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Potbellied Pig Health Care Articles and Information

Winter And The Outdoor Pig
by Phyllis Battoe (November 2001)

Every year at this time the requests for information about outdoor housing, and what is and what is not acceptable, tend to increase. For those of us with house pigs, nothing changes, but for those pigs that live outdoors it can make the difference between a cold pig and a comfortable pig.

One question that comes up more than others is “is an igloo acceptable”? My opinion is NO. Not unless the igloo is inside a barn or building that acts as a first windbreak. If kept outside the pig drags wet snowy stuff inside the igloo with him every time he enters leading to damp or even wet bedding. The last thing these guys need in the cold is a wet bed to go to.

This holds true of any shelter that may be outdoors so it is up to the piggy parent to watch and make sure that bedding is ALWAYS dry and that there is plenty of it. An igloo also makes condensation (liquid will run down the sides inside the igloo) and pigs have been known to freeze to the side of the igloo during particularly bad times.

A frozen pig is not something any pet person ever wants to see.

You might remember our Popcycle who arrived here after a very bad case of frostbite. She lost one ear, her tail, most of the skin on her rear and face and one foot. It took two years of rehab for her to get to the point where she could get around again.

If you have no barn or building to put the sleeping quarters into than make it as warm as possible with insulation in the box itself. It certainly helps if you can build a short overhang over the front that keeps the area right in front of the house clear of snow and rain. Your pig will appreciate not having to wade through the snow or take it into their sleeping areas with them when they go back to bed.

Our pigs at the sanctuary are brought into the big barns for the winter with 4x4 wooden sleeping boxes or even igloos for each to get into as the smaller sleeping box retains the heat from the pigs body. We use no heat lamps at all, but do believe in lots and lots of bedding….this means filling the sleeping areas full of straw or hay. When possible and the pigs agree, they have two pigs to a sleeping area which increases the heat. (Some pigs will not let us give them a buddy so they have to sleep alone…sigh)

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Remember too that in the bad weather some pigs will not come out to do their business unless made to and it is very important to check that bedding daily to see if they might have urinated inside making the bed wet. They are very clean animals and as a rule don’t like to mess their beds up, but when it comes to a choice between that and walking through a blizzard to go you can guess which wins out.

It makes it much easier for you also if you can rig a covered area over or around the sleeping box. Otherwise you are out there with your snow shovel making an area for this pig to walk in every time it snows. For people who don’t have any idea how to do this if they have a pig outside in a box, the quickest way we have found for pigs that we get calls on is to stack several straw or hay bales on both sides of the front of the house and put a sheet of plywood over the top, making sure that it is high enough to let the pig walk under it with no problem. (Not very lasting, but it works for the worst part of the winter.) If your pig tends to knock the bales around you can drive a piece of rebar or a small electric fence post through the bales which helps hold them together when they are stacked on top of each other.

The most important things to remember if your pig is outside are....make sure that the bedding is more than adequate and that it is dry. Wet bedding and cold weather are pneumonia time for a pig. Try to NOT use blankets in the wintertime. They become wet and soggy from the pig going in with a wet belly and can cause problems. Make sure your pig is going to the bathroom on a semi normal schedule. Some pigs will try to hold it and they can cause problems for themselves this way. (Constipation is more common in the winter months than in the summer)

We feed a little canned pumpkin to all the older pigs a couple of times a week just to make sure. Make sure that you feed well in the wintertime as food helps make body heat….you can worry about a diet come Springtime. Try and make the last feeding in late afternoon.

Your pig MUST have water….I don’t care how cold it is outside he still needs water. Snow is NOT considered an adequate supply of water and neither is ice. (A pig would have to eat a bucketful of snow to get an adequate drink and their stomach isn’t made to hold that.) Besides, if you were outside in the cold, don’t think eating ice or snow because you were thirsty would make you feel very good.

Some people give warm water in the winter….we don’t because the warm water will freeze faster than plain water will. If the weather is really bad we just carry a large pan to each pig three times a day and offer it to him. I don’t know if they just seem like they do or if they really do, but our pigs seem to drink more in the winter than they do in the summer. (Could be that they just enjoy the fact that we have more work to do in the bad weather and like to watch.)

If you have only one or two pigs the heated water pans are great…but remember to check them often as they can freeze without you knowing it and your pig could be without. Bird bath heaters can be rigged for water pans but make sure the element is wrapped or pig proofed and not in the pigs reach and that all cords are away from the pig. Remember that you have one consolation through these long winter nights….Spring will come again and you won't have all this to worry about.

Copyrighted by Phyllis Battoe - All Rights Reserved
Copying or Linking Without Prior Permission is a Violation of Int'l Copyright Laws

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