[Note: I no longer feed organic grain.]

To date, I have been raising heritage breed feeder pigs. A feeder pig is a young pig (usually 6-12 weeks old) that is purchased to raise (feed) to slaughter weight. Heritage breed pigs are older breeds that were abandoned by commercial farmers as more modern breeds were developed. There are two reasons that I prefer heritage breeds. First, the meat tastes better because it has not had the fatty marbling bred out of it. Second, I think it is important to preserve genetic diversity. The commodity pig market is based on the genetics from just a couple of breeds, and I think so drastically reducing genetic diversity is a recipe for disaster.

After arriving at the farm, I immediately place the feeder pigs on pasture, season permitting. To me, pasture is a good stand of actively growing (or stockpiled for grazing after the growing season ends) green grass, legumes, and/or weeds. I rotate the pigs off of one section of pasture to another section of pasture when they have grazed down most of the green stuff, or if they have started rooting up the pasture too badly. The purpose of pasture is three-fold, it permits the expression of the pigs’ instinct to root and forage, it provides essential nutrition, and wandering around it gives the pigs exercise.

The material essentials for pigs on pasture are food, water, shelter, and a wallow to cool off in, all of which I provide. The non-material essentials are a low-stress environment and calm conscientious handling and/or herding, both on the farm and at the slaughterhouse.

Food
I feed the pigs a commercial grain mash produced at a local mill (with mostly imported grains), cull vegetables from a local vegetable farm (when available), and farm-grown forage, which is grown with no synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. I do not use hormones (saying this is superfluous as hormones are not allowed for use in pigs or poultry). I do not use antibiotics unless required by the presence of an infection that cannot be resolved by non-synthetic chemical means.

Currently, I either hand feed the pigs three times a day, using pig feed troughs, or the pigs are self-fed from a range feeder. According to Morrison in Feeds and Feeding, self-fed pigs consume slightly fewer pounds of grain per hundred pounds of gain, so the self-feeders pay for themselves over time, even not taking into consideration any labor savings.

Water
I haul water to the pig pastures in 275-gallon totes, and they are watered out of the totes via pig nipples piped into the totes. The system is gravity fed.

Shelter
For shelter I either use Port-a-Huts, which is an all-steel hoop-style shelter with an open front and a hinged window in the back for ventilation, or homemade wooden shelters. The shelters provide shade and protection from the rain, wind, cold, etc. The shelters are built on skids, so as I rotate the pigs from pasture section to pasture section, I use the tractor to drag the shelters along.

Wallow
Pigs do not sweat and they cannot shed heat adequately by panting like dogs do, so they need to have a way to cool off when it is above seventy degrees. In nature, they use wallows, either streams, naturally occurring pools of water, or they dig deep holes until they hit the water table. If no water is available, they spend the hot hours of the day lounging in the shade of woods/forest. On a farm, wallows and/or woods must be provided. I dig a wallow for the pigs with the bucket on the tractor and then fill it and keep it filled with water. For a wallow to do its job, there must be liquid water in it, not just mud.

Environment and Handling
The pigs have plenty of space and everything they need or want right in front of them, so their environment is low-stress. To make handling easier, I spend time walking amongst the pigs, petting and talking to them. When I need to move the pigs, I do my best to set it up so they will want to go where I want them to go, or if I need to drive them, I try to do so without making them too anxious. I work them slowly and deliberately. For the most part, pigs (like other animals) happily move to where the best grass or food is, so I just take advantage of this natural tendency.

Trailering
My preferred method for loading pigs on a trailer is to entice them with grain. However, if there is a loading chute set up, I do not mind driving them through it and onto the trailer as long as the driving is done slowly and the pigs are given a chance to get over whatever has them frightened when they balk. Given that chance, a gentle nudge with a knee is usually enough to get them moving again. If all hell breaks loose, I try to get things squared away as quickly as possible. If things completely break down, I walk away and to calm down and catch my breath, and then try again in a few minutes.

Slaughterhouse
If the pigs I raise are treated poorly at the slaughterhouse, then I have failed in my effort to raise pigs according to the highest welfare standards. The people at the slaughterhouse need to handle the pigs in a low-stress manner, both from the trailer to the holding pen and from the trailer to the kill floor. This year I am working with a new slaughterhouse and I am hopeful that their handling will meet my standards.

51 Responses to “Farming Practices: Pigs”


  1. Bob,

    We feed pasture and hay as the primary feed for our pigs supplemented with dairy. They grow very well on it producing an excellent flavor, color and texture of pork that gets rave reviews from customers. This is far less expensive than grain. We ended up doing this because of two things: 1) our pigs were eating our sheep hay; 2) the cost of grain (and this was 5 years ago). After observing the pigs chowing down on the pasture all summer and the hay in the winter I started researching what a complete diet would be based on forage. A dairy supplement was the answer. I have done years of experiments with different groups of pigs using different variations. It works, delightfully so.

    Cheers,

    -Walter
    in Vermont

    1. Rani Douglas Says:

      Hi Walter,
      Could you explain what the dairy supplement is? I have a small herd of pastured pigs and the supplemental feed is way too expensive.
      Thank you.
      Rani

  2. Carl blake Says:

    Bob,

    Hey, I learned early on that weaning them further out produced a much better piglet. While conventional confinement wisdom says four weeks…6 weeks is wayyyy better. But also, watching the sow in the event she cannot go that long. But I discovered it works very well. I have not lost ONE piglet and I want to say this helps. I always put a little grain in with the little boogers and some even start to eat it after a couple days from birth. Course…mine have some wild in them.

  3. Carl blake Says:

    Oh, I REALLY want to say it. Confinement wisdom really sucks. Nothing they do with confinement produces a good pig to eat. Nearly every practice harms human consumption in one form or another. And I am not one of those hard core hippy folks with PETA. Just plain common sense. You have success with your pigs because you work at it and provide them with what they need. You are absolutely correct that all the work you have done with the pig is ruined if that last few minutes are so stressful the animal will now taste poorly.

  4. Mary Byron Says:

    I am so grateful for your farming practices. I just saw the documentary Food INC and I cannot believe how stupid we are and just blindly go into a supermarket and eat whatever they tell us to eat. Don’t we care where our food comes from? I am ashamed of myself and have told all of my friends and family how stupid we are. Everyone in my circle knows that I am an animal lover(even though I was eating factory farm products and I feel so uneducated for doing that) but I believe that if animals are given a satisfying oportunity to live in thier natural enviorment then it is, in fact the earths food chain.I put it to the people I know that if your not an animal lover how about the poison your unknowingly eating every day.
    I swear that they were all shocked to hear what I had to tell them. I have always believed that “word of mouth” is what people listen to. I so wish that the farmers could make a prime time documentary for people to see.
    I think education is the key. We have all been so brain washed. I was born in 1955 and still remember a real farm. How did we get so far removed from that?
    Sorry to go on and on about it but it is such a relevation to me, my family, and everyone else I mention it to.
    Thank you for working your farm in spite of our ignorance.
    Sincerely,
    Mary Byron
    Chicago, IL

    1. Nora Henry Says:

      “King Corn” is a documentary about corn fed cattle. Its a very interesting video. I have just purchased 15 acres and intend to pursue my lifetime dream of organic farming. I have been consuming whatever chemicals the grocer had to offer,even corn syrup is made with a complicated chemical process..That documentary made me really aware of it.

  5. Miles Johnson Says:

    I’m in the process of purchasing 2.5 acres where I’m going to pasture some animals for our family’s use. My intention is to raise pigs without utilizing chemicals/medicine while also producing meat that doesn’t have parasites. How do I do this?

  6. ml. nolan Says:

    ml. nolan irl says.
    if taking your pigs to the slaughter house give them a few pints of guinness they will die with a smile on their face and the flavour you have worked so hard to keep will be their when you put it on the frying pan

  7. Tony Says:

    Hi , I work with pigs everyday and I always have a hard time loading them on to my trailer. What do you recommend I do?

    1. BlueJae Says:

      I have a butcher come to my farm and kill the pigs (and whatever other livestock I have ready) skin, gut, and hang them in a refriderated truck then take them to the shop for processing. Works great, no stress, and no trailering.

    2. David West Says:

      We usually hold back our pastured pigs supplemental feed(whey, natural grain, or alfalfa) that day until we want to trailer them. This allows us to use one of said means to entice their cooperation. Works wonderfully. We have a ramp door that the pigs are more comforable with then having to hop up into the trailer.
      Good Luck,

      Dave
      in Utah

  8. rachalmers Says:

    I have been raising our 4 pigs (Large Black) on pasture and Pig-Grower so far. I see lots of people say they supplement feed for their pigs, but how much?
    Feed is getting more expensive each day – so if I could almost purely pasture feed them, that would be brilliant.
    Is there something like a ‘scale’ that would suit them?
    thanks

  9. peter myers Says:

    I have raised pigs for personal consumption for three years, and am finding the cost for feed to be to high. I am trying to raise them in a 20 acre pasture set up for rotational grazing. I would like to feed them vegetables grown in another large field that i will plant this spring. I would like to get ideas for what kinds of vegies to use. I’m thinking peas, spinach, corn, carrotts, beats, cucumbers, green beans, and squash.
    One: do u think it would work to replace pig feed. Two : if it wont completely substitute commercial feed. How do i know how much commercial feed to give them to make the most out of the pasture, and home grown veggies. I really appreciate your impute, and look forward to hearing from you

    1. Anonymous Says:

      Pigs love sweet potatos and greens.

  10. hannahbeet Says:

    Hi, I haver a similar question to the above readers: I have a 40lb York/Hamp cross feeder (our first pig) and it has access to lush pasture. I want to avoid commercial feeder pellets as supplement, and prefer COB rolled grain in small quantities, with alfalfa cubes as well, but how much? Also I can’t figure out how to keep the goats out of the pig feed!

  11. ian Says:

    hi folks, i love what i hear, for us at our organic hog farm we “suppliment” our hogs with pure alfalfa hay, we are breeding up to a pure grass hog, but it will take some generations to get back to the way it used to be. for us alfalfa is king, 16% protien, lots of fibre, and essential minerals and vitamins. another awesome feed stuff is the nettle, harvest young shoots before they have a sting, dry in thesun and feed crushed up over their other veggies or dairy or grains. very high in protiens and amino acids and vitamins. this also increases egg production and milk production in the other farm critters. If the nettle is larger and has a sting just soak over night or dry it out and the sting is gone! have fun and keep striving for a simpler cleaner food!

  12. simone Says:

    I’m interested in supplementing my pigs with milk products from my cows and boiled eggs from my ducks and chickens…I heard pasturing them with poultry cuts down on parasites since the birds are eating a lot of the pest carrying bugs and feeding herbs and pumpkin eliminates intestinal worms for the hogs and the poultry…also I read for a balanced diet it’s wise to grow nut/fruit bearing trees in pasture for the hogs, to spread spores for edible mushrooms, and to grow berry vines over fencing…sounds like a balanced omnivour diet to me :-)

  13. Andre Jones Says:

    Bob, I’ve been raising pigs organically in a wooded area with some access to grass and garden weeds. Most of their feed is an organic whole grain mix with alfalfa pellets and fields peas which consists of 18% barley, 35% alfalfa, 12% oats, 35% fields peas and some raw milk or keifer. Is feeding pigs that much grain making the meat to much omega 6 fat. I know pigs aren’t ruminants but this has always bothered me and I can’t ever find a definitive answer. What would be your comment on this.
    Andre Jones
    Grafton NY

    1. stonybrookfarm Says:

      Sorry, Andre, but I don’t have a definitive answer for you either. My comment on it, however, would be that worrying about nutritionist minutiae is less important than making sure that one eats a diet as heavy in whole, unprocessed foods as possible, and that one gets a lot of exercise.

  14. Naz Michaeiides Says:

    Very interesting

  15. Anonymous Says:

    IS THERE ARTIFICIAL INCERMINATION FOR PIG

    1. Allen Says:

      Yes, pig artificial insemination is available frozen from a few suppliers I have found on a web-search. I was weighing the cost of raising a boar over the cost and labor of AI on sows. It is quite labor intensive, but available. I will probably just buy a boar and let him do all the work for me.

  16. Bakulumpagi Kabazzi Says:

    I live in Uganda,Africa. I was born in 1944 and I believe in devine natural food. We have many wild pigs and waterhoogs which happy lives on the natural grass, forage and fruits. They produce excellent meat. I also have a ranch of four sequare miles with cows and sheep and they all survive on the pasture all year round. The meat is very tasty and tender depending on the age of the animal. Free range feeding is the way to go.Anybody interested in big land for commercial free range farming can contact me

    1. sohail zandi Says:

      Hello, I am interested in knowing more about your ranch and how you operate in Uganda. Could you please email me and give me any information if possible. thanks! szandi35@gmail.com

  17. Glenn Says:

    Is corn on the cobb good to feed pigs to add weight to before slaughter?

    1. stonybrookfarm Says:

      Yes, definitely. Note, however, that unless they are only a week or so away from slaughter, it should not be their sole feed as they still need a bit more protein and vitamins and minerals.

  18. Andre Jones Says:

    I avoid all soy and corn when feeding my pigs and chickens. It makes their fat content chemically the same as vegetable oil. Polyunsaturated oils are high in omega 6 and that’s what clogs are arteries. I get enough protein with field peas,oats, and barley. I do feed raw milk and kefir as well. Along with natural grazing you can get a better meat with a well balanced omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.

    Andre


    1. Andre, where did you get this info. It makes sense. Do you have a website about your animals? I would love to know. We are raising heritage breeds and want the best meat possible. So far we have not fed any corn or soy. Our pigs are a little on the skinny side. Currently we are feeding wheat, barley and oats. 2 parts wheat to one part oats, and one part barley. They are on pasture. We currently do not have a source for milk products but would love to have that incorporated as well.

  19. Becky Says:

    I have a small breeding herd of hogs on drylot, pasture and barn access for specialized care. I had a sow farrow this past December, in minus 40C she had to be in a large stall with 500watts of heat lamps to keep everyone alive. I love having the hogs out on pasture. I am a full ration grain feeder as well. With feed concerns however people tend to get caught up on protien levels. Lysine levels are far more essential. I’ve played around with my feeds a fair bit. With high lysine levels and a good quality 14 – 15 percent the density of my feeders was amazing. The siblings that were not giving as high a lysine feed grew, but were “rounder” more uniform in shape without the muscle definition. The best way to balance lysine is to use soyabean meal. A small amount mixed with the feed goes along way. Where I live the most reasonable grain is wheat or a wheat barely oat mix. Corn is unreasonably priced. Depending on the type of wheat, it can be fed with the same value as corn, but contains even higher protien levels. Very interesting to read everyones take on things. Either way we small producers grow it, it is far better than anything we can buy.

  20. Bakulumpagi Says:

    Thank you very much for the information. I think here in Uganda we do the extreme. We feed our hogs a food mixture of corn bran, crashed snail shell, fish, cotton seed cakes, soyar flour etc. To me this has never made any sense to me. Hogs in the willd grow very well without any of than modern fancy staff. We hunt those hogs on my ranch and theygorw well and produce excellent lean meat. I have tried to raise hogs on free range and they have given me the same results. Theye do not grow as fast as the ones fead on feed but their excellent makes a big difference in prices. I think mother nature has lots of lessons for us to learn from

  21. Owen victory Says:

    I am getting different contributions and materials concerning piggrey farming..all the contributions i got have been impresive. I am a nigerian and i am working towards owning a large scale pig farm. I’ ve been thinking which trade to invest in and i decided to try out piggrey… Because it is not expensive to carry out… I plan to fully startup befor this year runs out. I jus need to raise my capital. Thanks also for the tip it has been of great hlp me……..

  22. Jay Tee Says:

    Hi. I’m wondering at what age are the pigs slaughtered? Also, did you find an ethical slaughterhouse?

    1. stonybrookfarm Says:

      The pigs are slaughtered at 7 to 9 months, and yes, I did find an ethical slaughterhouse, a couple of them actually. Luckily the one I use is only twenty minutes away.

  23. Wendy Says:

    My husband and I are getting ready to buy 10 acres. We currently live on 1 with 2 pinned (yes, I know.. Hence the 10 Acres:) pigs. I was wondering if someone with more pasturing experience could check out this website and give me advice on what pasture mix to use. Once we move, the pigs will be moved from pasture area to pasture area. I will also have dairy cow and goats, horse and chickens (layers and meat), so at one point and time they will all be on the same areas, just not at the same time. Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated. We live in southeast Texas, zone 9 if that helps. Very humid. http://www.groworganic.com/seeds/pasture-seed.html

    1. GREYROOSTER Says:

      Wendy: I live in South Mississippi above New Orleans, La. What is called the Mississippi Gulf Coastal area. I have a good sized farm but more important is that I raise Berkshire and Large Black hogs. I also have Hereford’s but I am deleting the Herfords.
      Here is what I do and I only use approximately ten acres divided and sub divided by electric fences. I’ll tell you why electric later.
      What I do is in the Spring I completely disk up and level a main pasture of about 5 acres. In this I plant with a fertilizer spreader a basi mix of Millet, iron and clay peas and soy beans. At my feed store I purchase all the outdated seed they carried over at a greatly discounted price. Kale, carrots, green beans (hogs favorite) lima beans, field peas, peanuts, purple hull peas, radishes, even tomato and melon seeds. Anything that is a spring and summer crop. In 60 days I turn the hogs into this field for the summer and fall. They have access to a small farm pond (1/4 acre) That’s it until December. No additional feed. None, Nada. My hogs are beautiful, not overly fat and nicely marbled meat. They do need shelter from the SUN down here. I have oak trees that overhang the electric fence for shade and I have 8 X8 ft shelters on skids for them to have their babies in. The Summer the hogs lay around because of the heat but spend the nights in the pasture feeding. This system is so productive that I must bush hog it down several times during the summer. THEN in October I disk up another pasture and plant for the winter. Austria peas, rye grass, kale, turnips, carrots, mustard greens, rutabagas, radishes (French breakfast radishes get 5″ long and 1″ wide in two months) wheat, oats again anything I can get cheaply. Two months and I turn the hogs in. Until the summer pasture is again ready.They prefer the winter to summer pasture. They love siberian kale. You can by Kale seed for a few bucks and a pound contains thousands of seed. Also kale grows right back like grass. That’s it. I don’t buy any other feed.
      I use electric fences on 3 ft fiberglass poles because I can remove them quickly when disking, mowing and spraying fence lines. You will need to spray several time a year to keep the fence line clean.
      I raise Berkshire hogs and Large blacks because of the superior meat and gentleness. I’ve never had a mean hog since I got rid of those big white ugly monsters called the other white meat. I do leave my pigs on the sows longer as I see a much better pig when I do.
      Some say you must feed supplemental feed. I say 500,000 wild hogs in Mississippi prove them wrong. The more variety of feed the healthier the hog. Works for me. Hope I helped.

    2. Joann Says:

      I agree with greyrooster below. I raise American Guinea hogs and find them very docile. They take a little longer to mature but are a great size for homesteaders with small acreage. I only feed mine a cup full of corn a day to teach them to come when called. I just butchered my first hog last month and put about 100 lbs of meat in the freezer, which is plenty unless you have unlimited freezer space. The sausage is to die for. I just bought my first Gloucestershire Old Spots. I really love the heritage breeds because it keeps the bloodlines going, the meat is tastier and they are very thrifty, doing great on just pasture. I also use a natural wormer (diatomaceous earth) mixed in with their feed or water which eliminates the use of chemicals.

  24. Bernadith Deleon Says:

    B coz i want to learn what is best feed to swine grass b i wsnted to adop in my backyard…

    1. Crystal Says:

      No offense, but you need to learn how to spell.

  25. Wendy Says:

    Thank you GREYROOSTER … Very informative and exactly the things i needed to hear. And your right, soooo many wild ones here too, and I have a male that is 1/2 piney woods rooter (his name is, of course, Rooter) and a female blue butt (grand daughter named her Maybelle). They both are as sweet as can be, with the male being bottle fed and cuddled as a baby (I agree, the longer the milk the better, and we bought him at 3 days old). The blue butt was a show pig until her ear fell, but for what I need her for that doesn’t matter.
    As far as housing them, well hubby is a carpenter by trade so there’s no telling what he’ll come up with. We do plan to dig a shallow retention pond, so they will have acess to that for muddin’ in.
    How many breeding sets do you keep? Do you leave them all together? Some split the males off after breeding, some don’t. I plan to only have 2 sets, as I don’t need more for my little operation. I will definitely be checking into the outdated seeds, sounds to me like the whole bit would work here too.


  26. the pasture is a grasses or any other growing plants that is sweetable for livestock feeding.

  27. lucious Says:

    Will you please give me full business profile on pig farming

  28. Anonymous Says:

    GREYROOSTER: How many hogs do you run on the 5 acres?

  29. jose Says:

    Iam looking in to raising some pigs of my own .what kind of pasture grass should I provide and how many pigs/ acre.thank you

  30. Daniel cecot Says:

    My pigs are pastured ,feed free choice,build them wallows.We kill her at the farm,tuck carcass to butcher shop,no stress no mess. Hanging weights of 180 to 200 lbs in 180 days hamps spots Durocs blue butts . Danny C Hemlockhamps

  31. Andy Alex Says:

    Pasture and hay are normally used as the primary feed for pigs. A dairy supplement is added for faster growth. Grains like corn, wheat or oats are good sources of protein. Vegetables and fruits are also good feed options.
    Swine feeds of good quality can be purchased from swine feed dealers.

  32. Bunya Ronald Says:

    I have cambrough pigs on sale contact me on 0703-979025 | 0772-66-05-72 | rbuny4@gmail.com

  33. agyemang Says:

    great
    contributions
    but I need constant messages on that.

  34. Bree Williams Says:

    How do I find an ethical slaughterhouse and/or butcher near Chicago, IL? I’ve tried Google but I just get meat packing places. I’m interested in starting a backyard mini-farm with chickens (will slaughter myself), pigs and perhaps a mini cow or two but we can’t / don’t want to slaughter the pigs/cows ourselves. I don’t want to buy the cows / pigs unless I know someone else can slaughter them in the future. I’m willing to drive several hours if needed, too. Thanks!

  35. Chris de Beer Says:

    We have a 75 sow pig farm which we started one year ago. We are new to pig farming so it’s been a steep learning curve! We have the opportunity to buy returned dairy products, mostly whole milk but also yoghurt, cream etc, but I need to work out if it would be cost effective. I’m trying to find out how much milk would be needed to replace 1KG of dry feed, can anyone help? Also, I have read that some pig farmers feed only milk and add vitamins and minerals, what do you think? I would assume that pregnant and lactating sows would need dry feed designed specifically for them. We can also get free bread dough which I think we would need to cook by boiling as we don’t have the facilities to dry it. Again, how much could we give to the pigs? Hope you can help.

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