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Understanding the needs of pigs

Have you ever been tempted to keep a pig or two or even some sows?

Now is a good time to start planning your new shed or mobile hut and adapt fencing for these strong and intelligent animals. Pigs do not have a coat of fur or wool to keep warm, so must be provided with dry and draught-free but adequately ventilated shelter. They must be provided with the means to minimise the effects of adverse weather, including the effects of heat and cold stress. Bedding is required in all huts and outdoor housing to provide warmth and comfort. A range of hut designs, levels of insulation and construction materials can be used. The younger the pig, the more vulnerable they are and the more critical their accommodation needs.

When their shelter is sorted, the next thing to think about is feed. Fully balanced, compound feed formulated for growing pigs or finishing pigs (e.g. NRM Little Pig Tucker or Big Pig Nuts) provides peace of mind that nutritional requirements will be fully met. However, to reduce costs or add variety, pigs are often given a variety of extras. Below is a collection of some frequently asked questions from pig owners.

Can I feed my pigs any food scraps?

As omnivores, pigs can digest a wide range of feed and enjoy a balanced diet, just like we do! There are, however, some restrictions to be aware of when it comes to feeding scraps.

  • Be wary of feeding too much high fibre feed, such as vegetable waste. Pigs are single-stomached animals (like humans) and fibrous feeds should only be fed in moderation, particularly for growing or lactating pigs that have higher requirements for energy and protein. Alternative feeds can be bulky and low-cost feeds may turn out more expensive in the long-term, due to depressed growth rates and feed conversion.
  • High starch feeds, like potatoes, can be a good source of energy for pigs but are generally low in protein and minerals required for muscle growth and bone integrity. So these are best complemented with a higher protein feed to balance the diet, especially for growing pigs.
  • There are some foods pigs should not eat raw, including potatoes and eggs.
  • Any food waste that has been in contact with cooked or raw meat must be heat treated to 100oC+ for 1 hour to ensure that any bacteria or viruses present are destroyed. Although there are relatively few pig diseases present in New Zealand, the risk of spreading disease (e.g. Foot and Mouth) is the main reason behind this law.
  • Do not feed pigs mouldy food.

What can I feed to my pigs to prevent them becoming fat?

Overfeeding energy relative to protein results in pigs gaining weight rapidly. However, when there is too much energy in the diet and not enough good quality protein, lean tissue deposition is compromised and the end result is fat pigs. Feed a well-balanced diet, which contains good quality protein sources to ensure that pigs get enough essential amino acids for lean tissue deposition.

Can I feed whole grain to pigs?

Cereal grains must be cracked, rolled or soaked before feeding to pigs, as whole grain will pass right through their digestive system. Grain-based pig diets are normally formulated to the first-limiting amino acid – lysine – rather than protein level.

What should I look out for if turning pigs into a new area?

Although wild pigs seem to have fared pretty well in the bush, when confined they may eat things to excess that they would normally avoid. Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), ragwort (Senecio var), rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.), rhubarb leaves and acorns can be harmful to pigs, in addition to the more obvious plants like foxglove and deadly nightshade.

Can I feed other animal feeds to pigs rather than just pig specific ones?

It is best to provide pigs with feed that has been designed for them, as they will be correctly balanced to support efficient growth and optimum health. However, as opportunist omnivores, their diet can be more flexible than some animals. There are some feeds to be wary of though.

  • Most calf feed contains coccidiostats, which should not be fed to pigs.
  • Chicken layer feeds are very high in calcium, which can be harmful to pigs.
  • Multifeed options such as NRM Multifeed Nuts are not recommended, as the amino acid profile and fibre level is designed for ruminants and is not ideal for pigs.

Can pigs eat grass?

Pigs are great cultivators, so if you want to turn over some old grassland they will eat the grass, roots and all. They do have some ability to utilise grass as a food source but they are certainly not as efficient as specialist grazers such as cattle and horses. Free ranging pigs with availability to pasture will eat some as part of a balanced diet. However, too much grass in the diet can cause issues, as grass is very fibrous and bulky, which means they will eat less of other feeds and will not be getting all the nutrients they require. Grass quality can also be highly variable. Kunekune pigs are a bit of an exception to the rule, however and they are better at utilising grass than other breeds of pigs.

What should I feed my pet kunekune?

Kunekune pigs have the ability to digest grass quite well, so fibrous feeds such as pasture and vegetable scraps can be a larger part of their diet – but it is a good idea to balance these feeds up with a pig nut to ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. For young kunekunes, up to 500 grams per pig per day of a pig grower feed such as NRM Little Pig Tucker Pellets will help support growth. From 4 months of age pig growth will slow down, so they can be moved over to a maintenance pig nut such as the NRM Big Pig Nuts and be fed 1-1.5kg per day, while allowing access to pasture or other fibre.

For further information, contact your local Nutrition Specialist.

Article supplied by Stacey Cosnett, Nutritionist.


What happens when different nutrients are in deficient or excessive supply in a pig’s diet?


If deficient

If in excess

Energy Less growth Deposited as fat
Protein Less lean muscle Converted to energy and deposited as fat or excreted
(waste protein)
Mineral Skeletal problems (deformed etc.)
Less growth
Skeletal imbalance
Less growth
Vitamins Less growth
Disease symptoms