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Why Pigs Fall Apart on Pasture


Editors Note: This piece comes to us from David Fogle of Spring Hill Farms in Newark, Ohio.  David grew up raising hogs and began raising them on pasture in 1999. He primarily works with Tamworths, selling them director customers and as breeding stock and feeder pigs. You can learn more by downloading his free pig buyer’s guide.

Over the years I’ve had pigs fall apart on pasture. By “fall apart” I mean everything from not gain weight nearly as fast as others in the same pasture to the whole lot of them were having trouble thriving.

In some cases they have had to be rescued from the pasture and  propped up with crutches in order to thrive.

What’s the cause of this? It would be nice if I could narrow it down to one particular reason but many times it’s a combination of things that are contributing. Let’s look at a few of them.

Overly Optimistic about Your Pasture Quality.

Pigs need high quality pasture in order for it to be anything other than a supplement to grain. Think clover, or other legumes as a good percentage of the field.

Running Young Pigs on Pasture with too Little Feed.

Skinny pigs make for skinny piggy banks.
Skinny pigs make for skinny piggy banks.

The general rule is the younger the pig, the less he is able to utilize roughage from the pasture. You can not take pigs that are just weaned and turn them out on grass without plenty of feed supplementation and expect them to thrive. They’ll fall apart.

Relying on Alternative Feeds as a Main Feed Source

I’ve seen small farmers attempt to feed hogs everything you can think of from stale bread to produce items, to distiller grains and everything in between.  Hogs are pretty good at eating what they are given but it will usually show up in health and weight gain.

Some alternative feeds are fine but learn some nutritional facts about swine before attempting to launch out into something that could cost you tons of time and pork in the end.

Not Catching the Clues of Pigs Starting to Fall Apart.

As an old farmer used to tell me “You need to know if an animal isn’t doing well before it does.”

Spend time observing your pigs on a daily basis. Learn what pigs look like and how they behave when they’re healthy and thriving. When something seems different it usually means trouble. Get on top of it before it ship wrecks your pigs health.

Choosing the Wrong Pig for Pasture.

Tamworth pig. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Tamworth pig. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

With the term “heritage breed pig” being thrown around all over the internet many folks wrongly assume this is the holy grail of pastured pigs.

It should be a head start in the right direction but it’s simply not a guarantee that pigs will do well on grass. Many of the heritage breed pigs are being moved away from what made them great by breeding for different goals then the small farmer would have.

If you see a certain heritage breed showing up at all the fairs and in show pig magazines you can bet the breeder of those pigs has a different set of goals in his breeding program than will fit into your small farm with much success.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t lines within those breeds that are being developed for pasture and old time hog raising. Just don’t assume that heritage breed automatically means good pasture hog. This issue exists in Tamworths, but it exists in some other heritage breeds as well.

Another issue is we have is the many small farmers who are breeding pigs with little or no experience in putting together a breeding program that will move them forward in their goals…assuming they have clear goals.

Final Thoughts

Raising pigs on pasture successfully is both an art and science. Study, plan carefully, and observe others. But most importantly get some pigs and learn as you go!

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Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. It would be a help to know what breeds you are talking about.We are heaving to play enough of a guessing game out here without trying to second guess which popular breeds are having problems.First we hear about breeds of sheep that are parasite resistant, then we read articles about people having to worm them as often as the conventional breeds, Same way with hogs. and cattle. We need breeders to be honest and let us know if their line is or isnt suitable for pasture or hoop production. Better to lose a few sales for the price of one animal than word to get out your animals fall apart . People dont remember the animals fell apart on pasture , they just know they fell apart. Which will cost even more sales in the future.There is so many people who are reading popular books then jumping into breeding and general production with both feet but just buzzwords to go on. Great article! I need to tuck this one away for future referance.

  2. David wrote, “If you see a certain heritage breed showing up at all the fairs and in show pig magazines you can bet the breeder of those pigs has a different set of goals in his breeding program than will fit into your small farm with much success.’

    This is true of most any class of animal. Show rings are for animals raised in “artificial environments.” They cannot survive on their own. I approach this from a cattlemens view. We need cattle that can survive with few inputs. Show ring breeders are in a fairy tale world not connected to reality. Furthermore the judge is evaluating an animals structure from what he believes is correct, not what nature worked out over thousands of years.

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