Kunekune Pigs: Perfect for Small Farms

By Karin Kraft

Kunekune pigs (pronounced “cooney cooney”) are a smart option for small farms. Kunekune means “fat and round” in the Maori language. These tasseled, sweet-tempered, medium-sized pigs hail from New Zealand. While no one knows for sure, they are thought to be a cross of Berkshire, Poland China and possibly Gloucester Old Spots among pigs from Indonesia.

Females average 100 to 175 pounds, while males can reach the 200 to 250-plus range. They have short, upturned snouts that discour­age rooting, and they do not challenge fences. Kunekunes are grazing pigs and are able to grow on low inputs, making them an ideal breed during periods of escalating grain prices. Gourmet chefs in Los Angeles have declared Kunekune pork outstanding.

piglets and sow
Kunekunes are odorless, quiet, and safe for children. This keeps the neighbors happy, and both kids and adults love to visit.

My husband and I raise our Kunekunes in a semi-rural environment within the growth management boundary of Olympia, Washington. We have more than a dozen neighbors surrounding our 4-acre parcel. Our county conservation district has advised us that our pastures can support two boars, eight sows, and their piglets. One boar can easily keep eight sows in pig, though.

Feeding Kunekune Pigs

We rotate our pigs through five pas­tures, moving them every other day dur­ing the spring and summer. Supplementation is sometimes necessary, depending on the quality and quantity of available pasture. We add approximately 2 cups of or­ganic mixed grain (15 percent protein) both morning and night for each pig. Grass only con­tains adequate protein levels five months of the year here in western Washington. With shade from tall ever­green trees, even less may be available. When the pasture stops growing in late summer we add alfalfa pellets and pro­duce scraps.

Our local brewery supplies us with 25 gallons each week of an organic am­ber ale swill (non-alcoholic effluent from the brewing process) that is filled with yeast and enzymes. In the fall our friends supply windfall apples and pears. Pigs will eat just about anything from the garden other than onions and garlic. Beets, carrots, and potatoes are their favorite vegetables. We feed them old leftovers and keep everything fresh in the fridge — although the farm dog already has dibs on any and all meat scraps from the kitchen.

Kunekunes should be fed alfalfa hay during the winter when they are off pasture. We prefer alfalfa pellets because nothing is wasted and it is easier to feed. We pur­chase organic grain and pellets not only for the health of the pigs, but also for our own protection from pesticide residue in the dust. We also like the fact that organic grain is mostly free of genetically-modified organisms. Although it is quite a bit more expensive than conventional feed, the price of the pork can offset this cost if advertised as or­ganically-fed.

Housing Kunekune Pigs

Pigs on pasture still need shelter from rain. We had the good for­tune to obtain scrapped sections of a carbon-fiber rocket fuselage from a developing space travel company; these make excellent shelters. We have a sec­tion in each of our pastures and over part of the paddock. The pigs usu­ally sleep in the open unless it is raining. They generally stay in a pile to remain warm and conserve energy.

pig shelter
Shelter from rain can be created for minimal cost from recycled materials.

During winter months, our pigs sleep in the barn with access to an exterior gravel paddock. Taking them off pasture during the rainy season prevents soil compaction. Pigs do not soil their bed­ding like ruminants in confinement. Kunekunes do not need extra heat unless piglets are born in cold temperatures. Heat lamps should be installed with the utmost caution so that a poor­ly hung or defective lamp does not burn down the barn.

Breeding Kunekune Pigs

Kunekunes are slow-growing and take their time before getting saddled with a bunch of piglets. While they are sexually mature by between five and eight months, they may not be interested in breeding for another six months. It takes some time for the males to build up confidence. We imagine them saying, “Excuse me madam, but your aroma is quite alluring. You wouldn’t consider — no no, of course not. I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I’ll just take a nap over here… so sorry.” With time and maturity, though, he will chat­ter nonstop in her ear and roar frequent­ly, sounding like a grizzly bear.

My husband and I were in the barn one morning helping our goat deliver her first kids when we heard a passionate pig conversation between our boar, Newton, and our gilt, Shiva. (Shiva is named after the world-famous Vandana Shiva, a physicist and agron­omist from India. I highly recommend her books Soil Not Oil and Stolen Harvest.) Three and half months later, Shiva gave birth to seven gorgeous piglets.

Colorful six-week-old purebred Kunekunes nursing.

If left on pasture until the end of gesta­tion, a sow will build a beautiful nest from grass and tree branches. She will stay under the nest two days prior to delivery and several days after the piglets are born.

The Charismatic KuneKune whitepaper download cover

Get Your FREE KuneKune Pig Guide Today

Kunekune pigs are a good option for small farms and homesteads. In this downloadable PDF from our partners, the American KuneKune Pig Society, you will learn the basics about the KuneKune breed of pigs. Including:

  • History and origins;
  • Breed characteristics;
  • KuneKune nutritional needs;
  • … and more.

Download the Free Guide here.

Hoof Care

Once or twice a year pigs need their hooves trimmed. This merely requires a pair of goat hoof trimmers, two able-bodied people, and five minutes.

The easiest way to do this is to separate the pig to be trimmed from the rest. Start by scratching the pig’s belly till it flops over. Have a helper to continue the belly scratch. If the pig won’t lie down, place a handful of grain on the ground, squat next to the pig, reach under it, and grab the two legs on the far side. Pull the legs toward you and roll the pig onto its back. As soon as the pig is upside down, grab the other front leg so that one is in each hand, straddle the pig — facing the head — and place a foot on each side of the pig’s shoulder. Do not get behind the back legs or you may get kicked.

Use the goat hoof trimmer to level the nail to the nail pad and round off the outside edge. Trim off the sharp edges of the dew claws. It will not take more than five minutes to do all four hoofs. Step off the pig and release the front legs. Reward the pig with a piece of fruit and good scratch. Be sure to stretch your back before doing the next one!

Vaccinations and Worming

Several veterinarians here in the Pacific Northwest have recommended Rhini Shield TX4 to protect pigs from erysipelas, parvo, atrophic rhinitis, and certain types of pneumonia. If you plan to take your pigs to a fair where there will be other pigs, you will definitely want to vaccinate several weeks beforehand.

The main benefit of worming — which really means de-worming — is to ensure that you are actually farming pigs and not worms. Pigs pick up worm eggs from the soil. Lung worms can contrib­ute to pneumonia in winter months. Even with steady pasture rotation it is difficult to keep pigs free of worms. Pigs’ noses are on the ground 99 percent of time that they are not asleep; if worms exist on the pasture, the pigs will ingest them. If you are new to raising livestock, you will find many opinions related to worming. Over-worming and inadequate worming can lead to resis­tant worms, just as improper use of an­tibiotics can beget superbugs. To be on the safe side, consult with your veterinarian.

Kunekune Tusks

Kunekune boars grow impressive tusks. Not being a particularly aggressive breed, though, they do not often use their tusks against other pigs. Even folks who keep multiple boars do not find the need to file down the tusks. Those who want to try this anyway, though, can easily do so using a simple wire tool that can be bought or made at home. Supposedly you can do this when the boar is on his back to have his hooves trimmed. File his tusks down to the gum line. The tooth root is below the gum line, so this does not cause any pain. Each tusk can be removed in about five to ten seconds with rapid back and forth sawing once the wire is in the right spot. Just make sure you are not touching gum tissue before you begin! It possibly works better to use a snare and do it upright. Disclaimer: I have not tried either method. I have only seen it done.

Biggest Mistakes Kunekune Owners Make

Overfeeding leads to loss of fertility and poor health for your animal. Check on-line visual guides to ensure you are feeding to the correct weight for your animals. I have also seen cases of underfeeding where owners think pigs need only grass or only bread etc. Please do your homework on porcine nutrition. You can’t go wrong with a pig specific brand of feed unless you feed incorrect amounts.

sleeping pig

Another common mistake is expecting the same characteristics from Kune-crosses as from purebreds Kunekunes. You will see many more rooting and escaping behaviors from cross-bred pigs.


An increasing number of farm in­terns are hungry for farm knowledge and experience. A college intern can make life on the farm much more enjoyable and can relieve some of the workload. Students are often willing to work in exchange for fresh fruits and vegetables and possibly some fresh or frozen meat. A young farm intern will be thrilled to help out with hoof trimming, tusk fil­ing, worming, or just brushing the pigs. Kunekune pigs are affectionate animals, and brushing them is as enjoyable to us as it is to them.

A Smart Investment for the Homestead

For those who want to raise pigs for their own consumption, what better animal could you buy than one that won’t tear everything up and escape in the pro­cess? For those wanting to raise the safest and most economical pigs, purebred Kunekunes are a great option.

This article was originally published in the February 2013 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

For more information on Karin Kraft and Kunekunes, visit The Iron Horse Farm.

Heritage Pork Breed Selection Considerations

By Kelly Klober

When I got my start, most swine herds numbered eight to 12 sows and were one-boar herds. Those little sow herds made Missouri the feeder pig capitol of the world. The small swine herd is again coming out from the far fence rows and the back of the barn (actually, I don’t think it ever really went away).

At the height of the price collapse in the mid-1990s, a local sale barn was selling butcher hogs for three times and more the buying station price. Selling them one and two at a time to people who wanted a butcher hog raised in the traditional manner, in the dirt!

Such hogs were hard to come by then and even now. The greatest number of butcher hogs are of a mix of genetics designed to produce tons of confinement generated, commodity pork. They arrive in the stores with all manner of cooking and eating concerns, are produced with products and in a manner that cause grave concerns among consumers and have come to epitomize nearly all of the ills of factory farming. As one old country wag put it, “Follow a semi load of confinement hogs a few miles down the road and even a Texan would become a vegetarian.”

I grew up in Eastern Missouri, in an area many termed the “purebred buckle” of the Corn and Hog Belt. Each spring and fall purebred boars and gilts, literally by the thousands, left Missouri for swine herds from Maryland to Hawaii.

Everyone had a favorite pork breed and just in my local FFA chapter (we were still Future Farmers back then) there were boys with herds of Duroc, Hampshire, Yorkshire, Spot and Chester White hogs. There were also herds of Landrace, Black Polands and Berkshires nearby and in the next county to the East was to be found the National President of the Tamworth Swine Association. From time to time, hogs showing large amounts of Wessex or Mulefoot breeding would still pass through the local sale barns.

Each breed had its many adherents, many farrow-to-finish producers would combine two, three or four pure breeds in rotational crosses to produce hogs to perform well on their farms, and the old National Livestock Producer (one of the last farm magazines then still published in Chicago — Sandburg’s “Hog Butcher for the World”) published frequent articles on farmers outside the Corn Belt using but a single purebred to produce quality butcher stock.

For the longest time hogs were broken into two categories; bacon-type and lard-type. In the industry such terms fell by the wayside long ago, but are still heard once in awhile being used by someone way behind the curve. The breed that was once held up as the classic example of bacon-type, the Tamworth, slid dangerously close to extinction and is now supported by a quite narrow gene pool and has but minor breed status. Its numbers are again growing due to research demonstrating that it produces pork of exceptional quality for cooking and on the plate.

The swine breeds have become more aptly divided into three groups based on their established performance traits, mothering abilities and carcass quality. There is some overlapping of these categories, and all of the breeds will respond favorably to selective breeding for trait improvement in any category. It took a fair number of years, but we took our herd of Duroc sows, a breed known primarily for hardiness and growth, and raised farrowing averages to a bit above 10 pigs per litter.

With Duroc selection, you learn quickly that carcass length and litter size are traits for which you must consistently select. We never bought a Duroc boar from a litter of less than nine pigs weaned, and he had to have littermate brothers and sisters that were of “keeper” quality.

Duroc piglets

Each breed is believed to have its own strengths and weaknesses, but all pigs are pork and can be bred to perform better. Landrace have the length card to play, Chester White pigs may be the very best white heritage pork breed for the dirt, Hampshire sows produce perhaps the richest milk for their young, a lot of Berkshires have litter size issues and Tamworth sows have a reputations for being “barky.”

Still, a big part of American agricultural history is built upon the creation or further development of these breeds. There would be no Cincinnati without the ancestors of the Chester White pig breed or the early Berkshires. A great many books have been written on the development of livestock breeds; I have several and get lost in their pages often. For this article, it will probably be best to talk about but a few swine breeds and in rather broad strokes.

All of the major breeds trace their roots back to the European Wild Boar, a creature of the forest floor that lived the old adage of “root hog or die.” Producers returning to outdoor production are scrambling to find the genetics that will work outside. Some breeds work better than others. The gene pools of some breeds are now dominated by lines that have been bred for confinement for scores of generations, and recent trends to extreme muscling in show stock have caused some lines within breeds to be compromised with outside breeding from such swine exotics as the heavily muscled Pietrain breed from France.

The most traditional breeds for outside production use are the Duroc, Spotted, Black Poland, Tamworth and Chester White. You will note that there is much overlapping from this group into the smaller group of pure breeds that had been confirmed to produce pork with more distinctive cooking and eating properties. That group includes the Duroc, Chester White, Berkshire and Tamworth. Of that group, the Berkshire and the Tamworth are getting the most play among foodies and food writers.

Sadly, most pure breeds are not nearly as widely available as they were even shortly before the turn of the century. A lot have been put to breeding for the extremes of type that, I and many others believe, have been so overemphasized in the show pig area of swine production. Show pigs for youth project work are a big business, but too many shown in recent years are to real hogs what NASCAR racers are for the family sedan.


The Duroc is the big red hog with the drooping ears. Its strengths have been frame size, rugged constitution and good rate of growth. They are known for good bone and strong foot and leg structure. They were the breed on which the frame was made for the legendary butcher and feeder stock, the corn field hogs of the Midwest.

Duroc pig heritage breed
Adult Duroc pig

A higher tail head setting is indicative of better carcass length on the rail and a rule of thumb for boar selection that extrapolates to overall length is to select for males with at least three nipples ahead of the penile sheath on each side of the underline.

Chester White

The Chester White, the white hog with moderate sized, drooping ears, has often been tabbed “the mother breed.” They may not be the fastest of gainers and their pigs can be a bit smaller at birth, but that is often a result of larger numbers born in a litter. Select them for growth, frame size and free movement and reach in their stride. We raised Chesters for a number of years and I always felt that they were an undervalued and underutilized breed.


The Spotted, once more commonly called the Spotted Poland China, is one of the classic corn field hogs, but was always more popular east of the Mississippi River. They are a big outline breed, had one of the larger average litter sizes of the colored breeds of swine and are durable hogs.

Spotted heritage pig breed
Adult Spotted Pig

Sometimes you will see them with hind legs tucked too far underneath the body instead of out on the corners. Such hogs will run with a scissors kicking action to the hind legs. An ancestral breed for them is the Gloucester Old Spot, the English orchard hog that proudly proclaims being raised in the great outdoors for over 100 generations. They are the swine breed kept by Prince Charles. The Spots do share the black and white spotted pattern of the double-muscled Pietrain breed, and very heavily muscled, spotted hogs should now be considered perhaps a bit suspect in their breeding. This could be said to be a concern with many black colored pigs now.

Black Poland China

The Black Poland China might be considered the forgotten swine breed. In the first half of the 20th century, it and the Berkshire were numbers one and two in national popularity and total numbers. It is a black hog with white points and drooping ears. At one time there were more Black Poland sows at the eight parity and beyond than sows in any other breed.

To me, they are another undervalued breed, and there have been some very impressive barrow show and carcass competition wins with this breed in recent years. Though it may take some time to find seedstock sources, they are a very hardy breed, one that stays sound and may be poised for better days. This, also, could be the breed poised to join that select group of swine breeds now being noted for distinctive pork quality.


The Berkshire is a black breed with white points and erect ears. If you have been out of the loop for some time this may be the breed that will now most surprise you. The short, heavily curled up noses are gone and the belief that they were a genetic deterrent to some diseases has been proven to be a myth.

Frame size has grown and they are highly valued for the distinctive pork that they produce. They produce what is known in the Asian trade as “black pork.” Berkshire pork indeed has a darker color, has the intra-muscular fat marbling most associated with beef graded Prime, and even has a different pH level than the pork from other breeds. They hang a good carcass, but length and litter size concerns still remain with this breed.

Here in the Midwest, the traditional role for swine keeping was in small numbers as one more venture to add to family farm diversification. By opting for a pure breed, the producer adds marketing options beyond feeder and butcher stock and direct pork sales. Such producers may also sell show pigs and seedstock, and many of the pure breeds now are certainly in need of new breeders and much new thinking on their behalf.

It may be that the road ahead for swine producers on a more human and humane scale will come to resemble what has happened with sheep and poultry production outside of the industrial farming sector. The herds will be modest in size (probably one-boar herds, again), they will rely ever more on purebred genetics, they will be more artisanal in their production, and much of their marketing will be done directly to end consumers.

I have received many recent accounts of swine producers selling seedstock “packages.” These are generally a bred female, one or two young gilts and a young, unrelated boar. It is a herd in the making and a way back into hog production that fits a new era of swine production. These aren’t dabblers or fad chasers, but people coming back to produce hogs with a plan and a passion — both of which are sorely needed.

Which breed to choose is a question that has been posed to me often over the years. Beginners and those who have been away for a time I point toward the more established, colored breeds of swine. There are more sources for them, the producers have often continued with populations of middle-of-the-road type animals that have real world value, and they are reasonably priced once past the handful of super pigs competed for by the show pig breeding studs selling semen.

Premiums are now being paid for hogs that are 50 percent or more pure breeding for specific breeds, new technology has prime pork cuts being placed on restaurant menus on par with fine steaks, and swine breeds are now being recognized from the farm gate to the retail meat case.

Crossbreeding Rotations

Butcher and feeder pig producers have traditionally used purebred hogs in a crossbreeding rotation of two, three or even four different pure breeds. This was much more easily done a few years ago when purebred suppliers could be found in far greater numbers.

The norm was a three-breed rotation of a black, a white, and a red breed. A fourth breed could have been used to increase the level of hybrid vigor in the offspring, but even then lining up the quality sources of four different breeds was a considerable challenge.

The classic three-breed cross began with F1, Hampshire X Yorkshire gilts, once a very important crop for hog farmers in our area. These blue rumped, largely white gilts would be bred to Duroc males to produce offspring with a high level of heterosis. Such pigs would generally be a bit larger at birth, be born into litters one or two pigs larger than purebred norms and be pigs with a very vigorous nature. The traits of economic importance such as growth rate and carcass merit were most influenced by their immediate purebred ancestry, however.

All male pigs would be castrated and sold as meat animals, and female herd replacements would be selected from the largest, fastest-growing and best formed of the female offspring. Those females would then be bred to a purebred boar of the breed farthest back in the breeding order, a Yorkshire.

The York sired gilts that were retained would then be bred to a Hampshire boar, then the breed farthest back in the breeding cycle. The Hamp-sired gilts would be bred to a Duroc boar and the rotation cycle began again.

A two-breed rotation would generally be a rotation of Yorkshire stock with Hampshire or Duroc animals. These were, and are, generally the most widely dispersed of the pure breeds. The Yorkshire contributed the mothering and litter size associated with the white breeds of swine and the Hampshire contributed growth and carcass quality.

These crosses worked because they were always followed in an exacting order, and it was possible to shop through large numbers of boars from the different breeds to find individuals strong in the traits that needed to be improved in the meat animals being produced and/or the females being retained to go back into the breeding herd.

If such rotations aren’t well planned and carefully followed they quickly fall to little more than mongrelization with no predictability to the offspring and their resulting performance. We did some crossbreeding experiments over the years; all farmers are tinkerers, with varying results. We crossed a Duroc boar with Spotted females and produced the classic sandy red with some black spotting, corn field hogs of our part of the Midwest. They grew well and were well accepted as feeder stock by those with a long memory and the understanding that colored hogs perform better in simple facilities and during the cold seasons.

A three-breed rotation seeking to capitalize on greater outdoor adaptability and distinctive meat quality might draw from the Berkshire or Black Poland breeds, the Chester White and the Duroc or Tamworth. Tamworths, Berks and Black Polands are all still coming from rather narrow gene pools now, and a fuller knowledge of the backgrounds of these breeds will certainly prove helpful in selecting lines with the needed vigor and breeding for better outcrossing.

No Show Ponies

A few years ago I saw a Hereford gilt win the always competitive 240- to 245-pound market hog class at a major county fair in Eastern Missouri. She was a pretty good meat wagon with some flash, you might have wanted to see a bit more frame and depth to her, but she was a pretty gold ol’ pig as we say here in Missourah.

The point that really struck home was that she was out there in the show ring holding her own with all sorts of Hamps, Durocs, and their crosses. And that is the yardstick by which all minor, rare and heirloom swine breeds and varieties must ultimately be measured.
Not long ago I encountered an owner of a herd of one of the more minor swine breeds defending their wide array of sizes, body types and coloring as useful “genetic variability.” It was an interesting welding of chaos theory to the art and science of livestock breeding.

Hogs aren’t show ponies! Even the littlest, cutest ones were bred that way to fit the canoes taking them to the barbecue.

Right now, a lot of these rare and minor breeds are in the midst of a fairly hot breeders’ market. Let the few pot bellied pig folks that are left tell you where that road leads. The demand and the temper of the times has opened up some of these minor breeds to practices such as the extensive use of artificial insemination that will only reduce gene pools and cripple breeding stock sales.

The Hereford breeders have a long-established, independent breed association. They have set down clear standards for evaluating their breed, hold regular conferences to better inform newcomers and market seedstock and are putting hogs on the rail. This is the established means to give a breed greater presence and build upon its utilitarian character.

As old hands will tell you, pigs are prettiest when they are going up the chute on their way to a profitable pay day for their producers. A role for heritage pork producers that has yet to get much play is in the returning of the breeds of choice to the roles and type for which they were developed. We don’t need new colors and sizes, but rather hogs that are profitable to own and grown for practical ends.

A lot of veteran swine producers will tell you that we got swine type on point about 20 years ago. Hamps looked like Hamps, Durocs looked like Durocs and Chesters like Chesters. They had good internal dimension, muscling was good but not extreme, length and depth of side got proper emphasis, and the animals carried a layer of cover adequate for life outdoors and to fuel needed hormone activity. Finish to a depth toward 1 inch is not a bad thing. Such cover provides natural insulation, fuels good hormone output and fat is needed for good cooking quality and flavor.

A pig’s path leads to pork. They are a most practical animal when allowed to be what nature intended a hog to be. The hands of the factory farmers and the faddists both are perhaps too much upon them now.

Kelly Klober specializes in raising livestock using natural methods. He is the author of Talking Chicken, and Dirt Hog: A Hands-On Guide to Raising Pigs Outdoors … Naturally, and Beyond the Chicken available from Acres U.S.A. Klober’s talks, “Opportunities in Small-Scale Pig Farming” and “Beyond the Chickens: Alternative Fowl for Diversified Farms” from the 2013 Acres U.S.A. Conference is available on CD. For more information visit www.acresusa.com or call 800-355-5313.

This article is from the February 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Pigs on Pasture: Water & Shelter

By Andrew French

Appropriate shelter and access to clean water are critical aspects of survival for humans and animals alike. Shelter is where an animal feels the absence of stress. Every animal needs a certain level of safety and security to go about the business of living: freedom from stress allows them to comfortably eat, drink, procreate, sleep, as well as raise the next generation in safety.

We humans have become experts at creating extensively complex and secure shelters for ourselves that cater to our every physical whim. In confinement-type farming situations a similar mentality prevails; the designers of these systems try to minimize the physical stresses in order to maximize growth with minimal space.

Factory farming has been very successful at creating animal warehouses that meet the minimum needs of the animal without addressing the other aspects of holistic animal health. Like employees in a corporate system, animals have become cogs in a well-oiled machine that pumps out meat by the ton. As referenced in the animated short film The Meatrix, it is time to take the red pill and understand that this paradigm is not the future of farming.

In fact it arises out of the industrial revolution, the workplace transformed from a system of hands-on work and craft to one of faceless laborers and machines.

pigs close up
One beautiful thing about pigs is their adaptability to most every situation — this adaptability is a trait that factory farms have exploited.

As we move forward into the future of pig farming, we should be embracing the complex natural world to help us find solutions to our problems instead of forcing nature to adhere to a rigid role in which we are the dominators, utilizing technology.

As permaculture pig farmers, we need to take back the reins of pork production from huge multinational confinement operations. We need to work together to grow our operations and knowledge base — utilizing the natural world and our smarts to grow our pigs on pasture and grow our customer base as well. The challenges are many, but the rewards are wonderful. Sharing our experiences and knowledge is the opposite of the typical factory farm’s modus operandi — let’s grow the deep goodness of raising happy, healthy pigs and make a huge change on this planet — turning misery into beauty. That said, here are a few ideas to help get you started sheltering and watering your pigs.

a frame pig shelter
The author’s simple A-frame pig shelter requires minimal materials.

When you first get your pigs, sometimes you will not have had enough time to get everything ready for them, and you will have to create a temporary shelter. If you have barns or outbuildings it is easy enough to box in an area with plywood to keep them contained. Temporary structures can take a plethora of shapes. We have used hog panels with a tarp stretched over them as a temporary shelter. This keeps some rain and sun off the pigs but does little else, and certainly in windy country a tarp will slowly (or quickly) be ripped to tatters. But in a pinch, a simple awning made of a tarp, hog panels and some T-posts can be erected to keep some weather off of a pig. We have also used this setup for calves.

A pig can and will utilize almost anything for a shelter. Creativity in shelter solutions abounds in the homesteading realm. On a larger scale within a farm context, there are endless ways to shelter your pigs.

My first attempt at creating a pig shelter for two to three pigs was simple; after reading everything I could on blogs and websites I figured that building a simple A-frame that I could drag by myself would make the most sense.

It seemed like a simple idea; utilizing cheap two-by-fours as the skeleton with some metal siding we had laying around as the roof. I decided to keep both ends open to facilitate the pigs getting in and out. I also didn’t want to cut any lumber if I didn’t have to, so I made it about 8 feet long, with 45-degree angles, using 6-foot long two-by-fours as rafters. I did have to cut some lumber, but not much.

DIY A-Frame Pig Shelter


six, 8-foot 2 x 4s

two, 6-foot 2 x 4s

two, 8-feet long by 3-feet wide metal roofing panels

box of 2½-inch all-purpose screws


  1. Take three of the 8-foot long 2 x 4s and mark 4 feet. Find the middle of that mark, and bisect the mark at a 45-degree angle. Cut these 2 x 4s with a saw. You’re almost done!
  2. Take the uncut ends and overlap and join them with three to four screws.
  3. Put them all up on their sides and lay an 8-foot 2 x 4s on the corner and attach with three or four screws.
  4. Attach the two 8-foot long 2 x 4s on the bottom of the of each side.
  5. Add the two 6-foot 2 x 4s on the bottom of both openings.
  6. Add one metal panel, overlap one rib over the top and screw in down the sides. Repeat with the other panel on the other side.


If you bought all new materials, about $50. If you scrounge around, probably just a couple bucks for screws.

This simple A-frame worked pretty well for a couple of pigs — they were able to utilize it as a shelter in bad weather, and it had enough ventilation to minimize condensation on the underside of the roofing from their body heat in the colder months. Overall, though, after a couple seasons of use, they will end up destroying it just by rubbing on it and pushing it around.

pigs in shelter
Pigs hunker down in a shelter built by the author

I constructed one of these shelters and then another, this time with a 10-foot long ridge beam, which created two handles on either side which I thought would help assist two people hauling it around. It worked okay, but is somewhat awkward to handle.

In any case, if you are raising more than three pigs, this shelter will not be an ideal solution. You could make a series of them, like chicken tractors, and that would be fine if you had the time and energy to move them. One thing I found out after a year or so is that the pigs will dig the bottom boards into the ground, which is good for stability but makes it hard to move the shelter. Pigs will create a hardpan around the shelter and turn the soil into cement, making it difficult to move the shelter to another location.

As we began raising more pigs I knew I would need to create a better design. Essentially a pig farmer has to ultimately choose between a mobile or permanent shelter concept, and your means, needs and situation will help guide you to the appropriate design.

The A-frame hut is very analogous to the Port-A-Hut pig shelters that are available in most areas that have pigs. These Port-A-Huts are much more rigid and strong as a shelter than my simple A-frame, and will last for many years as they are made out of galvanized metal. Three to four pigs will be very comfortable in a standard 6 x 11-foot hut, and they can be used for everything from farrowing to finishing. It is an attractive design and very durable build, but I personally have not used them as they are out of my price range.

A 6 x 11-foot Port-A-Hut is not easily moved by hand by one person and requires at least another set of hands or an ATV or small tractor to move about easily if you farm on your own. If I had unlimited funds, I would have probably started out with a Port-A-Hut and most likely would still be using it now. Frugality is often the mother of invention.

Mobile Pens

The next form of temporary pig structure is the constructed mobile pen. With this design, we basically create an entire pen constructed of treated beams as skids as well as boards or metal for the framework that we can haul around with a tractor.

These can quickly become very heavy and be expensive unless you have a surplus of building materials, but if you have four or more pigs this could be a great solution. Flatter land would be helpful if you are pursuing this idea, as something this heavy on my undulating piece of property would most likely get stuck relatively quickly, or at least the tractor would. As a modular self-contained design, it is a great solution.

pigs by shelter
These can quickly become very heavy and be expensive unless you have a surplus of building materials, but if you have four or more pigs this could be a great solution.

If building a mobile pen is something that sounds attractive to you — go for it. There is no one perfect way to do anything, so I suggest scanning the internet for ideas and designing something that will fit your needs, land base and tractor availability.

The basic idea is to line up 10-foot or longer treated beams as the skids and foundation — build a lean-to on one side and attach a stabilizing beam across the other. Triangular bracing on the corners will help with stability.

Then permanently affix hog panels around the structure. You now have a very strong, movable pen with shade and shelter and a small paddock to graze. Essentially it is a large version of a mobile rabbit pen.

Hoop Houses

If we move from temporary to permanent shelters, in the middle we find hoop houses. Now, on a hoop house used to house pigs we must construct a pony wall to keep them from destroying the plastic and scampering off into the sunset. A pony wall simply means a short wall — most of the time, non-structural.

We used plywood bolted with quarter-inch hex head bolts to the hoop house’s metal hoops. With a hoop house and pony wall combination, we have a wonderful shelter to house and farrow pigs in the colder months. Unlike any other shelter, we can gather solar heat in a hoop house to warm the pigs in the winter. This is the setup I have eventually settled on to house my sows and farrowing operation. We have a 30 x 60-foot hoop house we erected when we needed shelter for our duck flock, and it also helped us start our plants for our vegetable CSA. What we didn’t know is that we would eventually be ending our CSA program and focusing our attention on our animals. A hoop house is not the best shelter for ducks because of predator pressure, and we lost a handful of our ducks before we built our duck barn out of wood and metal.

black and white pigs
Shade in the summer is as important as ample bedding and warmth in the winter for pigs.

Pigs, on the other hand, are not bothered by many predators, and so therefore a hoop house works well for them. In the hot months of summer they will need shade to stay cool enough to feel comfortable, and you can make that with tarps or shadecloth on the inside or outside of your hoop house.

Shade in the summer is as important as ample bedding and warmth in the winter for pigs. My plan is to take shade cloth and stretch it from one side’s set of hoops over to the other side, essentially creating a horizontal shade net inside the hoop house. As they are also going to be on pasture, the pigs will utilize other shelters that I will be constructing.

A hoop house on skids that can be dragged would also work for weather protection in some areas, especially in a paddock system utilizing movable electric fencing. Some thought should go into protecting the hoop house skids from pig activity, such as rooting and rubbing, so that the structure maintains its stability and structural integrity.

Earth Bermed Shelters

In certain areas in my paddocks I am going to construct shelters inspired by Sepp Holzer’s earth bermed pig shelters, a very robust and useful design that he has shared detailed information about in his books. Holzer lives on a mountain, and he utilizes a backhoe to scoop into an east-facing hillside to create an area bermed on three sides, ideally with the opening facing the south to some degree. He then takes logs and installs them upright along the side berms. He notches the tops of these logs and places horizontal logs on them as beams, pinning them together with metal rods. He roofs this structure with more log rafters (he has an abundance of logs as a resource), and then covers all this with plastic, soil and plants. He also sometimes creates these shelters’ walls out of stone, with the help of a backhoe.

Creating an earth bermed shelter makes a lot of sense for a hog. It provides them with a thermally comfortable space most of the year, and they have a very safe area in which they can retreat to sleep and relax. Pigs are clean animals in that they designate a place to defecate and urinate outside of their home area so they will keep their shelter clean if allowed enough space out of doors. These types of earthen shelters are similar to root cellars and could also be used to store preserves, produce, or cider, making them a multi-purpose option.

Air exchange is accomplished with the use of piping that extends from the floor down the hillside, creating a convection current that constantly regenerates fresh air inside the structure.

Another thing to consider is that pigs, in the right weather, need very little shelter at all. For instance, I have constructed a shelter for a few of our pigs, using two-by-fours mounted between three large spruce trees as posts, and added a few rafters using some old metal siding on top at a slope to shed rain. This shelter is more than sufficient for warm days.

In the winter I use spare pieces of plywood to erect a barrier on the north and east sides to provide protection from wind. That, along with plenty of straw, will give the pigs a comfortable existence in weather below zero. Pigs grow a thick layer of fat to protect themselves from the harshest of cold and mass their bodies together to create warmth. The main thing to watch out for is the combination of wet and cold, as this can lead to hypothermia, poor health or even death.

Water, Water Everywhere

Water is the other main focus of this article. All water sources freeze overnight in our neck of the woods for about six months of the year, so there has almost always been a time when I have had to bring buckets of water to our pigs, wherever they may be.

Five-gallon buckets and flexible multi-gallon black rubber troughs are the old standby in the winter. The rubber troughs can be turned over and ice knocked out with a swift kick to the bottom. Plastic has a tendency to shatter at some point.

Most farmers use nipple waterers and a pressurized waterline to keep their hogs hydrated in the warmer months. I found a great design online for a portable, durable dual nipple waterer. Thanks to Amber Reed for this great design. The beauty of this is that it is nearly indestructible, and yet succeeds at creating a watering point for the pigs, as well as being portable enough to use in successive paddocks. Using electric wire such as we do will minimize the infrastructure, such as wall or rigid panels that would be needed to attach pig watering nipples to otherwise.

Another concept that I have seen used is to create a slatted floor base, on which watering devices are placed, minimizing the creation of wallow aspects that follow most pig watering situations. A particularly good example comes from Smith Meadows. This farmer brings the waterline over the hot wire into a system consisting of an 85-gallon poly tank with a float, which regulates the water as the pigs drink. This is placed on a pressure-treated slatted base that is infilled with gravel to minimize wallow potential.

This is not something that we will pursue on our farm, as our pigs will be on a minimally accessible 45-60 degree slope, not ideal for gravel moving or tractors in general. We’re not too concerned about the wallow potential as, on this particular parcel, we consider any wallow-type pocket ponds good for the retention of moisture on the slope.

Can we water our pigs by creating earthworks and ponds? The potential is there, although it seems that utilizing a basic water pump to transfer the water to the various pig pastures would make more sense than giving the pigs access to the ponds most of the time. On the other hand, pigs can seal a pond with their wallowing and soil compaction behaviors, so there may be an appropriate time to allow them access to water features according to your situation.

The cheapest way to store water is in or on the ground, as hourly costs of earthworks run cheaper than most poly or steel tanks. As with all endeavors based on moving large amounts of earth around, due diligence and careful planning will result in a more productive system. I have heard of earthworks that have failed due to poor planning and faulty understanding of the soil mechanics of the property. With proper care and attention, as well as heeding the wisdom of those who have gone before you, water storage in earthworks is a great and underutilized possibility.

Pig farmers are an ingenious bunch. If you think you have a new idea, it has probably been done in some way before by a like-minded thrifty farmer. I’m constantly surprised at the success that small-scale farmers have with an incredible variety of setups for their hogs. What works for you and your pigs is what matters most.

This article appeared in the June 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Andrew French is a livestock farmer and permaculture designer based in western Wisconsin working on developing a viable model of regenerative pig farming from farrow to finish using a whole-systems design approach. He also offers online permaculture coaching services. 

Pastured Pigs — A Primer

By Tamara Scully

Raising livestock on pasture isn’t new, but with the advent of confine­ment livestock operations and the industrialization of meat production, chickens, cows and pigs were moved inside and shut off from the natural world. Feed, water, pharmaceuticals and intensively managed animals liv­ing in man-made environments some­how became the norm. Getting these animals back outdoors has become the goal for many farmers, as well as consumers.

Many issues associated with con­finement — manure management, odors, water pollution, disease due to crowded conditions — are the result of too many animals and not enough space. Likewise, managing livestock on pasture means respecting the limits of the land, understanding the ani­mals’ natural behaviors and properly managing both.

“As with any other livestock, out­door pigs, when not appropriately managed, can elicit damage to their environment,” said Silvana Pietrose­moli, research associate, North Caroli­na State University, Alternative Swine Research and Extension Project.

piglets drinking
Young pigs with portable waterer in a tall pasture system at Fortner Farm in Moravian Falls, North Carolina.

Pigs root in the soil, and this natural behavior is often maligned as the reason pigs aren’t able to be pastured successfully. But rooting behavior is controllable and can be beneficial to pastures, too. Wallowing is another pig behavior which can have detrimental environmental consequences. Soil compaction is another concern, and pigs produce a lot of manure.

All of these issues can be allevi­ated if stocking density, stocking rate and length of time in a given area are managed. What are some best man­agement practices to alleviate soil and water concerns while allowing pigs to exhibit their natural tendencies? How can producers raising swine on pasture become better stewards of the land, avoid odor concerns and raise healthy animals?

Environmental Impact

Pietrosemoli, along with Dr. James T. Green, have been conducting field trials on outdoor swine systems, with funding from a Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Con­servation Innovation (CIG) grant. The focus of the grant is to “look at ways that we could manage the vegetation and the soil disturbance,” associated with outdoor swine operations, Dr. Green said.

They have identified three types of outdoor swine operations: man­aged pastures, swine habitat, and dry lot models. Each has a different goal and comes with its own management challenges.

In the dry lot system, pigs are on ground with no vegetation and are fed grain. In the swine habitat system, the pasture is managed to reduce soil runoff, nutrient loss and to protect soil health; but the animals are not using pasture to meet their nutritional needs. In the managed pasture sys­tem, intensive grazing provides at least some nutrition, while protecting soil health and decreasing negative environmental impact.

black pigs in field

In each system, soil and nutri­ent runoff, water contamination and damage to soil health need to be minimized, while allowing pigs to ex­press their natural behaviors. Proper positioning of watering systems, fenc­ing, feed availability and even using mulch, toys and food to direct where certain behaviors occur can all help.

“Increasing the number of animals without controlling the stocking den­sity will deteriorate the vegetative ground cover — either in woodlots or in open land: this is the initial stage for the occurrence of bare soil ar­eas, erosion, soil compaction, nutrient leaching and runoff,” said Pietrosemo­li. “Pigs cause soil damage via rooting and trampling.”

Without ground cover, paddocks are prone to runoff and excessive nu­trient loads. Vegetative buffers, which need to be more extensive the less the ground cover in the outdoor area, are necessary to capture runoff. Plant­ing a crop to be harvested in areas where pigs have been can capture excess phosphorus. If the paddock is simply left to regrow as pasture, nutri­ent overload may persist. Limiting the number of pig cycles in a non-vegetative area prior to planting and harvesting the area, and allowing rest and regrowth in vegetative settings before restocking, is essential.

“The runoff from pig paddocks could carry soil particles, soil nutri­ents, pesticides, veterinary medicine residues and even pathogens to wa­ter courses,” said Pietrosemoli. “The creation of buffer zones, establishing strips 16 to 160 feet wide of vegeta­tion along streams and water courses can help.”

When hooves compact soil — known as poaching — drainage be­comes limited and runoff and erosion occur. Poaching greater than 2 inches deep, or the existence of areas with ac­cumulated sediment, runoff in ditches or drainage channels, or channels and gullies in the paddocks indicate that the area is overused, and pigs need to be removed. Debarked trees in wooded areas and exposed roots also indicate damage is occurring.

Sloped areas are more prone to erosion, and slopes greater than 7 percent should be avoided for out­door hogs. Outdoor pig areas should also be located at least 165 feet from wells or springs and 35 feet from water courses to prevent pollution of drinking water sources, Pietrosemoli said. Soil damage due to compaction increases in wet conditions.

Depending on your goal, vegeta­tion can be selected for forages, for being trample- and root-resistant, or both. Forages include clover, alfalfa, ryegrass, brassicas, millet and Sudan­grass. Annual plants are more suscep­tible to damage, and perennial grasses with rhizomes and stolons can best handle the hog traffic.

Outdoor Pig Logistics

Pigs don’t like electric fencing, Dr. Green said, but they do root around fence lines, and preventing soil build­up on the fences is imperative. The re­sulting berms which the pigs will build up can also be advantageous, and can help to contain runoff, if paddocks are properly contoured to the land.

Watering systems for outdoor pigs are tricky, as the pigs will want to congregate near water tanks. They burrow under tanks and concrete pads, seeking moist, cool areas. Using geothermal fabrics or other materials to discourage wallowing near water­ers can cause harm. Perforated hard surfaces large enough to support the entire hog are needed in these areas, Pietrosemoli said, to protect feet and prevent soil damage. Chronically wet areas will also damage pigs’ feet.

More than one waterer per pad­dock is needed to decrease the impact on any given area. Underground lines can prevent freezing in winter and keep water cool in the summer. Por­table watering and feeding systems can help to minimize damage in any particular area.

pigs at feeder
A round feeder over a perforated platform serves to protect soil and feet in a high-use area at A-D farm in Sampson County, North Carolina.

Having an intermittent sprinkler or misting system away from the drink­ing water helps minimize and direct wallowing and keep the animals cool. Wallowing is necessary to help cool pigs, but can damage soils and cause runoff concerns, so directing it to areas of the paddock where it can do less harm and reducing the opportuni­ty to wallow near waterers is essential.

Pigs produce about 80 pounds of manure for each 1,000 pounds of animal, an amount greater than cows. Producers can influence where the manure is deposited. Adding hay or other organic matter to an area can increase the depositing of urine and feces in that area, and the material can later be composted. To spread manure more evenly, move shade structures, water and feed station and shelters periodically.

“As pigs tend to deposit their ma­nure in certain areas, ‘hot nutrient spots’ can be created. The nutrients that cannot be used by the vegetation present the risks of escaping the sys­tem toward surface or underground water courses, thus polluting them and contributing to the process of eu­trophication,” said Pietrosemoli.

In any outdoor pig operation, whether pigs are actively pastured or not, designing the paddocks to man­age wallowing and rooting damage is imperative. Preventing feed loss is also important.

Breed Selection 

Selecting a breed of pig for pastur­ing means finding animals which have more of the traits needed for living outdoors and foraging for their sup­per. Traditional breeds are better ac­climated to the natural environment, and either a traditional breed, or a cross-bred animal, is probably a better bet than a modern purebred, accord­ing to Pietrosemoli.

“You need a hearty forager pig,” she said. “The best pig for outdoor conditions should be adapted to the environment, the available feed re­sources and to the management strate­gies implemented by the farmer.”

Some characteristics to seek in your pastured pigs include: foraging ability; weather hardiness and ability to withstand the sun’s rays (pigs can get sunburn, and white animals are very susceptible); disease resistance; and docility. If you are breeding, mothering ability — as well as breed­ing performance — is important.

Another factor not to be over­looked is marketability. Meat quality matters, and knowing your market before beginning a pastured pig op­eration is a must.

Grazing System Design

NRCS guidelines for pasturing swine recommend 75 percent vegeta­tive cover, with a heavy use area mak­ing up no more than 15 percent of the pasture. The disappearance of veg­etative cover, areas of impacted and disturbed soil, compaction, manure accumulation and trails throughout the paddock are indications that the paddock is overcrowded or overused.

“The presence of denuded and compacted areas is one of the initial indicators that the system needs ad­justments,” said Pietrosemoli.

Producers can use paddock forage height as an indicator for rotation, or they can observe the amount of time rooting versus grazing or other ac­tivities. An increase in rooting signals that rotation is required. Maintaining a higher vegetation height can mini­mize soil damage.

Grazing pigs means paying atten­tion to stocking rates and stocking densities, just as with any other live­stock. Rotational grazing for pigs has to take into consideration the animals’ dietary needs and natural behaviors.

Rotational grazing systems, de­signed around a central sacrifice/ heavy use area, can work very well in outdoor hog systems. Depending on the life stage, the density of the animals will vary. As the animals mature, paddock size can be adjusted accordingly.

The central sacrifice area includes housing, watering and feeding areas, wallowing areas and bedding. This in­frastructure should be moved periodi­cally to minimize damage to soil. Ap­propriate rest periods between groups of animals, both to minimize parasite load and allow pastures to recover, is warranted.

Pig Behavior

“I think that the principles to man­age other livestock species can be applied to managing pigs, without forgetting the behavioral and physi­ological difference among them,” said Pietrosemoli. “The major difference is the rooting behavior expressed by pigs. This can have a great impact on different kinds of vegetation — digging up roots — and soil structure and com­paction. Guided pig rooting activity could be beneficial for weed control or soil tillage and fertilization.”

rooting pigs
Pigs rooting in a paddock at Center for Environmental Farming System (CEFS) Cherry research farm in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Moving pigs before vegetation coverage drops below 75 percent is one means of preventing soil damage and addressing runoff concerns in outdoor hog environments.

Rooting can be good for soil tilth, weed control and fertilization, but managing rooting is essential to reap its benefits. As forage cover decreases, rooting activity increases. If pigs are hungry, rooting will increase as well. Some pigs are more prone to root­ing and may not be manageable in the herd. Consistency with routine is important in decreasing rooting behaviors. Sows like to root in fresh paddocks. Adding hay and distracting them can decrease this initially in­tense rooting routine. Rooting can be targeted to a given area by planting a crop to encourage this behavior, such as forage turnips.

While pigs need some supplemen­tal feed, they also need encourage­ment to forage. If feed is too readily available, they won’t bother. Some re­striction of feed, about 20 percent for growing-finishing pigs, is desirable to encourage foraging — but rooting will increase if feed is too restricted. Also, the greater the percentage of forage contributing to the diet, the lesser the negative impact the system will have on the environment.

“Besides the reduction in produc­tion costs, an additional benefit of the inclusion of forages in diets for pigs is the diminution of the potential for environmental pollution as the consequences of lower amounts of nutrients imported into the system,” said Pietrosemoli.

Pigs aren’t ruminants and can’t utilize the fiber in forages as cows or sheep can. But when pigs are pastured, biological changes occur in the gastrointestinal system, includ­ing changes in microbial population, enzyme levels and even the system’s morphology. These changes make fi­ber nutrients more digestible. Older sows are able to get the most nutri­tional benefit from forages — about 50 percent of the daily nutrient re­quirements. Young pigs are only able to get 10 percent of their nutritional needs met via pasture. Pigs are very selective grazers and can influence the makeup of pasture plants.

“Pigs can be kept in the same pad­dock with other animal species. When grazing mixed species, the productiv­ity of the pasture would improve,” said Pietrosemoli. “In addition, dif­ferent livestock species have different physiology, grazing behavior and for­age preferences, and this would help control unwanted plant species.”

Grazing heifers and sows might even beneficially influence weight gain and parasite load in heifers, she said. While cows won’t graze near ma­nure, pigs do just fine eating the dung path. Other animals are compatible with pigs, too, although horses may have a tendency to fear pigs.

“Pigs on pasture are highly selec­tive, choosing what plants and even what plant part they will consume. This behavior lets them combine dif­ferent feedstuffs to satisfy their nutri­tional needs. As pigs are very selective of the vegetation they will eat, theycan also stimulate changes in the bo­tanical composition of pasture.”

pigs in pasture
Pigs in a multispecies grazing system at Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Wildlife concerns when pasturing pigs include threats from large preda­tors. Alligators, snakes and hawks can also be of concern, particularly with young animals, as are coyotes, foxes, bobcats and badgers. Feral pigs can introduce diseases and potentially interbreed.

“There is always the chance that keeping outdoor pigs could produce a potential nuisance to neighbors due to dust, smell, noise, drainage prob­lems, insects, pests or vermin,” said Pietrosemoli. “If the stocking rate established is appropriate, with a rest period for forage re-growth in the paddocks, no offensive odors should emanate from the operation. Avoid­ing the accumulation of manure is the best way to control smells and flies.”

The basic tenets of pig behavior dictate that responsibly putting pigs on pasture, without detrimentally im­pacting soil or water, or causing odor concerns, means closely managing their environment. Whether you want feeder pigs to have some outdoor ac­cess or intend to develop a farrow-to-finish operation on pasture, knowing the basics of pig behavior and nutri­tional require­ments and designing an environmental­ly-friendly out­door hog op­eration to meet your goals is possible, prac­tical and pro­ductive.

Pastured Pigs: Stocking Rates

If your goal is to maintain a vegetative cover and pasture your pigs, allowing them to receive some of their nutrition from forage, here are a few basic prin­ciples for selecting breeds, and maintaining appropriate stocking rates.

Stocking rate — the number of animal units per acre — differs from stocking density. Stocking density takes into account the length of time the animals are in any given area. If you are using a full acre of land, with 10 pigs, your stocking rate is 10 pigs per acre, as is your stocking density. But if you are rotationally grazing that acre by dividing it into ¼-acre paddocks, your stocking rate will be the same (10 pigs per acre) while your stocking density will change. Your stocking density is now four times the stocking rate, or 40 pigs per acre. How you manage your grazing can make a difference in determin­ing the best stocking rate for your operation.

Stocking rate also isn’t one size fits all. It depends on the vegetative growth available, the size and breed characteristics of the ani­mals, soil, drainage and even climate. And animal management skills play a role, too.

According to Pietrosemoli, basic guide­lines for stocking rate of pastured hogs are best based on the amount of nutrients de­posited on the soil. In Europe, it is common to define stocking rate based on a maximum accepted nutrient load.

“For beginning farmers, I would recommend starting with a low stocking rate and gradually increasing the stocking rate when their knowledge of the production system, and their skills, grow,” she said.

Referential Stocking Rates to Maintain Vegetation Cover

Annual species: 10 to 20 weaned to finishing head per acre/2 to 4 sows + litter per acre.
Perennial species: 15 to 30 weaned to finishing head per acre/6 to 8 sows + litter per acre.
Natural vegetation: 4 to 10 weaned to finishing head per acre/.5 to 1 sows + litter per acre.
Note: Stocking rates must be adjusted according to forage species, climate, soil, drainage, management and managers’ skills.


Information from the Alternative Swine Unit, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina State University
Design of rotational grazing paddocks for hogs
Traditional breed characteristics
Dirt Hog by Kelly Klober, available from Acres U.S.A.

This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Acres U.S.A. magazine is the national journal of sustainable agriculture, standing virtually alone with a real track record — over 45 years of continuous publication. Each issue is packed full of information eco-consultants regularly charge top dollar for. You’ll be kept up-to-date on all of the news that affects agriculture — regulations, discoveries, research updates, organic certification issues, and more.

Breeding Pigs: The Pure Breeds

By Kelly Klober

The range producer must place his or her emphasis solidly on can-do animals. Vigor, durability, soundness, and performance need to be rounded into a single type package that embodies that “root hog or die” swine character of old. The good range hog is far removed from those razor-backed hogs of long ago, in so many ways. However, they do have in common a certain amount of grittiness, that natural strength to perform in the presence of an ever-varying environment.

Meat type should, of course, be a concern for each swine producer, but the animal has to be in realistic proportions and have marketable worth. One of the consequences of breeding for extreme type has been an overall decline in pork quality and flavor. Confinement production can produce rafts of so-so pork as a basic commodity, but pork as a meat of distinction and with savoriness that appeals to all the senses is quite another matter.

In order to guide you in the selection of breeders for your farm, I’ve provided below a few thumbnail sketches of the purebred animals now available in the United States. We have raised several types, owned crossbred animals drawn from several of them, and nearly all have been raised with great success in our part of the Midwest.

The Whites


Of the White breeds, the Yorkshire may represent the greatest option for growth and muscling. They are bred here in greater numbers than any of the other White breeds.

The color for which these animals derive their group’s designation is not exactly true white, but rather the palest of light browns. The Yorkshire has erect ears and good length; it’s noted for foot and leg quality; and some lines have much better body capacity than others. You won’t sacrifice much in the way of carcass quality with a York­shire, but be careful to select for a broad base along the bottom of the body cavity, from end to end.

English White

The Large English White, sometimes seen in the United States, is virtually identical to the York in type and conformation, and shares some space in herd books with the York. It is most often seen as one of the breeding components offered in commercial breeding compos­ites, and has been bred in confinement for literally scores of genera­tions. The breed has produced some very large-framed specimens, and some Yorkshire breeders put a strong emphasis on the English breed­ing in their lines.

Many swine breeds commonly seen in the Midwest were developed in Great Britain. All of the “shire” breeds hail from there. Many breeds continue to be cultivated there that exist only in limited numbers in the United States or Canada. The English White was actually said to have been bred in three different sizes, based in part upon the growing conditions to be found in the immediate area. There is also a Large English Black that now has a following in the royal family there. It reminds me of a Black Landrace or Wessex Saddleback, and the last ones I know of in North America were available from a seedstock firm in Canada, although I have not seen them advertised for several years.


The Landrace is a very long-bodied White breed with the big, drooping ears. They were the base breed for the confinement industry in Scandinavia and Europe and are used largely in that role here. Mus­cling has been somewhat improved here, but their primary role is to increase litter size and add length. They have also been bred for a smaller ear and more substance in the head area.

The Landrace are a most docile breed, and this can put them at some disadvantage in group situations with hogs of other breeding. They can be easily cowed and pushed back from feeders. A neighbor of ours raised Berkshires and crossbreds to sell for butchers. Several years ago, he bought a group of high-percentage Landrace gilts and, out of necessity, had to drop a couple of younger Berk gilts into the pen with them. The two younger gilts came to dominate the group to such an extent that some of the White gilts rapidly lost condition (vigor and muscle mass) even when being offered a flushing ration (which is a full feeding regimen—3% of body weight daily—for sows just prior to breeding, for at least 2 weeks).

Many swine producers have reported problems with certain Land­race lines out-of-doors and in simple housing. But I can remember that when I was coming up, some of the more rugged old sows in the country showed strong traces of Landrace breeding. Those farmers seeking Landrace breeding stock these days might be best served by using breeding lines that were present in this country pre-1970, particularly animals from farms where at least the sow herd has continued to be maintained outside.

Chester White

The Chester White is a breed that has always had a special place in my heart. They are a White breed with modestly drooping ears. They grow to a good size, and along with the Durocs, are quite frequent competitors in the Largest Boar class at the few state fairs where such competitions still occur. The first purebred sow we ever owned was a Chester, and she handled herself well and always maintained condition in the group-penned sow herd.

white pig

Chester pigs seem to be a bit smaller than others at birth, but this is in part because they tend to be born in quite substantial numbers. Some may even grow a little slower, but I always found the perfor­mance of our Chesters to be comparable to that of our Durocs.

I have elaborated on the Chester White above, but I should reiterate here just how compatible they are for crossing with the colored breeds. The range producer hoping to balance mothering and performance will find this type an optimal choice. Chester Whites are also a gentle-natured variety that we found to be very easy to work with in our one-sow houses. We often tended to pigs right there in the house with the sow.

The Reds

The Red breeds are the hardy breeds, and they’re also among the prettiest of the hogs. The three breeds in this group are very distinct. They all have a long history and a strong connection to the family farm.


The Duroc is an American developed breed that started in the state of New Jersey. One of the breed’s founders also owned the famed rac­ing stallion Duroc, and hence this Red breed’s original name, the Duroc Jersey.

We did 30 plus years with Durocs and found them to be consistent sellers; they were also popular with commercial producers for their ruggedness and good meat type. They have modestly sized drooping ears and hides in various shades of red, from a deep, almost plum colored hue, to a very light shade of red. From a distance, some old lines looked almost black, with slight yellow/gold touches.

Durocs are generally quite rugged in their type, and they’re well known for their feet and leg strength. Lately, they have been bred for greater overall length. They are kind of a complete package when it comes to hardiness and muscling and are heavily relied upon for this reason by commercial producers. They are far and away the most widely available of the Red breeds and may have one of the deepest U.S. gene pools of any pure breed.


The Tamworth is a light red breed with erect ears. They were one of the breeds that were once termed “bacon” hogs and have a very long history for leanness. They are also the Red “mother breed.”

Tamworths milk well and are quite protective and responsive mothers. The nursing sows have a distinctive way of lying down that helps to prevent pig loss due to overlay. They first drop to their front knees and then sidle down slowly, scooting the pigs out and away from their descending bodies. They have a largely undeserved reputation for temper that may be due in part to the fact that many of the descen­dants of this breed have been left largely to their own ways for so many years.

brown sow

They were the brush hogs of my youth, and some of the old-timers kept them with little more than a “feed ’em and forget ’em” style. This old breed has always been sustained by a strong breed group and never really slipped in the way that so many other old line breeds did. People who used Tamworths once have always seemed to go to the extra effort to use them again.

The Tamworth is another breed that is building on the quality and taste of the pork it produces. They have also figured quite promi­nently in a couple of “outdoor composites” trotted out over the last few years. These animals are perhaps the most modern of the heir­loom breeds in their type and continue to have a strong presence at a few major swine competitions, such as the Illinois State Fair.


The Hereford hog shares the distinctive red and white color pattern of the Hereford cattle breed. They also have a modest drooping ear.

Like the Tamworth, this breed also has the backing of a strong breeder group, and there is even an annual type conference and auc­tion of breeding animals. Herefords have often been promoted as the world’s most beautiful hog. At times, they may be a bit smaller than some of the other breeds, but they are quite competitive on the rail.

The Hereford is a breed that I believe is really poised for a move upward. The distinctive color pattern should lend itself quite well to marketing programs; I have seen some Herefords compete very suc­cessfully in market hog shows right here in the Corn Belt.

The Blacks

The Black breed group includes the Hampshire, Berkshire, Spotted, and Black Poland breeds. These are sometimes termed the “perfor­mance breeds,” and they do pack a punch when it comes to carcass and growth.


The Hampshire is a British breed with erect ears and that eye-catching white belt around a black body. That color pattern can be traced back to a fad that swept Europe long ago, which saw all sorts of livestock bred with the belted color pattern. It can still be seen on cattle, rabbits, and two breeds of hog.

striped sow

With the Hampshire breed, litter size has sometimes been a con­cern; boars were once used far more often than gilts by the commercial sector. We owned a Hamp female of exceptional merit as a mother, and we found that at birth, Hamp pigs are among the most distinctive as individuals.

Hamp boars are regularly employed to boost carcass yield and growth and have been used extensively to formulate show pigs. The Hamp is another of those breeds once classified a “bacon hog,” and their trim nature continues.


The Berkshire is a Black breed with white points on the head, feet, and along the bottom line. Selective breeding has given this old breed a bit of a rebuild over the years. Long gone is the sharply pushed-up nose once associated with this breed. The amount of white coloring has increased as well.

The Berkshire is a breed long known for length, carcass quality, and trimness. A bit smaller framed than some, it does enjoy a reputation for fairly good mothering. This is another British import; a review of the historical literature makes reference to a Red Berkshire bred in the upper South.

The Berk produces a very desirable pork product with exceptional eating qualities. Berk numbers have tended to ebb and flow over the years, and along with the Black Poland, formed the two dominant U.S. breeds prior to World War II.

Berkshire sows performed quite well back in the day, producing their fair share of ton litters, even when the main ration ingredients were open-pollinated (OP) corn and skimmed milk.

Berks can fulfill much the same role of the Hampshire boar in a breeding rotation and can add remarkable type to show pigs. When fitted, Berks present with a real style of their own and have a whole lot of eye appeal.


The Spotted is just that: a black spotted white hog with drooping ears. These have always been a large outline breed and are considered by many to be the best mothers of all of the colored hogs. They are the ideal breed for those who want variety in their lives, as no two animals are ever patterned the same.

Our Spots were always good natured and produced that old-style, sandy red hide with black splotches when bred to a Duroc boar. This is a breed for which it is important to select for a wide-floored body and to make sure the back legs are out on the corners. To many, the Spot is the classic farmer’s hog, with an extensive history of outdoor production.

The British ancestor of the Spot is the Gloucester Old Spot, which is called the “orchard hog” and has a long history on the small holdings of England and in the simple facilities there. It is no surprise, then, that this is another breed that has been taken up by the British royal fam­ily. A few of these animals can be found in the United States, however, and their pedigree has been recorded with the Spotted breed group. Images of Spots frequently grace various livestock literature such as breed preservation brochures and advertisements.

Our Spot sows were good mothers and produced decent-sized lit­ters of distinctly individual pigs. Some say that the Spot was the hog that never crossed the big river. Indeed, it seems to be a genetic resource that is more valued and used in the eastern side of the Corn Belt. The animal brings good length and dimensions; some of the best ham structure I have ever seen was on Spot boars. They are no longer bred in great numbers, but they are a strong Black contributor that should be given serious consideration by the range producer.

Black Poland China

The Black Poland China has been on a very long slide since its high point in the 1920s, when it may have been the most widely bred and highly valued of all pure swine breeds. They were and still just might be the top contender for the title of best all-around farm hog.

black pig
Polish Black China

Black Polands are durability personified; at one time, the Black Poland herd book documented more sows at eight or more parturi­tions still active and producing than any other herd book. The Black Polands are black hogs with white points and modest-sized, drooping ears.

The Black Polands I have seen always seemed to epitomize balance, while holding to a fairly lean type. Some needed to be made wider and a bit bigger all over, but they were a pretty complete package. Some really impressive Poland barrows have been driven out over the years, and they do have real eye appeal.

Atypical Breeds

Ag texts from the ’30s and early ’40s list a number of swine breeds that have closely flirted with extinction, if not actually crossed forever into that vale. We can only speculate what might be done now with a breed like the blue-gray Sapphire. What a marketing tool the color alone would be. The Ohio Improved Chester disappeared while I was still in public school, the remnants of that breed being absorbed into the Chester White breed. Some of these breeds could perhaps be bred up again, or remnants may yet be found in some odd corner of rural America. The quest for rare poultry breeds has shown that this can still happen.


The return from the brink for the Mulefoot hog shows just what can be done (I kind of had a ringside seat for this one). Mulefoot crosses passed through Missouri sale barns fairly often into the ’60s, some with two and some with four closed hooves. Most producers chalked them up to just one more thing you had to contend with when trading in rough, Southern hogs. When corn got cheap, ridge-runners would eat it up just like good hogs.

Gradually, even those animals disappeared, but the legend of Mule­foot hogs hung on in the Missouri vernacular, in part because one of the last three Mulefoot breeders to remain was a resident of a town called Louisiana, Missouri, the riverine hometown of the fictional Finn family. (The old gentlemen continues alive today, but asks that his name not appear in print.)

This farmer’s efforts to preserve this venerable breed, one of the oldest of the swine purebreds, came to light about a decade ago, with the early stirrings of the livestock breed preservation movement. Each year, the farmer raised a few as market hogs, with an end-game plan of sending his herd to slaughter upon his death. Also in his possession were some of the breed’s historical documents. His line of hogs con­tinued the breed’s characteristic black with white points, drooping ears, and four feet crowned with hooves like those of tiny ponies.

One bit of lore holds that those solid hooves were valued because no disease could enter there, as might happen with the cloven hooves of other hog breeds. His hogs were raised out-of-doors in all the vari­ous elements that make up the Show-Me State’s nearly legendary weather.

Many other breeders have bought hogs from him since then, and these animals can now be found in several small herds scattered about. They have undergone some selection for type, and while none of these will contend in a major barrow show anytime soon, they are again producing some Number 1 butchers. The old literature sometimes mentions red and spotted animals, and a few folks report producing the occasional red-tinged animal. Thus, nothing is ever completely lost, even if just a few viable remnants remain.

Good pork production should be about the animal, and range production is all about the animal. Whereas the confinement producer is cranking out a mere commodity—one that is badly devalued and underappreciated by nearly all who are exposed to it—the range producer is a raiser of hogs, one who sees the animal and all that leads up to and proceeds from his or her point of involvement.

This business of hogs and people has gone on in one form or another for about 6,000 years, give or take a century or two. We have come to a point where the consuming public has a collective voice and the disposable income to make some very forceful statements as to how and what they want to be fed.

They want pork from a family farm, and not some sheet-metal gulag with ties to the corporate world. Thus, the independent farmer must strike out on a course that will lead back to the clearly expressed desires of the consuming public. The methods, resources, and genetics to do just that remain in place for at least a time.

This may very well be the last time we get the chance to do it right, to do it for all time.

Source: Dirt Hog