General Pig Care and Practices

  • Sow: sexually mature female
  • Farrowing: sow giving birth
  • Gilt: young female
  • Boar: sexually mature male
  • Barrow: castrated young male
  • Stag: old castrated male
  • Piglets and shoats: young pigs
  • Weaners: recently weaned or taken from sow
  • Feeders: from weaning to slaughter
  • Normal temperature: 101.6 F to 103.6 F
  • Age at puberty: 5 to 8 months
  • Heat period: 16 to 24 days; duration: 1 to 3 days
  • Gestation: 114 days
  • Average productive life: 8 to 9 years
  • Teeth formulation: 3-1-4-3 (three incisors, one canine, four premolars, three molars). They get their top and bottom final, third molar at 20 months of age.

Groups of pig breeds:

Lard type —

  • Poland Chinas, Cheshires, Essex, Mulefoots.
  • Have compact bodies, large hams and a heavier fat layer, although recent breeding has made them more similar to bacon and meat typing.
  • Docile.

Bacon and meat types —

  • Landrace, Yorkshires, Tamworth.
  • Longer bodies and legs, with a trim profile and less external fat.
  • Higher energy.

Dual-purpose —

  • Berkshires, Hampshires, Large Black (especially docile because of the large flopped ears), Saddlebacks.

Types of housing can vary. It can be as inexpensive as an A-frame, for example, made out of scrap lumber or prefabricated, such as a Port-A-Hut. Whatever you construct, remember that some 200-pound animals will be rubbing up against it. Larger producers that grow feeder pigs year round use hoop house structures with lots of deep bedding such as straw or lower-quality hay. Whatever you decide to use, be sure the pigs have enough room to lie down without crowding one another inside the house. 

You can easily train pigs to mind electric fences. For newly purchased piglets, run the electric fence inside a solid fence, such as snow fencing, to start. Pigs don’t usually try to get through if they can’t see the other side. This is helpful to remember when moving pigs or catching loose pigs. Holding a solid piece of plywood in front of the pig will cause it to move backward or to either side. Or place something over the pig’s head and it will move backward.

Piglets require two wires at about nose and shoulder height. You can usually contain adults with one wire. If you are going to rotate them on pasture, move them frequently in the beginning so they are accustomed to moving to new spaces. Otherwise, they will be afraid of where the fence was and won’t go to the next paddock.

The best way to load pigs onto a truck or trailer is to place the truck in the pig’s pasture for a couple days and feed them inside. In doing so, they will adjust to the trailer and you can close them in when you are ready to move them.

Make sure you provide plenty of fresh water (warm water in the winter) for pigs at all times. Water is necessary for proper digestion and pigs eating dry feed rations particularly require plenty of water.

Water requirements are as follows:

  • 12 to 30 pounds of pig: 1 quart/day
  • 100 to 240 pounds: 6 quarts/day
  • Lactating sow: 20 quarts/day

Remember these amounts don’t take playing into account! A constant supply of water using nipples on a barrel is the ideal set-up.

Minerals and salt must be available to all pigs unless they are fed a commercial pig ration. Even then, keep kelp, at the very least, in a mineral feeder.

There are many diseases that can affect swine, but as with raising any organic livestock, prevention is the key. Sound management practices copy the natural environment: fresh air, sunshine, freedom for natural behavior, shelter as needed, healthy feed, pasture, variety in the diet, clean water, good sanitation and manure management. The major concern for most small-scale hog growers is intestinal parasites. These can be managed with proper pasture rotation. 

For more pig information, here’s is a full list of the best practices to raise organic pigs.

More Pig Resources

Raising Organic Pigs

by Diane Schivera, MAT Pigs can be valuable additions to diversified farms by providing meat and helping to clear land. Louis Bromfield wrote in his book From My Experience (1955), “To be financially successful at raising hogs primarily requires the ability to think like a hog.” This article covers the basics of keeping pigs and

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Feeding Pigs on Backyard Resources

Pigs forage in the woods at the Deer Isle Hostel. Photo by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist A Tamworth pig grazes a wooded area at certified-organic Frith Farm in Scarborough, Maine. Photo courtesy of Frith Farm. By Anneli Carter-Sundqvist The end of our homesteading season has for five consecutive years been marked by the butchering of our pigs.

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Grazing Pigs Vs. Plum Curculio Jim Koan, owner of the 150-acre AlMar Orchards in Clayton Township, Michigan, grazes Berkshire hogs in his organic apple orchard, obtaining almost complete control of plum curculio within a few years. Plum curculios lay eggs in fruits in the spring, and the resultant larvae later cause fruit drop. On the

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These five pigs are being raised on pasture by MOFGA’s farmers-in-residence, Clayton Carter and Kendra Michaud. They turned under a lush stand of rye and hairy vetch in one week, then were moved to a spot where oats, peas and forage brassicas had been seeded several days earlier. The pigs pushed the seed into the

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Raising Organic Hogs by the Tractor Method

By Alice Percy Copyright ©2006 by the author The Problem Walk into the meat department of any natural foods store, and you’ll likely find organic beef and chicken, but rarely organic pork. Why? The conventional hog farmer – the guy with thousands of sows out in Iowa – uses some of the most noxious “agricultural”

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Ask an Organic Specialist

Ask Jacki Martinez Perkins questions about organic dairy/livestock management production and certification requirements.

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