Pigs are omnivores and therefore eat a large variety of different foodstuffs including grass, nuts, berries and roots. Their snouts are used for sniffing, locating and also for rooting up the ground to search for food. Pigs are social animals and therefore should not be kept on their own.
Pigs typically have a lifespan of around 10-15 years depending on their breed and can be kept for a number of different purposes. Individual breeds tend to be suited to different purposes, some being well suited as pork or bacon pigs and others for grazing.
Pigs are classified as monogastic (meaning one stomach) or ruminant digesters. Due to the differences between ruminant and non-ruminant digestion, pig diets often differ significantly from that of sheep and cows. The digestive system of the pig is well suited to digesting concentrate rations.
The pig's digestive system can be broken down into five main parts: the mouth; oesophagus; stomach; small intestine and large intestine. In the stomach chemical breakdown occurs. Food is broken down into smaller particles of carbohydrate, protein and fats. Most nutrients are then absorbed in the small intestine and any undigested nutrients and secretions are passed into the large intestine. Some digestion takes place in the large intestine, but its main role is the absorption of water. Any undigested food is excreted.
Weaners, growers, sows (an adult female who has had at least one litter of piglets), hogs/barrows (castrated male) and boars (a male pig that has not been castrated) all have slightly different nutritional requirements and need to be fed accordingly.
Pigs will graze if given the opportunity, some breeds more than others, therefore the diet can also differ depending on the breed of pig and the environment they are kept in. If your pigs are outside (in a woodland and/or field environment) during the summer months they may not need as much feed, especially if the grazing is good.
Over-feeding can be a problem with pigs. Traditional rare breeds and smaller pig breeds such as KuneKune or Potbellied Pigs have a tendency to lay down fat very easily. Because of this they may not need as much food or as high a level of protein. During the summer months these breeds will tend to thrive on grass and a small amount of feed but during the winter months (when less grazing is available) more supplementary food may be required. It can be common practise for ‘the twenty minute rule’ to be used with mature pigs that have a tendency to lay down fat, enough food is provided to be consumed in twenty minutes.
Larger nuts can be more suitable if you wish to ‘scatter’ feed your pigs. ‘Scatter’ feeding can help to promote natural foraging behaviours and also extend feeding time. If using feeding troughs ensure that there is enough space for each pig to eat comfortably. Fresh clean water should always be made available, as pigs are unable to sweat and water intake is a key mechanism in regulating body temperature.
To help counter the risk of serious diseases such as Foot & Mouth the feeding of meat and kitchen scraps in any form is illegal. However, it is fine to provide fresh fruit and vegetables, providing they are not sourced from catering outlets.
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables can be offered in addition to concentrate feed. Pigs will eat most soft fruit, and it is ideal if you can provide fruit and vegetables in between meal times to keep them occupied. It is important to make allowances for any additional food given in context of the whole diet to avoid pigs becoming overweight.
Feeding guidelines for Country Pig Nuts:
Dry sow, during pregnancy: 2-3kg per day
Lactating sow: 2kg per day, plus an additional 0.5kg for every suckling piglet
Weaner (pigs of 7-10 weeks of age or younger commercially): Feed ad lib
Grower/Finisher: 1-1.5kg per day at 25kg bodyweight; rising by 0.5kg per day for each further month of age, to a maximum of 2.5kg per day for a ‘bacon’ weight pig (65-90kg)
The gradual rise in feeding amounts is continued until you reach maximum feeding amounts or the point where feed intake needs to be restricted to prevent the pig from laying down too much fat (typically around the 5 month mark)
Boar: at rest 2kg per day up to 4kg per day in work
Smaller pig breeds will require proportionally less feed
If possible feeding little and often is ideal, splitting the ration over at least two meals a day. Pigs like routine and therefore sticking to certain feeding times is preferred
Any change in feed should be done gradually over at least 10-14 days.
When selecting a breed, it is important to consider that different breeds can be suited to different management types. For example modern hybrid breeds (such as the Large White) tend to be less hardy and suited to outdoor conditions when compared to traditional breeds.
Pigs naturally root and dig the ground, some breeds more than others. It is natural for pigs to dig and root the ground although some pigs with shorter snouts (KuneKune, Middle White and Potbellied) might dig less than most.
For ‘free-ranging’ pigs kept on pastures, a stocking rate of 6-10 pigs per acre is suitable, depending on size of pigs and quality of land. If pigs are housed there should always be an outside exercise area.
Pigs require dry, draught-free housing for shelter from the warmer weather in the summer and to provide warmth in the winter. Mud wallows should also be provided for all outdoor pigs, as pigs can suffer severely from sunstroke and sunburn the mud can provide a protective layer for a period of time.
The gestation period for pigs is ~115 days. Prior to serving, feeding amounts are typically increased to achieve a higher plane of nutrition and get the sow/gilt into the best possible condition (known as ‘flushing’). After service and during gestation the ration is typically reduced until late gestation and during lactation where requirements are increased and additional feed provided depending on the size of her litter.
If feeding maiden gilts, amounts may need to be higher to take into account her requirements for growth as well as the additional requirements of pregnancy.
At 4-5 weeks old the piglet’s digestive system will be mature and weaning is acceptable. Normal weaning occurs around 7-10 weeks or earlier commercially. Once the piglets are weaned, the sow’s diet will need cutting back to maintenance rations to prevent her from getting fat.
Producing Pigs for Meat
Different breeds are suited to different types of meat production; the main two types are pork and bacon.
The time it takes for a pig to reach porker or bacon weight depends on the time of year and breed being fattened. Porker weight (these tend to be divided into light 45-68kg and heavy weight 68-90kg live weight) is typically reached after 3 months for intensively kept pigs, less intensively kept pigs taking longer (allowing more natural growth) between 6.5-8 months. If pigs are kept on after this they are normally for bacon where they will have an average live weight of 72-90kg.