Rotation and Hard Standing

Rooting

Most pigs root to some degree, meaning they use their powerful snouts to turn over the land. Rooting is one of the most natural behaviours a piggy can partake in. It is a highly rewarding pastime in which they should be allowed to indulge if they choose. A pig’s sense of smell is incredibly powerful. They will use it to sniff out delicious treats in the soil; roots and seeds or bugs and juicy worms.

Pigs root and dig with their snouts
Most pigs dig up and turnover the land with their powerful snouts

There are myths that certain breeds of pigs do not root, but we can assure you this is not the case. There are some pigs who root more than others, but it does tend to be down to individual personality as opposed to breed characteristics. You cannot rely on past behaviour to guarantee future behaviour. We have met pigs who have never rooted in the past only to decide it is their new favourite hobby at the age of seven.

If you are precious about your pristine grass then we can say, almost unequivocally, pigs are not for you. Having said that there are things you can do to mitigate the effects of rooting.

Land Rotation

Dividing your land to limit your pigs’ access to sections for a period of time is one of the best ways to maintain their living environment long-term. If you have pigs who love to root, then having two or more spaces can give a well-rooted area time recover. You can also add grass seed to aid regeneration.

Pigs also tend to tear up the ground with their trotters as they walk on it, especially during wetter weather. This is why we sometimes see pigs living in fields that have been reduced to mud pits. During prolonged periods of heavy rain it may be preferable to keep pigs off grass/soil areas entirely. However, for lighter, occasional rain it can be invaluable to be able to switch your pigs between paddocks to allow the water to drain from each one.

Separate paddocks for pigs play a vital role land maintenance
Note the difference in the grass between the two areas

What is hard standing?

Hard standing can be concrete, asphalt or paving slabs. Paving slabs will need to be laid in such a way to prevent them from sinking. If they are placed directly onto the soil they very likely will be gone within the year. This website has some great information to help you get started.

A pig and chicken share a patch of hard standing
Hard standing areas are an important part of your set up

We suggest you make your hard standing a minimum of 30 x 30 feet in size, but 50 x 50 feet is preferable. Think of your hard standing area as potentially your pigs’ entire outdoor living space for extended periods of time during the year. Setting up their shelter, water and feeding stations on hard standing is a great way to ensure they have to walk across it several times a day. This will help to keep their hooves short and reduce the need to manually trim them.

Adding fencing around the hard standing area will give you the ability to limit your pigs’ movement when necessary. There may be weeks on end over winter when your grassy areas are simply too waterlogged to allow your pigs to have access. Keeping them off the grass during times of very heavy rain will give the land the best chance of making a speedy return to normal once the rain stops, so your pigs can have access to it again sooner. You may also need to limit their movement and keep them out of mud and mischief if they have any vet treatment that would require this.

The need for hard standing

Adding hard standing to your land is likely to be the most labour and time intensive part of the setting up process, not to mention the most costly. But we really cannot overstate the value of having a good-sized area of solid ground for your pigs. We have spoken with dozens of frantic pig carers over this past winter whose pigs were stuck wading around in freezing mud or shut up inside tiny sheds. These issues would have been substantially mitigated, if not completely negated, by having included good hard-standing in their initial set up.

A muddy, water-logged pig paddock
The pen leftover after we rescued the pigs. Would you want to live here?
A pig enjoys a wallow on a warm sunny day
A piggy enjoying a wallow on a warm, sunny day

Just to be clear, yes, many pigs love optional access to wallow in mud during the warmer weather. It helps them to cool down and protects their delicate skin from sun burn. But living belly-deep in cold mud is terrible for the health of pigs. As well as all the illnesses you would expect from being permanently cold and wet, they can develop a host of bacterial and fungal skin and trotter conditions. It can also lead to arthritis as their joints struggle with the cold and damp as well as the strain of trying to walk. We have been contacted by people who are genuinely considering having their beloved pigs put to sleep rather than continue to subject them to these sorts of conditions.

Where to place hard standing

If your land is on an incline, your hard standing will need to placed at a high point to avoid flooding or issues with water pooling underneath it. You can lay your whole hard standing area and then build your pigs’ shelter on top of it. This will have the bonus of the foundation on which you build your shelter already being level and solid. Alternatively, if you already have your shelter built in place such as a shed, barn or other small out building, the best idea is to build your hard standing area around it. If you have a large indoor barn or stable which is big enough to comfortably house your pigs for extended periods of time, then an exterior hard standing area may not be necessary.

Adding hard standing around a pigs' shelter is ideal placement
You can lay hard standing around your pigs’ shelter
A large barn can be a great place to over-winter your pigs
Or have a large indoor space for them

There may be some limited circumstances in which hard standing is not necessary. For example you may have the perfect combination of land with lots of trees, sandy, well-draining soil, on a hill, with enough room for regular rotation and a nice roomy shelter. We are happy to discuss the unique aspects of your potential set up with you.