The leaves on the trees are changing indicating cooler temperatures and more importantly, winter time is on its' way. Why is that important to mini pig parents? It means that the time has come to prepare for cold weather. It's best to prepare for the winter months now rather than on the eve of the first overnight freeze. Many many pigs live outdoors all year long, but those pigs have accommodations for that. You cannot put a pig who sleeps indoors outside in 20 degree weather with no outdoor structure to keep them warm. That's cruel and preventable by taking the steps now to be sure your pig doesn't have to suffer.
If your home is anything like mine, your pig spends a lot of time outdoors during the day. Like most animals, pigs are not fans of super cold days. Most pigs aren't huge fans of rain or snow either. (though there are always exceptions) Depending on your location, you may have mild or harsh winters and you should be prepared for whatever season is approaching. If you live in an area where winters are relatively mild, you may not need to make many adjustments like someone who lives in Northern areas, where there is often feet of snow on the ground every year, may have to make. So what do you need for the winter for your mini pig?
Let's start with outdoor space/housing. Obviously we promote and encourage every pig to spend time outdoors, however, if there is not appropriate shelter or areas for your pig outdoors, this can be problematic. If it's too cold for you outside, it's too cold for your pig. The first thing you should keep in mind is a fenced in or secure yard for your pig. (this is a given and assumed to already be in place regardless of the season) The second thing to consider is an outdoor structure. This structure should be enclosed, free from drafts and have an opening big enough for your pig to get in and out of without having to duck. This space should be large enough to accommodate your pigs size and also roomy enough for your pig to be able to freely turn around. This structure should have a floor of some kind, ideally it would be off the ground. The contents inside your structure are almost as important as the structure itself. There must be some kind of insulator during the cold season. Some have purchased heat/AC units for their pigs outside house while others are a bit more conservative, nonetheless, there must be something to keep your pig warm. Insulation can come in many forms, some use blankets, straw, hay and/or other things they have within the household. We do not recommend the use of blankets as many pigs will rip them into pieces and the possibility of an obstruction is increased tenfold. There is a risk for choking as well. There is an argument over which is better, hay or straw. I feel like this is a personal decision, but heres some information that you may find useful about these 2 things.
Straw, the dry leftover stalks from harvested crops, repels moisture, making it the best bedding for outdoor shelters.... The easiest way to tell the difference between straw and hay is the price: hay generally costs two or three times more than straw. Straw is normally used for a bedding material, while hay is used as a feed supplement. Straw is dried out and works well for building nests and providing cushioning for animals to sleep in. It is not moist like hay and is unlikely to mold. There are various different types of hay available such as timothy, alfalfa, etc. but hay is generally grasses, and also some grains, leaves, and legumes that have been harvested, dried and baled for use as animal fodder (or feed) before the seeds have formed (the formation of the seeds lowers hay’s nutritional value). Straw is primarily livestock bedding. Straw is a by-product of the harvest, usually the stalks and stems of the cereal grains or grasses such as oats, barley, rye or wheat, which are harvested after the plants are dead, so straw is far drier and doesn’t smell nearly as good, although I think it does still have a nice, albeit it more faint, farm-y smell! Occasionally there will be some kernels left at the tips of the stalks (the chickens love to eat those!), but straw is mostly hollow stems. Although pigs can eat straw, there isn’t as much nutritional value in straw as there is in hay. Because of the hollow stalks, many say that straw doesn't insulate as well as hay, but as I mentioned before, that is a personal decision you have to make. Straw typically costs less than hay and your pig may snack on the hay that's being used for their bedding in an outdoor enclosure. Straw: repels moisture, cheaper, lasts longer. Hay: more efficient as an insulator, can also supplement feeding, can mold, so it will need to be changed (or at least checked) more frequently.
The use of heat lamps is highly debated. There are safe ways to incorporate heat lamps into your pigs space, but SAFETY is key. You cannot use a heat lamp in small areas where your pig could get burned or the heat lamp could heat up anything that will catch fire. You must ensure your pig is safe first and foremost. I am not an expert on heat lamps, therefore, I can only say use common sense. If you are going to use a heat lamp or any device that heats a surface directly like a heat lamp, you will need to be sure the contents below are flame resistant or the device is up high enough where it cannot do harm to your pig. If it's especially cold outside, a pig will snuggle up to a heat source and will likely lay there and get burned and not even realize it. They certainly do that in the summer months laying in the sun.
Acorns. UGH. If you are lucky enough to live in an area that is shaded by beautiful oak trees, you likely suffer through acorn hell like others of us have to do. Why is this a problem? Who doesn't love a great oak tree? ME! When eaten in excess, acorns have the potential to be toxic to pigs. Some pigs can eat them and never experience any issues while others eat them and start developing kidney or liver issues. Again, this occurs when acorns are eaten in excessive or massive amounts, not an acorn scattered here and there. If you have a pen or backyard with a lot of acorn trees, you may or may not have noticed acorns on the ground. If you have one pig who spends time outdoors and notice your single pig snacking on these acorns, this may be a problem later in the season. This isn't always the case, so please don't panic. I am simply mentioning it because it is a possibility. My own pig was diagnosed with acorn toxicity a few years ago because of excessive acorn consumption. So how do you handle ankle deep acorns and a mini pig? You can rake them up and remove them, you can cut down trees or you can do what I do and use a "yard vacuum" or shop vac to collect as many acorns as possible when you can. My routine includes getting up 30 minutes early and vacuuming my yard before the morning feeding. I do this a 2nd time in the afternoon to collect acorns that have fallen throughout the day into my backyard. There are times when tree removal is impossible, like literally. If you happen to live on the water, some trees are protected by waterway laws, or perhaps it isn't financially feasible to remove offensive trees or maybe you love the trees and shade they provide. Again, just something to be aware of and prepare for should you have excessive amounts of acorns that fall into an area that your pig has unlimited access to.
How do you get an unwilling pig to go outside on those frigid days?
Great question. This is a common problem for many of us actually. And there is a simple solution too. Feed your pig outside. Period. Guess what? Your pig will willingly go outside because your pig will want to eat. Some use treats to coerce a stubborn pig to go outside to potty or just spend some time outside. While this is usually effective, it isn't the ideal solution. Making outdoor time part of your pigs routine, a mandatory part of their routine, this doesn't leave much room for protest on your pigs part. Feeding your pig outside accomplishes a few things, one: provides outdoor time, two: promotes activity in general, three: eliminates a messy floor from a sloppy eater, four: lays groundwork for the overall routine so you don't have to fight with your pig to go outside during inclement weather. If you have some method that works for you, obviously keep it up. But keep an open mind because there may be other methods and/or something that is more effective or efficient.
What about ice? That is definitely something people need to be mindful of BEFORE the winter season is breathing down our necks. Often times, storms are predicted, but there are times when we are surprised by snowfall or ice storms. In these cases, there isn't much you can do as far as preventative measures are concerned, but you can certainly have the tools needed to handle situations like that available to you. Keep a tarp on hand, keep a snow shovel in your garage, have basic things to help you when surprise storms occur. Using a tarp to cover walk ways can leave an essentially untouched area for your pig. I use tarps to cover a path on my back deck, my pigs ramp and a path all the way to her outdoor house. The tarp is laid down before the storm and when my pig needs access to those areas, i simply pick the tarp up which also removes any snow or ice that is on top of it leaving a nice clean ground/surface for my pig to walk on. While it's not a perfect solution, it is an effective way for me to keep an area clear of any snow or ice when my area has a freak snow storm. (I live in coastal Virginia, it's rare that we have significant snowfall or ice storms) But just last year, we had blizzard warnings in my city and even though my city wasn't as prepared as I would've liked them to be, my pig didn't notice much change in her primary areas as I kept those areas completely clear during the height of the storm. Sawdust is another pig-friendly product that can be used to reduce ice/snow on surfaces where your pig needs to walk. Pigs that can't get traction is an accident waiting to happen, so preparing for worst case scenario's is the best way to prevent accidents or injuries.
Keep in mind, with colder weather, the grass isn't going to be growing limiting the desire to forage around eating it. Have a back up plan. Create some enrichment items for your pig. You can easily build things using inexpensive items found at most home supply stores like Lowe's or Home Depot. PVC can be used for enrichment by building a stand (however you wish) and drilling holes in PVC, using rope to suspend it from the stand you build or use and fill with treats that will fit through the holes you drilled can be something your pig uses on a daily basis that also provides stimulation. Activity and exercise needs to be encouraged during the colder months as winter weight gain can be a problem due to the drop in activity/exercise when it's cold outside.
The less common, but equally important things that you should be aware of are things like antifreeze leakage, winterizing of pools and/or other household things, poisons (like rat poison or snail poison), the use of salt for melting ice....just know what's being used in the areas your pig has access to.
Hopefully these tips help you prepare for the upcoming winter season. Feel free to read more about winter time concerns and mini pigs by clicking here.
Our names are Brittany Sawyer and Nicole Cox and we are pig parents, pig advocates and also the authors of the "Dear Pig Whisperer" blog. Follow our blog that will feature topics to help you become the best pig parent you can be...along with some other fun things. We will also feature guest bloggers from time to time who want to share their life experience or knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning.