Winter Pig Housing

Forming of Butcher Shop Administration Ceilings

Patrick asked in comments:
Any advice on younger pigs over the colder months? (USDA Zone 7)

Feeders and breeders do well over the winter however I recommend not trying to farrow in the worst months. We have done it for years but farrowing is far harder then than in the golden months which are about May through October here in the mountains of northern Vermont. I warn you of that since that is the next logical step you might take down the path. But on to the pigs you’re considering: If piglets are born by October they have a good head start on winter and do very well in our colder climate. I would expect them to do fine in your climate.

Pigs do not need much for winter housing. A closed in barn is both excessive and bad for them – They need fresh air. A closed in barn is also bad for the farmer as it leads to a build up of lung damaging gases and dust, bad for both farmer and livestock. Most of our pigs like sleeping out under the sky right through the winter even if a roof is available. You probably get more rain than us so a roof will likely be more appreciated and it will help to keep the bedding drier. Make sure the roof sheds the water down hill and away from the pigs’s bedding, use gutters and pipe it away if necessary. Our pigs like going out on the snow but don’t like deep snow so they tend to stay in their winter paddocks rather than going far afield. Cold mud is not their favorite thing in the winter although they want it in the other seasons thus drainage is important. The biggest things they need are protection from the wind, dry bedding (a deep compost pack with hay or straw on top is their ideal), fresh air and extra calories so they can generate heat.

A three sided shed is fine. Even one sided can do the trick with the wall towards the prevailing wind. The pigs love open greenhouses as do the poultry and sheep. The same structure with an opaque roof is not favored by our pigs although chickens will use it. Pigs like the light and probably the warmth of the sun shining on them. Just be sure to leave the lee end of the greenhouse fully open for ventilation and consider having a flap on the windward side if needed to reduce humidity via cross ventilation.

The worst situation is one that is closed in, wet and causes the pigs to huddle together. This is a typical barn. Pigs are pigs – that is they think only of themselves, never of the greater good so they lie on top of the weakest members. Pigs have no sense of altruism – they will pack together and crush smaller or weaker pigs in such a sleeping arrangement. You want them to spread out in a layer just one to 1.5 pigs deep. Higher order piling is a bad sign. This is much like chicks.

A deep pack of bedding right on the ground composts producing a hot bed for the pigs and they really like that. I cover the bedding with an insulating layer of hay – they eat the hay in the winter replacing their summer pastures. Much like us living on canned, cellared and dried veggies all winter. The ground under the compost will not freeze because of the insulation and heat of the compost. Next year this will be a great place to grow pumpkins and other foods for the pigs to eat the following fall. When it breaks down enough that will be a gold mine of nutrients for fruit trees and gardens. Build the compost pile on a slightly raised mound of dirt so it slopes to drain away any excess liquids. The pigs follow a ten second rule (sleep, stand, walk 10 seconds, pee) so they will add fluid to the compost pile – something it needs to properly compost. If you can’t get above the wet then a raised floor is a good idea. A 2′ thick bed of large wood chips is quite dandy for raising them up in that case.

Pigs do very well even into the deep cold we get here. We are at the end of September with temperatures dropping into the low 30°F which are comfortable for the pigs. Days are in the 50’s and 60’s and generally sunny. When it gets too cold for them they snuggle down into their hay and wait it out, coming out only for water and food.

So what is too cold? According to our pigs, down to -15°F is fine. At -20°F they disappear into the hay most of the time. At -45°F they’re not happy but they survive in their bed rolls. Pigs in a blanket of hay. This fits with my own feelings – I’m not fond of it dropping below about -20°F. That’s time to read and plan, a time to dream of warmer days to come.

At USDA Zone 7 you should never see these extremes. I think that your winters are a bit like our November and April – what we call mud season. Your problem will more likely be rain and mud. Wetness can suck the heat out of animals far worse than the dry cold we get up on the snow packs. Good bedding, slopes, drainage, ventilation, a roof all help.

There is no need to provide heat in their shelter so don’t worry about electricity. It is just a waste of energy. They’ll make their own heat and don’t risk fires their way. For pigs, keeping cool is generally a bigger issue than keeping warm – they do great in cool weather.

For some more thoughts on winter and pigs see these posts.

Outdoors: 65°F/44°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 63°F/59°F

Daily Spark: When you wave your arms and fail to fly it does not prove flight is impossible.

About Walter Jeffries

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19 Responses to Winter Pig Housing

  1. Patrick says:

    Wow. That is awesome knowledge from an experienced farmer and it helps immensely. Thank you so much.

  2. Someone asked about the lightweight PVC greenhouse setups and other things… We’ve done old poly tanks as winter huts (1,000 and 2,000 gallon works well for a sow and litter or smaller pigs), for piglets and a number of greenhouse designs. Leave them open for ventilation. It is really wind blocking that they provide most of all with a roof to shed precipitation being second. The pigs prefer roofs that are light (e.g., greenhouse) over dark (e.g., wooden or metal sheeting). For making the greenhouses we’ve had good success with 4″x4″ square stock panel (16’x5′) arched on wooden pallet side walls and then plastic on that. The pigs tend to be pretty rough on side walls so they need to be sturdy. If snow loads are a problem then do a ridge pole or shake it. We’ve also made them out of 6x6WWM.[1, 2]

  3. Jackie Van Meter says:

    We are looking for a temporary home for my black pig and pygmy goat and was wondering if the horse is ok with them could they sleep in a stall with the pony

    • I know little of horses or ponies. Our sheep, chickens, geese, ducks and pigs got along fine however they had plenty of space. If the animals are used to each other I would expect the would be okay however I would monitor the situation carefully. If they’re cramped it can cause trouble.

  4. ed says:

    Hi Walter, awesome blog and a great source of inspiration to budding farmers like myself. We are based in South Africa and the temperature in our area could get as low as -17 degrees Celsius (thats about 1.4 Fahrenheit). For our hoop house ideas I have read that the pigs can actually get frozen to the sides of the shelter. What do you recommend we use? Insulation for these temps or rather plastic/fibreglass type sheeting as opposed to metal for the exterior?

    In Summer the temp can soar to around 40 degrees Celsius (roughly 100 degrees Farenheight) does this mean I would have to consider a Summer and Winter Hoop house one with insulation and one without? I see from the temperatures in this blog it gets decidedly colder where you are. Yet the pigs seem fine?



    • We get down to -45°F (-42°C) and I have worried about pigs adhering to the metal of structures as well as metal fencing. So far I have never seen it happen. They are hot creatures running at about 103°F (39.4°C) so maybe that helps them and they have bristles. It is a good idea to put a kneewall at the bottom of the greenhouse to keep the pigs from destroying the greenhouse. We used wood. A heavy plastic or fiberglass would work. Concrete would work but is cold to lie up against in those temperatures. Hay bales are great – they will utilize them. I would not worry about insulating above the knee wall because you’ll want to leave the greenhouse open for ventilation.

  5. Sam says:

    Hi Walter,

    Thank you for the information on keeping feeders through winter. Forgive me if you have already written about this elsewhere in your blog…I couldn’t find it if you did…

    What about feed conversion for pigs in the winter? I know that you obviously feed more grain in winter, as there aren’t vegetable scraps or pasture for pigs to root around in. However, do pigs put on weight more slowly because they are using energy to keep warm in the winter months? How much longer do you have to feed your winter feeders until they get to market weight?

    • Growth rates in winter are slower for two reasons:

      1) It is cold so some calories are going to keeping warm.

      2) Hay is not nearly as good as fresh pasture.

      I figure on two extra months of growth typically for winter pigs. Obviously this is not a universal constant as it depends on when the pigs went into winter (what age), how hard the winter is and other factors.

      We don’t feed a grain ration so no high calorie food there. If you do then I would suggest upping the calories such as using more corn during the winter months. What we do is if we get anything like spent cheese trim and are able to do so we save it over in the fall for the cold months. However mostly we have simply spent a long time selectively breeding for pigs that handle winter better. That is the biggest factor that makes the difference across all other variables.

  6. I was recently given 2 30×90 foot hoop house frames that I am considering putting up to farrow some sows here in Oklahoma in January and February. Do you think I can manage the humidity in the hoop houses without exhaust fans? I plan to use one building as a farrowing/ nursery barn and the other as a nursery/grower till we can get them trained well enough to the electric fence. Where would you go to get a cover? Any other suggestions or criticism is welcome and appreciated. Thanks

  7. Suzette says:

    What do you use for winter fencing? I keep summer pigs in electric net, just wondering how you keep pigs in their paddock during the snowy months.

    • The deep snow tends to make the pigs less incline to wander in the winter. We get around 14′ of snow that packs down to about 4′ but their sharp pointy feet go right through that pack out in the field areas off their beaten trails so they tend to stick to the paths and easy areas. For fences we use cliffs, stone, pallets, wooden rails, stock panel (steel), high tensile hot wire and woven wire as well as polywire. We turn off lower wires and far outer wires to prevent a drain on the fence energizers. This concentrates the power into the winter areas and makes up for the lower conductivity of the snow to ground.

  8. Elaina Robitaille says:

    Great info! Does the same still apply if I have one full grown Potbelly? He used to be an indoor/outdoor pig and now we’ve converted him to full outdoor. This is our first winter with him outdoors. We live in western Mass, just on the border of CT.

  9. Samantha says:

    I have red wattles. They are approx 350lbs. They have a wooden 3.5 sided shelter with a metal roof filled with wheat straw then rice straw on top. Im in CA. Temps average 30 degrees at night. They spend most of their time in their shelter.

  10. Marc Fournier says:

    so your winter feed is also hay ? like horse hay square bales ? Do you supplement with anything else other than Whey in winter ? Thank you

    • In the winter months hay replaces fresh pasture. Whey is the primary supplement to the pasture/hay plus we get a little spent barley from a local brew pub. See the Pig Page for details about what we feed and follow links from there to deeper articles and more information.

  11. Shara Trierweiler says:

    Thank you for all of the information Walter. Out of curiosity how do you water pics on the paddocks in the winter without the pipes freezing on the water freezing up? What is your process?

    • We use flowing water through pipes from springs that have served our farm for hundreds of years. These flow down from Sugar Mountain through about 4,000′ of 1″ and 2″ water line pipes to a series of small ponds, barrel waterers sunk into the ground and troughs and then from one to the next. The earth heat and the movement of the water keep the water from freezing, most of the time. We use shrouds and wind breaks to help with this. See:
      Winter Whey & Water
      Winter Water Shroud
      Pictures of Winter Water

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