Hog Farming 101

Space for Swine

Pig Pen Size

Last week a commenter left a good question on our 6 Rules for New Pig Farmers post. So good, in fact, I thought it warranted a response in blog post form.

And since we’re currently in the process of expanding and adjusting our own pen infrastructure Chris’s question — “I was wondering what your recommendations for pen sizes?? And how much room do pigs need??” — really couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

The best pen size for rearing pigs outdoors largely depends on four things: the number of pigs you’re raising in the pen, the shape of the pen, the footing in the pen, and the size/life stage of the pigs.

Contrary as it may seem, the more pigs you’re raising in a pen the less space they need per pig — at least to a point. This is because pigs tend to congregate together. At any given moment in time a large group of pigs in a medium sized pen will tend to use a smaller percentage of the pen than a small group of pigs in a small pen. When bedding down, for instance, pigs will virtually always choose to lay next to one another. This is especially true in cool and cold weather but rings true even in hot weather so long as shade and a wallow (or mister) are provided (and they absolutely should be.)

Generally, in a pen of any size pigs will have a sleeping area just large enough to accommodate the group, an eating area (wherever you choose to deliver their feed/water), and a urinating/defecating area (they mostly do this in one area of the pen naturally.) The remainder of the pen will be used for traveling from one area to another, exercise, and entertainment. Since all pigs will not be doing these final activities at the exact same time the larger the overall space for them the more pigs per square foot that can be accommodated. Whereas in a small pen the basic sleeping, eating, and bathroom areas encroach on the overall space to such a greater extent that fewer pigs can be accommodated per square foot of the remaining area.

I recommend beginning with the following stocking densities per group size and then adjusting the square footage allotments up or down according to the rest of the criteria described below.

Group Size
Sq. Ft. per Pig





In virtually any group and pen size square pens are usually the best use of space. While rectangular pens can be used, and often are, they increase the amount of space needed per pig in order to avoid undue stress which can affect pig performance. In this case pig psychology plays a lead role in stocking density decisions. A long, skinny pen encompassing the same area as a square pen shouldn’t be filled as densely because it makes it harder for submissive animals to avoid dominant ones that may pick on them or push them around, especially when traveling from one area of the pen to another. Sometimes it even forces those submissive animals to cross paths with the dominant animals directly or results in them being trapped in corners. This can be an incredible mental stressor for the submissive pigs and may even result in injury and/or poor carcass quality in the case of pigs who were physically abused by their dominant pen mates close to market time. Even where physical confrontation does not occur stressed pigs do not perform as well as their calmer counterparts; they can require more feed per pound of meat produced and be more susceptible to illness. If your pens are rectangular rather than square allow more space.

Likewise, the footing in pens can allow for either lighter or heavier stocking density in pen rearing systems. Pens with footing that drains very well — such as gravel or sand — can accommodate more pigs than pens with footing that drains poorly or moderately — such as clay or heavy topsoil.* Because of the way pigs are built each of their pointy hooves bears an incredible amount of weight. This isn’t a problem in dry environments, but can quickly result in deep, soupy mud in wet conditions. Aside from being miserable to work in, mud in times of wet weather is not the pigs’ favorite environment, can result in feed wastage, and can contribute to illness and injury.

And last, but not least, the size and life stage of the pigs makes a big difference in how much space they need. Forty pound feeder pigs require considerably less space per pig than two hundred and sixty pound market-ready hogs, for instance. For growing pigs for pork in either backyard or niche setups I would recommend designing pen sizes to accommodate the largest size of pig or hog you’ll be raising. The exception to this would be farrowing and nursery accommodations on farrow to finish operations. Sows have different needs during and directly following farrowing than mature hogs of the same size. You’ll either want to design these facilities separate from the growing and dry sow/gestation facilities to avoid either having to vastly over accommodate the sows during the farrowing period or struggle with providing appropriate rations amongst other pigs. (More on where we stand on this in a soon-to-be-published post, I promise.) Similarly, nursery pigs require such vastly different (and more intensive) care than their older counterparts you’ll probably want facilities designed specifically for them, this may be within your growing facilities or completely separate, but the space allotment can certainly be an independent consideration and those facilities can be much smaller per pig than any others. (More on this later, too. Also, promise.)

I know it’s a lot to take in all at once, and I wish I could give you a hard and fast answer, but I’m afraid there’s very little hard and fast about it. Every operation is unique and, therefore, will have unique stock density needs and requirements. Instead, I’ll leave you with just a few points of advice:

1) Do not underestimate a pig’s ability to destroy ground, especially with the making of mud.
2) Err on the side of over accommodation, you can always add more pigs to your pens. It’s much harder (and more expensive) to build new pens. On this I speak from experience.
And 3) Consider everything from the pig’s perspective. Don’t just look at the size of the pen, look at the way the gate opens relative to obstacles and the planned route of loading pigs out onto trucks and into other pens or pastures, pay attention to changes in the ground structure (pigs have poor eyesight and often balk at ground coverings they don’t recognize), consider wind direction when placing shelters, sun source both for hot months (when you’ll want to block it) and cold ones (when you’ll want to capitalize on its light and warmth), and so on and so forth.

*Concrete pens can alleviate the mud/footing consideration entirely, but presents its own host of issues. It holds heat during the summer months, increasing the need for cooling measures to avoid overheating hogs, and can result in joint injuries, illness, and lameness.

19 comments to “Space for Swine”

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  1. We are building pig pens for 4-H . . . they are large pens with concrete floors. What do you like best for the floors and extra in the sleeping area . . straw, shavings or pellets? We will have 6 – 75 pound pigs to start and then spread them out to 3 pens. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Ellen

      I prefer straw. It’s more economical here than shavings and just as comfortable. Pellets are very handy for wet areas — especially whichever corner they choose to use as their restroom — but otherwise just don’t seem to provide as much comfort to me.

  2. It is funny how you only think about one type of owner in wrighting this. I have show pigs that are in 6×10 pens with ample room, but i guess it all depends on how much you decide to work with the animals. Also all of my pens are located on concrete floors, 1. learn that concrete, if in shade, WILL stay cooler than the ground, 2. if shavings are provided deep enough NO feet and legs problems will occur. And finnally all pigs in the end go to market so saing “growing pigs for pork” is just making yourself sound incompetent! Have a great day.

    • Liv:

      Welcome! People with poor reading comprehension and an affinity for taking personal offense to random articles on the internet are some of my favorite people; I’m glad you’re here.

      If you take a few moments to look around this website you will see the hog-raising posts are specifically designed for one type of owner throughout so it should be no surprise that this article — like all others — was written with that type of owner in mind. To have written it in any other manner would be tone deaf to the audience. If you’re looking for show pig information, I would suggest you read a show pig blog.

      Let’s break this down:

      “I have show pigs that are in 6×10 pens with ample room…”

      6 x 10 = 60 square feet. Well within the parameters laid out above, given that it was specifically stated to adjust up or down from the beginning guidelines based on the rest of your environment. Good job.

      “concrete, if in shade, WILL stay cooler than the ground,”

      Concrete absorbs ambient as well as solar heat (everything does) so while shaded concrete is definitely cooler than concrete in the sun, it is not cooler than bare earth in an identical environment. And by extension, bare earth is not cooler than earth covered in vegetation. There’s a reason in the old days, before effective heat in housing, people warmed rocks, bricks and the like next to the hearth and then tucked them into their bed to keep warm at night: rock-like materials absorb and store heat and release it slowly over time. Concrete is the least effective at this of the rock-like materials, but still better at it than plain old dirt.

      “…if shavings are provided deep enough NO feet and legs problems will occur.”

      Patently false. Deeply bedded animals on concrete are far less likely to develop foot and leg problems than those who are poorly bedded or not bedded at all on concrete. (Duh!) But the propensity for foot and leg issues to develop is still higher on bedded concrete than on dirt and far higher than on bedded dirt.

      “And finnally all pigs in the end go to market so saing “growing pigs for pork” is just making yourself sound incompetent!”

      Growing pigs for pork — that is for your number one intention in growing out pigs to be the production of pork — is most certainly a different prospect with different best possible practices and decisions than if you are growing out pigs for show. The economics are different, the labor to capital investment ratio is different, the optimal carcass traits are different, the genetics are different, the housing and accommodations are different… and the list goes on. Your very objection to this post is evidence of that. As I stated to begin with, if you’d like information on raising show pigs, read a show pig blog. Had you asked nicely instead of being defensive and snarky I’d might have even written one for you since we do both.

      • Excellent. I really liked your reply. It is always nice to see a rude person, who thinks they are the smartest person in the room, get shot down.

  3. Really appreciate the advice here. I am trying to prepare to bring in two small pigs to my farming operation. It will be my first experience with pigs. How in the world do I move pigs between pastures?



    • Barbara,

      If they are tame and have learned to follow/come to you when you have a bucket (which can be trained in short order simply by bringing them treats/food in a bucket each day) you can simply walk and have them follow you. If they are not tamed/trained to a bucket you can herd them by walking behind and to the sides. The tamer they are, the easier it is, but it is not impossible if they are not terribly tame. If you herd them it’s easiest to do with a couple people and/or a dog or ATV. Best of luck!

  4. Hi Diana,
    Thanks for the advice – what a great blog you have set up. I am also considering getting 2 pigs in the spring but they are one animal I’ve never worked with. We have 3 acres total but are still in a subdivision. The area the pigs would occupy is about an acre; it’s flat and un-wooded pasture. A couple of questions I have: is there any reason pigs would be unable to share this space with two horses? The horses spend weekdays in a 1,200sq ft pen with barn access (they are our tenant’s horses). I’m willing to build whatever shelter they need, I just don’t know for our particular situation what’d be best. My second question – the smaller pen has an electric fence but the pasture itself doesn’t. Would the pigs stay in the pasture once trained to the pen electric or would we have to put electric up around the whole pasture? Lastly, just how offensive is the smell? I’m certainly not concerned for us, but we’re in a subdivision and I don’t want our neighbors to be enduring a stench that they didn’t sign up for. :)
    Any advice you could offer would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance!

    • Caitlin –

      Thanks for stopping by!

      1) Having had both pigs and horses, I definitely do not, actually strongly do not recommend you house your pigs in the same pasture as your horses, especially horses that are not your own. Pigs will root holes in your pasture that will very likely cause injury to the horses.

      2) What kind of fencing does the pasture have if not electric? Hog panels on poles spaced at 8 feet will hold pigs fine without electric, but that would be a mighty expensive pasture fence so I’m guessing that’s not what you got. There is no other kind of fencing that will hold them without electric. Woven wire is too flexible, they can and will go right through and under it. Barbed wire, likewise, means nothing to them. You will need to line it with electric or switch to panels. Electric is cheaper. Also on the existing electric, if it was put up for horses or cows, or even sheep, it will be too high for pigs. You need the bottom strand for pigs no more than about 12 inches off the ground and as low as 6-9 inches if you’re having younger pigs.

      3) The smell largely depends on your setup and how many pigs you have. It will smell more if you don’t clean often, have them confined to a smaller space, have many and/or if it is warm and wet outside. That said, they do smell like pigs and, even more so, they can be incredibly loud. A subdivision would not be my first — or even twentieth — choice of a place to raise pigs unless the neighbors are very laid back and farm-centric folks.

      Best of luck.

  5. I’m looking to start a small homestead and am planning to raise some pigs. I’m thinking about fencing off about an acre of land. I am wondering how many pigs that much land could support for foraging?

    • “Big G” — I this post — Why We Use Pastures and Pens — will probably be the best place to start on that answer. There is no static number of animals per acre. It depends on what age the animals are, how much supplementing you’re going to do, what kind of pasture you’ve got, whether or not you intend to rotate, what condition you want your pasture to be in when they’re done with it, and countless other factors.

  6. Diana
    We just started raising pigs we just took off our first two it took about 5 months the pigs weighed in at 250 and 305, the guys that done them for us said they were perfect for processing. now we got other people wanting us to raise them one. So it looks it is going to go up from 2 to 10. i am waiting till spring so i can re do the edges around the pen. i used wire and put concrete blocks around the inside an filled them full of wet mud it worked. now we are going to bury them 8″ in the ground just for rooting so it gives them to hit their nose on and not to make holes under the fence. does this make sense or do i just need to bite the bullet and put a strand of Elect. wire around the inside and use a solar control it.and last but not least my pen is 25′ square and i am going to build one more like it with a hall way which will also be my loading chute. and i can have all pens open into it for moving from one pen to another . are my pens ok to grow 10 250 to 300 LBS. pigs for market. or do i need to sit back and rethink. sorry its so long but i love your post and i really trying to get this to work because i am getting more people calling me and i only want to grow quality more than any thing. Thanks Dwyane

    • Dwyane — Congrats on the first round going well. Personally, I’d probably just bite the bullet and go with electric. It’s less work in the long run and it won’t take long the more pigs you start raising for one of them to figure out how to root up the blocks and/or go through your fence without it. (Unless by wire you mean hog panels, but I’m assuming you mean field fencing. Panels are a lot stronger and don’t require electric. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother with the blocks with panels.)

      All that said, I wouldn’t bother with a solar charger if you plan to raise pigs for long. Most will abide a solar charger okay, but it’s not rare to have pigs that won’t abide it and the more you raise the more of those who don’t you will end up with in your pens. A good strong shock is important; remember that electric fence is a psychological barrier, not a physical barrier. The shock has to be strong enough that they don’t want to get it twice.

      If my math is correct 25’x25′ is 625 square feet giving 1250 square feet with the two pens together. This should be fine to raise out 10 pigs, assuming you’ve got decent drainage and enough housing to cover them as well. The set-up you describe is basically what we have; 40×40 pens on either side of an alley which acts as a loading chute, sorting chute, etc.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Ma’am,
    I have been advised to raise my pigs in the winter months, which is my current intention. Do you advocate for or against this method? I live in upstate NY but I am told with enough straw and windbreak, the pigs won’t mind. I have decided on 12′ by 16′ for two or three pigs that I would like to get to 150 to 200 pounds each. I am still working out other details, but I was very interested in your opinion and recommendations. Thanks so much :)

    • Jason — There’s nothing wrong with raising them in the winter; hog farmers like myself raise them year round and yes, they’ll be fine so long as they have a shelter and plenty of bedding. Also make sure if you’re bringing them home in cold weather that they have already been acclimated to it. You don’t want to buy pigs from a farm that uses heated barns in December and toss them directly into an un-heated shed. That said, I’d be interested in why someone recommended winter over summer to you, as there aren’t many “pros” to it, and plenty of “cons.” It used to be that feeder pigs were so discounted in the fall due to lower demand that it would offset your higher feed costs for raising them over the winter, but that’s no longer the case. Most places you’ll pay almost as much in fall as you will in spring for a good feeder pig, and you’ll have more in them in feed over the winter, plus the hassle of chores in the cold and snow. I’m not saying don’t do it, if you WANT to, then by all means. But I would just question the wisdom of anyone who recommended it that way over spring/summer, unless there are extenuating circumstances in your individual case.

      Also I’d strongly encourage you to grow them well past 150-200 pounds. You’re wasting a lot of growth potential, sacrificing meat, turning out a lower-quality product and if you’re not butchering yourself adding a lot to your per-pound butcher costs putting them in the freezer so soon. 250-300 pounds is the standard slaughter window for good reason; that’s the point at which you’ve realized optimum feed efficiency, the point at which they finish out with a good muscle-to-fat ratio, and it optimizes how much you’re paying per pound for transport and slaughter because you get the best meat yield per pound live weight. If you’re worried about too much meat, raise fewer pigs to a larger size or sell some of the pork to family and friends.

  8. We will be getting our guinea hogs in September they will be well past weaning They are coming from a good breeder have seen the farm and pasture .Our girls will be also raised on pasture and have a kiddy pool and good shelter with a dirt floor and straw for bedding .Pasture will be wild grasses and weeds also bush with many acorns and hickory nuts. they will be feed scraps and hay 1.Can I place goats later on with them (trying to get brush cleaned down) 2. these hogs to not get large will field fencing be ok that was what they were raised in. But I’m worried about coyotes.

    • 1. You may be pleasantly surprised with the amount of brush removal your Guinea Hogs are capable of. We used to have some. They cleared a half acre of woods to the dirt in a few weeks. If you do end up with goats anyway, it probably won’t be a problem to have them on the same pasture. In my experience the Guineas are quite docile. I’d watch to be sure any newborn goat kids are well on their feet before giving the hogs access to them. Hogs’ll eat anything that doesn’t put up a fight, though I think the risk is probably quite small.

      2. I would not keep any hogs, including Guineas in field fencing alone. It’s too flexible and even Guineas are strong. I feel very strongly that, as farmers, we have a responsibility to our neighbors and industry to prevent problems such as escapee hogs to the very best of our ability. Field fencing alone does not do that. Line it with a hot wire and you’re in good shape though.

      3. (I’m adding this one because I think it’s important even though you didn’t really ask.) Hay and scraps are not an adequate diet for a pig, even a Guinea. You’re going to be lacking essential amino acids, and if you’re somewhere cold you will also probably be lacking in energy content in the winter. Please consider supplemental feeding of a balanced ration with protein, vitamins and minerals. There is no virtue in malnutrition.

  9. Thank you so much for your reply I will listen well We live in central Arkansas so the winters are not to bad but I will be adding supplemental feeding as per your advice then. And will not let anything having baby’s in with them. It took a year to decide on the kind of hog we would get also per reading your blog knew to get 2 and the first few goats will be withers till we have a set up for kidding .Also no boar for at least a year is there anything that is a big no no as per feeding hogs. These also will be in a way pets Thank you again any help is greatly appreciated.

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