On the independent or low-inputs farm, preparing the pigs for winter is more than just ordering in a pallet of pig feed! Keeping hogs in cold weather calls for some forethought and planning.
Hardy animals, pigs still need some help to thrive in the cold season. Everyone will be happier if winter finds us all prepared.
Most obvious when the snow begins to fly is the need to provide our animals adequate shelter from the elements. Although pigs can generate a lot of warmth, they need us to provide the right environment so they can stay comfortable in cold weather.
A dry corner out of the wind is most important, whether the animal is out on pasture or in the barn. If your pigs are in a pen, block up any holes that let in a significant draft. And make sure the drainage in the pigs’ area is adequate.
A wet pig is a cold pig!
Pastured pigs need special consideration. Commercial pig shelters, or hutches, are portable pig houses designed to keep precipitation and breezes out. But also make sure, if you have a hutch in the field, that it backs to the prevailing winter winds.
Usually, but not always, winter winds come from from the north and/or west.
Alternatively, an inexpensive, homemade, draft-free hutch can be made by flipping an IBC (aluminum-framed water cube or water tote) on its side. Just cut out a door sized appropriately for the animal you intend to house in the tote.
Toss in some hay or straw. Or you can just deliver bedding to the pasture and let the pig make her own nest.
Another way to make pigs comfortable on winter pasture is not only simple, it’s biodegradable!Park a round bale in the field where pigs are to spend the cold season, and watch them burrow their way in.
Be sure you’ve removed any twine, netting or wrap first. They’ll make themselves a regular pig-loo, insulated with hay and heated by slow composting. We have neighbors whose sows farrow in the field, winter and summer, in just such lovely nests of round bales.
Keeping fluid water in front of our pigs in the winter can be a real challenge! In sub-freezing weather, water lines can freeze solid and troughs ice up. While the urgency of always-available drinking water is less in the cold weather than when temperatures are very high, it is important to make sure pigs can get a good drink regularly.
Using a simple trough is one possibility. But the water must be kept open, either by breaking the ice daily, or with the use of electric tank heaters or deicers.
If you choose to use these, make sure any heaters (and their cords) are out of reach of inquisitive porkers by using submersible heaters or tanks with the heater built in. Livestock seem to love chewing on electrical cord!
In regions where unheated tanks freeze regularly, durable rubber tanks may be easier to flip and empty. They’re also less likely to crack or split than plastic or galvanized metal.
One way to deal with tanks that freeze solid is to keep two tanks. Fill one and keep breaking the ice and refilling until the tank is solidly frozen. Then fill the second tank and flip the first tank over. (Note: This is not a one-man job!)
On the first sunny day, the black rubber tanks will heat up, releasing ice from the upturned tank and letting you put it back into use when the second tank freezes up.
Read more: Do you have a farm water backup plan?
Going into the winter, we want to make sure that our pigs are healthy and getting the most out of their ration. In a conventional ag setting, pigs are regularly dosed with a chemical wormer. But often the small, traditional farmstead can provide the same service naturally.
Fall garden surpluses can include many items from the family Cucurbita, which includes melons, squashes, pumpkins and cucumbers. The seeds of these fruits contain cucurbitacin, an effective natural wormer. So while your pig is turning extra produce into pork chops, he can be self-medicating as well!
Living on native pastures, pigs may find many anthelmintic (worm-fighting) plants among their forages. This gives them the opportunity of self-regulating their gut biome by natural means.
Toxic plants like horse nettle, white snakeroot and milkweed have gut-worm fighting characteristics, as do the acorns pigs love to devour in the fall. And there are many more such! With a natural pharmacopoeia always available, you may never see a sign of worms in your animals.
If your farm is finding spare nutrients even in the winter (in the kitchen, root cellar and barn) then there’s a job for pigs! And keeping him through the winter just isn’t that difficult.
An IBC hutch is a great in-pasture shelter for one large or several smaller pigs. Wind- and water-proof, it provides the necessary conditions of dry and draft-free.
To maintain these conditions, keep fresh bedding regularly available so your pigs can make their beds comfortable. It may also be necessary to drill some small drainage holes in the side of the IBC that (since the tote is on its side now) is functioning as the bottom.
This will let out any rain or snow that blows in.
How Dry Is ‘Dry’?
A pig’s bed doesn’t have to be as dry as the one you sleep in! Provide clean, dry hay, straw or some similar small-particle, high-carbon bedding. Offer more when Porka’s sleeping place starts looking soggy. As long as the material remains fluffy, don’t worry if it becomes somewhat damp.
Moisture initiates the biological breakdown better known as composting, so slightly damp bedding can actually generate some of its own warmth. Pigs will sometimes even urinate in their bedding (although they mostly do their business in other parts of the pen or pasture) to start this composting process going.
Fluffy, but not bone-dry, is the requirement.