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From Field to Feeder


Organic farming relies on the recycling of nutrients, and pigs are the perfect recyclers on mixed farms. Pigs eat garden trimmings, cull apples, kitchen scraps, skim milk and whey from cheese-making. They do an amazing job of tilling the soil, and even fertilize it as they go. And of course, the hogs eventually provide tasty pork. The flavour of organic pork is very different from the taste of factory-farmed pork. Meat from the homestead hog is delicious, almost sweet.

Organic farmers sometimes choose to breed their own hogs, rather than buy weaners from a conventional farm. By raising their own pigs from birth, farmers can ensure that the animals have been fed an organic diet from birth, without antibiotics, growth hormones or industrial byproducts. Also, some organic farmers raise rare breeds, such as the Berkshire. In general, the darker pigs are better for outside foraging than light-skinned pigs, which are vulnerable to sunburn. Medium-frame pigs tend to forage better than the large pigs with narrow bodies.

Diverse diets for healthy hogs

The digestive system of pigs is similar to that of humans. It is helpful to think of this when feeding the pigs. They are monogastrics, which means that they have only one stomach compartment. They have neither a rumen (like sheep, goats and cows) nor a large cecum (like horses), and consequently they lack the microbial population needed to digest fibrous materials, like hay and grass. They can eat a bit of roughage, but not as much as a horse or cow, and growing pigs need to have well-balanced high quality protein. Unlike ruminants and horses, pigs cannot survive on pasture and hay; they need grain and other food.

Organic hog feed contains certified organic grain and corn for energy and fibre. Organic dry peas, roasted soybeans, dried alfalfa and flaxmeal provide protein. Trace mineral salt, a mineral mix and vitamins are added to meet the nutritional needs of the hogs. Hogs require various feeds throughout their life cycle, starting with a high protein starter feed to meet the needs of rapidly growing young pigs. Weaned pigs, sows and boars all need feed with lower protein, and sows need extra calcium.

Pasturing pigs leads to healthy pigs, flavourful meat and lower feed costs. Pigs thrive on pastures of tender plants, particularly alfalfa, clover, oilseed radish and young oats, though growth rates of pastured pigs will be lower than that of grain-fed pigs. Pigs can be pastured at a rate of 8-10 sows per acre or 10-12 gilts per acre.

Hogs greatly appreciate root crops, squash and other cull crops. Fodder brassicas, fodder beets, Jerusalem artichokes and mangels can be grown for the pigs. Pigs can even harvest their own crops. They can be turned into a cornfield at the dent stage, put into fields of lodged grain crops, or put into potato or carrot fields after harvest. Pigs will also eat pumpkins, potatoes, apples and even zucchini. Homestead hog growers often grow comfrey for swine. Pigs prefer the young succulent leaves.

Traditionally, every farm with a family cow had a pig or two. When the cream was taken off the milk to make butter, the skim milk was given to the pigs. When cheese was made, the waste product (whey) was given to the pigs. Dairy products are nutritious and highly palatable. Weaned pigs grow quickly when given 4-6 L (1-1.5 gallon) of skim milk per day. Note that kitchen waste containing meat products should not be fed to pigs.

Encouraging the natural behaviour of pigs

In their natural environment, wild swine (boars) spend half of their time rooting through the forest floor. Much of the remaining time is spent sleeping, wallowing, nursing or taking care of young. Domestic pigs are closely related to their wild ancestors. If pigs are unable to exhibit their natural behaviour, they tend to develop abnormal behaviour such as biting other pigs. Allowing pigs to root and farrow naturally leads to healthy and contented pigs.

Joel Salatin, author of Pastured Poultry and Salad Bar Beef, strongly believes in encouraging the wild and natural behaviour of livestock. After clearing trees in his woodlot, he puts the pigs in the area surrounded with electric fencing, and feeds them supplemental grain. The pigs root through the underbrush and in doing so, they get exercise and food in the form of roots, grubs and bugs. They are kept busy for much of the day. In return, they root up stumps and brambles, till and fertilize the soil, and create an area suitable for planting.

If fencing pigs in woodlands is not possible, at least provide the pigs with material to root through. Ideally, they like to root through the soil. If kept inside, provide a thick layer of bedding (such as hay or straw) and every few days throw some whole grains into it. Providing unopened bales of straw will also keep them occupied. Ample bedding is particularly important before farrowing. A couple of days before farrowing, a sow needs a private place with plenty of straw to make a nest. If materials are lacking, she will delay farrowing, which will stress her and increase the risk of farrowing problems.

Feeding pigs

Pigs are often fed out of troughs or heavy buckets. It is important that there is enough room for all of the pigs to be able to eat at one time. Traditionally hog food was cooked and fed as a wet mash. Now, rather than cooking pig food, many small scale hog farmers pour water, sometimes boiling water, milk or whey over the food and let it sit. This makes the food more digestible and more palatable for the pigs. Keep in mind, the stomach of a pig is similar to the stomach of a human. Most farmers feed twice a day and more often when the pigs are young.

A guide to feeding hogs

Sex/Age class

Type of feed


Amount fed (per day)

Birth to weaning

Hog starter


Free choice.

Weaning to market

Hog grower


Full feed. Feed may be limited to 70-90% of full feed after hogs reach 57 kg (125 lb.)

Flushing gilts

Sow feed


2.7-4 kg (6-9 lb.) for 3 weeks before breeding.

Gestating gilts

Sow feed


1.8-2.7 kg (4-6 lb.) or 1.5-2% body weight; if gilts are too thin, increase by 0.5-1 kg (1-2 lb.) in the last 3-5 weeks.

Gestating sows

Sow feed


1.3-2.7 (3-6 lb.) or 1-1.5% body weight; if sows are too thin, increase by 0.5-1 kg (1-2 lb.) in the last 3-5 weeks.

Lactating sows

Sow feed


Full feed, approx. 4.5-6.4 kg (10-14 lb.)


Sow feed


1.3-1.8 kg (3-4 lb.) when not breeding, 2.7-3.2 kg (6-7 lb.) when being used.

The table is based on information from Life Cycle Swine Nutrition. Iowa State Univ. Ames, Iowa, 1988.


Feeding young pigs

Young pigs need colostrum within the first day of life, preferably within a few hours of birth. If a sow doesn’t produce enough milk for all of her young, some of the young can be transferred to another sow. This is most successful within 24 hours from when the foster sow has farrowed. If needed, the young pigs can be bottle-fed with milk or milk replacer. Certified organic growers should check with their certifying body regarding the use of milk replacer.

If the pigs were born inside a barn, within a day or two after farrowing, provide them with Pig Perk, a pan of soil or chunk of sod. To prevent worm problems, take the soil from land where pigs have not been raised. Young pigs will root through the soil and usually ingest enough iron to avoid anemia. Pig Perk is perfect for this purpose. It is a certified organic product made from composted peat. Pig Perk contains high levels of iron as well as microbes.

When young pigs are 7-10 days old, they start nibbling on feed. Give the young pigs hog starter a few times a day in a flat pan, letting them eat as much as they want. By weaning, the young pigs will have each consumed about 25 kg (55 lb.) of hog starter.


The pigs can be weaned once they are at least six weeks old; at this point they often weigh 23 kg (50 lb.). Removing the sows and letting the young pigs remain in the pen is the easiest and least stressful method of weaning.

From weaning until the pigs are 54 kg (120 lb.), put the pigs on ‘full feed’ by letting them eat as much as they want. Each pig will eat about 2.3-2.7 kg (5-6 lb.) per day per 45 kg (100 lb.) live weight. Between weaning to market at 100 kg (220 lb.), a pig will eat about 270 kg (600 lb.) of hog grower.

Weaning is a very stressful time for the young pigs, and they become susceptible to diarrhea. To avoid this problem, frequently feed the pigs small meals and give the pigs probiotics for a week or so after weaning. Sometimes the stress causes pigs to lose their appetite. Putting the food on floor mats or solid floors often encourages consumption. Or, warm water or milk can be mixed with the feed and provided in bowls or low buckets. Gradually thicken the gruel (from 50:50 to 70:30) so that the young pigs will eventually adapt to dry feed. Providing vitamin C in the water may reduce scouring and stimulate feed consumption.


Once the pigs reach 54 kg (120 lb.), the farmer has to decide between two feeding options.

(1) The hogs can be fed hog grower at full feed until market weight is reached. The pigs will eat about 1.8 kg (4 lb.) per day per 45 kg (100 lb.) live weight. This method leads to the fastest rate of weight gain and gets hogs to market sooner than in method 2.

(2) If a leaner carcass is desired, feed can be restricted to 70-90% of full feed, but then the hogs can be put on full feed for the last 60-75 days before marketing. This improves the feed efficiency and the quality of the meat. One way to restrict feed intake is to mix a bulky feed in with the hog grower. For example, add alfalfa, bran or oats to the feed at a rate of 10-20% of the total feed ration. Most organic growers allow the pigs to forage and this will have the same effect as restricting feed. Another way to do this is to give as much feed as the hogs will eat in 20-30 minutes once a day, or give 0.5 kg (1 lb.) of feed for every 14 kg (30 lb.) of live weight.

Feeding replacement boars and gilts

When boars and gilts intended for breeding reach a market weight of approximately 90 kg (200 lb.), they should be put on a pre-breeding diet. They can be fed 2.3-2.7 kg (5-6 lb.) of sow feed per day (approximately 75% of full feed). Gilts can be bred at 8 months old or their third heat. In thin gilts, flushing will increase the number of eggs they release and thereby increase the size of their litters; flushing has little effect on average or heavy gilts or sows. To flush, put them on full feed for 1-2 weeks before breeding. After breeding, reduce the feed to 1.8-2.7 kg (4-6 lb.) per day.

Feeding gestating gilts and sows

Feed gilts sow feed at a rate of 1.5-2% of body weight, about 2.3 kg (5 lb.) per day. Feed sows at a rate of 1-1.5% of body weight, about 1.8 kg (4 lb.) per day. Increase this to 2.3-2.7 kg (5-6 lb.) if they are being housed outside in the cold. Throughout gestation, sows gain 27-36 kg (60-80 lb.) and gilts gain 34-45 kg (75-100 lb.).

The nutrient needs are low during the first two thirds of gestation. It is important to avoid overfeeding which can cause obesity. Overfed sows tend to have smaller litters and more problems with farrowing. Feed can be restricted during the first month. During mid-gestation feed enough to maintain a good body condition. During late gestation, if the sows or gilts are too thin, increase the feed by 0.5-1 kg (1-2 lb.) in the last 3-5 weeks. Underfed females tend to have small, weak offspring, an inadequate milk supply, and take longer to cycle again after weaning.

During late gestation, constipation can be a problem. To avoid this, give a laxative diet, replacing 10-15% of the feed with bran or beet pulp.

Feeding lactating sows

Immediately after farrowing, slightly restrict the diet but gradually increase the amount fed until the sows are on full feed within a week.

The nutrient needs of lactating sows are very high, three to four times higher than their needs during gestation. Milk production peaks 2-3 weeks after farrowing. For each young pig, the sow produces 1 kg (2.2 lb.) of milk per day. So, a sow with an average litter of ten produces 10 kg (22 lb.) of milk per day at the peak. To produce enough milk, sows need ample amounts of nutritious feed. Lactating sows are put on full feed, and they tend to eat 4.5-6.4 kg (10-14 lb.) of sow feed per day.


Avoiding and treating health problems

The suggestions given here are for general purposes only. For specific advice, please contact your veterinarian.

Abnormal behaviour, including aggressive behaviour such as tail biting, is often a sign of overcrowding and/or boredom. Pigs on pasture and pigs that have the opportunity to root for food are far less likely to develop such behaviour than confined pigs. To avoid such problems, provide ample bedding for the pigs (such as deep straw) and sprinkle whole grains in the bedding every few days. This will keep the pigs busy. Increasing the amount of feeder space will also help, as will adding extra bulk to the diet (eg. hay).

Anemia can develop in young pigs that are deficient in iron. Symptoms begin within ten days after farrowing and become acute within 2-3 weeks. Providing Pig Perk (composted peat) or soil for the young pigs to root in, plus trace mineralized salt, will often treat and prevent mild cases of anemia. Providing supplemental iron may be necessary for acute cases.

Gastric ulcers often arise in stressful or overcrowded barns, and when the swine are eating high-energy diets. The use of high fibre, low energy diets, particularly oats, tends to reduce the incidence of gastric ulcers.

Leg problems can develop if the pigs are fed inadequate or unbalanced levels of calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D. These problems are not likely to develop if the pigs have a well-balanced diet.

Scours (diarrhea) is a common problem immediately after weaning. If untreated, scours can be fatal. To treat scours, reduce the amount of feed for 48 hours after the onset of symptoms and if possible provide a low protein feed. For example, if the pig has been eating hog starter, switch to hog grower; if the pig is already on hog grower or sow feed, add ground oats to the feed to reduce the protein level. Provide electrolytes (without antibiotics) to treat diarrhea. Follow the instructions on the package. Probiotics and vitamin C may also help.

Postweaning edema can be avoided by feeding newly weaned pigs frequent meals of small portions, rather than large meals. This allows their stomach to adapt to the new diet.

Worms (internal parasites) can be a problem if pigs are being raised on the same land year after year. Good sanitation, pasture rotation and keeping a small number of hogs will reduce the chance of worm problems developing. Some farmers feel that giving the pigs some milk or diatomaceous earth prevents worm problems.


Copyright © 2003 by Homestead Organics Ltd

All rights reserved. Printed in Canada. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.