Pigs - the food connoisseurs of the farm animal kingdom

Pigs clearly enjoy fresh food. They are the connoisseurs of the farm animal worlds, happy to eat and enjoy a wide variety of food, tastes and textures: grass, water plants, bush and tree leafs, vegetables of all kinds (especially green one like cabbage), fruit, nuts and meat. They even enjoy red soil and soil sods for taste and texture. They’ll happily eat any household scraps and unfinished food (and when you consider that households in the UK / USA through away over 40% of all food bought, you can see what great assets pigs are if you want to reduce waste – but beware, check your countries regulations regarding what you can legally feed your pigs; there may be some restrictions. Pigs will even enjoy the odd beer or two if you’re so inclined to pamper them.

The natural feeding behavior of wild and free range pigs has the following characteristics:

  • omnivorous
  • opportunist: will eat almost anything
    • food is varied and high in fiber
  • grass, roots, tubers, invertebrates, nuts, berries
    • eat vertebrates
  • frogs, snakes, turtles, young birds, eggs, small rodents
  • takes long time to find and consume
  • foraging done at ground level
    • sniffing
    • rooting
    • chewing
    • eating
  • spring / summer: forage in open grassland/ marshland
  • autumn: forage in woodland: nuts, berries
  • will forage for several hours a day, normally in early morning and late afternoon time parts
  • eat considerable amounts of food high in natural fiber
  • prefer to eat together as a group at the same time rather than individually at different times

NPF feeding practices mirrors natural pig feeding desires

Natural pig farming attempts to mirror instinctive pig feeding behavior through types of food we give and how feed is offered, and the timing of feeding. All pigs in a sty are are fed at the same time. We feed pigs two times day, in the morning and late afternoon / early evening.These are time periods pigs in their natural state would choose to eat. We also offer a wide variety of food, both processed powder mixes and fresh natural vegetation. 

 

Whilst the main meals are always fed from the trough fresh feed and pellets are often thrown in and scattered on the pen floor bedding. This allows for

  • feeding to take place over a wider area limiting potential aggression
  • fosters your pigs natural foraging behavior
  • helps to keep the pigs meaningfully and happily occupied over a longer period of time than if just served in a trough. This is especially true when scattering pig feed pellets on the flooring. Once the majority have been found and eaten there is always others still to be sniffed out.

NPF provides fresh greens pigs would choose to eat if given the choice


Natural pig farming feed balances the producer needs of low cost with the natural feed desires of the pig. We add fresh succulent greens to our processed powder pig feed to provide the fiber, nutrients and natural taste absent from the dry powder only feed mixes used by most pork producers. We mix our own feed combining dry and fresh (wet) elements. See Feed page in the how to section for details of feed make-up. We provide a wet + dry feed mix as standard fare, but this is often varied so that pigs get a dry mix feed with fresh wet greens fed separately. In-between meal times fresh feed in the form of grass, leaves, vegetables is fed when available. We tend to add water to our powder mix (see How to feed).

 

Natural pig farming provides bulking vegetables that:

  • provides natural food to pigs
  • provides vitamins naturally
  • provides bulk / fiber / starch / stomach fill, eliminating pig hunger pangs
  • offers texture and variety of food
It is very low cost because rather than buy greens we gather the ample and varied vegetation that mother nature grows in the countryside surrounding us. This is freely available for us to take. We also grow fodder crops. Therefore this is a free feed input that makes up 50% of our feed. We therefore save 50% on feed costs which is a significant money saving.
 
Our pigs eat well, they eat happily, and they eat at low cost to ourselves through our use of a mixture of purchased processed powder feed and free vegetation that we gather from the surrounding countryside and through growing fodder crops.

Today's processed pig feeds and factory farming

Today’s pig producers seem to have completely lost sight of the fact that pigs are naturally grazing and rooting animals. Pigs in their natural environment seek nutrition from fresh green vegetation of all types, grubs and insects, and from mineral matter within the soil. Prior to modern factory farming intensification pig producers catered for these necessary feed needs through ensuring access to pasture and the provision of fresh greens and crops for the pig. Indeed pasture and fodder crop management was a key aspect of pig raising.

 

The factory farming mentality focuses on providing the essential nutrition pigs need to grow at the lowest possible cost. Such feed is designed for the fast growth, low cost needs of producers. It tends to be:

  • processed
  • powder
  • over-protein base
  • often contains added anti-biotics to promote faster growth and disease protection
  • totally alien to pigs natural diet
  • lacking in bulk – poor stomach fill resulting in hunger
  • lacking in variety: same feed day in day out

The pigs natural diet in wide and varied in taste and texture. Whilst the pigs desire to eat almost anything has often been derided in popular culture, the fact remains that the pigs enjoy eating a wide variety of food stuffs. They have a wider palette for different taste sensations than almost any other animal and they clearly enjoy fresh and cooked food of almost every kind. It is therefore doubly cruel that their diet has been replaced with a monotonous processed powder that provides little variation in taste or format.

A major issue is the fact that these processed powder feeds lack the capacity to provide stomach fill. The type of feed and amount of feed simply isn't sufficient to give the pig a sense of being full. This situation is worsened by the feeding practices of factory farm producers. To maximise the feed : weight gain ratio feed is limited to the minimum required to most efficiently add weight growth to the pig. The result is that pigs, especially sows and boars, who are put in restrictive diets, are in a constant state of hunger (go to Fight for pig welfare for more details). But you don't need scientific reports to be aware of this. Visit any pig raising operation using the factory farm mentality and you will see sties totally devoid of any sign of food. Every last grain has been eaten, It's a clear sign that the pigs are very hungry. 

Factory farms also increasingly ignore the fact that it is in a pig’s natural behavior is to feed twice a day, once in the early morning and once in the late afternoon / early evening. Many factory farms use an ad libum feed allowance system (where pigs are given a set amount of food that can be accessed at any time through automated feeders). This often results in sows, who are fed highly restricted quantities of feed, eating all of their allowance for feed in one go, normally in the morning and then spend the rest of the day hungry until the next days feeding.

Natural pig farming v factory farming

Feed

Natural pig farming

Factory farming

Wet(fresh) and dry mix

Yes

No

In-between meal snacking

Yes

No

Fresh greens / vegetables given

Yes

No

Foraging activity encouraged through scattering of feed on floor

Yes

No

Fibrous feed served to provide the stomach fill (hunger relief) powder feed alone can’t provide

Yes

No

Natural vitamins and minerals derived from fresh feed and soil

Yes

No

 

The better way to raise pigs