Types of Hog Pens: Pig Pens From Farrowing to Finishing
Hog pens are, obviously, an essential part of pig keeping and small-scale pig farming. But, if you’re new to keeping pigs, you may not realize just how many different types of pig pens there are. Depending on the scale and type of your pig raising operation, you may need only one or several types of pens. Bear in mind that some areas have additional regulations regarding sanitation and other health-related issues for pigs that are being raised for meat or breeding stock. This article will cover the most common types of hog pens, starting with the beginning of a pig’s life and moving forward throughout the different needs at each point in the pig life cycle.
If you’re raising pigs from birth, your top priority will be the farrowing pen. When building a farrowing pen, it is absolutely critical to keep factors in mind such as the weather, time(s) of year that you will be breeding and farrowing pigs, and the number of breeding sows you intend to keep. While the farrowing pen is one of the smallest types of pig pens since it is made to accommodate only one adult pig per litter, it can be the most difficult to build correctly. This is where a pregnant sow will live from shortly before delivering her litter up until her piglets are weaned.
While many hog pens can be left with a natural dirt floor, a farrowing pen has to have excellent insulation and plenty of shelter, and it must be off the ground. While some smaller-scale pig breeding operations use sheds on skids with a wood floor for farrowing, this requires vigorous cleaning and disinfecting in-between litters, and there is still a much higher risk of disease than with other floor types – this is better than a plain dirt floor, but that’s about it.
Preferably, your farrowing pen will be fully enclosed, have a concrete floor, and come equipped with a drain for easy cleaning in between litters. If you’ve created a farrowing shed fit for more than one sow at a time and they will be dropping their litters at slightly different times, then you may want to build in concrete barriers several inches high around each individual pen in addition to wood slats or metal panels. This barrier will not to anything to keep pigs separated, but they will prevent water from seeping into an occupied pen during cleaning. Excess water can provide excellent breeding grounds for bacteria and poses a risk to newborn piglets.
Weaned pigs are ready to move from the farrowing pen to their own pen where they will put on weight and live for the next couple of months of their lives. While it is possible to combine the grow-out pen and finishing pen into one, if you’re consistently breeding pigs then this could waste a lot of space. In addition, when selectively breeding pigs for a specific trait, many weaned pigs will be culled out of the bunch before they’re old enough to move on to the finishing pens.
Because the grow-out pen still deals with fairly young pigs, it still must be very sheltered and protected from disease. In colder areas or more unpredictable seasons, it is highly recommended to have some kind of heat source inside the shed associated with the grow-out pen. These piglets no longer have their mother to rely on for heat and for direction when it’s time to seek shelter, so the pen must be constructed in a way that will provide for them while they still have a very low body mass and are susceptible to all manner of outside influences.
For the third stage in the life cycle of a pig, the finishing pen is probably going to be the largest in your entire pig-keeping operation. This is where your pigs will be kept from the time they’re about 50-80 pounds until about 200-300 pounds. As they grow, these pigs will need a lot of space, increasing levels of food, a clean environment, sufficient shelter for all the animals in the pen, and ways to easily cool off in warmer weather. While many finishing pens will have natural dirt floors, the size and quantity of hogs that it will hold requires extra care in stability and durability of the pen. This is the hog pen designed for the most active part of a pig’s life, so it really has to be built to last.
In a pig-breeding operation, you may choose to have a separate pen in which to breed your pigs, especially if you opt not to practice artificial insemination. These pens will generally be relatively small, built to hold a breeding pair, trio, or small group. Boars will only be left in the pen until the sows can be confirmed pregnant, and then the sows will likely stay in this pen until they’re ready to move to the farrowing pen.
Pigs that are being raised for meat are occasionally held in an area near a personal smokehouse, or somewhere easily accessible to buyers or wholesale transport trucks for a short period of time before going to their final destination. A holding pen has to be large enough to be comfortable for butchering-sized pigs, but does not necessarily have to have a ton of space or elements that make it easier to clean.
While the holding pen does have to be sturdy, the pigs will probably not be here long enough to root under fences, chew on welded wire panels, or otherwise cause much damage to this pen. As a result, this is a relatively easy pen to build, and it can even be a temporary or easily-portable pen. Bear in mind how the pigs are going to be moved from this pen, and consider building loading chutes or chutes that lead directly to a smokehouse or processing facility.
Considerations for Building a Pig Pen
Overall, it’s important to always keep in mind the number of pigs you’re going to have, the maximum size they will reach while living in the pen in question, and the function that the pen will perform. Pigs are extremely powerful, though often docile creatures that will test the durability of any pen. In addition, they do get bored easily and will likely chew on anything wood or plastic, and have been known to chew metal as well.
Remember that various pig breeds can change dramatically in size, so always do research on the specific type of hogs you intend to raise. Bear in mind that a healthy environment will require more room and resources than large-scale farming, but you'll end up with healthier animals and a better meat quality by taking these minor extra steps.
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