Torn Piglets – Portable Sow Hut

Torn with newborn piglets

Torn is an interesting pig. She is very friendly and an excellent mother. She is also torn. She was viciously beat up by another pig when she was little, a mere 200 lbs or so. She may have lost that battle but she won in the long run – the other pig went to market and Torn stayed here. She bred early and has produced wonderful litters well holding her place on the farm.

I have a firm rule – I eat the mean people. It is an important rule because we can’t risk our lives, our children’s health, that of the other livestock, dogs and visitors poor temperament. Over the generations this produces gentlemen boars and sows with good temperaments.

Mouse is another sow who won this way – by losing out to meaner sows. Be nice and work hard. It’s a simple formula for success. The fact that she’s got a nice body helps, of course. What can I say.

Torn was not done having the piglets when I took the photos above. Tomorrow I’ll get a final count on her litter. There were seven when I left her. She is in one of our new portable pig huts. We made this one because every once in a while we have a sow who chooses a bad location to farrow. If it’s bad instinct then I will want to cull her from the herd but sometimes it is simply bad circumstances. Lady Diamond did that this year. With these huts we can just drop it over her chosen nesting place and presto, instant housing.

The plywood in the photo above is on the windward, the north north west side. If the hut had a proper solid roof that wouldn’t be necessary although even then it would be nice as it creates a wind break around the entrance. The whole thing is down in a bit of a hollow so the wind lifts up and over it.

I said we breed for good temperaments above, but there are limits for even the friendliest animal, especially when a sow is farrowing. One animal welfare certification group that tried to recruit me to join their organization told me that if a sow is farrowing out in the field out in the weather that I must move her indoors. They don’t have the slightest clue about pigs. Those people need to get out of their padded cells and into the field. Once a sow has chosen a nesting space she doesn’t want to leave it. You can take the piglets and she will stay right there defending the location. It is extremely difficult, and very dangerous, to try to move her or the piglets. The key is don’t try to move her. Our drop over huts, slightly larger than a sow’s nest, are a solution that will work in the really bad weather. During the drier warm months of the year this isn’t an issue.

Another thing that group insisted on is that you must not give hay to sows. They said the piglets would tangle and strangle in the hay. They’re wrong. We’ve been providing hay for years to our sows. I have never lost a piglet to that entanglement and we get very, very little crushing as well. Hay is an excellent bedding material and it has nutritional value. Instead they wanted me to use straw. Straw isn’t locally available. That would mean shipping it in great distances at high costs at a waste of fuel. That’s unsustainable and simply stupid. Additionally, straw is inedible where as hay is good food for the pigs. The sows eat the hay. The piglets see their mothers eating hay and nibble the hay when they’re young, gaining a taste for it so that by the time their weaned they’re familiar with eating it. Straw would be an expensive waste and lack this important food and training value. Once again the stuffed shirts are trying to carry coal to Newcastle. I tried to explain this to them but they insisted their ‘experts’ had written the rules and there was no flexibility for local issues or real life, in the field observations.

One of the benefits of the deep hay and wood chip bedding packs is that there is composting action going on which creates a warm micro-climate where the pigs sleep. The deep bedding heats up to a temperature of around 100°F or more, composting temperatures, in its interior which generates a lot of heat for the sow and piglets during cool weather. Snuggling down in the top layer traps this warmth so that it is very comfortable. One might reasonably wonder how we know how comfortable the pig beds are… It’s because we’ve spent many a winter night sleeping out with our sows even in deeply sub-zero degree Fahrenheit weather.

Portable Pig Hut

With the farrowing pig hut the idea is to have something rugged enough that the pigs won’t destroy it yet light enough that two people can easily move it. It also must be large enough that we can drop it over a nesting sow. The largest sow nest I’ve measured is 7′ in diameter. It isn’t a circle but rather oblong to fit the sow’s body. The base of the hut is made of 6′ long 2×8’s. This creates an 8′ diagonal that is large enough for even big sows.

The base of the hut is joined with 16 penny nails and then with steel hurricane rafter ties screwed to it on the inside corners. This makes it rugged – or pig tough as we like to say. Without the steel straps the sows might break out the entrance base board. I like the high front base board as little piglets will be more likely to stay in until they’re mobile enough to handle wandering further.

The roof of this one is 661010 Welded Wire Mesh (WWM). That’s 5′ x 10′ sheets on a 6″ x 6″ grid of number 10 guage steel. This is used in concrete work for floors and sidewalks. There is a heavier 6666WWM. Even better would be 4 gauge hog or cattle panels with but I didn’t have them available. Going in town for just that was too much of a trip so we used what we had on hand. If I make a lot of these I’ll probably get the cattle panels. Even with our new farrowing greenhouse this will be a useful tool for when sows insist on another location.

Clamping hut roof wire to base

We used 2×4’s inside the base frame to lock the WWM on. The bar clams tightened the 2×4 to the 2×8 far tighter than we could hold them by hand. Then we were able to screw the two pieces of wood together.

10′ long WWM arched over a 6′ x 6′ base gives a ridge height inside of about 44″ due to the extra heigh from the 2×8’s (Remember: c=2πr). That is ample for a sow and even big enough for us to go inside if we need to do so. I’ve made spaces before that were too low – we ended up scrunched over even though they were high enough for the pigs.

Holly Caged

Here I have Holly caged up. Containment is an essential part of a good relationship. See how happy she is! A Confinement Wife Fencing Operation (CWFO). Nah… I like her free-ranged!

Tied Wires

Once we got the WWM bent into place we tied it together in a bunch of places. This created a truss work greatly increasing the rigidity and strength of the mesh. The next step to make something really strong, would be to lay lath over it and parge it like the roof of our cottage. I’ve done that. We have another hut that is buried into the hill and is so strong I’ve driven the tractor on it. In fact, our two 1,025 gallon whey tanks sit on top of that. Combined they’re around 16,000 lbs. Arches are great.

The back of the hut uses another sheet of WWM that comes up and then folds across the top, tying to the three pieces already arched over. A few snips of the resulting corners and some origami and the structure locks together. The clipped ends can be spun around the r
oof wires to tie it together using a high tensile fence twisting tool, or if you lost yours like I did then a spade drill bit with a hole in it works.

The covering, which you can see in the second photo, is bale wrap. Another use for that material that we end up with so much of. Cut off the bale carefully and tied to the frame it works very well as a roofing material. I do not expect it to last for years and years but it was free. In a “perfect” world, e.g., one where money was no objection, I would use Kalwall or similar to create greenhouses. But that is very expensive. Still, I might end up with some huts that way as time to time I’ve scavenged some of the fiberglass roofing material.

We didn’t have to actually do a “drop on” of the hut with Torn, she farrowed right where I wanted her to. She thought it was grand and moved right in. She was already bagging and may have been starting to think about where, o, where am I going to nest… Even without the drop on test she still got the benefit of the new housing and I got a chance to see it in operation.

After designing this I found that there are commercial quanta-set style pig huts and calf huts but they cost $400 or so new plus one must get them here. Since I had the materials this was essentially free. Building with bought materials it would be about $50 to $100 depending on how fancy you want to get. Not bad and no shipping.

By the way, on a separate topic, I almost lost the tractor today. I went to get hay in the south field and drove out on what looked like firm ground. It was very deep snow. The snow drifts during the winter to fill in the hollows. I drove over one such hollow and all of a sudden the tractor was acting like a paddle boat but going nowhere slow. The tires had broken through the crush such that the snow was holding the body of the tractor up by its underbelly and the wheels were free spinning. We ended up hand digging the tractor out. It was a team effort with Holly, Ben, Will and I all working at it. Then using the bucket I was able to advance it enough turning downhill to get the tractor out following the path we had dug. A lot of work. I had feared we would have it stuck there until May when the fields melted out and dried. Nasty thought. I’ll stick to the plowed path in the future.

Outdoors: 35°F/10°F Sunny, Few clouds
Farm House: 30°F/30°F
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/59°F Fire

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Torn Piglets – Portable Sow Hut

  1. Bruce King says:

    I’ve lost piglets in hay; if it’s too deep the sow makes a big hole in it and then ends up squishing the piglets between her body and the wall of hay. 6-8″ depth seems to work better than 18″, even though the sow will stack it. for me, anyways.

  2. ChristyACB says:

    Wow, cute piggies! And I think you’re brilliant in how you choose who stays and who goes. Nothing at all wrong with it.

    And winding up in a bad place when labor hits can happen to anyone, pig, human, cow or dog. Anyone. Very glad you are understanding of their need to stay put.

    Hope you’ll post more pics of Torn and her babes as they grow. Too adorable.

  3. Peter comly says:

    I hope you have better luck with cattle panels than we have recently. I bought a bunch a few years ago and they were virtually indestructible. So I bought 6 more last fall. Every on of the 6 is now pretty much garbage. I am not sure if they were welded together or just stuck together with the galvanizing. I hate it when products I used to depend on become so poorly made that I have to stop using them. Sorry about the rant.

  4. It is very important that the sow have time to properly nest so that she can pack the hay, brush, dirt or what ever she is using. This is part of why moving the sow is less than a good idea. The nest spot she has made is properly shaped and packed so that it fits her body and piglets don’t get squashed or buried. It ends up as a dish shape that naturally guides the piglets to her nipples.

    • Andrew says:

      In summers will you provide hay to a farrowing sow specifically for nesting or will she use only materials found in the pasture? I assume the hay is already available in the winter, but do you keep some around for warm-weather farrowing?

      • Most years we don’t have extra hay left over from winter although this year we do and we continue to put it out. The sows do use it. If they don’t have the easily available hay then they gather their own. They’ll build nests of hay, sticks and stones – just like the three pigs in the story.

  5. Mark says:

    Do you use these huts in the summer?

  6. Alice Enders says:

    So adding hay after the mother has farrowed is a no-no then? I can se how that wouldnot get packed

  7. Carol-Anne says:

    How would you attach the lath to a structure like this? Would it then be way to heavy to move (even with wheels and a bit of help ie tractor)?

  8. Carol-Anne says:

    How would you attach the lath to a structure like this? Would it then be way to heavy to move (even with wheels and a bit of help ie tractor)?

  9. In the summer the sows have farrowed out in the brush, grasses or occasionally in the various dens or open sheds. Their choice. The pasture is their usual place. We haven’t had these huts to use before. If we were getting a period of heavy rain, unusual, in the summer then I might be tempted to take one out and drop it over a litter. However they, the pigs, seem pretty waterproof and the sows almost always build nests in good places where the water doesn’t run through.

    I would not add large amounts of hay after the sow has started farrowing. She needs it available during the nest building phase. I just went and looked at Bruce’s blog and can see where he would lose piglets. The sows have such an enormous amount of fluffed up hay it would be a problem like that. We don’t give that much hay and the sows pack it into a dish shaped nest which prevents the piglets getting lost in the hay the way Bruce has had happen.

    On adding the lath and cement, yes, that would make it a lot heavier. Lath alone is pretty light. I would probably use something like this as a form, tie the lath on loosely, parge with about 1/2″ of sand-fiber concrete and then let it cure for a few days. I would leave the top surface very rough. Then I would add another inch of concrete on top of that, same mix. It would be wise to incorporate some lift hooks into the structure. It will be pig tough and very heavy. Think tractor for moving – or bury it in the hill to make an earth sheltered animal house like we did with one.

  10. Kristin says:

    We use the same selection criteria for our animals as well. It is prudent. It applies to dogs and roosters as well.

    I like your hog farrowing hoop house. We use a similar method for movable chicken coops and sheep housing. Perhaps we should build one your size for our pig house….when we get some feeder pigs later this year.

    And you are so right about using locally available materials. Many folks don’t understand that concept. They’ll insist on all-organic when it just isn’t feasible from a sustainable perspective.

    Thanks for the detailed post, Walter!

  11. Jerry says:

    I meant to ask this when you were doing the ferro cottage roof, and the arch picture here reminded me. Do you ever have an issue with the rust on the WWM? Rust and concrete don’t mix well leading to failure…just look at the bridges where the concrete is busted out and the rebar is showing. Just curious because I’ve never seen WWM that wasn’t rusted.

  12. Jerry,

    Rebar is also always rusted, unless you’re buying the more recently available epoxy coated stuff. I have never had a problem with the small amount of rust that is on the WWM and rebar causing a problem. I’ve got concrete that I put in nearly 20 years ago with rebar that had the patina of rust and it shows no problems. I’ve also got some ferro cement work, thin concrete, that was done on lightly rusted WWM and also shows no problem.

    I have read that chicken wire can be a problem because of the galvanization reacting to the concrete but I’ve not seen a problem. It may be one of those things that is either theoretical or only on a massive scale problem rather than real world for most applications.

    I have seen what you’re referring too where concrete cracked on bridges. I suspect that is caused by the salt from the roads and much higher moisture levels causing the steel to rust a lot more than we see in our construction.

    I’ve also read in construction research that some rust on the metal helps it bond better with the concrete and that they purposefully age the steel rather than using fresh clean steel in the concrete.

    When I build my large concrete marine aquarium, on my lengthy to-do list, I intend to use the epoxy coated rebar just like they use in the big aquariums.



  13. Alice says:

    How did this sow hut work?

    • It worked well but is not as durable as I would like. The 661010 welded wire mesh is too light. The welds break too easily. I would use cattle panel instead. It is light enough to be moved which is nice. That way it can be dropped over a litter in bad weather. Bale wrap makes a reasonable ultra-cheap cover for the hut. I would not call it the ultimate hut but it is cheap and easy to build.

  14. The next step to make something really strong, would be to lay lath over it and parge it like the roof of our cottage…

    What does that mean Walter. I am a near 60 year old woman who lives and works alone. This farming venture is new for me and I am enjoying it, but not being a builder, I have no idea what lay lath over and parge means or how it would be done. I would like to build some stronger huts because the boars continually destroy them when they are just livestock panels. For some reason they want to tousle near the huts and they end up bending from their weight. Thank you

  15. Jenny says:

    Your portable sow hut is a great idea! I love it. I would love to have these for our farm.

  16. Ernest says:

    Great idea!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.