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Do These 4 Things to Successfully Raise Pastured Pigs

Updated: Apr 13

Do you want to raise your own pastured pork? You totally can! Pigs are a lot of fun to raise and it's very rewarding to put meat in the freezer that you grew yourself. But pigs have some unique challenges that you should know about before you bring those cute piglets home.

Want some tips?

1. Breed

The number one most important consideration when you plan to raise pigs on pasture is to get the right breed. If you just go on Craigslist and buy the cheapest pigs you can find, there's a good chance they will cause you headaches and not grow well.

Back before we settled on the breeds we have now (Idaho pasture pigs, a.k.a. IPPs, and mangalitsas), we had pigs, and we put them on pasture, but they didn't do what pastured pigs are supposed to do.

  • They dug moon craters all around our fields while ignoring the lush grass, wild apple drops, and garden scraps we gave them.

  • They were like toddlers. They only wanted to eat grain, no green stuff!

  • They were hangry because we weren't feeding them the high octane diet that such pigs are bred to eat for fast growth.

  • They grew very poorly and we were disappointed with small, lean carcasses at the end of the season.

In contrast, the right breeds absolutely thrive on pasture. I have seen my pasture pigs turn their nose up at a bucket of grain because there was beautiful green grass that they wanted instead. IPPs seldom root to create holes in the ground. Other grazing breeds will do some rooting, but it seems to be more purposeful than digging moon craters like the ones mentioned above. The key with rooting is to not keep them in one area too long.

2. Shelter

Good grazing pigs require minimal shelter. When they are little, you should give them a place where they can get out of cold spring rain. When they are bigger, they can take whatever the weather throws at them without noticing. At least until winter hits, by which time, they are probably in the freezer anyway.

My NUMBER ONE recommendation for pig shelter is.... Hay. Yup, hay. You won't believe how much grazing pigs love hay. They adore it. It's their favorite thing ever. They play in it. They snuggle in it. They eat it. They burrow in it. If you gave a pig a bale of hay and a bare bottomed shelter to choose between, they would choose the hay for protection in all but the wettest, windiest rain storm. And even then, they might choose the hay.

But for those times that the weather is severe enough to warrant a shelter, here are some ideas.

  • An inexpensive option for a couple of feeder pigs is to buy an IBC tote and cut off one side. That can easily be moved anywhere on your property. You can find them on Craigslist for around $100.

  • One of my favorite ways to shelter pigs is to buy a portable plastic hutch, like a calf hutch. Those can be moved anywhere on your property. But they are a bit pricier.

  • If you have access to a few pallets and old metal roofing, you can come up with a pretty good shelter for free. The downside of a pallet shelter is that it's not portable, but your pigs will only need it during the early spring before you start moving them around the pasture, so maybe that's ok.

  • Or you could build them a shelter by stacking hay bales. By the time they have collapsed it, they will still have a nice pile of hay to snuggle in, and they may not need a shelter any more anyway.

3. Pasture and Fencing

The key to grazing pigs (or any livestock) is to not give them the whole pasture all at once. If you do, they will spend a lot of time in their favorite spot, killing the grass and pooping too much there. Meanwhile, other parts of the pasture get overgrown with grass becoming coarse and going to seed.

You need to divide your pasture into a minimum of 4 plots and rotate the animals between plots. 6 or more plots would be even better. That way, the grass can recover from where they just were before it gets over-impacted and dies. And it forces the pigs to spread their eating and fertilizing over the whole area.

By the time they get back to the first plot, it should have grown back lush and green.

The stocking rate of IPPs is about 5-7 pigs per acre of grass, or 2-3 per acre of woods.

The subject of fencing is a deep rabbit hole that is beyond the scope of this blog post. But I will give a few tips about it.

  • When you first bring your piglets home, they will feel lost and try to run away. They need a hard fence, something they can't run through (like electric fence). Hog panels (or taller combo panels) are a great option to build an easy pen to keep them in until they have a "sense of place" at your farm.

  • Pigs respect electric fence, but you have to train them to it by letting them get zapped, so they don't just walk right through it before they have learned that they should avoid it. If you have a solid pen built for them, train them by running hot fence inside of it in a place where they will come in contact with it. They will learn!

  • Premier1 is a great source for teaching you how to install and use electric fence, and they sell everything you need for it.

4. Feeding and Watering

Even grazing breeds need some grain, or they will grow much slower than you want. They will not be big enough to harvest by winter on grass alone.

Offer as much food as little ones can eat at first. Once they are bigger and have more of an appetite, give them 3-5 lbs of grain a day, depending on how fast you want them to grow.

If you dump their food on the ground, they will destroy the grass under it. I have found that a sled makes a great pig feeder. They can reach over the low profile, and it's easy to move between plots.

If your pigs don't have shade during the summer, they will create wallows by dumping their water on the ground. They will probably dump water on the ground even if they do have shade, but they REALLY NEED a wallow if they don't have shade. It's a challenge to supply pigs with all they water they want during the heat of summer. One or two gallons per pig a day should be enough. Having shade makes it ok if they run out between watering times.

Raising pigs it so much fun. If you follow these steps, you will love them. And they will provide your family with the tastiest, most nourishing pork you have ever had!

Edit 4.13.2024:

Because pigs eat on the ground they are highly susceptible to worms. They aren't affected by worms as severely as sheep, which will die if you don't take parasites seriously. But you will see better gains if you have a worming program for your pigs. I recommend an herbal wormer over a chemical treatment. Herbal wormers are highly effective, they strengthen your animal's immune system, they are not toxic to your animal or the pasture ecosystem, and worms do not develop resistance to them. Molly's Herbals is a great brand that has a very good reputation.

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