Building A Good Home For Pigs

A muddy black and white pig rests outside.
Felix show off his digs!

Updated June 15, 2020

Like most animals, pigs need ample safe outdoor space to roam and root around, as well as an indoor shelter to keep them out of the elements when necessary.

Keep It Safe!

If you are bringing new pigs into your life, you also need to ensure that you have an appropriate quarantine space to keep you and your existing residents safe!

When designing all living spaces for pigs to live in, always keep foot safety at the top of your list of concerns! Pigs are highly prone to foot problems, and they are incredibly difficult and expensive to treat if they go unnoticed. This means you should avoid slippery surfaces and limit their time on overly tough surfaces like concrete. Even though they love mud, you should ensure they also have non-muddy areas to walk in. Be sure to conduct regular checkups for their feet and joints!

Indoor or outdoor, a pig must always have access to fresh water from a clean source, especially if they are frequently getting their water muddy! A pig-friendly automatic waterer (especially one bolted into poured concrete) is best for them, though they can be expensive. Pigs cannot go 24 hours without water as this can cause salt poisoning, which requires immediate electrolyte treatment. Salt poisoning looks like thirst, skin irritation, constipation, neurological problems, and convulsions. If you suspect a pig has salt poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately.

How Much Space Do Pig Residents Need?

When creating living spaces, it is important to ensure that your residents have enough space. There are many factors to consider when determining how much space pigs need; there is no magic number we have to offer. Not all residents are going to do well with the general recommendations offered online, or even those offered by established sanctuaries, so you’ll need to be prepared to expand their living space if that’s what they need.

It is difficult to find non-industry recommendations, especially when it comes to indoor space for large breed pigs. We gathered recommendations from Global Federation Of Animal Sanctuaries, Farm Sanctuary, and Catskill Animal Sanctuary though not all address indoor space and some focus specifically on potbellied pig or large breed pigs. Hopefully, considering these recommendations together will give you a starting point when thinking about how much space your residents need. Keep in mind these are minimums, so you should strive to provide more space for your residents whenever possible.

Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries– In their Standards For Suidae and Tayassuidae Sanctuaries, which includes many species and breeds including potbellied and domestic pigs, it states, “Room dimension is dependent on intended purpose and/or duration of confinement” and “are a minimum of 64 sq. ft. (5.95 sq. m) per adult animal with a minimum vertical dimension of 8 ft. (2.4 m) for staff access” and a “minimum of 81 sq. ft. (7.53 sq. m) per sow with litter.” In terms of outdoor space, it recommends a “minimum 1 acre (0.4 hectares) per pair of compatible suidae.”

Farm Sanctuary– Their Pig Care resource, which focuses on large breed pigs, does not offer recommendations regarding the amount of indoor space one should provide for pigs, but states, “We recommend providing one acre of land for every two pigs.” Farm Sanctuary updated their guidance in their  2018 Farm Animal Care Conference resources, stating, “We recommend one acre of land per 8 pigs. This is only if the land can be properly drained.” Given how much pigs love to explore and the toll natural rooting behaviors can take on a pasture, we’d recommend following their original guidance unless you are able to rotate and reseed pastures regularly.

Catskill Animal Sanctuary– Though they do not offer recommendations for large breed pigs, they do offer guidance regarding the minimum amount of outdoor space potbellied pigs need. Their Potbellied Pig Fact Sheet states, “Pigs can live happily outdoors if provided the following: 1. a spacious outdoor enclosure (1/4 acre per pig: pigs should not be confined to a ‘pig pen’) 2. a yard that provides both sun and shade 3. access to a creek, a small pond, a ‘doggy pool’ or a man-made ‘wallow’ in which to cool off on hot days 3. a well-insulated shelter that is heated in winter and safe from predators.”

Use these as a starting point, but be aware that there are many factors to consider when determining the amount of space needed to keep your residents comfortable and happy. Age, breed, sex, health issues, activity level, herd dynamics, climate, and type of outdoor space should be considered when creating a space or determining a space’s capacity.

Indoor Living Spaces For Pigs

One important thing to keep in mind with pigs is that they are both very strong and very curious! Thus, it’s important to make sure that the indoor space you’re providing them with is strong enough to withstand a pig nose or the bulk of their weight! Some suggest using a building made of concrete or reinforced metal rather than wood as they could potentially destroy both wood and pole barns if not reinforced and secured properly. If you do opt for a wooden structure, don’t skimp on structural support! Pigs have been known to damage metal siding, leaving dangerously sharp edges that residents can get injured on.

The flooring should not be concrete. Dirt or another slip-resistant material is crucial since slips and falls can have devastating health effects on a pig’s oversized body. If the indoor living space floor is concrete, you should layer a half a foot of dirt onto the concrete floor or use rubber mats (which are safer than concrete, but will require quite a bit of daily cleanup). Bare concrete and hardwood floors are not acceptable for pigs. Pigs have been known to fall through wooden floors. If you use dirt, it must be regularly maintained and any divots must be filled in to prevent foot injuries.

Ideally, you should provide an abundant amount of dry and clean straw in a pig’s indoor living space. They love nesting and using long straw as bedding. You must remove and replace all moist and soiled straw to prevent serious health risks to pigs. There are products you can spread on wet areas such as hydrated lime alternatives like Sweet PDZ or Stall Dry to keep the living space free of moisture. If you cannot access straw, you can potentially use other clean and replaceable materials such as wood shavings, but straw is best and most enjoyable for them! Exhaust fans with locking shutters are very effective at keeping barns well-ventilated and dry.

Summer Considerations

A pig’s indoor living space needs to be waterproof and free of drafts, in both warm and cold conditions. Because they cannot sweat, pigs are highly prone to dangerous heat exhaustion. Therefore, you need to make sure that they can stay cool indoors in the summer. If necessary, you can use water misting fans, but you have to make absolutely sure you aren’t getting their living space too moist. Even basic circulating fans can be kept on automatic thermostats to keep residents comfortable, but you must ensure that all cables are safely secured!

Winter Considerations

In the winter, you have to make sure that the barn is ventilated as well, because humidity can quickly build up in a warm barn and cause dangerous pneumonia outbreaks and skin infections in a herd. However, pigs also need to stay warm in the winter! If your barn is properly insulated, a pig’s body (especially a group of pigs in one area) can provide a good deal of warmth. You will most likely be able to keep healthy adult pigs comfortably warm simply by giving them ample straw in cold temperatures and the opportunity to sleep near each other. Pigs enjoy using straw to build giant nests that they can burrow into. On a cold day, you may find all of your pig residents completely buried in straw!

Condensation Concerns

If you feel condensation on the walls or ceiling of a barn in the wintertime, it must be immediately ventilated as it is far too moist for safe pig habitation!

An oversized indoor living space is not ideal in the winter as the pigs will have a harder time keeping warm in it. Often times, the addition of extra straw bedding or blankets will be enough to keep the pigs warm even when the temperatures dip below freezing, assuming their enclosure is free of drafts and they have a friend to snuggle with. If you must use extra heat, use ceramic heaters, or if you have ample funding, radiant floor heating covered in dirt is the most ideal and safe heating solution for pig living spaces. If you look into installing radiant floor heating, be aware that this system could cause an environment that is too humid depending on the type of enclosure you have. Typically, wood structures will “breathe” better than concrete block or metal sided buildings, which are more likely to sweat and contribute to high humidity levels. Additional ventilation may be necessary when using radiant floor heating. If absolutely necessary, such as with very young piglets, pigs who are sick, or pigs who are living alone during an extreme cold spell, you can use ceramic bulb heat lamps, but you must make sure to keep electrical cords out of reach from curious residents and make triple sure to keep heating elements clean and dust free! Barn fires are tragically common occurrences.

Determine if and at what temperature the indoor water supply may freeze in the winter. Be prepared to empty waterers at night and provide fresh warm water for overnight access.  Automated waterers with heaters on thermostats can be very helpful for keeping residents safely hydrated all season long.  Be sure to use a design that does not have an easily accessible heating element and choose one that requires a prying tool to open it. Some designs have a top that simply twists off and the heating element is exposed once the bowl is removed.  Pigs can easily get this type of water unit open, leaving an exposed heating element that is a dangerous fire risk.

Ensure that there is no risk of snow or ice falling off of structures and striking residents.

Outdoor Living Spaces For Pigs

A pig relaxes in a mud pool outside.
Make sure outdoor spaces provide areas for pigs to cool off! Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / The Ghosts In Our Machine

Pigs need a safely enclosed outdoor living space to spend time in throughout the day if they so choose. The outdoor living space must be fenced in with materials that can withstand a curious or concerned pig. Four foot 2×4 inch opening woven wire “no-climb” horse or pig fencing with eight foot posts is a good option for keeping pigs safely within the space. Make sure that your fence does not have a bottom gap so pigs can’t root under it. You should use ample posts throughout the fencing to make sure that pigs can’t bend or warp the fencing. You can also employ corral boards on the outside of the fence to keep the fence even more secure and safe from pig chewing. Avoid using hog paneling with tusked pigs as they can easily get caught up in it.

Ice concerns

Pigs should never walk on any icy paths, as a slip could seriously injure them. Thus, you will have to create a slip-mitigation plan if it gets icy at your sanctuary. In addition, if you are de-icing areas that pigs walk on, do not use caustic or salt-based products as these can damage their feet!

Make sure outdoor spaces provide enough room for your residents to root and explore. Overcrowded living spaces can lead to many conflicts and health issues in pig herds. They will quickly turn a grassy area into a muddy paradise by virtue of their browsing and rooting, which for many reasons is great for a pig, but they also need the opportunity to have dry feet in addition to mud and water! Pigs love (and need) mud, but chronically dirty feet can lead to infections. If other species are sharing pasture with pigs, you must smooth out the divots they create regularly to prevent other residents from tripping or getting foot injuries. If you have the land, you could create two pastures for pigs and rotate them to ensure that conditions can improve on one piece of land while they spend time on the other. In an ideal world, a pig would have both a mud hole and a pond to spend time in. On hot days, mud is particularly important to pigs as it serves as sunscreen, protecting their delicate skin from painful and dangerous burns. A mixture of grass and wooded areas is great for pigs; lacking this, you need to create a shady area in their outdoor enclosure that they can access on the hotter days of the year. Even if you are able to provide ample shade and mud for them, it’s still a good idea to sunscreen their ears and the area behind their ears on sunny days, as these areas are very sensitive and prone to developing skin cancer.  If for whatever reason you cannot provide pigs with ample mud or shade, you must be willing to apply sunscreen to the rest of their body every sunny day that they go outside to prevent sunburns!

It is important that you check the pigs’ pasture regularly and remove any hazards such as balloons that may have blown in, other foreign objects, fruit pits, or wild animal carcasses to prevent ingestion of dangerous materials. A pig who ingests an animal bone can develop serious health issues including a stricture or intestinal perforation.

If there is a natural pond on your property that pigs use, you must be able to securely prevent access to it if freezes in the wintertime to protect your residents from accidents.

Creating A Safe Feeding Area For Pigs

Healthy, mature pigs must have their food portions managed in order to prevent obesity-related health issues. Because of their size and enthusiasm at meal times, feeding pigs can be a bit of a challenge for the humans involved, especially if trying to feed pigs in a tight, enclosed space, or if needing to carry food through a space where the pigs are. When designing a living space for pigs, think about ways to make the feeding process easier. Some sanctuaries create designated feeding areas in covered pavilions or covered porches that give pigs space to eat while protected from the elements. They may design these areas so that they are easy to clean and are set-up so that pigs can be locked out of the space while food is being set-up. Safely feeding pigs without a designated space is certainly possible, and not everyone sees the need for a designated feeding area. Consider what makes the most sense for your residents based on the design of the rest of their living space and seasonal weather. Even if you plan to mostly feed the pigs in their outdoor space, you should be prepared to feed them out of the elements if needed.

Although heavy duty rubber or plastic bowls tend to be chewed up and thrown around as toys by pigs (and must be cleaned daily), they can be safer than using heavy metal troughs, which are easier for simultaneous group feeding, but can rust or become damaged and dangerously sharp. Some sanctuaries have had large concrete troughs made which are easier to clean than individual rubber bowls and are safer than metal troughs. Everyone needs a lot of space to eat comfortably, and if anyone is getting too small or big, closely monitor their dining situation and separate individuals who are not getting along at food periods.

SOURCES:

Standards For Suidae and Tayassuidae Sanctuaries | Global Federation Of Animal Sanctuaries

Pig Care | Farm Sanctuary

Pig Care | Catskill Animal Sanctuary

Education | Hog Haven Blog

Building For The Outdoor Pig | Pet Pig Education

Updated on December 23, 2020

Related Articles

Support Our Work
Please consider supporting The Open Sanctuary Project by making a donation today! We are 100% donor-funded and rely on the support of generous individuals to provide compassionate resources to animal caretakers worldwide.
Donate Now HERE