Choosing the Best Shelter for Your Pigs

Review these methods to discover the best shelter for your pigs.

house of straw

A straw shelter is a useful temporary measure that will last longer if built over a framework.

Image credit: © Mike Corrigan, Octopus Publishing

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Choosing and Keeping Pigs (Firefly Books, 2009), by Linda McDonald-Brown, also includes a history of pig keeping and a comprehensive directory of 30 traditional and rare breeds. This unique reference provides all the information a pig keeper requires.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Choosing and Keeping Pigs.

Housing

Some form of shelter must be provided for pigs at all times of year. It should be large enough to enable your pigs to turn around comfortably and lie down and ideally sufficiently sturdy to withstand their destructive tendencies.

Shelter considerations

In winter pigs need shelter from the wind and rain, and in summer they need protection from the sun. A few trees in the corner of the paddock won’t suffice, and it should not be assumed that pigs kept in woods will get sufficient shelter from the trees, no matter how dense the wood is.

When choosing or constructing a shelter, bear in mind that pigs – and boars in particular – are very destructive, and unless the shelter is made to a high standard and built from quality materials, it will not last. In the long run, buying the best shelter you can afford will be the most cost-effective. A shelter must also be large enough to accommodate comfortably the number of pigs that are using it. It is better to have too much space than too little – an extra bale of straw can always be added to fill up the space and keep your pigs warm.

Shelters that are positioned in the wrong place can have a detrimental effect on the welfare of your pigs, so careful thought needs to be given to their siting. If you are using an existing building, you obviously cannot change its position, but you should check that the building is draught-proof as far as possible, has good ventilation and has nothing in it that could injure the pig, such as exposed nails in the walls. If the building is old, check that the walls are sound: bricks that have come loose will attract the attention of your inquisitive pigs, and eventually the strength of the wall could be undermined. Ideally the building should be positioned as close as possible to an outdoor area to give the pigs some freedom.

Some of the more popular types of shelter are described below.

Ark sizes

Below are sample ark sizes for housing different numbers of pigs:

6 x 4 feet
two Kune Kune pigs

8 x 6 feet
one sow and litter/up to two dry sows/six to eight porkers

8x 8 feet
up to four dry sows/10–15 porkers

8 x 10 feet
up to six dry sows/15–20 porkers

8 x 12 feet
up to eight dry sows/20–25 porkers

Arks

By far the most common shelters for pigs are traditional pig arks with curved roofs. These sorts of pig shelter are favored by commercial farmers of outdoor pigs and they are usually made of metal or wood and galvanized steel.

Choose an ark with ventilation and (if possible) removable floors, which are easier to clean than fixed floors. The floors should be made of solid rough-sawn timber rather than plywood, which has a tendency to become slippery when wet or muddy. Arks are also manufactured in plastic, but these can become brittle and crack. To aid movement, arks should come with a loading bar or skids.

To counteract fluctuations in temperature, you can add insulation to the ark, ensuring that the temperature is kept reasonably constant throughout summer and winter. Insulation will help porkers gain weight, as the food they eat will be used in gaining weight rather than in keeping warm. Arks without floors are not as warm as floored arks and they should only be used on well-drained soil.

Choose a sheltered position when placing the ark in a field. Face the entrance away from the prevailing wind and rain and, if your land is prone to bogginess, position the ark on a high point. If your land is very exposed, make sure that the ark has some form of shade. Placing it under trees is ideal, as the leaves will provide shade over the ark in the summer. If this is not possible and your ark does not have insulation, you need to make alternative arrangements to keep the interior cool in the summer, such as placing pieces of carpet or straw bales over the top of the ark to maintain an even temperature.

Traditional pigsties

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, pigsties were a familiar sight on farms and at many of the large country estates. Traditional breeds were often kept on the big estates to feed the workers and the owner’s family. The pigs were housed in low, brick buildings, which often had a brick pen attached. Although they are aesthetically pleasing to look at, these original pigsties are very difficult to clean and move about in, because they usually have small entrances and the space inside is limited.

If you want to build a row of pigsties in the oldfashioned style, keep height and space in mind as you plan their construction. Try to position the shelters so that the entrance faces south, to get as much sun as possible. Each pigsty should be at least 1.8 metres (6 feet) square. The floor should be constructed of ridged concrete to help with grip, and it should be insulated, to keep the pigs as warm as possible. Drainage is an essential feature and should be incorporated in some form, both from the pigsties and the outside pen. A window that can be opened and shut is essential for ventilation. Fitting doors is a matter of preference, but they are useful for when you need to keep your pigs in their sty.

Barns

Barns are ideal for housing a number of pigs together, such as store pigs (pigs for fattening). They are usually light and airy, but can be draughty. Ideally you should be able to get in with a tractor and a scraper to clean them out, because mucking out using just a wheelbarrow and a fork will be too time-consuming. Barns are often popular with commercial farmers as they enable store pigs to be kept warm and thus gain maximum weight in a short period of time. If you do keep pigs in this way, you will need to provide some sort of entertainment for them, such as a football or a length of rope or chain suspended from the roof with a tree branch attached to the end.

Home-made straw shelters

Straw shelters are ideal for erecting in an emergency or as a short-team measure. However, they are not suitable as permanent features, although if they are substantial enough, they can last a surprisingly long time before they need replacing. The structure will last longer if you build a framework first.

Decide how large you want your shelter to be and lay down one layer of straw bales. Place a post on the inside of each corner. Determine where you wish the entrance to be, then position four posts, one at each corner of the bales at the entrance. Finish infilling with bales up to the required height. Once you are happy with the structure, line it with substantial plywood on the inside by nailing this to the posts. Make sure there are no nails protruding. The plywood prevents the pigs from pulling at the straw, which will eventually weaken the shelter. Galvanized corrugated sheets, overlapped to prevent the rain from penetrating, should then be placed across the length of the shelter. If it is a large shelter, you may wish to add a wall of extra posts and bales to support the roof. Try to give the roof an overhang, to protect the straw sides from the worst of the weather. For insulation, place a layer of straw bales on top of the sheeting.

To discourage infestations of lice or mites, dust the shelter regularly with an approved powder. Should you need to keep the pigs inside, you can simply place a couple of straw bales across the entrance.

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Reprinted with permission from Choosing and Keeping Pigs by Linda McDonald-Brow and published by Firefly Books, 2009. Buy this book from our store: Choosing and Keeping Pigs.