It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it! Feeding pigs is just as much of an art and a science as it is a daily chore – and I’m not just talking about figuring out what you’re going to feed your pigs, specifically. I’m also referring to the when and how!
It’s essential that you feed your pigs properly so that they grow up healthy and large. Here are some tips on how to feed pigs safely, effectively, and quickly so that you can move onto the long list of other farm chores you need to accomplish today!
How to Feed Pigs: 12 Tips
Of course, very young piglets will be eating from their mothers, drinking milk exclusively until they are a minimum of 10 days of age. On the first day of life, piglets need to eat up to 15 times! If your piglets are eating from mama and all seems to be going well, leave them be – your sow will know what to do.
In some limited situations, you may need to bottle feed a piglet. On the first day, within the first few hours of birth, all piglets need a colostrum.
This is something all mammals need and is often referred to as “liquid gold.” It contains valuable antibodies and nutrients that will help them ward off illnesses as they develop their own immune systems.
If your mama pig is feeding the piglets fine on her own, again, no need to intervene. However, if you purchased newborn piglets from someone, or have had issues with the sow, you may need to bottle feed your piglets with colostrum in the first 24 hours. This can be purchased (often in a frozen form) at a farm and garden store, and is species-specific.
Milk replacer can be made with cow’s milk in a pinch but it’s better to purchase milk replacer that is pig-specific. You will mix the replacer according to the instructions on the package, and you can feed either with a bottle or an eyedropper (just to start, if the piglet is leery of the bottle). Mixed milk replacer lasts only 12 hours.
Once your piglets are ten days old, you can introduce creep feed. Creep feed is the same as the feed you might provide to older pigs but it contains smaller, more easily digested pieces that are perfect for tiny piglets. They also have more nutrients and essential vitamins for growing piglets again, this can be purchased at the feed store.
You will need to provide about 20 grams of creep feed per pig per day, spread out among one or two feedings. If you don’t wish to feed your piglets by hand, you can put a box called a “creep feeder” in with your piglets to encourage them to munch whenever they get hungry.
Don’t worry about trying to find ways to entice them to eat it – pigs are naturally curious and they’ll wander over eventually!
With this creep feed, you will also need to provide a waterer. I recommend using an automatic drinker to encourage your piglets to sip whenever they get thirsty. Use a drink designed for piglets instead of a nipple waterer, as this might be tricky for them to learn at such a young age.
Of course, during this time, you’ll also be continuing to provide milk (via either mama or the bottle) in addition to feed and water.
Depending on your situation, you can wean your piglets from milk any time between three and four weeks of age or later.
Figure Out How Much Food You Actually Need
Before feeding your pigs willy nilly, you should sit down and do some rough calculations to determine how much they actually need.
The average pig needs around seven pounds of food per day for every 30 pounds of body weight. A full-sized hog might eat 15 to 50 lbs in a single day! If a pig is lactating or pregnant, she’ll need an extra pound or so to nourish her young.
It’s best to give pigs more food than not enough, as most pigs will stop eating when they’re full (that said, it is possible for a pig to become obese, so make sure you’re only feeding healthy foods free choice).
Buy an Automatic Feeder – Please!
If you’re stuck feeding the pigs by hand, like me, then I can’t stress this enough – you’re going to want an automatic feeder. Automatic feeders allow for hassle-free feeding and are ideal for homesteaders who work away from the home or need to be out of town for any period of time.
They save a ton of time on chores, reduce the amount of money that’s wasted in spilled grains, and can help your pigs grow larger more quickly because they can eat whenever they’re hungry – not just when you have time to feed them.
Automatic feeders refill automatically as contents are depleted. Pigs know when to stop feeding so you don’t have to worry about them gorging themselves. You may want to look for a feeder with separate troughs if you are raising multiple pigs.
That way, you won’t have to worry about pigs fighting over food. You can always build your own automatic feeder, too, if the ones sold at your local farm and garden store aren’t large enough for your needs.
Soak Whole Grains
When your pigs are in their fastest stage of growth, you may want to consider weaning them off pellet feed and providing natural grains such as rice, corn, barley, and wheat. These are high in carbohydrates so that the pigs can grow rapidly.
Unfortunately, whole grains also tend to put a lot of fat on your pigs – so you will want to supplement the grains with healthier alternatives like soybeans, alfalfa, and fruits and veggies, too. A well-rounded diet is key!
One tip for feeding grains to pigs is to always soak, roll, or crack them first. Many grains are actually sold this way anyway. The reason for this is that they are easier to digest, meaning your pigs will eat more and be able to convert the food into usable energy more readily.
Have a Separate Trough for Table Scraps
Using an atomic feeder is a smart choice for your pigs’ grains and pellets. However, when it comes to table scraps, it’s not a good idea to feed using an auto feeder because it will get messy in a hurry!
Portion out table scraps in a separate trough or pan. That way, you won’t have to worry about contaminating your main feeder. This can help prevent rodent or insect problems, too.
Feed Once or Twice a Day
If you aren’t using an automatic feeder, it’s important that you get yourself on a feeding schedule so your pigs know exactly what to expect. Make sure a large, balanced feeding is offered at least once a day so that your pigs can stay satisfied.
I really recommend the auto feeder, but if you can’t swing it, try to provide your pigs with room to graze. Pigs aren’t wonderful foragers, by any means, but a fenced-in pasture or field will help give your pigs something to nibble on between feedings.
If this isn’t possible, either, you may want to feed twice per day to make sure they’re getting enough to eat (and enough mental stimulation, too).
Swing by the Local Brewery
…and grab a pint to relax! Of course, not while you still have pigs to feed – the lager will have to wait a minute. But you may want to stop by the local brewery to find out if they have any leftover mash or brewery grains to dispense of.
Pigs love spent mash and even distilling residue. These materials are softened grains that have been broken down by the distilling process so they’re easy for pigs to digest.
You can feed your pigs as much of these foods as you’d like but don’t overdo it with pregnant sows or young piglets. The alcohol content is extremely low in these grains but can still cause issues if fed in excess.
Keep a Countertop Scrap Bucket
Pigs are partial to table scraps so feel free to save up all of your dinnertime waste and give it to your pigs. You can combine all leftover vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products in a countertop scrap bucket (a kitchen compost bin that is designed to be odorless is what works best for us).
Pigs are Strong!
Don’t forget when you’re feeding pigs – they’re super strong!
You will want to secure it to prevent it from being knocked over. Anchor it to a fence or the floor so that your hungry, rambunctious pigs don’t topple it over and waste the feed.
You can even build your own feeder out of heavier materials like hemlock or repurposed items like sinks and bathtubs.
Watch Your Hands…and Feet!
When you venture into the pigpen to feed your pigs, be mindful of your extremities. Pigs aren’t necessarily vicious creatures but it’s important to remember that their teeth are incredibly sharp – and their jaws extremely strong.
Don’t get your hands between a hungry pig and his food – and consider wearing thick-soled rubber boots or even better steel toes when you head in to feed. That way, you don’t have to worry about any mishaps that will necessitate a visit to the emergency room.
They’ll Eat Less Sometimes…
…and that’s usually okay. However, there are some situations in which a diminished appetite among your herd is something to be worried about.
Pigs will generally eat less during extreme heat, and more during colder weather. They might not eat as much when it’s raining heavily, preferring to hunker down in a warm, dry spot. If it’s very hot, you might find that your pigs prefer to eat at night (which is why an automatic feeder can be so beneficial, so they can help themselves whenever they please).
For the most part, these natural variations in feeding rhythms are nothing to worry about. However, if you notice that your pigs have suddenly stopped eating and aren’t growing well, you may need to administer a worm or consider what other factors might be at play.
Do your pigs have plenty of water? If your pigs are dehydrated or have taken to drinking water out of their own slurries, then it might be time to reconsider how and how often you are providing water.
Know When to Stop Feeding
Just as important as knowing how and when to feed your pigs is knowing when to stop feeding. Don’t feed your pigs if you need to transport them within an hour or two. If you’re moving pigs to a new location when their stomachs are full, there’s a good chance they will vomit and poop all over the place – and then roll in it. That’s definitely not fun.
Plus, there have been some situations in which feeding pigs prior to transporting them has led to excess gas buildup and dangerous conditions like heart failure.
You will also need to stop feeding about 12 to 18 hours prior to bringing your pigs to the slaughterhouse (or butchering them yourself, if that’s what you do). This will let anything in there make its way out for a more sanitary butchering job the next day.
What You Can and Cannot Feed Pigs: A Quick Guide
A pelleted feed and whole grains will likely be at the core of your pigs’ diet, but you shouldn’t rely on these exclusively. Again, you’re going to want to throw in foods that add protein, vitamins, and minerals, too. Some high-protein foods include alfalfa and soybeans, while you can rely on fresh fruits and vegetables to supply fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Pigs love leafy vegetables like spinach, cabbage, lettuce, and kale. They even love vines, like sweet potato or cucumber vines.
Colorful produce tends to be highest in vitamins and minerals, with root crops particularly beloved by pigs. Some good options include carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Don’t forget that pigs can eat just about anything you can – but that doesn’t mean that they should. Although pigs love chowing down on fatty cheese products and sugary baked goods (and you can give your pigs some of these foods, in moderation for sure), you don’t want to overdo it. What you feed your pigs affects their body composition – which in turn affects the flavor of the meat.
Here are some foods you may want to consider feeding your pigs:
- ✅ Fruits and vegetables
- ✅ Grains
- ✅ Formulated pig food
- ✅ Brew grains
…and some you should avoid:
- ❌ Raw potatoes
- ❌ Nightshade plants like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes (with the exception of the ripe vegetables themselves)
- ❌ Chocolate
- ❌ Caffeine
- ❌ Alcohol
- ❌ Rhubarb
- ❌ Avocadoes
- ❌ Offal
- ❌ Garbage
- ❌ Used cooking oil
- ❌ Blood, bones, carcasses from other animals
Of course, here are foods that are fine to feed, but only in moderation:
- Dairy products
- Baked goods
- Breads and sweets
Here’s a full list of things you can or shouldn’t feed your pig.
Feeding the Pig: My Technique
This is how I feed the pig…
Every morning, I slip through the muddy yard with a bucket of scraps and carry it to the pig pen. She sees me coming, runs to the gate, and goes crazy trying to tear the chain link apart. I’m sure neighbors for miles around can hear her piercing squeals.
I remove all of the boards holding the door closed; as the last piece of wood is removed she comes busting through, and straight at my legs, nudging me with her strong snout, covering me with mud. I brace myself so as to not be plowed over.
I maneuver around her and into her pen, trying to keep her nose out of the bucket until I’m able to pour it into her bowl. As the food begins pouring out, she immediately dives in to devour the goodies. The remainder of the food from the bucket ends up falling on her head since she won’t get out of the way. I laugh and pet her back while she contentedly munches away.
Then I close the gate behind me so that none of the other animals will get in there and eat her food. I know she’s only in the pen because she wants to be. As soon as she’s done eating she finds a way out and I see her running around the yard a little while later, grazing with the goat.
I go back inside and peel off the muddy clothes. Yes, it’s a dirty job!
What the heck am I going to do when she’s 200 lbs? Something’s gotta give!
updated 05/25/2021 by Rebekah Pierce
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.