Piglet Barrel Brooder


Piglet Brooder Barrel

This is a brooder that Will made out of barrels. It consists of two barrels, one inside of the other with a layer of foil-bubble-bubble-foil (FBBF a.k.a. AstroFoil a.k.a. TekFoil etc) between the barrels for insulation and to reflect the heat back in.

The top comes off and contains a 100 Watt incandescent bulb in a reflector for heat. The heat and the light attracts piglets in. Food inside also helps.

I have misgivings about heat lamps but in the coldest weather, when it drops into the deep negatives, we risk them. Fire is very dangerous. When it gets that cold we’re often out there anyways over night so we can keep an eye on things. I suspect that the humidity from the piglet’s breath also helps prevent fire – ventilation is important or they get wet from that.

Double rubber flap doors help keep the heat in and drafts out. They were made out pieces of an old tractor tire inner tube that has been recycled to be door seals on our cottage, piglet doors and other purposes.

The salvaged 65 gallon drum fits about ten piglets maximum, much less than the other brooder I showed on last Wednesday. The advantage of this one is it is very easy to move around.

The hot wires instruct the sows not to mess with it. It is a private creep for the piglets.


Big Lots, Piglet & Chicken

Big Lots is one of our Large Black sows. She recently had a litter of piglets in bay four of the south field shed. The brooder pictured above is in her area. The bays are winter paddocks that offer shelter under a roof as well as a large exercise yard. By separating out the sows from the rest of the herd during farrowing we mimic their natural tendency to seek a private space off in the brush on the edges of our pasture during warmer weather.


Rhode Island Red Chicken Roosting in Rafters

The hens have started laying after their mid-winter respite. Often the eggs are frozen on the coldest days but they still make excellent piglet food. Eggs are an excellent supplement, especially for the younger pigs who need more protein. Cooking the eggs doubles the available protein – well worth doing if you have a lot.

Update: I have an aversion to heat lamps because of worries about fire and animals electrocuting themselves. There are heat pads but interestingly our piglets don’t seem to like the commercial hard plastic heat pads. I haven’t figured out why. Sometimes we use heat lamps but we’ve also found that creeps and hovers built like this one work pretty well even without the heat from pads and lamps. True of both chicks and piglets. The biggest issue with this sort of space is humidity so good ventilation is important. Over the years I’ve found that keeping the wind off and having a composting bedding pack does the trick so now electricity or fire hazard of bulbs is necessary.

Outdoors: 28°F/5°F 2″ Snow
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/60°F

Daily Spark: According to the latest research you’re allowed 11 lies a week to be considered average. Do your part!

About Walter Jeffries

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10 Responses to Piglet Barrel Brooder

  1. Emily L. L. says:

    How wonderful! I continue to be amazed by your kids. They are so creative and resourceful. And industrious and hard working too! You live in a harsh climate — I spent 11 years living just east of Montpelier and you have long cold winters. Your piggies really benefit from all of your family’s attention to these sorts of details.

  2. skeptic7 says:

    Do you gather the chicken eggs and cook them for the pigs all year? Do you have nest boxes for the chickens? Have your hens ever hatched out their own chicks?

    • Yes, although sometimes the egg count drops such as in the dead of winter. If we feed layer pellets then the count stays up. We collect most of the eggs from the nest boxes. Occasionally a hen sets and hatches out chicks. That is more of a summer thing.

  3. michael says:

    Hello! I love the blog + I have picked up many ideas from it. We currently have small pig 40lbs? who is refusing to eat. We’ve treated (against our liking) with antibiotic offered many tasty treats, brought the pig in the barn with heat lamp etc. Her temp has stabilized but she is clearly uncomfortable. We have also had some challenging temps here in Maine as you have in VT. Any ideas?

    • Hmm… Too little information and too many possibilities. My first thought is an intestinal problem, possible perforation, hardware disease, torsion, etc. There is a good disease diagnostic tool at http://ThePigSite.com which might help you diagnose the problem. Just wildly guessing I would put the pig on a yogurt diet to see if you can get things going. Keeping it hydrated is an issue. If it dies then do a necropsy – you can do it yourself – and you might find what was up.

  4. Are your chickens free to roam without incident or do you assume regular losses from prey? Are the dogs and your daily activities their only means of protection?
    Recently we had a ermine come visit and it wiped out half our tiny flock.
    It baffled us for days why the birds were dying in such a gruesome manor until we caught the weasel in action. They’re amazing little critters that I would like to see a lot less of!
    Great website! Thanks.

    • Yes our chickens roam free. We have very little loss to predation because our livestock guardian herding dogs actively prey on predators. We too have ermine and we did have a time when one of them was killing chickens. I locked the chickens in a coop and put a dog in the coop and it killed the ermine. The other ermine we have seem to do a good job of leaving the chickens alone so I think it was just one individual who was the problem. Note that there are ermine and then larger cousins of several size up to the fishercats. The ones we have left are all the smaller variety.

  5. simon says:

    Hey Walter,
    One quick question:
    Do you use Heatlamps and lightbulbs during the summer to?
    And will 1-7 day old piglets go inside a summer creep, without lamp or other heat source?
    Our nights only get down to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so i want them to go inside the creep to sleep, so they won’t get crushed.

    Thanks alot Walther and I hope you sell lots of meat.
    You should be eating those eggs though, instead of giving them to the pigs.
    Down hear my chickens go broody every 2 months, so they have chicks 5 times a year.

    • No, we just use the lamps during the coldest part of the winter. They are actually turned off now – it has warmed up to above zero.

      Yes, the one day old piglets learn to go in and out of the creeps. The heat lamps definitely draw them into the creeps. We discovered that several years ago when we had some creeps with and some without lights. But even without a lamp they probably tend to go to the creeps because the creeps have less air movement and contain the heat of their bodies.

      If your nights are only getting down to 55°F I would not worry about that at all. That is our summer temperatures. I figure if we can keep above freezing we’re doing well. My goal is to have October extend through the winter to spring by the use of open greenhouses. The pigs like the brightly lit sky of a greenhouse better than a dark shed. It is very important to have adequate air circulation for lung health.

      We do eat some eggs, quite a lot in fact, but the chickens lay orders of magnitude more than we can eat. We generally have 100 to 300 hens.

      Since we collect the eggs regularly it stops the chickens from going broody. When we want a hen to brood we stop collecting from a nest. We only do this in the warm weather since that way the chicks have the best chances of survival. Our winters are too cold for hens to naturally brood chicks and the eggs freeze too easily.

      • simon says:

        Thanks Walter
        I found some realy cheap ones for 10 dollars each.(heatlamps)
        Thanks for your reply.
        I have about 50 chickens with my pigs, and they are great for keeping ticks down, and they eat anything the pigs spill out of there “tires”.

        You sure take alot of time out of your day, to answer posts.
        I don’t know if I could do that, if I had freezing piglets in the barn.
        That is pretty darn cold!!!
        Here in Ecuador we have the same temperatures, all year round.
        55-100 degrees.
        It sure helps with waterpipes and piglets that freeze on you.
        But on average, my sows always have around 100 ticks on them.
        Its gotten better since I have a guinea- fowl- rooster.
        We also have lots of screw-flies.(pretty nasty)
        I will send you some pictures of my pigs and piglets, once they have babies.(in two months)

        Thanks for your posts and replies.

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