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.
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.
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.
SLE Cladding, providers of inexpensive pig ark sheets – probably the easiest way to build your own pig house