How to Build a Pigpen: Essential Elements of Hog Pens
Pig pens — like any other type of animal enclosure — are designed to give each animal sufficient space, shelter, and access to food and water. The exact size you need for your pen depends on the breed and adult size of the pigs (unless it's only for young pigs, then base it on their maximum size before being moved to a different pen), as well as how many animals you'll have in the pen. This article will outline the basic considerations for a pig pen for adult pigs that will not be reproducing. If you're looking for a breeding or farrowing setup, please refer to the tips in the Different Types of Pig Pens article linked below.
There are several different kinds of pens people habitually use for pigs, including temporary holding pens made with electric wire and more permanent pens made from paneling. Here we will be focusing on a permanent pen made to last throughout an animal's life.
How to Plan the Right Pig Pen
The number of pigs you'll house in your new pig pen is the first major consideration for the space you need. If you're unsure, it's generally a good idea to build a pen with sufficient room for two or three animals more than you think you'll have. The general rule of thumb is to build an 8'x16' space per animal (16'x16' for two animals, and so on), though this will vary depending on the animal's breed and the size they'll be before they are sold or butchered, if applicable.
Pens must be made very sturdy to stand up to the wear and tear of keeping pigs in. Even the most docile animals will often use the fence to scratch against, try to reach through the holes to reach interesting things on the other side, and so on. Pigs are exceptionally compact and powerfully-built animals, so the fence has to be set up with their strength in mind. Wooden or metal fence posts work well for these pens, though wood may be chewed if it's not covered with wire mesh or placed outside of solid panels. Metal posts are a little more expensive, but definitely worth the cost when it comes to pigs. Ideally, metal posts should be at least 6' tall so they can be pounded at least 2' into the ground.
Is your pig bred for muscle or fat?
Types of Pen Panels and Pig Fences
The fence itself is most often made out of wood, pre-made wire panels (hog panels), or panels of aluminum pipe. Just as with wooden posts, many people who use wooden slats find that they need to protect it with wire mesh to keep the pigs from chewing it to slivers. Pipe panels similar to the ones popularly used for horseback riding arenas are sturdy and resist damage, but they must also be repainted regularly to avoid rusting and are considerably more expensive than hog panels.
Hog panels are generally the most popular option for hobbyists and small-scale farmers. These panels are relatively cheap and maintenance-free, only needing replaced if a pig manages to badly damage the panel. They are very easy to set up by attaching to fence posts with sturdy wire (for metal posts) or a combination of wire and wood staples (for wooden posts). The pens do not have to be very tall, though small holes between slats or wire mesh is essential as pigs have been known to climb over some fences, namely wooden slats.
Building a Simple Pig Shed or "Hog House"
Next, you'll need some kind of shelter. An ideal hog shed doesn't need to be very tall (about 4' to house a 250lb butcher hog) and should have sufficient space for each animal to get completely out of the elements and stretch out. A construction of insulated cinder blocks works well, but can be expensive. A popular construction consists of a double layer of plywood with fiberglass insulation or bales of straw between the layers, though wooden structures will need to be lined with a sturdy wire mesh to discourage chewing. Add sheet metal over the surfaces that pigs can access to prevent a lot of future maintenance.
Feeders and Waterers for Your Pigs
If given half a chance, pigs will root through their food and make quite a mess with it. This is both a waste of food and a potential health hazard, as the food can then get moldy and/or attract additional insects and rodents to the pen.
Top-filling automatic feeders work great in avoiding this problem. These feeders contain large amounts of food (depending on the size of the feeder, generally anywhere from 50lb on up) and allow a small amount to be available at a time in a small opening below. This opening is a size that allows the pig to comfortably eat its food, but it doesn't allow room to root around in it. Having an automatic feeder ensures that the pigs always have access to clean, dry food.
Automatic waterers are also an excellent addition to the pen. These are relatively inexpensive, about $15-$20 for a good one, but they do require a garden hose. The waterer itself is a metal spout that is activated by a pig biting down on a metal plunger (as seen on the right), which then squirts water into the pig's mouth. This will ensure that the pig always has fresh water to drink and keep them from trying to wallow in their drinking water.
Don't Forget Wallowing
Pigs need to have access to a wallow. Most often, this is just a patch of ground kept well-watered so they have some mud to roll in, helping them to keep cool in warm weather. If a wallow is not an option, lots of shade will be required and the pigs may have to be misted down regularly to prevent overheating. Bear in mind that light-colored pigs also sunburn easily and will need additional care to prevent these hazardous burns.
Planning a medium-sized commercial operation? Check this out.
These Are the Basic Building Blocks, Now It's Time for Research
Food, water, shelter, space, and a way to keep cool. These are the essentials for all pigs, regardless of size, breed, or purpose. Basic guidelines can set you on the road to building the ideal pen for your pets or livestock, though research on specific breed requirements is always recommended. Bear in mind that some breeds of pigs may max out at 200-300 pounds, while others may reach as much as 800 pounds if they live their full lifespan. The size recommendations here are based on hogs that are a maximum of about 300 pounds, which is a common butcher size. Research your breed before you buy to ensure that these guidelines apply.
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