Before we started to raise pigs naturally, we discussed what that would mean on our farm. Since then, many litters of piglets have arrived, showed off how cute they can be, were weaned, fed for a few weeks, or even months in some cases. All were sold and the waiting time would begin again.
The sows had some time off after each litter, to gain some weight, rest and completely dry off. Then, Charlie would welcome them back into his pasture area and the breeding cycle would begin again. We started raising pigs with two sows and Charlie, the boar. Soon after another sow was added.
Learning to Raise Pigs Naturally
We have learned a lot about how to raise pigs naturally on our farm. It’s been a bit of trial and error on some issues as we tried some conventional ideas, and some of our own. One thing we knew from the start, we wanted the pigs to have as close to a natural existence as we could provide for them, in captivity. The project was started by one of our adult children and he has been successful with the whole thing.
Inspired by books on pasture rotation, and sustainable agriculture by Joel Salatin and Gaining Ground by Forest Pritchard, we learned about how to raise pigs naturally in a pasture setting. We agreed, from the start, that a certain level of cleanliness would be necessary. There were large fenced pastures available but it was a limited space. Fencing in more pasture ground might be possible in the future but it would have to wait. And we have neighborhoods and a road near the farm so security and safety were of high importance.
What We Felt Was Important
The other thing we agreed on was that we absolutely did not want pigs living in close, crowded conditions of filth and manure. Raising pigs naturally has added a new dimension to our small farm.
Instead of using cement slabs and metal fencing, we used run in stalls open on one side, soft straw and sawdust bedding, along with pallet barriers with wood fencing. The entire area is wired with electric fencing and the interior of the pig acreage is broken into different parcels, fenced and wired. This allowed us to separate pigs as necessary, give the sows some space to raise the piglets and the piglets to be weaned.
Raising Pigs Takes a Lot of Preparation
Make no mistake, it was a lot of work to get this set up to raise pigs naturally. The buildings were already in place as the area had previously been used as horse paddocks. But they needed repair and needed to be pig proof. Pigs love to escape.
And, when separated, they like to try to get back together. Charlie, Mariah and Layla were quite the bonded family. When each sow would deliver, or right before if we were on our game, she would be escorted to a birthing room with a fenced in area surrounding some lush green grass and weeds. She would be pampered with lots of table scraps, fresh composting veggies and extra hay and feed. The babies would thrive and follow Momma around. All well and good, but while the sow was being treated as queen of her pasture, poor Charlie was looking on from the other side of the fence, forlornly.
What Really Happens in the Pig Pen
I think this is a good time to back up and explain some pig behavior. Telling you how good the sows are and how Charlie hates to be alone, might lead you to think we treat the pigs as pets. This would be far from the truth. We respect the possibility that the pigs volatile nature means they can turn on us at any minute. A sow protecting her piglets is a force that you do not want to cross. We respect that and take precautions. A pig board is a must between you and the pig at all times. If the piglets need to be handled, at least two people should be on hand, so one can keep an eye on momma. Pigs might be cute and they sure are smart but they are still livestock and have a volatile nature.
How We Handled Things
Charlie missed his sows and they missed him too. They all paced the fence line trying to spend quality time together.
With future litters of pigs we tried something a bit different. Layla delivered first and was moved to a maternity suite. Three weeks later Mariah delivered her litter but instead of moving her to a separate area and run in shed, we left her with Charlie.
A lot of references will tell you that this can end badly with the boar killing and or eating the piglets but if you observe pigs in the wild, that does not happen. While Charlie may not take an active role in raising the piglets, he doesn’t bother them, either. He behaves the same as he always does towards Mariah and is tolerant of the babies. Hopefully this won’t change and of course we keep a close eye on the whole situation. The piglets don’t stay long on our farm before moving on to whomever buys them.
Rotation is one key to our pig operation. This allows the vegetation to regrow and the fields from being over filled with pig manure and mud. Since this system works with nature instead of against it, the vegetation regrows quickly and a lush green area is ready for use every three months or so. Of course, if we have a rainy season like we did this spring and early summer, its hard to keep anywhere from becoming muddy.
Escape Artists at Work
Keeping pigs from escaping takes some vigilance and they do eat a good bit of food, vegetation and grain. We try to feed them as naturally as possible but we do have to supplement with some grain. More woodland will be fenced in eventually, and we will see how they do with a more wooded environment, too. No matter how long you farm or homestead, there is always something new to learn. That is my idea of a life well lived. Learning to raise pigs naturally fits into our farm goals.
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Thank you for posting this article! This was our first year with pigs (we have two) and plan on getting two more with the intention of breeding for a couple of litters. Question, how big are your pens? We have almost an acre of pasture and want to rotate the pigs…of course trying to figure out financially how to make pens for rotating without breaking the bank. Do you use electric fencing? We are looking at solar but it’s so expensive…but probably only choice since having extension cords seem impractical. Thank you!
Janet Garman says
Hi Leslie. Thanks for commenting. We have four breeders, two sows and two boars. One of the boars is untested so far. The pens are on about an acre give or take of our property. The interior is broken into 5 separate pens or paddocks. We rotate around those. Right now two out of five are being used. There are usually at least two not being used. We also have a barn with two available stalls for the piglets after weaning while we wait for the buyers to arrive and pick up their piglets. Yes the entire field is electric wire with both solar and non-solar electric. We learned that lesson the hard way! Pigs will escape. If you can do it yourself, it will save a good bit of money. You could probably make do with only two pastures at first and then add more and cross fence others in the future. I wish you lots of luck and happy piglets! – Janet
C Goose says
So great. I love that you’ve experimented, leaving Charlie with everyone. Very good.
Janet Garman says
Thank you. We were pretty certain based on his personality and behavior but its always a little risky in a pig pasture area
great article! Love the pictures
Its spring here and we get lots of rain and the mud can be deep! Glad to see I’m not the only one with that problem
We have 3 piglets, just starting out, and they like to dig. I’m afraid they may tunnel right to the other side!
Have you had this problem?
We have been feeding leftover produce from the local market and cafeteria scraps from the school. I’m not in the states so they don’t use a food service with all that industrial food. The food is all made from scratch.
Do you still need to feed them a lot when they go out to pasture? We are in the process of sawing lumber to fence in our pasture.
Janet Garman says
You definitely do not go through as much feed if they are able to forage for things and eat the weeds and whatever. They will eat roots, dig and find a lot. We monitor their appearance so we know if they need to up the grain intake. We also feed most of our kitchen scraps and food from a local market to them. Have fun with your pigs! They are delicious when raised this way