Farming,  Homesteading

Raising Feeder Pigs: The First Few Days

Leave it to me to purchase a farm animal on a beautiful day, expecting warmer temperatures, only to see a change in forecast immediately after purchasing to cold and windy, followed by snow. I’m posting an update on the first few days of having the pigs, because I need to keep a record of what things we’ve observed and learned in this critical time.

(I’m making this post mostly so I remember the things we’ve learned in the first few days of keeping weaner pigs outdoors in early springtime.)

To go from warm and sunny to cold, windy, and rainy the day after we got our little weaner pigs left me feeling incredibly anxious. In deciding to keep the pigs outside, I hadn’t considered what cold-weather issues we might run into. It’s been warm for a pretty long time, and I half expected it to stay that way. The pigs we bought are fine for raising outside, but I hadn’t accounted for the fact that they’d only be 5 weeks old, or that the weather might be cold while they’re still babies… I only thought about how it might be cold when we butcher.

I think we bought pigs at the right time of year, but we probably could have waited the extra two weeks and gotten pigs from the local guy instead. Just waiting two extra weeks for more stable spring-time temps would have saved me a bit of stress. Also, we bought 5/6 week old pigs, and IF we had purchased some that were older or larger, it could have also impacted how I felt about their safety during this time. I wouldn’t say any of this was a mistake, just factors to consider if we ever do this again.

Of course, we did build a shelter before we got the pigs. I read that it’s a good idea to put a piece of plywood or something in the base of their shelter, and then add bedding, but nothing explained why. The farmer we purchased the pigs from also told us to do this, and he explained that it will help keep the pigs warm if the temperatures drop and keep them dry if it would rain a lot and the ground gets wet. I didn’t initially put anything down on the ground like plywood, but once we got home, I found an old door up in the top of the granary and laid that down with a bunch of bedding.

These two have been side by side nearly every moment since we brought them home, and they’ve spent most of that time buried in the straw.

I knew we’d want to put a tarp over the opening of the shelter until it gets a bit warmer. I did this the first night, before I went to bed, to help keep the wind out. I didn’t know that it was going to rain, and I didn’t expect it to be so windy. The next morning, the tarp was blown off. The pigs were okay, but I was so concerned about them! On Monday, I used rocks to weigh down the tarp, and I bungeed a portion of it to the shelter and fencing to make sure it wouldn’t blow away in the crazy wind we had that day.

The tarp has definitely helped to create a warmer environment, but we also added extra bedding. The pigs didn’t take long to completely bury themselves into the hay. And good thing, too, because yesterday (their 4th day here), it snowed out. Again, I didn’t anticipate that. Snow wasn’t in the forecast the day before! Thankfully, the snow melted quickly yesterday, and today is supposed to be in the 50s. With the sun out, Bacon and Sausage decided to come out to play yesterday afternoon.

Can you spot the pig in this picture?

I also didn’t anticipated how colder temperatures might affect their eating. Of course, I knew this can be an issue with animals, but I didn’t really process that as a thought until the temps dipped on Monday morning. When I saw they didn’t want to move around much, I brought some food and water into their shelter.

I gave them some watered down, warmed up milk. We don’t drink skim milk, and I didn’t have whey on hand, so this was my next choice. They drank a little when I brought that out, and later drank the rest of it up. We’ve fed them a bit of leftovers, too, and they seemed to enjoy those quite a bit: green beans, tomato sauce, and some leftover noodles. They’ve been eating their pelleted feed as well, and if their food seems to be getting low, we just add a bit more to the little feeder.

Aaron with the pigs. He’s very excited to add another animal to the homestead.

Ideally, we do want them to use their automatic feeder and waterer, but that will probably happen as the weather warms and they feel comfortable being outside.

We found that when they are in their shelter with the tarp closed, they’ll go to the bathroom in one corner of the shelter, so after we’re able to open it back up completely, we’ll have to be sure to clean that up and put fresh bedding down.

I probably checked on them 8 times on Monday, 5 times Tuesday, and 4 times yesterday. With the snow yesterday morning, I didn’t want to go in there any more than necessary as to not let in a bunch of cold air. Today, I can probably get away with just three times checking on them, but I’m sure we’ll be out there watching them more if they decide to romp around.

We discussed the possibility of putting a heat lamp in their shelter, but I’m a little apprehensive of doing that, so I decided to just watch them very closely to make sure everything is okay. However, a heat lamp would certainly be a possibility if we ever run into this in the future. We did put a blanket in the shelter yesterday morning, and I know people will use hot water bottles sometimes, too, so I will have to keep that in mind for the future.

The chickens seem like they could care less about the extra activity, however, Poppy seems a little jealous of the attention the pigs are getting, and she still doesn’t seem totally sure what she thinks about them. I’m sure by next week, things will have settled down a bit. Thankfully, Poppy isn’t too concerned about them, she just gets uppity when we go in by the pigs.

Poppy watched the pigs happily, with tail wagging for a good long while, but as soon as they started to move closer to her, she got a little uppity.

The pigs are a York-Duroc cross, and so they are very pink. Prior to ever bringing them home, I learned that “white” pigs (pigs with light/white fur and generally with pink skin) can sunburn, and sure enough, the pigs have a bit of sunburn on their ears from their first day outside. They were so excited to be rooting around that day that they didn’t want to go into their shelter (I’m pretty sure it was their first time outside to play). I know there are things I can do to help them with sunburn, but I have to do a bit of research into that. But they do have their shelter, and once it warms up, and they get a little bigger, they’ll be able to wallow to help protect against that.

I can’t say for sure that we’ll raise pigs again, but we are certainly already talking about it like we will. I really didn’t think I’d be so excited about having pigs, but we’ll see how this thing goes! I plan to write updates as I make observations and learn things that I need to make note of (but likely not every few days). Hopefully my notes from these first few days is helpful for others out there in similar situations!

Love and Blessings~ Danielle

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