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General Care of the Pig


Pigs can be very clean and intelligent animals, especially if they are brought up to be clean from birth.  There are various stages of pigs in their growing stages; starter (10 ? 30#), grower (30 ? 120#), finisher (120# ? market weight), and breeding (gestation and lactation).

Pigs do not have to be raised indoors.  Commercially, it is best to raise swine in an environmentally controlled area with heat, cooling, and adequate air exchange hourly.  By raising pigs on concrete, they are exposed to fewer parasites than in a dirt lot, and they can have more arthritis, etc. problems on concrete.  You should provide your swine with a pen that has a shade from the sun and protection from rain, wind and snow.  Allowing pigs to become too hot can result in heat stroke.  It is important to realize that swine can develop “salt toxicity” if they run out of water.  Always provide fresh, clean water.  Should you find that the water has run out, slowly add small amounts of water every 30 minutes until the pigs have “had their fill”.  It will take 4 ? 6+ hours to rehydrate the swine, but a sudden addition of water may cause this serious brain problem to develop.  If you use a water tank and heater, ensure the tank is properly grounded and the electric cord cannot be chewed.

The space requirement will vary with the size and age of the pig.  A sow about to give birth requires a farrowing crate to prevent her from lying on the piglets.  When the pigs are growing, calculate a minimum space of 3 square foot per 30?40# piglet.  From 40 ? 100# body weight, increase the space to 4 sq. foot.  Up to 150# weight, estimate 6 sq, feet, and 8 sq. feet for a pig reaching market weight.  This is only a minimum floor space needed, and you should add another 15% room in hot weather.  We prefer to see even more space provided per pig, as the incidence of fighting, biting, and other problems are reduced.

The nutritional feeding of pigs also changes with their ages.  The rations need to be adjusted for the various stages of growth, in order to efficiently feed the swine.  The exact specific requirements for the 10+ vitamins, 9+ minerals, 11+ amino acids, and energy can be found in the NRC requirements at the veterinary clinic, or other sources.  Readily made commercial sources are advisable for the small herd.  Expect to feed a 20% protein starter ration, a 16% grower ration, a 14% finisher ration, and 12 ? 15% ration for gestation or lactation of the sow.   Growing pigs are different from most animals in that they eat “to meet their energy needs”.  A low energy diet will have a greater consumption/pig/day than higher energy content feed.  Feed promotants provide a positive economic return.  We advise that a 14% protein, high energy ration be feed “ad lib” during lactation (available at all times).  If constipation is a problem during lactation, magnesium sulfate or potassium chloride can be added to the sow’s diet.

It has been shown that in feeding growing pigs, a ration with pellets or a coarsely ground diet will have a better gain and less stomach ulcers that pigs fed a finely ground feed.  The use of antibiotics in a growing ration is very controversial; they do show an “economical rate of return”.  We do not advise rotating the antibiotics frequently, as it “does not help”.  Each antibiotic and drug has a withdrawal time before sale or slaughter.  Carefully read the labels before medicating any animal.

Replacement gilts should be examined for 12 teats, evenly spaced.  Some breeds, such as the Chinese pigs, have 18 teats, and are bred for larger litters. Unfortunately, the Chinese pigs have more fat than the American pigs.  The first heat period will vary with each breed; the Landrace will be around 173 days of age, while the Duroc can be 224 days old.  We do not advise breeding a gilt till she is 7 ? 8 months of age.  Boars should also not be used for breeding till they are 8 months old.

Breeding boars and sows should be in good condition, but not overweight.  Some sources suggest “flushing” a sow before breeding, but this is not recommended immediately after breeding.  By limiting the intake of all sows to 4 – 5#/day for the first 3 days there will be a larger litter size.  The first month after breeding the sow should be fed according to her body condition.  You can flush the gilts by feeding them 6 ? 8# of a 12?16% ration for 2 weeks before breeding (not after).   While growing pigs are fed free choice, we advise controlling the feed of grown pigs.  Some sows can be fed a high energy diet free choice, for a specific time, every 3rd day??or a bulky, low energy diet that provides 5500 – 6300 Kcal/pig/day.  We advise a diet with about 14 ? 15% protein for pregnancy.  Breed the sow about 1 week after weaning the previous litter.  Gestation averages 115 days.  If you regroup sows before breeding, this may affect estrus detection.  Move the sows either before the 10th day of pregnancy, or wait till after day 30.  Reabsorption of the fetus can occur if the sow is stressed during the 10th ? 30th day of pregnancy.  Exposing the sow to a boar 17 ? 25 days after breeding is one of the best methods to check if the sow is pregnant.  Blood tests at 21+ days or ultrasound can also be utilized.  When grouping sows we advise smaller groups, and utilizing an “all?in, all?out” farrowing system.

When the piglet is 1 – 3 days old, we advise clipping the needle (canine) teeth and giving them an iron injection.  At 2 weeks of age, the piglets can be given a prestarter diet containing milk products before weaning is to be attempted.  Most “weaners” are 4 ? 6 weeks of age, and weigh about 40#.  Segregated Early Weaning (SEW) is an intensive program when the pigs can be weaned as early as 3 weeks of age, if you have a large operation and are set up for the increase labor costs to reduce some disease problems.  We do not advise SEW for the average person.   Pigs are normally castrated at about one week of age.  Studies show castrating before 1 week of age results in less stress and it is more humane to the piglet.  Castrating should be done a week before weaning, and no later than 4 weeks of age.  Ear notching and tail docking should be done before 1 week of age.  Tail docking will help prevent cannibalism.  Once started, cannibalism is hard to stop in the sow or piglets.  A nervous sow may eat her young.  Although the deciduous canine needle teeth can be clipped as newborns, these tusks are to be trimmed periodically as an adult.  Removal of the canine teeth is not recommended in any pig species due to the complications involved from a jaw fracture to jawbone infection.  Periodic trimming is the safest overall.

Vaccinations of the piglet start at 4 ? 6 weeks of age.  We advise Atrophic Rhinitis, Erysipelas, PEDV and other diseases that have been a problem in the area.  Actinobacillus, Circovirus, Histophilus (Haemophilus), E. coli, TGE, Rotovirus, Leptospirosis, Parvovirus, Pasteurella, PRRS, Mycoplasma, Salmonella, Pseudorabies, and the Clostridial diseases may also be indicated.  These vaccines need to be boostered in a month.  We recommend that Atrophic Rhinitis, Erysipelas, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV, corona) and Leptospirosis be given to the sow or gilt one month before breeding.  Parvovirus and pseudorabies also should be added, if it is a problem in the area.  A couple of weeks before farrowing, the mother needs to be boostered for TGE, E. coli, Clostridium perfringens, and other diseases that may be required.  Read the label to be sure that the vaccine can be given to pregnant pigs.  Never vaccinate pigs in the heat of the day, the additional stress can be a problem.  It needs to be noted, that each herd can have individual vaccination requirements.  There are a group of viruses that can cause abortion; these are called the SMEDI group, and this problem can be seen with a new, pregnant sow arriving into a different group of pigs before farrowing.

There are many ways to grade yourself on how well your pigs are being raised.  The number of days to reach a 220# market weight should be 205 ? 208 days.  The A.D.G., or average daily gain, should be 1.5+ pounds of gain per day.  The amount of feed converted to pig, or feed efficiency should average 3.5 pounds of feed for 1 pound of gain.  The number of piglets weaned should be 8 per sow.  The sow should average 2 litters per year.  (The average in the 1980’s was 15 pigs/sow/year.  Strive for 23 pigs/sow/year weaned.)

Treatments for external parasites and internal parasites are also variable, depending on the type of housing and problems previously encountered.  Usually the sow is treated before breeding and 2 weeks before farrowing with products that are labeled for pregnant pigs.  Expect to treat the growing pigs twice or more for internal parasites; especially if they are on a dirt floor.  We advise a fecal (stool) sample from some of the growing pigs to ensure that the product you are about to use will “deworm the pig” (and whether the pig even needs to be dewormed).  Most worming medicines do not deworm the pig for coccidiosis and other parasites that area found on a fecal exam.  Human food scraps containing meat should never be fed to a pig, as this is a way for the Trichinella parasite cysticercosis tapeworm (Taenia) can be obtained.  This tapeworm is a serious zoonotic disease which can then affect humans.

For transportation into a different state, a health certificate and a test for pseudorabies, Brucellosis and other diseases is usually required; especially if the swine are to be used for breeding.  Vaccination for Pseudorabies will interfere with the test.  If you purchase a pig keep the bill of sale in your pig health record file; if this pig is later sold and/or you plan to slaughter it you will need such documentation in Colorado.  A health certificate is required for travel across state lines in all livestock, although a brand inspection for pigs is not required.  Pig notches and tattoos have not been recognized as official identification since 2013.  Premise identification tags (PIN) are required by commercial slaughter facilities.  We advise that you obtain the USDA plastic ear tags from a certified source, and use these as your farm tags for animals you intend to keep and breed and/or if you sell pigs interstate.  The state veterinarian’s website lists sources for these tags that you can purchase locally or directly from another source.  For the official tags search for the state veterinarian’s office and click onto the site then go to traceability and then animal ID tags.  If we do official testing metal ear tags need to be placed into the ear if there are no official plastic tags.