Wild pigs live amongst bushes and the roots of trees, but they quickly find sunny, sheltered dips in the ground to sleep in. Research shows that domesticated pigs do best if they can live outside with access to greens, but have a sheltered indoor sleeping area. Kept like this, pigs don’t usually dung or urinate where they sleep, so cleaning out their old bedding (usually straw) is never unpleasant.
Benefits of pig houses
Pigs are hardy animals, and domesticated pigs sometimes copy their wild cousins by sleeping out under the stars even when it’s quite cold: provided they can get a bit of shelter and huddle together for warmth, they’re fine. If you’re just raising weaners over the summer, this means that you can usually cobble together a shelter using whatever you have to hand. If you’re carrying pigs through the winter, though, or plan to have pigs year after year, it will be worthwhile providing more robust housing. Pigs spend a lot of energy just keeping warm in winter, so having a snug shelter means lower food bills as well as happier, bigger pigs.
Features in an ideal pig house
- Strong: Pigs grow to be big, vigorous creatures that like to scratch themselves up against things, chew on things, and dig up flooring when they can. They also don’t know their own strength! Although existing shedding can be very handy for keeping pigs, check it out from the point of view of a piggy vandal or you may find it doesn’t last long.
- Cosy: Pigs like good ventilation but hate a draught as much as humans do. A good pig house has high vents that let air in and reduce condensation (the bane of metal-roofed houses), but won’t let the wind chill young porkers.
- Snug: Provided you provide deep straw bedding, your hogs will huddle together when it’s cold. Provided it stays dry in there, low temperatures are not a problem.
- Raised: The base of wooden-framed pig houses eventually rot, even if the wood has been pressure treated. You can get round this by placing it on top of wooden ‘skids’ (some commercial pig houses are supplied with them) or concrete fence posts to keep it off the ground.
Choosing a spot for a pig house
- Never put a pig house on wet or muddy ground. Pigs are perpetually digging and love to wallow, but living in chest-deep mud all the time is not good for them. Always site your pig house on light, free-draining soil if you can: if not, consider providing an area of hard standing. If you’re doing this, the concrete needs to be at least 10cm thick or the pigs will find the weak spots and grub the whole lot up.
- Always choose a spot that is sheltered and shaded. Pigs have trouble regulating their body temperature, so don’t leave them in strong wind or direct sun. Under trees is ideal – but don’t let them forage under the trees for long, because they’ll quickly destroy the roots.
- Remember that you’re going to have to rotate the land that the pigs are on. Unless they have a very large area to free range in, the constant digging gradually turns everything into a quagmire. This means that you’ll have to drag or dismantle the house (and some of them are seriously heavy), or choose one with a door at each end and mount it on the fence line between two pens (the smart option, but not always practical).
- Think about how you’re going to get the pigs in and out. A weaner is (comparatively) easy to carry, but they don’t stay that size forever. Being able to get a trailer in close is pretty much essential when it comes to moving them once they’re grown.
Types of bedding
Straw is by far the most commonly used bedding option for pigs, but there are different kinds of it – do ask when you’re buying. The ideal bedding material should be comfortable to lie on, non-abrasive, non-slippery, highly absorbent and have low levels of environmental bacteria and mycotoxin contamination. Wheat straw is the most commonly used, but isn’t ideal – it’s rough and brittle, and not particularly absorbent. Barley straw is softer and has very little dust (you’ll see why that matters the first time you have to sweep out the house!) but doesn’t absorb well so gets mucky quickly. Oat straw is soft and absorbent, but expensive because it is used as feed for cattle and horses.
Sweep the old bedding out of the house about every four weeks. Because pigs don’t usually dung or urinate in their housing this is not an unpleasant job, although it can be dusty in dry weather so wear a hat. The old straw can be left in front of the house, where the pigs will quickly tread it down into the soil where it helps to stop things turning into a mud bath. In fact, the hardest thing about sweeping the house out is usually stopping your overenthusiastic pigs from knocking you over in their haste to ‘help’!
Animal Arks offer a variety of types of pig house as part of their wide range of housing and field shelters.
Pig Paradise Farm are specialists and supply quality traditional outdoor wooden arks. The farm, run by the hugely experienced Tony York, also runs a highly-regarded one day pig-keeping course, supplies rare-breed pigs and offers a butchery service.
Emma’s Pigs provides wooden outdoor arks and runs courses in pig keeping and pig butchery.
Do It Yourself pig house plans
SLE Cladding, providers of inexpensive pig ark sheets – probably the easiest way to build your own pig house