Production Guide

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Hog producers may choose from multiple production models. These three are typical:

  1. Farrow-to-wean operations raise piglets until they weigh 7 pounds to 10 pounds.
  2. Farrow-to-feeder operations raise piglets until finishing time.
  3. Feeder-to-finish operations feed 30- to 60-pound feeder pigs until they are finished.
  4. Farrow-to-finish operations care for pigs at all growth stages — from the piglet phase through the feeder pig stage to finishing a market-ready hog.

This publication focuses on farrow-to-finish production, which requires farms to breed and tend to sows and care for young pigs as they mature, in a pasture-based system. Markets for pasture-raised hogs include direct-to-consumer sales and processors willing to pay for a premium product.


When operating an outdoor farrow-to-finish farm, producers may stock animals in pastures or wooded areas. A site should have equipment for feeding, watering and cooling animals. It also must offer shelter because hogs don’t tolerate temperature extremes well. Shelters, such as hoop structures, huts, barns or sheds, must protect animals from sun and wind, stand up to wear and tear and be well-ventilated. Those used for farrowing must have bedding and enough space to avoid sows crushing piglets. Sites with good drainage can reduce muddiness.

In terms of stocking, rates often range from four to six gestating sows per acre and 10 to 12 growing hogs per acre. However, if pigs occupy one pasture too long, then they may compact the soil, cause erosion by rooting, form wallows, harm trees, stress forage and overload soil with nutrients from their manure. To best manage pastures, rotate animals from pasture to pasture. As a general rule, rotate pigs when they have used half of the forage available in a pasture.

When designing a rotational pasture layout, consider how to best provide the needed shelter, water and feed in each paddock area. Fences — often constructed of woven wire, hog panels, hot wire or electric netting — must be in good condition to keep animals in place.


Conventional hog producers feed a grain- and oilseed-based diet made predominantly of corn, soybean meal and mineral supplements. Pasture-based production adds forage to the diet, but pasture-raised hogs will still require a complete feed. The forage alone likely will not meet an animal’s energy, protein and amino acid needs, and older hogs digest forages better than younger hogs. Ideally, pastures will include high-protein forage and grass. Alfalfa and clovers are popular perennial plants used in hog pastures. Possible annuals include wheat, annual ryegrass, crimson clover, triticale and soybean. Verify pastures lack poisonous plant species.

Hogs require adequate water, or feed consumption may decline. Typically, rural or well water works best. Pigs often wallow near water sources. A watering system may reduce water waste.

Animal Selection and Care  

You’ll want to consider animal performance and appearance when selecting the breed of pigs to raise. Important performance criteria include litter size, birth weight, gain and meat quality. When evaluating how an animal looks, factors such as muscling and structural correctness are important. By breed, pig characteristics vary. Breeds that do well outdoors and produce high-quality meat include Berkshire, Chester White and Duroc.

Hogs have a year-round breeding season. Some hog farms choose to follow continuous operations, meaning breeding and farrowing take place without breaks. Batch operations breed and farrow hogs at defined intervals in groups. Farrowing during fair weather could lead to reduced piglet mortality, so farrowing may be timed accordingly. To breed sows, producers may use pen mating where the boar and sows are held in the same pen, hand mating where one boar and one sow are held in the same pen or artificial insemination.

Parasites, which can cause diseases, present particular concern when a farm raises pigs outside. Administering broad-spectrum dewormers, rotating pastures and minimizing contact with other animals that may carry parasites are control measures. Care also involves vaccinating and castrating animals, clipping teeth, docking tails and removing tusks.


Bullen, Gary, Derek Washburn, Matthew Ernst, Lara Worden, Silvana Pietrosemoli, Morgan Watts and Sara Drake. Pastured Pork for Small Farms in North Carolina. North Carolina State Extension.

Coffey, Linda. Hogs: Pastured or Forested Production. National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Cornell Small Farms Program and Department of Animal Science. Raising Pastured Pigs. Cornell University Cooperative Extension.

Hadfield, Jacob, Jessie Hadfield, Josh Dallin and Lorie Millward. Pasture Pig Basics. Utah State University and Thanksgiving Point Institute.

Hines, Elizabeth. So You Want to Raise Hogs? PennState Extension.

Hines, Elizabeth and Abigail Loucks. Swine Reproductive Herd Management. PennState Extension.

Linneen, Sarah K., Robert Mikesell, Lynn F. Kime and Jayson K. Harper. Swine Production. PennState Extension.