How to Raise Orphaned, Baby Pigs

Orphaned piglets or starving runts don't have to die. After a few weeks of tender care, they'll be able to look after themselves while they put on hundreds of pounds of potential pork.

| March/April 1982

I slipped Smilie's harness over his fat little shoulders, attached the leash and we began our midday constitutional along the banks of Idaho's glorious Salmon River. Pretty soon, a pickup truck came up the twisting river road, and — with a protest of brakes — it whipped to a stop beside us.
"By golly!" the driver exclaimed. "Now I've seen everything!"
"I like pigs," I answered with a big grin — and I'll bet that once you've had a chance to share your home — if only for a few weeks — with one of these delightful creatures, you'll come to be fond of them, too. When little orphaned Smilie was only three weeks old, for instance, he already thought he was a person. He would clip up and down my kitchen floor, playing with the cat and squealing for chow.
But, keeping a pig in the house? Yes indeed! Many piglets have shared my home for two or three weeks, until they could build up enough strength to survive on their own. In fact, a pig is — or can become — more mannerly and intelligent than a dog (we've even had pigs that helped us bring home the cows) and as clean as a cat. Plus, swine don't shed hair!

However, unless you intend to keep your orphan for breeding, don't make it a real pet: It's simply not a good idea to become terribly attached to an animal that may be a future Christmas ham. On the other hand, do be kind to your porcine babies. Any infant — even a pig — needs love if it's to thrive.

Why Raise Pigs?

When you consider the price of meat today, you'll realize that the loss of a litter of pigs — or even of a single runt — can be an expensive proposition. During the last 10 years, I've had many occasions to rescue from one to 10 piglets at a shot — and each of those efforts has been, in my opinion, time and trouble well spent.

Furthermore, the little animals (which, in many cases, would be doomed if someone didn't adopt them) can be a source of free livestock for the farmstead-on-a-budget. Check with pork producers in your area, find out a few farrowing dates and ask whether you might have (or buy, at a very low cost) an orphan or a runt from one of the litters.

As a last resort, you can settle for a cripple. Even these animals can sometimes be saved. For example, Felix — our last foster pig — had been pen-injured. He was unable to stand when we got him, and spent part of each day hung in a sling made from torn sheets. Felix is now a picture of health, weighs 200 pounds and will soon be ready for the smokehouse.

How to Raise Orphaned Pigs

Once you have your orphan, there are several facts to keep in mind. First, more baby pigs die from being chilled than from any other cause. They come from a warm womb (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and must be kept at 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first few hours of their lives. From then on, the tiny sucklings will thrive in 75 to 95 degree temperatures.

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