Each year, as soon as I feel that first nip in the air or see the first snowflake fall onto the frozen ground, I’m amazed at the tenacity of nature.
Although my garden plants have died back and we’re huddled up in the house, curling up next to a fire, the animals outside are doing just fine. In fact, despite the freezing cold temperatures, they act as though nothing has changed.
I’m always astounded at how resilient our farm animals are, particularly the pigs. It looks as though they have next to no hair on their body, yet they withstand frigid weather with ease.
How do they do it? The short answer – pigs are tough and adaptable.
In fact, in our years of keeping pigs, we’ve noticed that they actually develop a thicker coat of hair on their bodies as the temperatures drop, which they then lose as it gets warmer again. So cool!
With that said, if you live in an area that regularly receives sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall and ice like we do, it’s important to understand the steps you should take to help your pigs stay healthy (and gain weight) during the winter months.
In this blog post, we will discuss some of the most important things to consider when winterizing your pig pen. We will also provide tips on how to keep your pigs safe and healthy during the winter.
Can Pigs Live Outside Through the Winter?
When most people think of pigs, they probably picture the pink, chubby (and somewhat delicate) farm animals that are often used in children’s stories.
However, pigs are actually quite adaptable creatures that can thrive in a variety of climates. In fact, pigs can even live outside through the winter.
While they do have some special needs in colder weather, pigs are surprisingly well-suited to tolerate the cold.
Their thick hair coat helps to keep them warm, and they can even grow an extra layer of hair in response to dropping temperatures.
In addition, pigs have a high rate of metabolism, which generates internal body heat. As a result, pigs are able to withstand colder temperatures than many other animals.
However, it is important to provide pigs with adequate shelter from the wind and rain to prevent them from getting chilled. That said, with proper care, pigs can enjoy a comfortable life even in the coldest weather.
Can Pigs Regulate Their Body Temperature?
It turns out that pigs are actually quite good at regulating their body temperature. They have a layer of fat that helps to insulate them from the cold, and they can adjust their blood flow to keep themselves warm.
Additionally, pigs are able to maintain a consistent body temperature by using their snout to regulate the amount of heat they lose through evaporation.
What Kind of Shelter Do Pigs Need for Winter?
Pigs are resilient animals that can thrive in a variety of climates, but they do need some basic shelter to protect them from the cold during the winter months.
A simple three-sided shed is usually sufficient, and it can be built using readily available materials such as wood or metal.
The shed should be large enough for the pigs to move around comfortably, and it should be well ventilated to prevent the buildup of respiratory toxins.
Let’s take a closer look at the specifics of pig housing in the winter.
Cold Housing vs. Warm Housing
There are really two main types of winter housing for pigs – cold housing and warm housing. Cold housing is the same temperature as the outside air, minus the wind chill, while warm housing is heated.
Some experts believe that cold housing is actually better for pigs, as it helps to prevent issues like dippity pig.
Fluctuations in temperature can cause stress for pigs, which can lead to health problems. Additionally, cold housing eliminates the need for supplemental heat, which reduces the risk of barn fires.
Just mind the drafts in your barn and cold housing should be perfectly fine! We raise pigs outdoors all winter long – they live in a simple A-frame shelter that’s positioned out of the wind.
We’ve had no problems with our grower pigs putting on weight just fine and they don’t get frostbite or other cold weather-related problems, even when temperatures dip below zero.
At What Temperature Do Pigs Need a Heat Lamp?
In my opinion? Never. Or at least, very rarely.
Again, pigs have a layer of fat that helps to insulate them against the cold. Although they can suffer from cold weather-related issues, a heat lamp can cause problems, too.
Really, you should only use a heat lamp if temperatures are well below freezing or if you have young piglets that need to stay warm.
Piglets can’t regulate their own body temperature like adult pigs can, so you may need to take extra steps to keep them toasty.
How Do You Winterize a Pig Pen?
There are a few simple steps you can take to help your pigs stay warm and comfortable all winter long.
1. Decide on Indoor vs. Outdoor Shelter
When it comes to winterizing a pig pen, one of the first decisions you have to make is whether to keep your pigs indoors or outdoors.
While an indoor environment can provide better protection from the cold weather, it’s important to make sure that your pigs still have access to an outdoor area for exercise and waste disposal.
Pigs tend to eat more in the winter in order to stay warm, so it’s important to monitor their food intake and make sure they’re getting enough exercise.
Allowing them access to a run or similar area is a good way to ensure that they don’t become too fat from lack of movement.
In general, happy pigs are healthy pigs, so doing everything you can to ensure their well-being is essential.
2. Consider Manure Management
One of the most important aspects of winterizing a pig pen is manure management.
Pigs produce a lot of waste, and if this waste is not properly managed, it can create an unhealthy environment for the pigs. In addition, it can also lead to soil erosion and other environmental problems.
As a result, it is essential to have a plan for dealing with manure during the winter months. There are various ways to do this, such as using a manure spreader or composting the manure.
This is yet another benefit of giving your pigs access to at least some outdoor area during the winter months.
By giving them some bare ground to roam around on, you’ll minimize the amount of manure that ends up in the barn – and consequently, needs to be mucked out and moved.
3. Best Type of Bedding To Use
One of the most important things you can do is to provide them with warm, dry bedding. Straw is a good option, as it will help to insulate the pig pen and absorb moisture.
You should also consider putting some bedding near the door, to soak up any mud that gets tracked in.
4. For Outdoor Pigs, Put a Cover Over the Door or Entrance to Limit Drafts
You may want to put a cover over the door or entrance to their pen. This will help to limit drafts and keep the pigs nice and warm while still allowing them to come and go as they please.
5. Prevent Piling
When winterizing a pig pen, it’s important to take steps to prevent piling. Piling is when snow and ice accumulate on the roof of the pen, which can collapse and injure the pigs.
To prevent this, clear the roof of debris, and then cover it with a tarp or other waterproof material.
If you’re in the process of building your pig shelter, make sure the roof has a steep pitch so snow and ice slide off easily. You may find that you need to shovel in the winter, too, particularly during heavy storms.
Piling is a term that can also be used to refer to what the pigs do when they get cold – they pile on top of each other.
This can lead to a variety of issues, including suffocation and rectal prolapse. To prevent it, make sure the barn is free of drafts and your pigs are kept warm at all times.
6. Be Careful Giving Them Blankets
In the winter, you need to give your pigs some extra insulation. One way to do this is by providing them with extra bedding, such as straw or hay.
However, you should be careful not to give them blankets, as they’re likely to chew on them. This is a piece of advice I’ve seen a lot, but it’s never worked out well for our pigs.
They always chew on the blankets and the pieces aren’t necessarily good for their digestive systems.
Skip the blankets and use straw or hay instead. They’ll play with the straw or hay and even eat it, but it won’t do them any harm.
7. Shovel a Path for Them
One of the best ways to winterize a pig pen is to shovel a path for them. This will give them a safe place to walk and lie down without having to worry about getting buried in snow or slipping on ice.
In addition, it will provide a way for you to easily get to them if they need any medical attention.
8. Don’t Use Heaters
Winterizing a pig pen is essential to keeping your pigs healthy and comfortable during the cold winter months. However, heaters can actually do more harm than good.
Pigs are very sensitive to temperature changes, and overheating can lead to respiratory problems. In addition, heaters can be a fire hazard, particularly if they are left unattended.
Instead of using heaters, there are a few simple things you can do to winterize your pig pen.
Examples include adding more insulation to the barn, taking steps to eliminate drafts, and providing extra bedding.
9. Provide a Sleeping Area That is Elevated Slightly Off the Ground
One of the best ways to winterize a pig pen is to provide a sleeping area that is elevated slightly off the ground. This will help to protect the pigs from the cold, damp ground and will also provide them with some extra warmth.
10. Consider Adding Supplemental Light, But Make Sure Wires and Cords are Inaccessible to Pigs
You may want to add supplemental light to the pig pen. This will help the pigs to stay warm and increase their appetite.
However, it is important to make sure that the wires and cords are inaccessible to the pigs, as they can be a serious hazard.
11. Make Sure They Have Plenty of Space to Prevent Boredom and Fighting
Winter can be a tough time for pigs. The cold weather can send them into a mini-hibernation, which can lead to weight gain and reduced activity levels.
Additionally, shorter days can cause them to become bored and restless, leading to fighting and other undesirable behaviors.
To help your pigs weather the winter months, it’s important to provide them with plenty of space. A larger pen will give them room to move around and stay active, helping to prevent weight gain.
Additionally, it will provide them with opportunities to explore and play, helping to keep them entertained during the long winter months.
12. Understand That Temperature Needs Will Vary Between Young and Mature Pigs
Adult pigs are sturdy animals that can withstand cold weather, but piglets are much more delicate and need to be kept warm.
When winterizing a pig pen, it is important to take the age of the pigs into account. Mature pigs can handle colder temperatures and don’t need as much added heat, but piglets need to be kept in a warm environment.
While I’m not normally an advocate for heat lamps, they may be necessary for very young pigs.
13. Ensure Your Barn Has Good Insulation and Even Better Ventilation
Good insulation will help to keep your pigs warm, while good ventilation will help to prevent the build-up of carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses.
Before winter arrives, do a walk-through of your barn and look for any areas where more insulation and ventilation can be added.
Other Tips for Wintering Pigs
By following these simple tips, you can help your pigs stay healthy and happy all winter long.
Plan on Providing Them With More Food
One of the most important things you can do for your pigs is to make sure they have enough food. Their appetites will increase in the winter, and they will need more calories to stay warm.
This doesn’t mean you should overfeed them, but you should plan on providing more food than usual. You may also want to consider supplementing their diet with hay or straw to help them keep warm.
The More, the Merrier – Consider Raising More Pigs
The more pigs there are in a pen, the more body heat they will generate, helping to keep each other warm.
In addition, raising more pigs also means there will be more manure to generate heat. Manure produces methane as it decomposes, and this gas can be used to heat the pigpen. As a result, raising more pigs is one of the best ways to keep them warm during winter.
Again, you’ll want a reasonable plan for manure management – but you shouldn’t have to worry too much about the smell when it’s colder outside.
Have a Plan for Water
In winter, water can freeze, making it difficult for pigs to get the hydration they need. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to have a plan for water.
One option is to use a watering system that automatically heats the water as it passes through the pipes.
This can be an expensive investment, but it’s worth it if you live in an area where winters are particularly harsh. There are drop-in heaters you can use, too, but pigs are likely to chew on these.
Another option is to keep a large heated container of water inside the pig pen. This will need to be refilled regularly, but it will provide a source of fresh water for the pigs even if the outside water supply is frozen.
Be Careful About Winter Farrowing
If possible, farrow sows in an enclosed area such as a barn or shed. This will help to protect them from the elements and keep them warm.
Additionally, make sure that there is plenty of bedding available for the pigs to use. Straw or hay can help insulate them from the cold ground and provide them with a comfortable place to have their babies.
Ultimately, in the winter, you will need to be ultra-vigilant with your expected sows. Pay close attention to make sure the barn is warm enough for the sow and her young.
Consider Cold-Hardy Breeds
If at all possible, you may want to choose a cold-hardy breed. Tamworth, Gloucester Old Spot, Oxford Sandy, and Blacks are all breeds that do well in cold weather.
Winter is coming, and that means it’s time to start thinking about how to winterize your pig pen. While the specifics of your setup will vary depending on factors like climate and size of your pen, we’ve compiled a list of tips that should help you get started.
Consider these tips today to make sure your pigs are safe and comfortable through the cold months ahead.
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).