Back To Basics

In the post-Covid world, there has been a resurgence in people wanting to raise livestock for their own family’s consumption. And while we usually use these writing spaces to talk about up-and-coming research and new ideas, it doesn’t hurt to step back and revisit some basic care principles for swine as they relate to animals raised outdoors.

All living creatures need three main things in the following order: Air, Water, and Feed. A statement in an article I read stuck with me, “a pig can live without air for 3 minutes, water for three days, and feed for three weeks”. We could write a book discussing all the nitty gritty details about raising pigs. Still, the Iowa Pork Industry Center has some excellent production handbooks (like the Niche Production Handbook) for those looking for more information. This article will focus on the basics of air, water, and feed.


No matter how pigs are raised, an environment that is too hot or too cold (or too wet or too dry) will cause issues. If you look at the Thermal Climate chart, the larger the pig, the cooler its ideal temperature is.

In the Great Plains, we spend most of the warm months preparing for the cold weather, leading us to think that cold weather is the most dangerous, when in fact, warm weather is more dangerous than cold weather to our livestock species. This is especially true for pigs as they don’t sweat, limiting them to other cooling methods to reduce heat stress. If they are provided a deeply bedded, draft-free environment with plenty of feed, winter isn’t nearly as concerning for pigs (except for piglets).

Many years ago, when working with 4H students, it was all too common to field calls from them as they wondered what was wrong with their pigs. And all too often, it was one of two things in the summer: heat stress and sunburn. Ever wonder why pigs create wallows? They use them to cool themselves off, and the resulting dried mud is a barrier against sunburn and bugs. So, if you have pigs in an open dry lot and a wallow in the summer, they don’t need shelter, right? Wrong! Shade is an undervalued tool. In the winter, we often have the opposite problem. We are wondering how to maintain warmth and minimize those bitter drafts (I wish in the winter that we could have those bitter cold winds show up on those hot, still days in the summer).


Continuous access to fresh, clean water is essential year-round. The three crucial things to consider regarding water are quality, delivery rate, and drinking spaces. No matter the conditions – confinement or outdoor dry lot, you can never have too many water spaces, and it is always better to have more water availability than too little. Water deprivation often looks very similar to other health concerns, making ruling out a water issue an excellent place to start. Signs of water deprivation can include reduced feed intake, crowding around the water source, irritable attitudes, tail biting, diarrhea in piglets, and increased heart rate and body temperature.


We’ve come a long way in understanding how to feed livestock. Now and then, I will get a call about using non-traditional feed sources in pigs, and I’m not ashamed to admit I must step back and look at my older resources to get the answers. That said, the old trusty corn and soybean meal works like a charm, and targeted nutrition, even for home projects, is a valuable resource. When we expect livestock to feed our family, shouldn’t we ensure that what our animals consume is the highest quality we can provide? Weaned piglets have different nutritional needs than feeder pigs or finishing pigs. An important thing to remember in outdoor production is that reduced feed consumption in the summer due to heat stress and increased feed consumption to generate heat in the winter are normal.


One of the things that we take for granted in indoor swine production is a lower parasite burden (even in modern confinements, deworming may be necessary at times). Keeping the need for internal and external parasite control in the back of your mind is essential. While this may not have been the most cutting-edge article we’ve ever run, sometimes we get so involved in looking toward the future that we forget the old-school basics. Two pigs or 2,000 pigs, Sioux Nation is your partner in animal health and nutrition.