate for your situation.
You don’t have to think too hard here, just give your pigs enough room that they are able to run around a bit and have space for a nest, in addition to the normal eating, drinking and manure areas.
Of course, as your pigs grow, they will need more space. You can start with a pen that is too big for younger pigs and they’ll grow into it or you can make the pen bigger as needed.
Another option is to be moving the pigs all of the time by rotating them through your yard or pasture. This way you are giving your pigs the space they need for their size.
If they need a bit more, you just make the move bigger or move them sooner.
If the pen looks clean, the pigs have enough space
How can you tell if your pigs have enough space? Another easy one, look around the pen. How are things? Is poop building up or is their nest area a mess? They need more space.
If the pen is mostly (like 75%) clean spots for them to rest in, they are fine. It’s not likely that you’ll be able to keep the entire pen spotless, they will be manuring in one spot and more than likely making a water mess, as well.
What you are looking for is if the pigs can spend time in a dry and comfortable spot. If you are still unsure, hop in and put down a knee in the pen and see how the bedding is, first hand. If your pants are dry, the pigs are dry.
In the summer heat, I actually help the pigs make a mess by watering a section of the pen to give them a cool spot to lay in. For outside pigs, I run some water right into a puddle for a wallow.
This gives the pigs a choice of where to spend time. As long as your pigs have options, they have enough space.
Happy pigs have things to do
Give your pigs something to do with their day, happy pigs are pigs that interact with their environment. I try to keep plenty of bedding in with mine so they can rearrange the pile as they please.
The piglets love to tear apart a flake of late made hay, that’s what I’m using for bedding right now. They really get a kick out of ripping it apart!
The bigger pigs tear the flakes apart, as well, but they are more looking for little snacks in the hay or working on spreading it out for nap time.
Another thing I like to do for my pigs is to give them snacks, just to add interest to their lives.
At this time of year, we have extra fruit, apples and pears that get knocked off the tree or have bad spots, the pigs love these! Even the piglets get excited when I toss in the pears.
A few weeks ago, I was grabbing some of the taller grass around the edge of the fields and bringing it to them. You get the idea, just something interesting.
Happy pigs live with friends
As you may have noticed, I am always using the plural pigs and not pig. This is because pigs should be kept with peers. The best number is 3 pigs to a group, but 2 pigs is fine, as well.
Either way, one pig is not a good idea for the sake of the pig. Being by itself is stressful and lonely for your porker. A stressed pig is not healthy or happy. Pigs need buddies to grow well and live happy lives.
Pigs need to have free choice feed to grow their best
Unless you are doing something very specific with your pigs, you should have them on free choice feed. Free choice or full feed means the pigs can eat anytime, day or night, and in any amount that they want.
Free choice feeding keeps your pigs growing well and gives them the option to set their own feeding schedule.
Breeding stock pigs need to be on restricted feeding for health reasons, too much feed makes them fat, which makes them have breeding problems. However, feeder pigs are doing so much growing, free choice feeding is the way to go.
Cost Of Raising Feeder Pigs is another article on this site that will help you figure up a feed budget for your pigs.
Healthy pigs need quite a bit of water
For your pigs to be at their best, not only do they need to have free choice feed, they also need to have free choice water. And not just any water, clean, fresh water. Something that you would drink out of.
Water should be available all day, since they have feed available all day.
Pigs need to drink about three time the amount of water that they eat in feed. So if you picture your pig’s feeder, it needs at least three of those full of water to go with that feed.
And, just like people, pigs drink more in the heat. When it’s a super hot day around here, my pigs are laying around doing nothing, meaning they are not eating either!
If I spray them off with water, or just add water to their wallow, they get up and cool off then go get a snack. That’s eating that would not have happened if they stayed so hot for the day.