If you use commercial pig feed, your feed bill can make up around 80% of the running costs of raising weaners. You can keep the cost down by supplementing with other ingredients such as thinnings or trimmings from fruit and vegetables. Pigs really appreciate variety in their diets, and will tell you so very noisily.
Because pig feed is such a major expense, it is vitally important to choose the right feeds to allow your weaners to grow quickly without putting on too much fat. Pigs need different balances of nutrients at different stages in their development, and getting things right throughout takes knowledge and experience. Commercially blended feeds do much of the hard work for you, but are expensive. Another option is to blend your own pig feeds, but this means learning more about pig nutrition from resources such as The Pig Site.
Feeds come balanced for different needs, and for weaners they fall broadly into three stages. Starter rations (sometimes known as ‘creep feeds’) are suitable for all breeds from 5 to 15 weeks. After this the weaners move onto grower rations, which have lower protein and energy content, and finally onto finisher rations. Just to complicate matters there is no standard way of naming pig feeds and no agreed age bands: some manufacturers smudge them into two feeds (starter/grower and grower/finisher) while others split them into four.
The costs of pig feed vary widely between manufacturers, but buying locally will probably save on delivery costs and you’ll be supporting a local business into the bargain. Plus, you’ll have an experienced ally who’ll be more than happy to advise you if you hit a snag. Check feed manufacturer’s descriptions to see the weight range each feed is formulated for. Pig feed is sold in different forms described as pellets, pencils, rolls, cakes, nuts and so on. These are just descriptions of how the mix has been shaped, and nothing to do with the nutrient content. You can choose whichever you prefer to handle, but larger forms such as cakes or rolls tend to be better for damp weather outdoors.
Sows kept for breeding have very different nutritional needs, as do dwarf and pot-bellied pigs. Many manufacturers offer specially blended feeds for these.
The daily ration of pig feed should be split into two meals. Pigs prefer their feed wet, so adding water or surplus milk to their feed will be appreciated, as long as the milk has not entered the kitchen. It may be tempting to allow your pigs to eat as much as they like, but the appetite of pigs is legendary and this is likely to lead to too much fat being laid down. This can be a serious problem, with 15cm (6″) of back fat reported by one smallholder we spoke to. Commercial pig feeds usually have guidelines printed on the bag (typically 450g (1lb) of food for each month of age up to a maximum of 2700g (6lb) a day) but remember that supplementing the diet and allowing the pigs to range will reduce the amount needed. For pigs that free range or are offered lots of veg, put down enough commercial feed as they can eat in fifteen minutes. If there is still some left, feed a little less the next day: if they run out sooner, a little more. You can offer unlimited amounts of vegetable material once the commercial pig feed is gone.
Pigs are strong and boisterous animals with a well-developed sense of humour, and will be so eager to get their feed from you that they may knock you over when they get big enough. If you can, position the feeding trough where you can fill it from the other side of a (strong!) fence. If not, throw a generous handful of feed into the enclosure as you enter it. The pigs should leave you alone for long enough to eat it – repeat as necessary to cover your approach to the trough.
If you have three or more pigs there may be a scrum at the trough, and smaller or weaker animals may not get access to the food they need. If this is the case, adding a second trough and splitting the food between the two will solve the problem.
Wild pigs are omnivorous animals that forage, primarily eating leaves, grass, roots, fruits, flowers, brambles, acorns, earthworms and just about anything else they can find. Pigs with access to plenty of land will eat all sorts of things, and this will reduce your pig feed bill considerably. They love digging, and if they are turned out into an area that has been used for a crop like potatoes or Jerusalem artichokes they will enjoy rooting out every last tuber for you, leaving the area nicely dug and manured. In fact this ‘pig tractoring’ is a great way to bring overgrown land into production.
If you have the space to grow enough, pigs can be fed generous amounts of root vegetables such as carrots, mangels, rutabaga, turnips, swedes and beets as staples to reduce feed bills. You don’t have to wash or peel them, but they should be roughly chopped to make them easier to eat. You can also feed the pigs potatoes, but these should be cooked first. Green potatoes are poisonous for pigs, as they are for humans, and parsnip leaves can cause blistering around the snout. Chard, spinach and beet leaves should only be given in small amounts.
It used to be common practice to collect food waste in a bucket in the kitchen, and then cook it overnight using the residual heat of the kitchen range. The bucket would have taken things such as vegetable trimmings and peelings, meat scraps, stale bread and whatever else was coming from the kitchen, moistened with a little water or surplus milk. In the morning the still-steaming bucket was emptied into the pigs’ trough, and anyone who has done this will tell you it was probably the highlight of the pigs’ day.
However following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in the UK in 2001, it is now illegal to feed catering waste to any farmed animals. ‘Catering waste’ includes anything that has been through a domestic kitchen, ending the days of the swill bucket. You can still feed peelings and trimmings to your animals, but only if they have not been through the kitchen. Many homesteaders have opted to trim and peel their vegetables on a porch or in an outbuilding so that the pigs don’t have to lose out.
Feeding swill is also banned throughout Europe and Australia, and in some states of the US. In other areas there are regulations governing what can be included in swill and how it should be cooked: check with your local agricultural standards agency.