COVID-19 has disrupted pig harvest at commercial packing plants in the spring of 2020. Pig farmers are offering live pigs at or near market weight to neighbors, consumers, and community members at very low prices. Consumers that purchase live pigs are arranging harvest and processing at local meat lockers. Due to great demand on meat locker services, consumers may need to wait several days to several weeks before pigs can be harvested. During this wait, consumers will need to care for heavy pigs to maintain pig welfare, control pig growth to prevent them from getting too big, and preserve pork quality. Below are some tips to achieve these objectives assuming pigs weigh at least 240 lbs.
- Commercial diets: The best solution is to purchase a complete swine finisher diet from the local feedmill designed for pigs weighing greater than 240 lbs. This diet will provide all the required nutrients for pigs. Be aware that pigs allowed free access to this feed may grow too large before harvest. Pig growth can be controlled by limiting feed intake to between 3.5 and 4.0 lb per pig daily.
- Low energy diets: Limiting feed intake may make pigs irritable which could encourage tail-biting and other damaging vices. Providing free-choice forage (alfalfa hay or haylage or corn silage) along with a controlled allotment of commercial diet will make pigs more content. Be sure to offer good quality forage (not moldy) and stop feeding forage at least 12 hours before harvesting pigs.
- Corn only diets: Feeding only ground or whole shelled corn will maintain pigs for a short period of time but the diet will be woefully inadequate in minerals and vitamins. A corn-only diet should not be fed for more than 7 days. Do not use vitamin/mineral supplements designed for cattle that contain ionophores such as Rumensin or Lasalocid as these are not approved for feeding pigs.
- Amount of feed: Market-ready pigs can consume up to 7 lbs of feed daily if allowed continuous access to feed. Pigs close to market weight will require about 3 lbs of feed per pound of weight gain. So, pigs will eat about 30 lbs of feed for every 10 pounds of weight gain. These estimates can be used to calculate how much feed one should purchase.
- Food waste: Human food waste can be fed to pigs but one must realize that there are specific guidelines and regulations on this practice if pigs are harvested for uses other than personal consumption.
- Feed storage: If only a few pigs are being managed, purchasing bagged feed is likely the easiest approach but it will be a bit more expensive than purchasing bulk feed. However, if a larger number of pigs are managed, bulk feed deliveries will be more economical. Bulk feed will require a storage bin or receptacle. Typical swine feed has a bulk density of 37 lbs/cubic foot. So, one ton (2,000 lbs) will occupy 54 cubic feet. If a bulk bin or clean tank are not available, a temporary bin constructed of plywood situated on the ground can be effective temporary storage. A bin measuring 4 ft by 4 ft by 4 ft is required to store one ton of feed. Be sure to cover the bin to keep birds, cats, and other vermin out of the feed and to keep the feed dry.
- Feed delivery: Standard pig feeders are best to control feed wastage and provide ready access to feed for pigs. If pig feeders are not available or limiting feed intake is desired, pigs can be fed in rubber tubs or troughs, or on a concrete floor. Particularly in limit-feeding situations, be sure there is ample room for ALL pigs to have access to feed at the same time.
- Waterers: Pigs must have water readily available at all times. A rule of thumb is that pigs require three times more water than dry feed. Water can be supplied with a “hog waterer” tank or a nipple drinker connected to a garden hose. Be sure the water supply line is shaded so that water does not get excessively hot while in the supply line.
- Penning: Be sure penning and gating are durable. Pigs, especially heavy market pigs, can be very destructive to fencing and gates that are not securely constructed and installed.
- Handling: Be sure to use solid stockboards or gates to move pigs to and from the truck. Handle pigs gently to keep them calm because they will move easier and meat quality will be preserved. Hot summer days make pigs more difficult to move. Consider cooler mornings or evenings to transport pigs to the locker. The Pork Information Gateway offers useful pig handling guidance.
- Housing: Pigs need to have a dry, draft-free space to lie down. Floors can be solid concrete, slotted concrete, or dirt. On dirt floors, remember that pigs will root the soil and may undermine gating. With solid floors, use of straw bedding will increase comfort of pigs. Provide shade for pigs, especially white pigs as they can sunburn severely very quickly.
- Space allowance: Pigs require more floor space as they grow. A pig weighing 240 lbs requires 8 square feet per pig as a bare minimum. Once the pig reaches 300 lbs body weight, it will need at least 9.25 square feet. When pigs are housed on solid floors, these space allowances should be increased.
Biosecurity and health:
- Avoid mixing sources and ages of pigs because this may increase disease transmission and aggression among pigs.
- Keep your group of pigs closed to visitors that have contact with pigs.
- If pigs are to be raised for more than 21 days, consult a local veterinarian for an appropriate deworming and vaccination plan.
By: Lee Johnston, swine Extension specialist, Pedro Urriola, swine associate professor and Sarah Schieck Boelke, swine Extension educator.