You want your feeder pigs to grow well and be healthy. Me, too! The question is how to make that happen.
What are the things your pigs need now to keep them in top shape and have them quickly growing to their potential? Here are 5 things that get results for me.
Is Raising Pigs For Meat Worth It? is an article I wrote with a full cost breakdown of raising your own pork versus buying it from farmer who custom raised the pigs for you.
Get high quality feeder pig genetics for fast growing pigs
Let’s get your pig feeding adventure started off right! The only way to do that is to get high quality feeder pigs! It sounds too simple, but it’s true.
Starting with a great foundation is the first step towards getting a great result.
What’s a high quality feeder pig, you ask? Wonderful question, here are some key points to look for to make sure you are getting a great set of feeder pigs.
High quality feeder pigs are:
- At least 6 weeks old, 8 weeks is better, 12 weeks is best
- Slick haired
- Wide through the chest and between the eyes
- Close to the same size as their litter mates
Get crossbred feeder pigs
If you are on the fence about which pigs you should be getting for your first set of feeder pigs, go with a nice crossbred intended to be grown out for the freezer.
Crossbred piglets are bred to be easy keepers and fast growers.
Notice I didn’t specify any breed (in the list above)!
There are great feeder pigs of nearly any common breed of pigs. Even better is a cross of two or more of the common pig breeds to make a feeder pig with tons of vigor and growing ability.
Never buy low quality or “cheap” piglets
Seriously, poor quality or slow growing piglets will never catch up to their well grown peers.
You can do everything else right but if you start with low quality piglets, all your time and care will not make up for their inability to thrive.
Often these problem piglets are sold for less money than their peers. Don’t fall for this trap! Poor doers cost more in time and feed, a lot more. Get nice piglets to start with.
Signs of a poor quality feeder pig:
- Lack luster attitude
- Dull/long hair coat
- Noticeable difference in size of littermates
- Any signs of sickness
- Problems walking
- Needs castration
- Belly rupture
If you see any of these problems in the feeder pigs you are looking at, do not buy any of these pigs and leave. No joke.
For more information on sick pigs, read Early detection of sick pigs in organic systems by the University of Minnesota.
“Needs castration” is the only debatable item on this list, because once he is castrated that piglet is probably fine, as long as he was healthy before.
I have to admit, you could pay a vet to come out and castrate your feeder pigs but why pay the extra fees when you could buy a castrated piglet, instead?
Please don’t make the rookie mistake of taking home a boar piglet that is yet to be castrated and saying you’ll get it done. You won’t. Buy castrated males only.
There are a few farms that have developed lines that do not need castrated (for example, Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont), but unless you are sure of this, do not get an uncut piglet.
Water needs to be plentiful and clean for your pigs to be healthy
It might seem unusual to talk about water before going over feed, but there’s a great reason why water is first: limited water will limit the growth of your feeder pigs.
If your pigs can not get all of the water they need, because they drank it all or the waterer is plugged, you are restricting their growth for as long as your pigs have a limited water supply.
Pigs need three times the water as they do feed, so if you want your pigs to eat more to grow more, the first thing you need to do is make sure they have plenty of fresh water.
Check your pigs’ water twice a day for two things:
- Is the level going down? If not, figure out what’s wrong.
- Would you drink it? If not, consider changing it out for fresh.
Provide unlimited feed that is appropriate for size of pig
Your feeder pigs should have access to unlimited “all you can eat” feed, everyday.
Read The Best Feed For Raising Pigs for the specifics on which feed ration to feed and when to change feeds.
Pigs can have all the feed they can eat
Pigs will not overeat feed. They will eat what they need and leave the rest for later, so keep that feeder full!
If you want your pigs to have some roughage, like hay or grass, super, give them a little. But still provide 24/7 feed, too!
I have to admit, when piglets are first weaned, they will “pig out” on the feed. Before now they were sharing with their mom and had limited feed.
Now it’s unlimited. This can result in a few days of them being poopy, but they’ll come around. If you bought weaned piglets, they should be used to full feed already.
Buy the feed that is appropriate for your pigs’ weight
Your pigs need different feed formulations as they grow. The main difference you’ll notice when buying feed is that the feed for bigger pigs is a lower protein percent and usually a little bit cheaper per bag.
When to switch pig feeds is based on weight. You can just guess and be pretty close.
Start with the higher percent protein feeds when you first get the feeder pigs.
You should be feeding a grower (15% protein) feed if your feeder pigs are 50-80 pounds. If they are smaller, you need to feed 21% starter.
The younger piglets must have the higher protein feeds to grow well.
Switching the ration for older pigs in nice, but not mandatory.
If you have the option, it will save you some money to switch to a lower protein feed when your pigs are bigger. If you just have one option of feed, use what you can find.
Comfortable feeder pigs grow faster
This is an easy one, because you can relate, or at least I can! When pigs are hot, they don’t feel like doing anything, including eating or drinking!
As mentioned above, if your pigs aren’t eating or drinking, they aren’t growing!
The best solution to help your pigs grow at their best is to keep your pigs comfortable.
Provide extra water for a wallow to keep pigs cooler
If it’s hot, provide a wallow. I know when I give my porkers extra water to slosh in on a super hot day, they immediately perk up, after wallowing, of course, and go eat.
I know they can make a mess, but it’s worth it to keep your pigs happy and lower their stress.
You could put a fan on their pen, to increase air circulation for the day. For me, a wallow is easier and doesn’t have me worried about keeping cords away from curious pigs.
Raise at least two, preferably three, feeder pigs per batch
Pigs need buddies, preferably two buddies! For some reason, pigs like to be in groups of three.
This means that if you are going to get 5 or 6, get 6, since that’s two sets of three. If you are going to get 3 or 4, get 3, otherwise one will be the odd one out and have trouble with the rest of the group.
I have a group of three feeder pigs right now, two gilts that were not a good fit with their littermates and a boar prospect.
So far, they are getting along well, even though I had to combine them, since they are from 2 separate litters.
I bought a group of four Hampshire feeder pigs a few years ago and three of them would team up and give the fourth one a hard time.
Get piglets that have been raised together
If you can, get all of your pigs from the same litter. This way they’ll all be about the same size, have similar growth rates and you won’t have any fighting when they get to your place.
The farmer may have weaned multiple litters into one pen, meaning the piglets you buy are not littermates, but they are the same age and size.
This is fine as long as they were weaned at the same time and have been raised together for a few weeks.
By the time you buy them, the pigs will have settled in with their new pen mates and be getting along together.
Do not put a new pig into an established group of pigs
If you can avoid it, do not put a pig into a group of unfamiliar pigs. This will cause fighting and it can look pretty bad! The pigs will eventually work it out, but the ruckus will be stressful for all.
Stress and fighting equal slow to no growth.
Get piglets that have been together for long enough that they have their hierarchy worked out before you add the stress of moving them to your farm or backyard.