It is common for humans to struggle with winter weight gain. Whether the struggle is in preventing it, or losing the weight after the fact, seasonal weight gain is a fact of life for a lot of animals that live in seasonal climates. With the onset of colder temperatures — a time when food items become scarce in the wild — activity levels drop, metabolism slows down, and hibernation mode sets in. This is not limited to animals in the wild, however. There is not always a plethora of seasonal vegetables available to some pig parents during the colder months. This makes it more difficult to find nutritious choices for your pigs diet. The fact that it gets darker earlier in the day makes feeding times one of the keys to prevention. As with people, eating right before you go to bed leaves unburned calories leading to weight gain. Changing the time you feed the last meal of the day can also allow your pig to have the opportunity to burn off those excess calories by means of playing, digging or just moving around after a meal. Darkness means bedtime. If it gets dark at 530pm, most pigs are ready for bed at 530pm. Feeding the last meal of the day a couple of hours before darkness sets in allows your pig the opportunity to burn off some of those calories versus eating a big meal and going right to bed a short time later. If this is possible for you to feed your pig an earlier dinner, and you haven’t been, try doing it 30 minutes earlier each day until you reach your desired time instead of feeding your pig 2 hours early one evening and their bellies telling them its time to eat much earlier the following morning. I personally feed at 6am and 3pm. These are times that work for me. Occasionally there are days that I am a few minutes late with dinner, and my pig lets me know. But overall, I believe allowing the time to burn off the calories does impact winter weight gain.
Even though we have devised ways to stay warm and active, and to stockpile plenty of food to get us through the winter months, our bodies still react with the age-old evolutionary methods for preservation. This is as true for humans as it is for our domesticated pets, and this is where that struggle lies. Luckily for us, pellets are available year round usually, but the selection of foods to add to these pellets are not. Determine what winter veggies are available to you beforehand and check the nutritional content to be sure you aren’t compounding the problem by adding high calorie or non-nutritious items to your pigs diet. We have added a link to our nutrition section to a search engine for ALL foods and this site can tell you the nutrition content of practically any food. This is a great tool for those of us who aren't nutrition experts and don't necessarily know which foods are best. Click here to view our pig nutrition page and look for the USDA.gov link for the nutrition link.
When a pig that is used to being outside all day digging in the yard is now only outside for speedy breaks, or a pig that is accustomed to a sunbathing outdoors is now reluctant to spend much time outdoors in the cold, it naturally follows that the food that has been consumed is not being burned as energy resulting in weight gain. Click here to see our recommended product page with a list of treat dispensers that can be used for feedings.
Meanwhile, we are eating more at home, making large meals for family get-togethers and I am sure there are some at the dinner table who may “accidentally” drop or even purposely slip a few human food items to your pig. NIP THIS IN THE BUD! Make sure you tell your guests that your pig is NOT to eat human food unless you have prepared some in special way just for him/her.
Prevention is Key
If you don’t start, you’ll never have to stop. This is a motto to live by. If you don’t gain weight, you won’t have to lose weight. If you never start feeding sugary treats, you will never have to find alternative treats for your pig, etc. If your pig is normally active and in good physical shape, create an exercise plan for the winter months so that he or she can continue to be active. This might be games with indoor rooting boxes, or other enrichment items, a romp through the snow in the backyard, once you have shoveled a path of course, and a brisk walk with your pig when the weather allows for it. Just be sure to get out as often as possible so that both your pig and you can work off the excess calories. Click here to see our enrichment page with ideas of things you can do to keep your pig busy or entertained. Enrichment is important for many reasons, but one of them is to prevent boredom and a second is to encourage activity.
If it is too difficult to maintain a regular exercise routine during the coldest months, consider cutting back on calorie intake to compensate for the lowered physical and metabolic activity. Fewer treats with a gradually decreased amount of feed being fed should cover the difference.
Weight Loss Plans
If your pig is already overweight, a bit more work is going to be required, since you will most likely need to maintain the current weight, even as it is over the ideal. Unless your veterinarian has advised a specific weight loss plan with indoor exercise, you will need to take care in how much you exercise your pig or decrease your pig’s meal intake. Treats should be eliminated, but food should not be cut back dramatically — again, unless your vet has specifically advised it as a course of action. Pigs do not lose weight from exercise; they can’t physically keep their heart rate in the desired “cardio” range to burn enough calories to actually lose weight. So you must be creative. You can use treat dispensers to feed your pig forcing them to move around to get their breakfast. If there isn’t snow on the ground, you can put their pellets directly on the ground so they have to find them. (I am not a big fan of putting food on the ground/dirt for any pet, but to encourage exercise, I find this to be appropriate)
Before embarking on any weight loss or exercise plan it is important to have your pig checked for underlying conditions that may be contributing to the weight gain. Only then can you and your veterinarian construct a sensible diet and structured, achievement oriented exercise program. We will try our best to give you individualized tips to help you on your journey to weight loss with your pig. We can tell you nutritious foods to add into the diet as well as appropriate amounts of pelleted feed to aid in the weight loss you desire. You must be consistent and you must be accurate. Click here to view our page regarding how to balance activity with the foods you chose to feed your pig. Please check your feed for any signs of spoilage as well. Winter months bring about a lot of moisture and with moisture comes mold. Sometimes mold is at the bottom of the feed and by the time you see it, the spores have been in ALL the feed and possibly have affected your pigs health. Click here to learn more about spoiled or bad feed.
Monitoring your pigs’ weight
If you are concerned about your pig gaining weight during the winter, schedule a visit with your veterinarian before the start of the winter season. Your doctor will record your pig’s weight so that it can be gauged with any further gains or losses.
Ask your veterinarian to show you how to check for certain landmarks signs that your pig is overweight or obese. The belly and neck are two of the spots on the body that are most likely to indicate abnormal weight gain, when it does occur. Your pigs belly shouldn’t be close to the ground. There should be plenty of clearance between the dirt and the “potbelly” your pig may have. Some pigs do not have that potbellied appearance at all, so in these pigs, a sudden increase in the size of the belly could indicate something more going on.
If your pig has a history of weight issues, it is also important that you measure him or her once-a-month to make sure the pounds/inches aren’t creeping up and that the current weight is being maintained as needed. You can click here to see how to measure a pig and use the farmer’s almanac method of estimating your pigs weight. This has been a fairly accurate tool to estimate weight.
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.