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If you are new to homesteading or a veteran but new to raising pigs, then this information is for you. In this article, What Do Pigs Eat? Pigs 101 For The Beginner, we’ll discuss what do pigs eat and the basics of raising pigs to answer all of your pig questions.
What Do Pigs Eat? Pigs 101 For The Beginner
Ever since I was a little girl and visited a friends pig farm, I’ve wanted to raise my own pigs. Unfortunately, pig farms get a bad rap. However, most of the ugly rumors you’ve heard come from large confinement pig farms and not pasture raised pigs. The two are night and day. Despite what the rumors say, pigs are relatively clean animals that are a pleasure to raise.
To get you started in the world of pig, there are some terms you need to familiarize yourself with.
Quick rundown on terminology first.
- Boar: unaltered male, typically for breeding purposes
- Barrow: castrated male, feeder pig only
- Gilt: unaltered female, has not farrowed a litter
- Sow: unaltered female, farrowed one or more litters
- Shoat: weanling piglet of either sex
Breeding Stock and Feeder Pigs
Breeding stock should never be fed the same as a feeder pig. Breeders should be kept lean and trim, while feeder pigs should be fed to achieve their maximum growth potential, balancing fat gain to meat.
In the purebred/heritage world the expression “Breed the best of the best, eat the rest” is the only way to succeed for any amount of time. You start having pigs that can’t support their weight, eat their young, keel over from a heart attack, won’t put on weight, etc and it won’t take long to go broke and be out of the business.
Feeder pigs I keep long enough to hit target size: confinement feeders usually ship at 250lbs live weight, large heritage breeds often need to be larger (I usually ship around 340-350 live weight), smaller heritage breeds like the AGH or Kunes typically ship around 160lbs live weight.
You want your breeders to be lean and trim, in “fighting condition” as it were. Obese pigs have numerous breeding issues ranging from injuries from attempting to breed, false pregnancies, abortions, decreased litter size, decreased boar motility, stuck piglets at farrowing, etc.
Breeding pigs I keep around as long as they’re viable. Heritage breeds will often make it into their teens before they start running into significant breeding challenges.
Breeding: conformation and temperament play a huge role in who gets selected. Aggression, unthriftiness, weak pasterns, hunch backs, bad joints, etc are all heritable traits. Depending on the traits a pig displays will determine if they will be a breeder or a feeder.
Pigs tend to be very clean animals, contrary to popular belief. Given enough room, and regular cleaning, a pig farm won’t smell. They also, generally, won’t defecate/urinate where they eat or sleep unless they have no other options. I’ve had people come to my farm and have no clue I raise pigs until they go out back and see them or hear them making noise…which brings up another point…pigs are noisy! They argue and mock fight frequently, it’s all part of the sounder dynamic as they establish and reestablish the pecking order.
What Do Pigs Eat
A pigs’ dietary needs are fairly easy to accommodate with a good 16% protein pig feed (most feed mills will carry it or make one up for you, otherwise farm stores like TSC carry commercial feed) and good forage/hay. Pigs eat hay and forage quite well, and given enough room to forage in, that can help reduce the amount of supplemental feed required.
The only thing that pigs CANNOT have is salt. Since pigs don’t sweat, they’re very susceptible to salt poisoning.
Speaking of not sweating, pigs need a mud wallow to regulate their body temperature in the warm months. They also really enjoy kiddie pools, but, the pools don’t tend to last long due to long pointy hooves poking holes in ’em
In the US, it is ILLEGAL to intentionally feed meat, or meat byproducts, to a pig intended for slaughter for a customer. No ifs, ands, or buts. Get caught doing that and the USDA (and most states) will fine you out of existence.
Pigs and Rotational Grazing
Pigs will likely tear up the ground going after the worms, grubs, insects, etc when introduced into a new paddock. After that, they’ll usually let the ground heal and allow the pasture to regrow and will graze more than they will root. Having a good rotational grazing system in place will help a lot with the pasture/paddock regrowth as well as contribute to breaking the intestinal parasite cycle, which will hopefully reduce the need for using chemical worming medications.
I’ll briefly touch on butchers/processors. Even if you have a lot of processors in the area, that doesn’t mean they’re any good. I actually haul the vast majority of my pigs to a processor in southern Wisconsin (336 miles each way) to deal with a reputable processor that will treat the animals, and me, with respect.
I’ve had processors hit pigs, skimp cuts, trash meat, etc. With our heritage pigs and climate it takes me 1.5-2 years to raise them how I want the carcass to turn out…that can all be ruined in a matter of minutes by a slaughterhouse worker or a bad processor…I’ve literally eaten thousands of dollars of product because of a processor screwing something up through either not giving a damn, carelessness, or flat-out ignorance, which meant getting a product back that I couldn’t even think about selling if I wanted to keep my reputation.
Raising Heritage Breed Pigs
Now that you’ve learned about what pigs eat and the basics of raising pigs, if you would like to get some pigs of your own, contact Sam (the author of this article) for more information. I am thrilled that Sam is sharing his knowledge with us because we are getting our Large Black Hogs from his farm to start breeding our own.