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Traditional Pig Pens

Updated on April 13, 2015

There is a lot of concern these days about keeping sows in small gestation and farrowing crates, and raising piglets in bare pens with slatted concrete floors. So how were pigs raised before these modern methods?

The Pen

Because pigs root the ground they tend to be very destructive and tear up crops, gardens and lawns. They can also become quite aggressive and dangerous to young children. For this reason they were generally kept in a stout pen fenced around with a wood or metal fence.

Because of how they root the ground the area in the pen is quickly reduced to bare dirt. To avoid it from getting too treacherously muddy farmers would often lay down straw or wood chips so that it packed down into a hard mud base.

Note: large outdoor area packed with wood-chips or shavings.
Note: large outdoor area packed with wood-chips or shavings.

A large pen allows the pigs to lie on their sides together. This allows them to feel fully relaxed and confident that they are protected by the presence of other pigs.

A good pen would also have a wet pool or wallow. Because pigs do not sweat they need water to cool themselves with in hot weather. And a layer of mud can protect against sun burn.

You can tell the pigs are comfortable with the boy as they stay lying on their sides when he is nearby.
You can tell the pigs are comfortable with the boy as they stay lying on their sides when he is nearby.

The Shelter

Within the pen there would be a shelter made of wood or stone. This structure would provide the animals with shade and be filled with straw or other bedding, so the pigs could keep warm n cold weather.

A pregnant sow would normally be kept alone so that she could give birth to her little in the shelter without being disturbed, although sometimes small groups of sows can be kept together.

The shelter for the sow and piglets can be seen in the top left of this picture.
The shelter for the sow and piglets can be seen in the top left of this picture.

The Pigs

Before farming became more centralized, there were breeds of pig specific to different areas that were adapted to the conditions in that area. Unlike modern pigs they came a range of shapes, sizes and colors, including this pig that is "belted" (brown or black with a white band around the body).

Pasture

When sufficient land was available pigs could be kept on pasture and get a lot of their nutrition from grazing.

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