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Questions and Answers

- continued - page 3

Hi. Two quick questions. I have already been texting with one of the men we work with in Honduras about "Natural Pig Farming" and it seems like it might be a harder sell then I expected. He told me that the pig waterer nipples are available in Honduras but hard to find and expensive. So, I've checked here in the states and there is a variety available from a couple bucks a piece up to $15. One of the big differences seems to be if the nipple has plastic in it or is all stainless steal. What do you use and do you think it matters? Also, I guess the NPF is more labor intensive and so the question is how many pigs can one person manage? I am committed to trying to bring NPF to Honduras as there are a lot of folks who raise a couple pigs but it might be that we have to stand up a demonstration system for people to see. I think it's too different for them to trust.One more quick question. One of the greatest struggles that most people I know with pigs have is keeping them in a pen. So, often they either just give up and let their pigs roam - not good because they are into everything, ear trash, get attacked by dogs, eaten by neighbors, etc. - or make a super strong pen, but your pens look sort of weak. What is your thoughts on this? Thanks for your help! Matt

Hi Matt. Re water nipples, I only have experience with the stainless steel variety which is all that is available here in Thailand where I live. They work fine and are robust.

The pigs aren’t that labour intensive if you have made the decision to raise pigs. Feed twice a day, check water then and mid day. Add Water to mud wallows the same time. Once a week turn the bedding with the excreta. That’s not much work or too time consuming for a farmer. Mixing the food 2 x a week is a bigger job but again if you’re raising pigs that is what you need to do. This is the biggest task especially if you are mixing in fresh greens. Pigs eat a lot of food and so if you want to limit this work you need to limit the number of pigs. For me 6 sows and a boar was a good number. If raising growers 10 pigs is fine, 20 pigs if you want to put in more effort. For other people, they may be able to raise more or less. Depends how much work they want to put into it.

But pigs do require some hard manual work. If people want to raise animals with minimal work, free range chicken and duck raising is far less work. They eat less. Feed 2 x a day, ensure water available, and let nature do the rest. Like pigs they’ll get through your kitchen scraps and uneaten food too. They forage, grow fat and provide eggs all for very little effort. The price per kg is often well in excess of pork too, and selling is easier, the locals in the village come to you for fresh meat. You can catch-slaughter to order. Have chicken/duck houses with a thin layer of deep bed material flooring – 3-4 inches. Dead simple and very satisfying as the animals are living very happy, natural lives.

Re enclosures, the system I use is adapted to my local environment. Pen materials, deep bed materials and the fencing are all available easily and cheaply here and we know how to use the wood materials for building. My fencing is good enough here – no pigs have escaped. Your challenge is to find a system and building material that fit your environment. Stronger fences can be built with wood.

If the concept of raising pigs in pens is difficult for people to grasp, then maybe consider a mid way option which gives the pigs the best of both worlds. Have a NPF deep bed pen but let the pigs roam free during the day. Feed first thing in the morning, again at night and let the pigs out to forage for themselves during the day. It’s what they are designed to do. It gives them interest and variety of tastes and textures, things they won’t get in confinement. It lets them eat what they want; they know best. They will come back at night if you confine them for a short time feeding every evening. Once they understand food is available they will return once they are free to roam. Call to them / make a sound that they can associate with food being served. Soon they will come on call.

Hope that helps. Regards, Mark Cunliffe

Hi. After writing my last email to you I thought I'd look again and did find this on watering: "To ensure clean water is available we use a pig nipple tap feeder system. This ensures the pigs get to drink fresh clean water. Feeding water via a trough is not so ideal as the water is likely to get soiled and dirty. We use a very basic system of feeding water through to the pig nipple. We have a plastic bin with a rubber hose or plastic pipe connecting to plastic piping. The water is topped up mornings and evenings." There was a picture and I could see the pig was standing in a little mud. So, one plastic pail is sufficient per sty? It seems like there would be a need for at least two nipples per sty... Any more explanation you can provide would be helpful! Thanks again for sharing your experience! Matt

Hello Matt. Thank you for your email and interest in the Natural Pig Farming way of raising pigs. Re your questions:

Water availability is essential. My pens are designed for 10 pigs or 2 sows (and baby offspring). I use one big plastic bin (not pail) to supply water (30 - 40 liter capacity). This size holds just sufficient water to ensure the water supplied remains fresh as it is drunk and is not held for days at a time. The bin is filled twice day and never left to become empty. This system works for me. Other people may prefer a bigger bin / container to hold water or have more than one bin. That’s also fine.

In terms of water nipples my pens have 3-4 to ensure all pigs have ready access to water and insurance against a nipple being disconnected. When raising finishers all nipples are at an appropriate height for the pig (we adjust height as they grow). Where we have a sow and baby piglets, one nipple in the pen is at sow height, the other lowered to baby piglet height. Nipples are checked regularly every visit to the pen to ensure they are functioning.

Re water and deep bed flooring. Nipples present no problem to the deep bed system in our hot climate. A bit of water on the bedding in less hot climate is not going to incapacitate the functioning of the flooring. We have nipples situated above our mud wallows so any water spillage wets the mud, but we also add many ‘buckets’ of water throughout the day to keep the mud wet and cool for the pigs.

All the best, Mark Cunliffe,

Hi. I am an expat living in Pakxan Laos with my Lao family. We are in the first year of our natural farming project. We have had our problems , but know that this is the only way to raise animals. Any suggestions about humane slaughtering would be appreciated. Chris

Hello Chris. Thank you for your email. I’m pleased to hear that you are using natural pig farming philosophy to raise your pigs and wish you all the best with your project. You ask about humane slaughter. It’s a good question. For me, there are two aspects to consider a) the stress placed on the pig pre-slaughter, and b) the actual killing. I live in Thailand as you may know, and we don’t have sophisticated methods or equipment. We use fairly primitive methods but I do believe humane ones.

Pre-slaughter stress: To me, this seems to be the major cause of distress for a pig. Getting it out of the sty, possibly trying to force it into a cage for transportation, being transported to where it is going to be slaughtered and the environment there. Minimizing stress in all these areas is key. To minimize this distress we slaughter our own pigs on site, out of doors. A lease (rope) is put around the pigs neck so it can’t run off, the gate of its pen is opened, it is encouraged to wander outside. We’ll often lay a trail of fresh greens to encourage this process. I prefer that to someone herding the pig from behind but sometimes both may need to be used. The key is that getting the pig to go outside is done in a quiet and low key way.

Slaughter: We hit the pig over the head from behind with a heavy piece of wood. This immediately stuns the pig, it collapses and is held down as a sticking knife is inserted into its neck artery. It bleeds out. No distress, no obvious pain. A clean and humane kill. That’s how we do it. As you are in Laos, I’m sure you will have local people who know how to kill pigs in this way, and are expert at it. Let them do it for you, look and learn.

I hope this information helps. Best regards, Mark Cunliffe,

Hi, with NPF what would you suggest for regions with extreme weather, 39C in summer and 0C in winter? Thanks.

Hello Catherine. Thank you for your email and interest in the natural pig farming way of raising pigs. You ask about NPF in extreme climates. Overall the NPF system I use will work very effectively in any climate. I’m located in North East Thailand. The weather in Thailand is generally hot and humid across most of the country throughout most of the year. While Thailand's seasons are generally divided into the hot season, cold season, and rainy season, in reality it's relatively hot most of the year.

The temperature you cite for hot weather is very close to what we have here during our hot season. If the 0 degrees for cold weather is an average then at times it will be slightly colder than the cold weather we get here during our cold season. The big change for a very cold climate would be the pen/sty design. You’ve seen the pens we use here in Thailand – open sided, which allows a cooling breeze to keep the pigs comfortable during most of the year plus a drop down curtain which is used when the colder weather comes in during November–January; it blocks wind chill and keeps any warmth generated by the pigs in the pen. In a climate with very cold weather you’ll going to need a pen design adapted to it depending how cold and severe the cold actually gets. If you use an open pen system like mine a good option could be to use straw block bales (protected by chicken fence wire to keep the pigs from nibbling them away) to build a more solid temporary wall around the pen. However if you have more extreme cold weather a more solid wall as part of your pen design may be a better option. 

Inside the pen (which you have now cold weather proofed) the pigs have a number of ways of keeping warm. 1) Lying together so they benefit from each other’s body warmth, 2) burrowing into the deep bed bedding, and 3) snuggling into a thick layer of loose straw that you should add to the pen in cold weather periods.

If you haven’t already read this Good Agricultural Practice: Pig Production report take a look, especially at the case studies which will show you various operational options that are used, the best of which you can adapt to your system and environment.

The use of deep straw on the flooring as shown in the case studies is a good additional way for your pigs to keep warm in a slightly cold climate.

It’s also worth taking a look at the free books links to gain insight into how pig were raised pigs in the USA, Canada and the U.K. and provide lots of useful tips and practical advice. The sty designs they feature, with building positioned to face the sun during the day and using high roof level windows to let the suns warmth enter is a very good natural system of warming up pens during the cold winter months. These windows can be opened during the warmer season to let warm air out and indeed a curtain blocking out the sun during the time would also work well.

I trust that helps. Best regards, Mark Cunliffe,

I really enjoy reading your website. Your practices and values are parallel to mine. I have a question for you. I have 3 gilts that will farrow in a few weeks. I currently have them in a barn where they sleep and they have a large lot outside to roam around in, wallow, drink and defecate. The area indoors is about 50 feet by 20 feet currently, but I can move a few fences and offer them 50 feet by 40 feet instead. I am wondering what the pig naturally wants when farrowing. Does she want privacy? Would she prefer a pen all to herself with her piglets or is sharing a space with 2 other gilts who will farrow at the same time cause stress on her? The 3 are litter mates so they are very comfortable with one another, but I realize a lot changes when they have babies. They have deep straw bedding that is very clean and they all sleep together. What are your thoughts on this situation? Thank you. Wendy

Hello Wendy. Thank you for your email. It’s good to hear how pig friendly your approach to raising pigs and that you have good roomy inside quarters and access to the outside. It sounds like a lovely environment for a pig to be raised in.

You ask about what a sow would naturally want to do when farrowing. These two pages on my website are worth looking at as they describe some of their behavior.

The key information regarding your questions is that in a natural environment 1-2 days before giving birth sow separates from her family group (other sows and gilts) She will:

Search for suitable site to make maternal nest

Build nest

  • Dig a hollow in the earth
  • Line nest with grass, leaves, twigs
  • Add larger branches to nest for side and overhead cover

A sow will naturally want to rejoin the family group with her litter within 1-2 weeks of giving birth.

In terms of your situation this would suggest creating a place where the sow can farrow without distraction from the other sows in her family group would be best. It suggest the sow wants some degree of privacy. In my own operation I simply fence off the sty so that the farrowing sow is in on half of the sty and the other sow/s are in the other. This keeps visual contact which I think is prudent in captive raising so that there are no issues when the sows (and piglets) are eventually allowed to mix freely again together. I also think the sow gets indirect support from the presence of the others as sows are very sisterly in the behavior. I separate the sows a good few days before farrowing is due to allow the sow to settle in. I provide additional rice hulls, twigs, and straw so she has the materials available for when the urge to build a nest strongly takes hold. This urge is strongest in the preceding 12 hours to actually giving birth to her piglets.

You ask whether you should allow all the sows to farrow together. I think this could be an option is such a settled family group you have but is not what a sow would naturally want to do. I have no direct experience of doing this but have had 2 sows in the same sty separated by a barrior farrowing within days of each other. I’ve had no issues of aggression in these situations and both sets of piglets and their mothers got on well. If this is your first experience of farrowing, and/or if this is also your sows first experience of farrowing, I think if I was you I would play it safe and separate the sows. You can then learn and make judgements from that experience for what you might want to do in future based on the farrowing and weaning behavior you observe.

If you want to expand and amend your indoor set up, and if you haven’t already seen the Good Agricultural Practice: Pig Production report on my Resources section, it may be worth read just to get some ideas of what other higher welfare pig producers do – see the case studies report.

I hope what I have said is of some help to you. I really wish you and your sow all the very best and hope everything goes smoothly in the farrowing process.

All the very best, Mark Cunliffe,

I wish I had found your site sooner but it is not too late. I just had a sow farrow yesterday. I moved her sow roomate out during farrowing. How long do I need to leave them apart before it is safe to return her roomate? What concerns will I have to the roomate and the piglets? Then when weaning time comes am I a correct to just move the litter of weaned pigs to another pen? Are connecting pens acceptable? Sorry if this seems like simple questions that I should have known but I have received ALOT of contradicting advice through this. Finding your site matches our belief of how we want to raise them and we had the basics set up along the same lines. Just need to fine tune things a little. Thank you in advance. Roe.

Hi Roe. Please see my responses to your questions below.

With my system the room mates are partitioned by a barrior where they continue to be able to see and have contact with each other so they are not totally isolated during any stage of farrowing - you'll see photographs of how we do this on my site. See photo at top of page:

The barrior is not taken down until the pigs have been weaned (6 weeks). During that time as the piglets grow and get more adventurous they will venture into the room mates side of the pen through the barrior. There has never been any problem with aggression from the room mate to this - actually the reverse. So, I don't believe there is a danger from other sows being in the same area as a mother sow if both sows have been companions for a long period of time and contact has been maintained. Your situation is different as is the environment that the sows have been raised in and this will have an effect on their temperament and possible reactions to the room mate coming back. The amount of space available in your pen could also be an issue. Sows are highly protective of their young and if the room mate is seen as a threat there may be some serious aggression on the reintroduction. So, you are going to have to be very careful with reintroducing the room mate to the same pen as the sow and her piglets. The best way would be to initially partition the pen (as I do) to allow a staged reintroduction over a few days, making good judgement decisions on the safety of doing so. But any reintroduction will be a calculated risk on your part. In future using a partition barrior like I do would be the best approach to ensure harmony and no issues in future.

What concerns will I have to the room mate and the piglets?

See above.

Then when weaning time comes am I a correct to just move the litter of weaned pigs to another pen?

This is what is generally done. I separate after 5-6 weeks depending on the condition of the sow and her piglets. The sows weight will have gone from high to low during the weaning process and I judge it better for the sows health to separate the piglets from her at this stage. 

Are connecting pens acceptable?

Yes, but the piglets will continue to suckle if they have access even when they are eating solid food. So it's a decision on whether you want them to be able to do this or not. Pens where visible contact is possible would be an option.

Sorry if this seems like simple questions that I should have known but I have received ALOT of contradicting advice through this. Finding your site matches our belief of how we want to raise them and we had the basics set up along the same lines. Just need to fine tune things a little. Thank you in advance.

Best regards, Mark Cunliffe, Natural Pig Farming

Hi! You guys have a great website! I wish we found you guys before we built are barn. We are just getting started raising pigs and I have found your website very helpful. I live on Vancouver Island in Canada and I don't really have access to large amount of peanut shells or rice husks for the deep bed pens. I was wondering if you know of other bedding material that would work? Right now we have concrete floors in the stalls and a large outdoor area for them. the floor is graded so it drains but I really don't like this system and I would love to switch to the deep bed system. Thanks for all the information, Cheers, Dylan.

Hello Dylan. Thank you for your email and interest in the natural pig farming way of raising pigs. Re other deep bed materials you could use other than rice hulls or peanuts shells; these include a mixture of short cut straw, wood shavings, sawdust, spent mushroom compost and peat. I haven’t personally tried using these materials so can’t vouch for how well they work. If you do try using them it may be prudent to try in one sty initially and see how it goes.

These report (links given below) may be of interest and help to you if you haven’t read them yet. They are in my Resources section of the website. They look at Good Agricultural Practice for Pig Production. The report features extensive case studies of different systems – it includes examples of straw floor and deep litter systems as well as systems for raising pigs outdoors. You may find some useful ideas here for your existing system of raising pigs.

I hope this helps. All the best with your plans and aspirations.

Best regards, Mark Cunliffe,

Hello, my name is Ed and we are looking into farming pigs but in an organic manor. What I am trying to find out is what kind of feed do I need to offer outside of the free range vegetation that will be available. we do have 5 organic gardens that they will be able to have scraps from. My main concern is trying to stay away from corn and soy based grain feed. Thank you

Hello Ed. Thank you for your interest in natural pig farming and your question. I can only give a broad answer to the question.

Pigs will eat just about any green vegetation and I personally believe that pigs enjoy being able to eat a wide variety of feed greens. Some greens and root crops are more nutritious than others but all will help supplement your pig diet. Root crops should be considered as they can provide good stomach fill and nutrition to add to any more lighter green feeding. Supplementing a ‘greens’ diet with formulated powder/ pellet’s is often done to ensure good growth so you may want to consider this.

My experience is with natural vegetation that grows around my farm in Thailand. I have no experience with other feeds in western countries. To find out more about suitable feeds I recommend you look at the free book links I have given in my Resources section of my website. These books give details of what farmers raising pigs on grassland and outdoors used to give pigs to eat prior to the emergence of factory farming and processed powder feeds.

The website links page may also guide you to some websites that offer more information on feeding pigs using natural feed stuffs.

I hope that helps.Best regards, Mark Cunliffe,

Am interested in changing my concrete floored pig house into the IMO type, Kindly advise, how i can do so without digging up the floor, or i have to do away with the whole house and build another but the expense again. then i live in a typical rural setting where i cant get rice or peanut husks, but i can get saw dust from my local capentry store, i can get soil, and those local materials, like sow dung( what are banana sprouts)? kindly give me a step by step of how i can fill up the hole, isnt saw dust dangerous to pigs when eaten? After how long do these pigs start eating their own fecal matter? and is it not dangerous for them.? i see this can save up on a lot of feed cost.Regards, Martha.

Hello Martha. Thank you for your interest in my website and the natural pig farming way of raising pigs. You’ve asked a few questions which I will attempt to answer.

Am interested in changing my concrete floored pig house into the IMO type, Kindly advise, how i can do so without digging up the floor, or i have to do away with the whole house and build another but the expense again.

I was taught that or IMO’S to flourish the deep bed floor needs to be in contact with soil / earth. That means you need to dig up the concrete to have a fully functional flooring. If you don’t want to dig up your concrete floor you could try to put a deep layer of sawdust on top of the concrete and see how you get on. Do one sty and monitor the results. You most probably won’t get the same results as a proper deep bed flooring but it may be functional. You may have to manually remove some of the fecal matter on a regular basis and maybe change the flooring material every 3-6 months. But it would be a more natural floor surface for the pigs. Alternatively, consider giving your pigs outside access from their pen and make this area a deep bed area.

Kindly give me a step by step of how i can fill up the hole, isnt saw dust dangerous to pigs when eaten?

The step by step guide on building a deep bed sty is given on the How to? Page of my website:

I don’t think your pigs will eat saw dust although I have no direct experience as we use rice husks as the main ‘ingredient’ in our deep bedding mix. If they eat a little quantity of saw dust though I doubt it will do harm. Pigs have very robust digestion systems and in a natural environment will eat a variety of things we wouldn’t consider they would eat – dirt, twigs etc. they are generally good judges of what they can eat and what they would want to eat. The saw dust you use should not be too fine (i.e. not powder) or too coarse.

After how long do these pigs start eating their own fecal matter? and is it not dangerous for them. i see this can save up on a lot of feed cost.

Your pigs should not and will not be eating their own fecal matter. If they eat the floor bedding it will be when the fecal matter has been broken down by IMO activity and made into something more palatable. Adding a small quantity of red soil (as per my pig feed mix) will save cost, but the major cost saving is feeding the pigs fresh greens. Experiment. See what natural vegetation that grows in your area they will eat. Grass, certain leaves, banana tree stems, vegetation that grows in water. They will eat and enjoy such a wide variety of fresh greens.

I trust this helps you. Regards, Mark Cunliffe,

I was researching true free range pig farming and I came across your site. I am working with a group of investors workin on a project to raise various meats free range but in large scale. With pigs we are looking to open several farms in different areas of the country and in Europe. I was hoping you can direct me to some unbiased information on the free range topic. I have been researching free range and old world farming methods for a couple years and it seems the whole agricultural industry mindset is free range is nonsense and true profit can only be made by increasing the ratio of animal to acre. I find it nothing but gimmicks. Some of the questions would be separation of the different ages? Rounding up? Use of supplements? How are they administered? What is the best climate for pigs? Sheltering? I would appreciate any information you might have .Thanking you in advance. Sean

Hello Sean. Thank you for your enquiry. As you may have seen from my website I am quite a strong advocate of free range although there are issues re welfare that need to have attention paid to it. I certainly prefer free range to any system of captive/ pen system so it’s good to hear that you are looking to develop a free range system for your pig raising plans. I’m not an expert n free range as my practical experience is with the natural farming system but I will endeavor to give you some steer on answering your questions.

For free range information please look at my Resources page..

I would suggest you contact the websites below in particular and ask for information and people contacts / farms where free range is being carried out. I think you’ll really benefit from talking to experienced farmers raising free range pigs and seeing how they run their operation so hopefully these website will be able to give you some good contacts.

These are books written by people who used traditional methods of raising pigs before factory farming systems of raising pigs existed. Many used free range elements in their operation. The books give good practical advice on how to raise pigs in a free range systems base on years of accumulated knowledge, much it now lost bar these books. What they say about grassland management and grass mixes may well be of interest to you.

Re your specific questions:

Separation of different ages: I don’t believe you need to separate pigs of different ages. If you keep pigs in ‘family’ groups an established heirarchy is preserved and there are no issues with pig groupings of different ages.

Rounding up: If you establish feeding routines that require the pigs to come to you in a particular place pigs can be assembled without any big issues. A routine that requires pigs to sleep in sties at night also enables trouble free assembly.

Best climate for pigs: A European climate is very good for most of the year. Winter will require provision of shelters that insulate form the cold. Shade provision from hot sunshine during summer should also be available either via trees or some basic roofing shelters. I would suggest you consider raising pig breeds that are more robust than the factory farm white pig - e.g. a Berkshire is proven to do well in outdoor systems. There are other good breeds too that do well in a free range environment.

  • Align Justify

Sheltering: Can be very simple and basic for most of the year but winter needs special attention to ensure the pigs are kept warm. Hoop shelters either small or large size are a good option. See the Pioneering pig book pdf link In our Resources - Free Books web page to see just how simple can be.

Use of supplements: Yes, supplementing free range grazing with pellet feed is a good idea. Worming medication – can do via drinking water. Anything that requires injection is unnecessary bar the initial immune shot you give newly born piglets.

Okay, I hope that helps. All the best with your plans. Mark Cunliffe,