Basics of normal  nutrition

                        Food is medicine.. and whole food is the only medicine some pigs will ever need.  The best Whole food is food you recognize, a tomato, a leaf of lettuce, an egg. It is not altered, processed, added to or taken away from. It's 100% food. It provides not only the essential vitamins and minerals and other necessary food components but it provides them in a molecular form that allows them to work as groups, far more effectively than working alone.  Some of our best known vitamins require HUGE doses to be effective while the eating of a whole food containing far less completes the same biological processes. What our great grandparents knew by good observation and  common sense,  medical science is only just beginning to be able to "prove".

         Foods are comprised of 5 basic components or groups, all of which have important and unique functions:

  1. Water  Hydrates the body; keeps cells in the necessary operating environment; flushes "used up" particles of waste out of the body, regulates temperature and a host of other functions.
  2. Fat   Produces energy. Called the "protein sparer" ; by burning fat the protein taken in is all directed for cell repair, not for producing energy. Fat is also essential in repairing certain brain cells and has a wide array of other health benefits to the heart and internal organs.
  3. Protein  Builds muscles, repairs body at the cellular level, also produces energy in the absence of fats or carbohydrates.
  4. Carbohydrates  Produces energy
  5. Vitamins, minerals and other micro nutrients have various specific health properties that keep organs and systems functioning as they should

        For an excellent look at Basic Nutrition the link below will take you to PigPals of NC's nutrition page. The author and founder of Pig Pals is a nutritionist. More  

§  Special requirements for good health and proper growth

    The diet of a young growing pig is quite different from that of a mature pigs which is different from an elder pig. There is no One Size Fits All for pigs any more than there is for humans.  

        Young pigs (infants to 5 year olds) need boundless energy to play and explore and race across the yard. They need lots of protein and a wide array of nutrients from a wide variety of foods to assure they get all the growth nutrients they need and plenty of carbohydrates for quick burning energy. They need all day access to outdoor exercise.  Pound for pound they need a lot more food than an older pig. We recommend Mazuri youth feed by Purina Mills. It is dairy based rather than alfalfa based which means it is much more readily absorbed and far more appealing to the taste. Also, it does not require the addition (by the feed mill) of urine acidifiers that alfalfa based feeds do. A diet rich in alfalfa can cause urinary blockages by creating stones in the urinary tract.

        Mature pigs (5 to 12)  need a diet that is balanced and is easy to digest. It is often the mature adult pig who develops ulcers, the silent killer in pigs, from the continuous feeding of  grains in pellets or alone without the daily ameliorating effect of large amounts of vegetation. Lots of natural forage and fresh fruits and vegetables can keep the stomach acids functioning properly and add greatly to the general health and well being.  Active pigs are healthy pigs, especially when that activity is spent in foraging for natural foods.

        Elder pigs (13 and older)  have worn teeth or no teeth, experience gastric disorders, are often constipated, have aches and pains and failing health in general. Often they don't have a great appetite any more . Feeding the elder pig means looking at taste appeal, digestibility, water content for good bowel action, and daily variety to cover all bases. It is usually only with these elder pigs that we see a reason and result from a whole food supplement. We use one called Juice Plus.. it comes in a "gummie" variety that they eat readily, and adds a wide array of nutrients from fruits and vegetables which have had the water, sugar and salt removed.

        Cooking apples, pears, potatoes, carrots, eggs and other foods improves the digestibility by breaking them down as chewing well once did. Cooking them, serving them warm and using a little flavoring with some olive oil, a little parmesan cheese , a dash of cinnamon or some canned milk on top improves the appeal and encourages the reluctant appetite. Vary the diet and if a wider range of nutrients is desired add a whole food supplement. The water content table will provide good choices for feeding foods full of fiber and high water content to keep him well hydrated and feeling satisfied and keeping bowels moving. Water content chart

§  Dangerous foods and supplements

         Feeding dog food, cat food and horse feed and treats

         Feeding a food designed for another species is always a bad plan..   There may be times when adding dog food or some other feed to the pig's normal diet is an appropriate action but be sure you know what you are adding and that it is going to be safe. We rely heavily on several swine nutritionists at US universities to give us guidance on using foods not designed for pigs. Whole foods are always OK with  few exceptions  but any processed food has a potential to be anything from unhealthy to fatal.  We always ask before using additions. If you add anything other than whole foods , do it in small quantities; here we use 20% or less . Some of the pros and cons of additions:             

        Why Supplements can be ineffective and even harmful

When a particular Vitamin is separated out from the whole food it was in, it is separated from all the other nutrients that helped it work.  Just as a rake won’t get many leaves in a pile without someone using it, most nutrients rely on other nutrients to work with them to do a job. Rebuilding a damaged cell wall may take hundreds of  compatible working nutrients, so no matter how much of one you push at it, the job can’t get done. Like repairing a damaged wall with only the drywall tape.. Without the drywall mud, the lath and the screws, it still isn’t repaired at the end of the day.

2.      Unless you are deficient (diagnosed through a blood profile ) in a particular nutrient, such as B-12, or the body is no longer producing a needed hormone or other material, like synovial fluid or estrogen, taking added quantities only causes the liver to work harder to get rid of the unnecessary  materials. There are, of course,  genuine conditions requiring supplements, diagnosed and treated successfully, but way too often supplements are given without any clear idea of what they are supplementing. .

3.        Supplements  are highly concentrated doses. They are absorbed directly  through the stomach wall into the bloodstream.  The same nutrient taken in via a whole food like a carrot, will be absorbed over a matter of many hours, all the way through the digestive system, a little at a time. It is the way nature designed the system to absorb its food. When a “burst” of highly concentrated substance is absorbed through the stomach wall it can cause damage to the stomach.  Just as aspirin has to be coated to force it to be absorbed slowly to protect the stomach,  nutrients should be in the form of a whole food to do the same..

4.         A multi vitamin is one of America’s best marketed products and one of the least useful.  In most cases you don’t need any of it, and it can cause your system to stop doing the job of synthesizing some vitamins because of the overload.


Fact and Fiction

        Vegetarian  is a human system of belief/behavior; not a definition of  physiology.  [Those of us humans who have chosen to be vegetarians, vegans, rawists,  and the many other special diets we choose, have chosen these diets for reasons of philosophy, religion or other reasons unrelated to  physiology. ]

In the natural world there are only three classes of animals:

  1. herbivores, like cows,horses, wildebeest and rabbits who eat only plant forage,
  2. omnivores, such as pigs, dogs, birds and humans, who eat from all available food groups from both plant and animal sources, and
  3. carnivores, like cats, who eat only from animal sources.

 Pigs are omnivores, their physiology, organs and systems are designed by nature to digest food from all food groups: vegetables, grains, meats, dairy; nuts, fruit.. You name it, they eat it. The best diet will always be the one with the widest variety.  In a nutshell, it does’t matter if you eat the single most nutritious food on the planet,  you will not be healthy if that is all you eat. There are thousands of nutrients available to omnivores and they each add an element of  healthful nutrition, some work as partners to bring abut effects that neither can do alone.  Pigs thrive with a diet of all food groups to reach their optimum health for their long lifetime. It is what they are genetically designed to eat.

In the wild a pig’s diet is primarily fruits, vegetables, roots, nuts,  meat (grubs and other worms are most common, fish where they have shallow water access to them),  some grains and when they are lucky enough to find them, eggs.  As captive animals,  dry pig feed is the most common food, it’s popularity is not because it’s the best food but to satisfy two unrelated concerns: economics and shelf life. If everyone had to go buy fresh fruit and vegetables, dig worms and steal some eggs every day, there would be a lot of hungry pigs around. Fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive and hard to store. Getting a wide enough variety of nutrients to keep your pig healthy would be extremely difficult, if not impossible over a long period. Grains with added vitamins and minerals provide basic nutrition that is palatable and inexpensive and stores well. But its only the beginning of a well rounded healthy diet.

Not a good diet.. Not a tasty diet, and not even a long term healthy diet, but a balanced diet that assures that the pig eating it will not suffer a nutritional shortage, at least not in the first 2 or 3 years which is all the commercial feed has to cover. That balance is achieved by combining all the cheapest ingredients, essentially the chaff that couldn't be used in higher quality feeds,  then adding a prepackaged measured  amount of  chemicals to bring the contents of the mix to a level determined by  known swine biochemistry to provide essential nutrients.  Some commercial mills add chicken waste (the feathers, manure and debris from chicken barns); all use hulls and by products to their low end feeds.

So where is the actual “food” in this diet? Well, that is the point; there is virtually none. Chemicals and additives take the place of real food in most of these feeds.  Does it make them healthy? No. It provides nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals which they need, but good health is much more than vitamins and minerals. If you ate nothing but Total cereal, which claims to have all the vitamins and minerals you need, how long do you think you would live ? And how healthy do you think you would be?  And how bored would you be with your food? To a pig eating is almost the most important thing there is. Eating should be something more than just survival.  The dry pig pellets should be viewed as the basic core feed of the pig's diet, not his whole diet. By choosing a high end pig feed and adding the rest of the needed ingredients, the fruit and vegetables, eggs and dairy, the diet becomes healthier, more enjoyable to eat and covers a wider range of ages and their  changing nutritional needs.

Yes, we all feed pig feed. And we should. Without it, or with some concoction of foods we think are “good for him” our pigs would become malnourished despite our best efforts. Individuals who make “private label” feeds are often equally risky. They oversimplify feed formulation or copy an existing one and change one or two things which throws out the balance, the one valuable asset it had . The normal objective  of selling feed is simply profit. Whether its someone who raises pigs, runs a sanctuary or a huge commercial brand, selling feed is about money. Use discretion and read the feed bag ingredient statements. Ask who defined the formula and what the Quality Control standards are at the mill they use.. ask to see the last run's test results.  If there is no QC testing, no written quality procedures and raw ingredient tests, the feed may not be as safe as what a huge manufacturer like Purina produces with hundreds of years of testing and procedures and a staff of phd certified feed biochemists.

  When I was attempting to mix an organic feed from a formula provided by a well known producer of organic feeds I saw that in small local mills,  quality control is non-existent and mill owners/managers often had some favorite additive that they would want to sell you. Their "secret recipe" was often poorly balanced and even dangerous. But because pig feeds are designed for pigs going to slaughter at 2 years old or less, the long term effects of bad diet are not seen. Cancer takes a long time to develop from poor nutrition, immune function is depleted by incorrect diets a little every meal.. you will rarely feed a pig anything that will show an immediate effect, but the effects are deadly whether they are seen in a year or in 10 years.   Didn't take me long to realize my pigs would be at far greater risk of health problems from having an excellent feed produced by the milling procedures and "helpful" people  available than to buy a commercial feed where quality was better controlled by long standing procedures . The most important factor in health is that which is done day after day after day.. if poor food is being ingested every single day of your life your natural ability to throw off, diffuse, dilute, or otherwise shed the unhealthy parts is overcome by the daily repeated intake. Hence the high risk of smoking, working with toxic chemicals  and eating the Super Sized daily fare at the fast food shop.. it's not that any single cigarette or burger will kill you, but the everyday repetition will. So its up to you to be vigilant and be certain you are providing the best and safest food you can to those in your care.

Below are tips to help you in your search for the best foods.


Catching fish

Eating water plants

Digging edible roots


Is this a "good "feed?  Good is relative.. it is certainly a lot better than the typical feed on the right.  You can do better if you buy:

  • a potbellied pig feed. We recommend and use Mazuri Youth feed  (read more)

  • an organic feed such as available from Countryside Feeds in Fisherville,VA.

For specialty feeds expect to pay 3 to 4 times the cost of a commercial feed

Choosing a commercial pig food

Use a pig pellet that contains real food., not left overs and floor sweepings.

When you choose your feed read the ingredient statement. Select a feed with genuine whole food ingredients. It should have real identifiable food in it, like the  label shown on left. Compare it to the one on the right, a cheaper feed in all respects.

Ingredients statements are always listed by their percentage of the mix so the first few are key to the overall quality.

Comparing these two feeds:

Corn vs grain “products” ( Any part is a product , the husk, the shell, the fluff)

Wheat flour vs. grain by-products (what was left after all grain “products” were expended; i.e waste/filler)

Wheat middlings vs. roughage products (chopped hay waste, stems)

Distillers dried grains  and real molasses vs. molasses products, soybean meal without the hulls, (most feeds use ONLY the hulls)

Note that BOTH feeds are ruminant meat and bone free. This is your protection against the pathogens that can cause mad cow and other diseases in you or your animals. (And if you use any bone meal in your gardening, choose the same ruminant free or sometimes stated as "cow free" bone meal. )

Also be sure it does not have a stamp on the tag or the bag which says medicated. You do not want to feed medicated feed. It is not medicated to prevent disease, it is medicated as a growth stimulant.













Note that the label says from 100 pounds to market. Two key points about the safe parameters of commercial feeds as a whole.

  1. This feed is unhealthy for a juvenile..

  2. This, as with all commercial feeds was developed for the short lifespan of the farm pig, one where the pig had never become an adult before being killed, and does not in ANY WAY imply its safety over the long life of a pet pig. Even breeding stock is seldom kept more than 5 years.. a pig is just by that time reaching adulthood in physiological terms. More about this subject in another section.

Three common mistakes made by people wanting to feed a better diet.

#1  Adding supplements  (vitamin/mineral pills, elder digestion products, and other special “additives”) If you are going to add something, add food, the kind the pig would eat if he could be free to find his own food. It is the  "supplement" he needs. . Most common is constipation in old pigs with little exercise.. A host of water rich foods are available which can prevent constipation. Nature planned it that way. fruit_13.jpgWater content chart      

#2     Moving away from pig feed to a higher quality feed not intended for pigs, a horse feed or dairy feed.  Stop right there and turn around. Return to the worst pig food on the market and your pig will be better off. The balance of amino acids is not right for pigs in any other diet..

#3  Formulating their own food,  using a recipe someone they know formulated, and getting nutrition advice from folks who are not professionals in the field. The number of dangerous, even fatal mistakes that can be made is awesome. Leave formulating to the experts.       

occupation_04.jpg    This may not be him!! 



 The most significant factor with pigs diets is that of the correct balance of  amino acids. Amino acids, the underlying parts of proteins, work in combination with one another. Grains do not provide sufficient quantities of certain amino acids, either alone or in combination to provide the balance required. To offset the shortfall, the commercial feed has added components to balance the grains . There is no way the average farm manager can obtain and manage the complex factors of this biochemistry. Even the tables and software are hard to find and even harder to utilize.  A good overview of this topic is linked below.

Think of it in this way: you want to enter a private club. The doorman knows no one can enter unless accompanied by a member and he knows who the members are. That's very much what happens when one amino acid attempts to be absorbed into the body;  if he is accompanied by a "member" amino acid, he is absorbed and sent to work rebuilding cells and optimizing health, if he is not, he is booted back out the system through the urine.  Link to  Amino Acid discussion







   So what should we do to improve the diet  ?

Add lots of greens, other vegetables and fruits at least 4 times a week. As pigs age change their diet progressively to more readily digested grains in the form of cooked cereals, and add eggs, dairy  foods, olive oil, fish oil, and occasionally cooked or canned fish. A swine nutritionist once told me the best possible two foods to add to a pigs diet are eggs and fish. The feed pellets wear down the teeth and when the teeth are worn to the gums, the grinding is ineffective so un-ground foods arrive in the stomach in a state too bulky , too dry & too hard , causing  everything from stomach ulcers to pain, gas and constipation.  Fresh fruits and vegetables provide moisture, easy digestion and for older pigs whose appetites aren’t as good as they once were, taste appeal.

Use a pig pellet that contains real food., not what was left over .

When you choose your feed read the ingredient statement. Select a feed with genuine whole food ingredients. It should have real identifiable food in it.

Free access to grazing and foraging in the woods whenever possible.






The Fat pig

The Ideal Weight

 The Skinny Pig

Seagram , a youngster,  spent way too much time with the elder pigs his first winter at the sanctuary, getting more than his share. Once summer came he was put into a small group where he is slowly bringing his weight down with a lot of exercise and real competition for food with pigs his own age.  


              Dieting the overweight pig

         Its not easy and its not fast.  The key is  exercise. If the pig spends a lot of time inside, fix him a summer house outside to spend his days.. feed him at one end of the yard and put his house at another. Give him a big pile of sand to push around, a small log, and companionship. Take walks in the woods if possible. Shake out a bale of hay or pine shavings and let him roll in it.

        Reduce the pellets by about 1/3 and add 3 cups of fresh raw veggies and plenty of romaine lettuce or spinach. Making a "salad" with the pellets tossed in is a good way to satisfy both the hunger and the need for reduced intake. Add a piece of fruit as a bedtime or mid day treat. For breakfast skip the pellets and give him a hard boiled egg and a piece of fruit. Higher nutrition,  smaller servings and an abundance of foods with high levels of water and fiber is the objective. It is way too easy to cut out too much nutrition to reduce that fat. It will take as long as a year to shed a noticeable amount of fat safely. If he is losing faster than that you may be creating some much more serious health problems than mere weight.  Other than being poor candidates for surgery if its needed, and becoming fat blind and fat deaf, obesity in pigs has not been shown to be as significant a health issue as being too thin.







Maintaining the right weight is a challenge if the pig is indoor a lot, and following you around looking hopeful. It doesn't help matters that he obviously enjoys every bite and its NEVER enough. Outdoor, active pigs are much healthier and happier (they don't have to see you eat that pizza without sharing)

The only way to ideal weight is a proper balanced pig feed, grazing at will or daily added vegetables/fruits  and lots of activity  every day.

Suzette, above, is nicely balanced, well rounded shape  with no excess fat on her shoulders.

As weight is gained it is added first in the belly, then the hips, then the shoulders. Once the shoulders are overweight the neck and jowls become enormous. As weight is lost it comes off in the reverse order, shoulders begin to come down, then hips, then belly.

The more active the pig the  more muscle will replace fat for a healthier, more energetic busy pig..












Surprise is a very thin pig. He needs about 40 pounds to fill out as he should be.


Adding weight can  be a challenge..

The first step is to determine why he is thin.

  1. Not getting enough to eat by design. If he is a normal sized pig and he isn't getting a belly full of grass, roots, vegetables and fruits and at least 3 cups of pellets a day he may simply be not getting enough food. If a breeder or adoption group told you could keep him small that way, they neglected to also tell you he will suffer horribly from failure of organs to grow correctly, repair themselves when cells die and he will hurt all day from hunger pains, acid stomach, and if he is like most pigs, after a few years of suffering he will die. (they don't mention these things because they would then have to explain that a normal sized pig is 120 pounds, not 40) Below is a 35 pound adult pig who when he recovered from the breeder starvation weighed a healthy 140.
  2. Not getting enough to eat because he cannot eat competitively in a group. This is the most likely cause if he is a group pig and it may come after years of living in harmony with that group. Group dynamics change all the time. Take him out of the group to eat and see how he does in a few weeks.
  3. Dental problems. If he is 10 or more he may already have worn teeth or abscessed teeth or other problems. This requires a trip for a dental exam.
  4. Age related metabolic conditions. If he is over 14 he may be entering a period where his old food is no longer easily absorbed and digested. Switch to a baby pig feed, serve it wet, (we use Mazuri Youth for our sick and elder pigs), and start adding  foods daily from your kitchen, especially cooked eggs, cooked and pasta with cheese  and other easy to eat foods.
  5. Other diseases. A blood profile and CBC are the only way to determine these conditions.

See "What Blood Work tells you" , a good look at what a simple profile can determine.



Feeding the sick pig

If a pig doesn't want to eat, forcing him is usually not the best plan. You can assure he gets nutrients and keeps his stomach acid under control by providing a smoothie type drink of whatever thickness he will drink. Getting him to drink is very simple by comparison. And may be all he needs to keep things functioning until he recovers from his illness.

I have tried about every kind of contraption I could buy or construct and find that there is no easier, more effective means of getting a pig to drink when he cannot rise or doesn't want to be messed with, than a water bottle with a squeeze top. Simply put it in the corner of his mouth and squeeze.. he will reject it at first but very quickly will understand and start grabbing at it.. keep a moderate pressure on at all time so the stream doesn't quit and he lose interest. Some pigs prefer to have it given to them in the front of their moths but most do best with the corner of the mouth. This bottle is about a pint and a half. 3 of these a day is a good amount of water or smoothies or cranberry juice or broth. You will lose about 1/2 to 1/3 in the process.

Once he is willing to start eating again, go with soft, low acid, non spicy and easy to digest foods like mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, scrambled eggs, bread softened in milk or cranberry juice, cooked fruits and low sugar foods. Don't be in any rush to get him back to grains.  If there is any question about his stomach being affected, keep him off grain and on vegetables and non spicy people food for several weeks. Ask your vet about daily ranitidine or fomatidine for a couple of weeks.









Feeding the elderly pig

A whole book could be written on elder pig diets.. how to encourage that old man to eat a good meal can be heartbreakingly difficult.

Be sure you know what his general health is by having his teeth tended and getting a blood profile. That gives you a big advantage in knowing what he should and should not eat.

Some ideas:

Feed wet foods only

Vary at least one meal every day

Feed mostly "people food" once he reaches his twilight years (18 and up).

Use baby foods as sauces on cooked vegetables, pasta and potatoes.

Feed eggs (cooked) at least 5 times a week

Feed twice a day and make it special with a few gumdrops or a piece of pizza

Pigs are very interested in the "menu" and if given a plate with a variety of servings they will "shop" the plate and choose their favorite foods first.

Basically, feed him like you were feeding grandpa, cooking with love and a little extra sugar.

My "laundry boys"  get a cookie when I cover them up for the night; at their age a few sweets won't hurt. Below a typical breakfast for one of the elders. A baked apple with cream cheese, quartered fresh tomatoes, romaine lettuce, mashed potatoes with scrambled eggs.





Feeding the arthritic pig

Keep sugar and sweets to a minimum. Avoid cookeis and processed sugar in their foods.

Feed plenty of fresh vegetables, especially greens ( a head of lettuce is not too much, along with a half a pound of carrots and some tomatoes.)

Keep the pellets at a minimum, about 1 to 2 cups a day for a normal 120 pound pig. (Keep in mind you will be feeding 2 pounds of fresh foods daily to replace the pellets) If you can't get to the farmer's market every time, pick grasses and dandelions from the yard.(Being sure they are not chemically sprayed or fertilized)

Use a flat dish with minimal sides so eating can be done lying down or on the knees or however its comfortable. Frisbees make great dishes for arthritics.

Also be sure the water dish is low sided.. we cut down the side of the rubber feed pans to make sure they can easily get water without having to hold themselves upright and bend over. Below is also shown a specially made water dish available from  PA Heartland  (see products page for web links). These work great because the pig can push down on any side and water flows to him.