Many people have preferences when it comes to feeding and growing livestock. Opinions vary on numerous subjects, and the environment in which you decide to grow your pigs is no different. Before we talk differences, the good thing about this project is that as long as pigs have a dry and comfortable environment to grow and perform in, they generally don’t get too worked up about the fanciness of their surroundings.
Dirt pens have advantages for sure and shouldn’t be discounted in the benefits they provide.
- Many use outdoor pens with a dirt surface for dark hogs (Dark Crosses, Hampshires, Polands, Spots and Durocs) in order to expose pigs to sun to darken their skin. There is a distinct advantage to having them as dark as possible when they hit the ring. This can also be accomplished by walking pigs outside on a routine basis for a period of time in the afternoon while the sun is out.
- There are times where the advantages of having natural sunlight, rooting in soil, and the fresh air of an outside pen can be beneficial from a health standpoint. Too often we remove pigs rom their natural environment and take for granted the vitamins and nutrients they receive from rooting and the sun.
- Dirt offers a lower maintenance solution versus concrete, as it does not require quite the amount of time and effort in keeping clean. However, I would be quick to counter that the skin and hair maintenance of your animal becomes more difficult and requires an increased effort if you choose to house pigs on dirt.
- When a hog gets a bit too up on their toes or joints, dirt can force a pig to use their joints in a manner in which it will ultimately help in setting them back to a more ideal position. This is not always the case and should not be used in place of selecting hogs that are skeletally correct.
- If you’re planning to feed a white pig of any kind, their pen needs to be 100% shaded at all times. Hogs sunburn easily and so special attention needs to be paid to if they are exposed to sun during the time of day when they could burn. Additionally, I would strongly discourage dirt, as it will be an uphill battle all year of keeping them clean and free of stains.
The obvious alternative to dirt would be concrete pens. That is how our barn is set up, and although it requires extra maintenance at times, a clean hog on fresh shavings is something that is always nice to see.
- One notable difference to discuss is a difference in comfort for the pigs. Although the dirt may be “easier” on their feet at times as noted in the previous section, it can also lead to them getting a little down and weak on their pasterns without a stout surface requiring their toes to stay sharp. I like to feed on concrete and leave the area where they eat a little more bare, so that their toes stay worn down. Since the ultimate goal is to prepare them for a show, always remember that they have to have strong, durable feet to sustain a week on concrete at a major stock show.
- Keeping hogs clean and their skin and hair right throughout the year is ultimately easier on concrete. You only have one shot at making a first impression and I would argue that skin and hair is one of the largest factors of being noticed immediately.
The bottom line is that there is no right or wrong facility when it comes to raising show pigs. You need to find a facility that works best for you and your family, and then buy your projects to suit your accommodations.