Pigs have become my absolute favorite sustainable farm animal and breeding them at the right time makes the whole thing go better.
Pigs are usually bred for the first time between 4.5 and 12 months old. Most commercial sows are bred around 7 months, but pastured pig farmers prefer to start breeding at 9-12 months. Landrace breeds and some Chinese breeds mature early and are sometimes intentionally bred as young as 4.5 months.
That’s a lot of variance, and there are three primary schools of thought in breeding age management. Let’s talk about it.
Best Age to Breed Pigs
The best age to breed a sow is around 7 months, which should be during the second estrus cycle for most pigs. Early-maturing breeds have their second estrus around 4.5 months old but are often bred on the 4th or 6th cycle, 6-8 months old, to allow more hip development prior to birthing.
There are three breeding age management practices. The first is an early-breeding program. That would be breeding on the second estrus cycle, which is the commercial standard. There are really not many drawbacks to it in my opinion. If you want to raise regular farm hogs, I’d recommend it.
Sows may be bred at 7 months, but will gain in size for the next 5 years. Big pigs eat a crazy amount of feed. Commercial breeding sows are usually replaced by around 2-1/2 years because of their ever-growing feed consumption. By breeding early, you’re getting more litters out of her before she’s replaced.
By that age, a sow will be able to have had 4 litters, which is the norm on pig farms. If you waited until 12 months to breed, that’d be only 3 litters. That’s 8-15 fewer piglets with the same expenses. even if you don’t replace her then, you’re paying twice as much in feed costs to produce your first litter.
I no longer advocate for waiting until 12 months to breed. It’s just not fiscally responsible. In theory, waiting until 12 months to breed will reduce stillborns and birthing-related deaths, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in the first place.
Late-breeding is waiting until 12 months to breed a sow for the first time. I did that at first, because everybody in the hobby-farm space told me to. The idea is that the sow’s hips will be wider and allow for easier birthing with fewer complications.
Ironically, our first sow (bred at 13 months) was the only one that had any complications. She had a very hard time and honestly looked like she wasn’t going to make it after having her first litter. Breeding younger hasn’t caused any complications so far.
The last method is the wild herd, or landrace method. It’s literally just letting the pigs handle the breeding themselves. That idea intrigues me. Opposition to this method generally cites concern of a sow maturing extra early and getting bred too young. That’s a possibility.
From my own research and experience, it’s not much of a concern and will usually be fine. Most sows bred quite young will go on to deliver a healthy but small litter of piglets. I talked to a few farmers who did this method.
When you let the pigs breed at their pleasure, they do tend to have slightly smaller litters because the boars don’t always get the best timing. They tend to try a bit early and sometimes get tired out when the sow is optimal for breeding.
Most farmers who have a young pig get bred recommend abortifacient treatment immediately. One wise pig farmer, Carle Blake of Rustik Rooster Farms, recommended strongly against it because the process can do more harm than good. I had a 7-month-old pig deliver a litter of 6 healthy piglets, and she did absolutely great.
When do Pigs Sexually Mature?
Pigs mature sexually between 3.5 and 6 months old, depending on breed and stress. Early-maturing pigs such as their Pot Bellied Pig and the Meishan enter puberty the earliest while most commercial breeds enter puberty later. Some wild hogs and wild mixes sexually mature much later.
In the pig world, it’s fairly common knowledge that the Chinese breeds are desirable for their earlier maturity. They don’t grow faster, they just hit puberty a little younger. Most commercial farms would love their pigs to hit puberty a month earlier because it’s a slight decrease in expenses.
If you get a sow to be bred a month sooner, she will complete her 4 litters sooner and will have eaten a month less feed. I suppose that might be around a 3 percent decrease in feed overall, which can be a big deal if you have a thousand sows. Again, most of the small farmers don’t share the same view.
Puberty is a process that can take several months in pigs. There are many hormonal and physiological changes that take place. Both males and females tend to become slightly more aggressive, or moody. Boars start to put on more muscle while sows put on slightly more fat.
Boars can develop a musky smell, the evidence of pheromones. Young boars beginning to enter puberty tend to attempt to mount any other pig in the same enclosure, even if the boar isn’t sexually viable yet. Females will begin to enter estrus, although the first cycle may be incomplete.
Females are considered sexually mature at the first full estrus when she is “presenting” or standing firm, backed up to a boar. With boars, it’s not so easy. While they may be willing to attempt breeding, they may be unable to make it happen. Most farmers prefer to wait until a boar is about 8 months.
We raise Pot Bellied Pigs. They are among the earliest sexually maturing pigs. They usually hit puberty between 3.5 and 4.5 months. They should be completely sexually mature by 5 or 6 months, while many larger breeds would technically take 8 or so.
What’s the Youngest that Pigs Can Breed?
Some pigs can be bred as young as 3 months, but that’s considered a problem. A female can get pregnant on her first estrus. Some boars can breed by 3.5 months, but they aren’t in desirable breeding shape until 6 or 8 months old. Pigs bred too young have small litters and may experience complications.
The youngest I had a pig bred was 3.5 months. it was accidental breeding. A group of young females went into their first heat cycle. My mature boar got out and went under the fence into their pen. 4 months later, she delivered a small but healthy litter. Not what I wanted, but it worked.
Several farmers advised me to induce n abortion so she would grow better for butcher, but we ended up keeping her as a breeder. She’s a great mother now, but perhaps a bit on the small side.
With common commercial breeds, anything under 5 months is considered too young for breeding. Most of them can be first bred around 5 or 6 months, but on occasion one hits puberty early. Personally, I would never induce an abortion to a pig.
That process causes a great deal of suffering to the animal. The medication itself is extremely potent, can absorb through skin, and is very dangerous around anyone who might be pregnant themselves. It’s extremely dangerous stuff, I don’t want it around.
Best Time of Year to Breed Pigs
In most cases, you should breed pigs year-round as they are ready. It’s smart to plan your first breeding so the piglets will be born during mild weather. Breed your pigs 4 months before you would like them to have piglets. Try to avoid your first litter arriving during extreme heat or cold to make it easier on you.
Pigs can successfully have a litter of piglets in any weather common of the 48 continental US states. But, things can go wrong in extreme conditions. Here in Michigan, we get darn cold at times. We have had several pigs birth during the coldest, windiest blizzards of the year.
In good shelter, dry and completely out of the wind, I would have no concerns with one of my sows having piglets during a day cresting below zero degrees. The key here is to have the right shelter and nest ready to go. A lot of dry straw, dry, and out of the wind.
For more info, here’s an article I wrote on How to Breed Pigs
How Many Litters do Pigs Have?
Pigs can have over 20 litters in their lifetime. Pigs can have 2 litters each year after reaching puberty. Most farm pigs have 4 to 6 litters before being replaced. A female pig can continue being bred twice a year as long as she is healthy and not too thin.
Breeding a sow twice a year is not really a lot, but it’s the max they can do. The pregnancy takes just under 4 months, then it takes about 2 months before the piglets are weaned. The sow will go into heat usually within a few weeks of having her piglets weaned and placed in a separate pen.
Weaning piglets at 2 months old and breeding at the next heat cycle means that it would take approximately 12-1/2 months to have 2 litters if the breedings were successful.