We have been raising animals on our farm for over 10 years: sheep, dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, guinea pigs, ponies, donkeys...and a pig.
Before we get a new animal on our farm, we want to ensure that we have the best possible set up for it. We consider questions like how will it fit with our current set up and daily routine, where will it sleep, its diet, what qualities it has that can benefit the farm, and most importantly what living conditions does it require to live a natural, healthy and happy life.
I wanted a pig ever since I moved to the farm. And while it took us ten years to figure out this best possible set up, we are now the proud owners of Ramses the American Mini Pig!
This article is by no means a handbook for keeping pigs (there are some excellent ones out there). Instead, this article shares the experiences we had with Ramses, from which we learned so much about a pig's preferences. We hope the following passages will help you understand your (future) pig maybe just a little better.
Ramses has a pen in the house where he has slept every night since he was a piglet. We always make sure to have a small bedtime snack ready for him and this has helped him become comfortable with his little house.
His night pen includes a thick pile of blankets, lots of toys and his water dish. We no longer put in his wood shaving filled litter box. Having his potty close by was important when he was a piglet, but now he prefers to use the bathroom outside. And while his potty isn't necessary anymore, Ramses decided to turn it into a toy and tipped it, shavings and all.
Another important thing to mention about his night pen is the gate latch. We originally had a metal slide bolt, but Ramses quickly discovered that it made a loud noise when he rattled the gate, and he rattled away. All. Night. Long. We have since installed a simple cloth strap that hooks over a knob and is silent. Phew!
Feeding and Diet
It is very easy to overfeed a pig, and it is also very unhealthy for them. Part of a pig’s adorableness is his fat tummy, but a pig should never be so overweight that they have rolls of fat. It is important to feed your pig adequately and healthy.
For breakfast, Ramses generally has mini-pig pellets mixed with whatever we have for breakfast, such as oatmeal, a pancake, and some fruit. We make sure to cook all these things without salt or sugar as pigs cannot process these spices adequately.
Throughout the day, we collect various kitchen scraps (tops of carrots, bits of celery, extra salt-free noodles or rice) for his supper. Remember that pigs should not eat all the table scraps. The image of a farmer feeding the slop pail of scraps to the pigs is meant to quickly fatten them for slaughter not support the healthy longevity of a pig's life.
And Ramses’ bedtime snack consists of his pellets. We also make sure that our pig is able to root most of the day. This enjoyable exercise lets him supplement his diet in the most natural way and keeps him lean (sort of).
Having a Pig on the Farm
The common agriculture mentality towards the swine is to use the animal’s characteristics to work for the farmer, i.e feed them to make them fat. But feeding pigs on a concrete slab with a slurry running beneath them is hardly how pigs were meant to live.
A pig is meant to be outside, however, some days they like nothing better than to snuggle under a pile of pillows in the warm cozy indoors. Their natural inclination is to eat, root, eat, roll around in yucky stuff, eat, sleep, and then probably eat again. We always strive to find the balance between the house pet and the farm animal. When Ramses is inside, we entertain him with toys, snuggles, scratches and of course the occasional treat, which keeps him pretty happy. It important to us when he is outside that he can express his natural pig qualities, which makes him even happier, and as a bonus benefits our farm.
Ramses spends most of his day outside with the chickens. They have two houses and a large run that also functions as a seasonal sheep pen. This symbiotic relationship allows the animals to provide company for each other, lets them root and dig together and entertain each other. We do have to be careful with the chicken food, though, and raise the feeder whenever Ramses is in the house so he doesn’t eat it all and get bloated.
Now that he is older and can really do damage with his snout, we plan on building him a large pen in the garden. Our hope is that he will disrupt some of the bug and weed lifecycles while tilling the new ground for next year.
Pigs Deserve a Good Life
Pigs are incredibly smart animals. I have talked to truckers who have literally hauled hundreds of thousands of pigs, not knowing that a pig could be taught to sit. Pigs love to be treated affectionately and snuggled, to be given games and puzzles to figure out, to sleep on the furnace vent when it is cold out, and they also need to be outside so they can frolic.
Ramses has a featured section on our blog where we write about his adventures (and misadventures). Any pig that is going to live on our farm will be given the chance to run around, root, play, eat, and yes, probably sleep in the house, and live a life they deserve to live. In short, they can be a pig.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.