Raising Pigs in Winter vs Summer

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Over the past few weeks, we have begun to communicate with our pork customers that we will no longer give them their meat in the fall, as is customary, but in the spring.

Very few people around here raise pigs in the winter, instead preferring to raise them in the summer months so the meat is ready for fall.

However, there are a few reasons why we have decided to transition.

Keeping pigs in the winter isn’t for everyone, but if you’re thinking about making the switch, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.

Here’s what you need to know.

Can pigs stay outside in winter?

The first thing you should know about keeping pigs in winter is that they can live outside.

All pigs can withstand a cold, but when it starts to precipitate, you’re going to run into problems.

Ensuring that your pigs have access to good shelter is essential throughout the year, but especially in winter. Although some pigs may be able to survive year-round on pasture, it is a good idea to have some sort of building for them to escape. Plus, it will give you a place to work with them for food, farrowing, medicine, and other agricultural tasks.

Some breeds do better in harsh climates than others, such as Tamworths, Blacks and Gloucester Old Spots.

Breeding pigs in winter versus summer – ideas and how to choose

Can’t decide between raising pigs in winter versus summer? Here are some factors to weigh in your decision.

1. Shelter

Regardless of whether you are raising pigs in winter versus summer, shelter is going to be a concern. However, the type of shelter needed will be different.

In summer, the primary goal of the shelter is to protect the pigs from the hot rays of the sun. Pigs can get sunburned, after all. Plus, since they can’t sweat, it’s easy for them to overheat.

In winters, you need to help them make up for the loss of their hair. Your hog shelter doesn’t need to be fancy—it can be as simple as old pallets, straw bales, or old water towers.

The goal of a winter shelter is to give pigs an area in which they can crouch down to get away from the driving wind, snow, and rain. It doesn’t need to be heated, but it is necessary.

Good bedding is important in all seasons, but usually in winter. This would be used not only to absorb odors but also to keep the pigs warm. Straw is the best option.

Another advantage of keeping pigs in winter? You can use the deep litter method. This will save you the labor of having to constantly remove and replace the bedding and will also help keep the pigs warm when they break.

2. Feed

I have always been told that it is not economical to raise pigs in winter because they need more calories to stay warm and keep growing.

this is true.

However, it is also true that Hot Weather can slow the growth rate of pigs. For us it has always been a bigger issue than the cold weather. Intense heat stress can reduce feed intake by up to 50%! Heat can also cause many other health problems.

Whether you choose to keep pigs in winter or summer, be aware of how the weather affects your pigs’ food consumption. Consider supplementing with inexpensive sources of feed whenever possible to help reduce your expenses.

3. Water

Without adequate water intake, pigs will not gain weight. Its as simple as that. Keeping the water cool during the winter can be a challenge. However, if you raise pigs in the summer, you’ll need to make sure the water is constantly replenished so that dehydration doesn’t become a problem and cause heat stress.

In winter, just use a trough heater designed for hog waterers or use rubber dishes to break up the ice more easily.

4. Fertilizer Issues

One of the things I look forward to most when raising winter pigs is that although the compost will be the same, the compost takes on a different tone in summer than it does in winter.

In summer the compost smells very bad. When you have pigs in the winter, you can more or less make up for smelly feces (a highly scientific term!) with extra heavy bedding. Carbon virtually eliminates all odor.

Plus, with freezing temperatures, you don’t have to worry about insects. This also includes flies. Not only are flies frustrating to deal with as a nuisance pest, but they can also spread disease, which means it’s one less thing you have to worry about.

5. Accessibility

If you’re planning on raising pigs at the end of winter, make sure you have a plan in place for how you’ll get them. You need walkways that are free of snow and ice. Also, if you plan to bring the pigs to the butcher over the winter, you’ll need to have a way to back up the trailer to load them.

6. Meat Quality

Some would argue that the meat quality of winter-bred pigs is different from that of summer-bred pigs. He says that since pigs sleep more in winter to conserve energy, there is more body fat due to inactivity.

We haven’t found that.

However, this can certainly be seen as both pros and cons of keeping pigs in winter.

Provide your pigs with plenty of activity regardless, and fat shouldn’t be a problem.

Plus, more fat means more bacon – so that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

7. Piglets and Pricing

I’ve discussed this in my Winter Pig Care post, but a great reason to keep pigs during the winter is because it allows you to free up some extra piglets in the spring that you can sell.

Selling spring litter is easy because everyone wants to raise piglets in the summer. Falling litter is more difficult to sell.

If you are buying piglets, they will be easier and cheaper to find in the fall.

If you are selling, you will be able to make more money by selling piglets born in the spring and keeping those born in the fall (since sows can have two litters per year) to raise for yourself.

Also, keep in mind that other expenses — such as feed and ingredients — may cost less in the winter because fewer people are competing to buy the same stuff.

What temperature is too cold (and too hot) for pigs?

Pigs can tolerate both hot and cold temperatures for a limited period of time.

The ideal range is between 50-80°F.

Otherwise, they are very hardy.

They don’t need supplemental heating unless it’s 20 degrees below zero or colder and as long as they have plenty of water, they can do well even in extreme heat.

When should I raise pigs? consider your goals

Keeping pigs in winter is not for everyone, but for some, it is the perfect solution to the problems posed by summer pig farming.

For us, the main attraction of keeping pigs in winter was that we didn’t have to deal with smelly manure, flies and market issues.

We also found that it was very difficult to get butcher’s dates for the pigs we raised in the summer – butcher’s dates were much easier to find in the early spring.

That said, we will have to upgrade our food and water systems a bit this year. This is to make sure we don’t have frozen messes to deal with.

There’s no direct solution to this question – and if you can’t decide, try both ways! There’s nothing stopping you from keeping pigs year-round, so don’t be afraid to experiment safely.

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