Pigs in Winter Weather

pigs in winter

When people get their first pigs, or any livestock for that matter, they often worry about how they will handle winter. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in Missouri or Michigan. This is understandable since we wimpy humans would quickly die from hypothermia if left outside. But since animals don’t naturally live in buildings, they usually have whatever they need to keep themselves warm.

Chickens have feathers. Sheep have wool. Goats have cashmere. Cows have leather. We humans have used skins and fibers from all of these animals to keep ourselves warm throughout history. Even though I never worried about my other animals in winter, I did worry about the pigs. They look practically naked! How could they stay warm with so little hair? You can easily see their skin. But pigs have a thick layer of fat, which insulates them as well as feathers, wool, cashmere, or leather.

Like other animals, pigs in winter need shelter, so they can stay dry. We put a thick layer of straw in there also, so that will insulate them from the ground. I love the look of a group of pigs sleeping all lined up like little sausages in a package. Pigs in winter do not need any type of supplemental heat down to at least 20 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit, which is how cold it has been here. We’ve actually looked into their three-sided shelter and seen steam rising off their bodies on cold days. Yes, I said three-sided shelter, which also means pigs don’t need an insulated house during winter. The opening to the three-sided shelter should be on the side opposite the prevailing winter winds in your area. Here that means that we have all of our shelters opening on the south side, as we have wind that is usually from the north, although sometimes from the west or northwest in winter.

The biggest challenge with pigs in winter is providing them with water that won’t freeze. We made the mistake of having a floating tank heater our first winter with pigs. They thought it was a toy and yanked it out and dragged it all over the pasture. We have a very low-tech way of providing them with water. We give them warm water twice a day in a feed pan with straight sides (so it’s harder to tip over). Luckily they don’t drink nearly as much water during the winter, or we’d have to refill the water more often.

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What about piglets in winter?

piglets in winter

Living in Illinois, we have made a point of never breeding pigs to farrow from December through February, which are our coldest months. We have had pigs farrow in November a couple of times. Although we normally let our sows give birth on pasture wherever they choose, we did put them in the barn for November farrowing so that we could provide a heat lamp for the piglets. We have American Guinea Hogs, which are only about one pound each when born.

We let them into the pasture when they’re two months old, and they’ve always done great. Basically we take our cues from the piglets. When we see that they are no longer laying under the heat lamp, we assume they don’t need it, so we put them outside.

Actually the most dangerous weather for young piglets is when it’s in the 30s or 40s and muddy. In the summer, pigs lay in mud to cool themselves. The wet mud wicks the heat from their body. So, mud in winter can be deadly for piglets. If adults are only getting their feet in the mud, that’s not a big deal. But piglets can wind up with half of their body covered in mud, which can lead to hypothermia.

It is also extra important to be sure you have a thick bed of straw for piglets. In addition to lining themselves up like sausages to keep each other warm, they will also burrow down into straw.

As I always say, watch your animals, and they’ll let you know what they need. As you can see from the top photo, a little snow doesn’t bother them at all.

Pigs in winter

21 thoughts on “Pigs in Winter Weather”

  1. Hi there,

    We are looking into getting AGHs right now in Maine (similar winter weather patterns). Can you tell me more about how you handled the water situation in winter? We have a heated waterer for our chickens, as it would often freeze in the bucket… How did you manage this with your pigs?

    Thanks!

    Harper Homestead

    Reply
    • That’s a great question! You don’t want a floating tank heater like you would use with sheep or goats because the pigs will “play” with it and destroy it. Either you need something that heats from below, or you just have to use a flexible rubber pan that won’t crack when the water freezes. After trying a couple of different things, we just use flexible rubber pans. Flip it over when it freezes, and if it’s sunny, the pan will heat up enough that the ice will fall out (because it’s black and absorbs the heat on a sunny day). We have a second pan that we rotate with so they don’t run out of water.

      Reply
      • Use a 55 gal plastic barrel. Put water nipples at bottom, put 500 watt sinker heater on side of nipples. When you cut opening on barrel top, leaving some the top not cut, so you will have a lid. Cut a piece of styrofoam that will fit inside barrel, this will hold some heat in.

        Reply
      • We have a pig waterer
        (Brower MFD85 Field Drinker https://www.amazon.com/dp/B008DO2R42/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_c_api_i_sVsdEbWGEC3NH)

        That we put a small fish tank Air-ration fan and a hose bucket heater in. It never freezes up. It actually spa warm.
        -You just have to bucket fill it
        In the winter-
        -Put in Water algae preventatives (little bleach works too- we use fish take stuff)
        -and make sure every few days the bucket heater has not gone out. I have to replace them every few years.
        I keep the boxes for the water fan and the bucket heater to
        Store them in the summer.
        Iv never had a frozen tank Sense we found the this solution .
        Easy as pie all fleet farms or Vally supply have the bucket heater. And fish tank fan I just ordered online.
        My pigs love the warm water.

        We are in Minnesota- so it gets Really cold here. But this has never failed me.

        Reply
  2. Can you post a picture of your feed pan with straight sides that you put water in during the winter? Currently we have a big blue 50 gallong tub with little nipples on the bottom for their waterer. We thought we could buy a water mat to put underneath or one of those heaters that floats in the tub. Any other suggestions? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Just now seeing this. I hope you didn’t buy a floating heater. Our pigs grabbed it and ripped it up and destroyed it. If you get a heater, it needs to be the kind that will be at the bottom of the tank.

      Reply
  3. Hi There, does all of this apply to only certain breeds of pigs, or would all of this be applicable for potbellies too? Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Potbellies should be fine, if they’re used to being outside. I wonder about some of the modern pork breeds because they’ve been bred for many generations now to have less fat, and none of them have been outside for generations, as they are all raised inside buildings for their whole lives.

      Reply
  4. What if you only have one pig? I have her in a 3 sided shelter with lots of straw. She is about 300lbs. I check her twice a day and at this point she feels warm with temps being in the 30’s. But I know we will get below zero at some point. And what about their ears? Don’t want frostbite.

    Thank you!!

    Reply
    • The only frost bite I’ve seen on ears is in newborn goats that are soaking wet when temperatures are below zero. Our pigs have always been fine. I’d give your girl plenty of straw so she can burrow into it and make herself a nice warm nest. Hopefully the opening to the 3-sided shelter is on the opposite side of the prevailing wind. If not, you might want to cover most of it and just leave a small opening for her to come and go.

      Reply
      • I live in millersville and my neighbor leve they pig out side summer and winter since I move here 5 year ago.
        I think is animal cruelty, I once call the animal control because was heavy winter and they told me they can’t do anything.
        There is any way to help this pig out side?

        Reply
        • Pigs have a thick layer of fat to keep warm in winter. They should have a 3-sided shelter to keep them out of the rain and snow when it’s cold and to keep them out of the sun when it’s hot, but they are actually healthier if they are outside than if they are kept confined in a building.

          Reply
          • Have raised pigs and other animals in Maine for many years…for those from away Maine is one of the coldest snowy places in the US. Top10 at the very least…get a kick out of folks from away who’ve got little skill education or idea when it comes to raising farm animals especially in the colder months. Animals aren’t bothered by dry cold weather. Read “dry cold”. Never seen any bring their chickens or hogs or cows into the living room and sit down by the wood stove. Like others have said..3 sided shelter and good bedding like straw or shavings for some stock does the trick. Its one thing to be viewed as a nitwit..opening ones mouth without knowledge removes all doubt. Moral of the story…read good information or speak to the farm extension services or go to AG school. Dont assume you know anything….. until you do.
            best regards rb

  5. Hi, my name is Corie ,I have a potbelly pig. In the beginning I no I was feeding her to much. She was getting really big. Now I feed her potbelly pig pellet plus fresh fruit and bran . I’m just wondering if I’m still feed her to much.

    Reply
    • It all depends on how she looks. If her belly is dragging on the ground or she has trouble rolling onto her stomach from her side or has trouble standing up, then she’s definitely too fat. If she’s too fat, feed less. Hopefully she is also outside so that she can get some grass (during the growing season) and fresh air and sunshine and exercise. Pigs should spend their day walking around, not laying around.

      Reply
  6. We’re getting 4 piglets in 2 weeks. They will only be 7.5 weeks old. We live in Montana and our winter has been fairly cold. The forecast is predicting lows in the teens when we get them. Will a shelter with a deep bed of straw be sufficient enough? Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • If they are accustomed to living in an unheated space, then they should be fine. Ask the seller where they currently live. If they are one of the modern breeds that doesn’t have as much fat on it, and if they’ve been living in a heated space, then you don’t want to make a huge change too fast.

      Reply
      • We’ve been to the breeders place and have seen what they are accustomed to. When we visited the piglets, the weather was extremely cold, in the negatives. They had the farrowing sows in an unheated barn with lots of straw inside and access to outside. They are about 4 hours north of us and the weather tends to be colder up there. We are under another winter storm watch, expecting 20″ of snow over 5 days. Their area that we built for them is out of pallets… My husband would like to put sheeting around their shelter and on top to avoid the wind that would come through.. We’ve put their area a ways from the house and running extension cords out there for heat lamps would be a nightmare. I just want to make sure that they will be ok.

        Reply
        • Yes, you need to have some type of siding on the shelter so that the wind cannot whip through there. Otherwise, this sounds good.

          Reply
  7. Thank you for very good description of your pig’s care!
    I am the new pig owner and I found lots of very helpful information in your article

    Reply

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