Target Grade Level / Age Range:



90  minutes


Students will gain a basic understanding of animal husbandry and the importance of biosecurity in the livestock industry.

  • Students will identify key components to their housing structures. What do we need to have a safe comfortable home?
    • Four walls, roof, heat, water, clean air, access to food
  • Students will learn key components to a hog barn facility.
  • Students will identify, analyze, and explain the environmental impacts livestock housing has.


  • Poster paper
  • Markers

Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites)


  • Barrows: Castrated male pigs intended for harvest
  • Biosecurity: Procedures that are executed to protect animals against disease or harmful biological agents
  • Boars: Intact male pigs intended for breeding purposes
  • Farrowing Barn: The facility where farrowing takes place
  • Farrowing: The act of giving birth to a litter of piglets
  • Finishing Pigs: A hog that approximately weighs 120-150 lbs until it reaches market weight for harvest.
  • Finishing Barn: The facility that houses finishing pigs
  • Gilts: Female pigs that have not farrowed
  • Litter: A group of piglets born at one time
  • Market Hog: About 6 months old and weigh about 280 lbs.
  • Market Weight: weighing between 250-280 lbs.
  • Nursery Barn: The facility that houses pigs after being weaned and before they head to the finishing barn. Boars, barrow, and gilts from approximately 40-70 lbs.
  • Nursing Pigs: Pigs from birth until weaning
  • Piglet: Baby pig
  • Pig Flow: All-in, all-out (AIAO) flow maximizes health benefits; segregate/eliminate light pig that remain on-site post-marketing; eliminate rendering visits to sites.
  • Pork: Meat that comes from pigs
  • Ventilation: The circulation of fresh air to a room or building

Background – Agricultural Connections

The first step in hog production is to determine what type of swine production one wants to get into. There are three types of swine production systems to get into they are farrow-to-finish, farrow-to-feeder, and feeder-to-finish.

To determine which enterprise will work best in your situation, you must first consider the following:

  • Amount of capital, labor, and land available (What resources do I already have, what resources are available, and what do I need to invest in?)
  • Level of management and marketing skill needed (What type of employees will you need to hire? How many employees do you need to hire?)
  • Social and environmental implications associated with manure management. (Where will you hold, store, and discard the manure waste?)

Farrow-to-Finish:  Involves the entire process from start to finish. It encompasses breeding and farrowing sows and then feeding the offspring until they reach a market weight of about 280 pounds. The entire production period takes approximately 10 months, with 4 months for breeding and gestation and 6 months to raise the litter to market weight. This system demands the most capital and labor force and requires a long-term commitment to the swine business.

Farrow-to-Feeder:  Involves breeding and farrowing sows and then selling the piglets to a finishing operation when they weigh approximately 30-60 pounds. Compared to a farrow-to-finish operation, this option decreases the need for facilities, operating capital, and the amount of feed and manure handled. This system allows farmers to increase the number of sows or expand into a farrow-to-finish operation. A downfall of this system is that producers, must comply with the volatile pig market.

Feeder-to-Finish:  These operations buy feeder pigs weighing around 30-60 lbs. from farrowing operations and then feed them to market weight. This system allows for minimum capital investment, low labor requirements, and no long-term commitment. The feeder-to-finish operation offers an opportunity for a grain farmer to use homegrown feeds to finish pigs without having to manage breeding stock. The operation may capitalize on the fertilizer value of the manure to use on their row crop operation. Some areas of concern are the source, health, and quality of purchased feeder pigs. Ideally, all feeder pigs should originate from a single farm to reduce potential herd health problems.

Important Considerations for Pig Health

  • Purchasing breeding stock or feeder pigs from a disease-free source
  • Keeping the facilities clean and maintaining adequate ventilation
  • Establishing a herd health program (in conjunction with a veterinarian)
  • Avoiding visits to other swine farms to reduce the risk of disease transfer (biosecurity)

Biosecurity Management Practices

  • Reducing the risk of new disease introduced by herd additions or visitors
  • Maintaining sanitation
  • Treating or avoiding parasites
  • Preventing and controlling respiratory, reproductive, and diarrheal diseases
  • If these guidelines are followed, most herd health problems can be avoided and they should require only a small investment in time and money.

Types of Housing Structures

Free Range Pigs (Pastured Pork Production): There is not a building structure, the hogs utilize pasture as a feed source but they are not as efficient as ruminants. There are both advantages and disadvantages associated with using pasture for hogs.

  • Advantages
    • Outdoor, pasture-oriented production systems open potential niche market opportunities.
    • Hogs can benefit from the activity and exercise associated with foraging.
  • Disadvantages
    • Excessive rooting behavior can result in soil erosion issues.
    • Hogs can escape from pastures. Hogs escaping from farms has been identified as one of the causes of the growing feral hog problem in many parts of the United States.
    • Internal parasite issues can be severe on poorly managed pasture systems.
    • Light-skinned hogs can suffer sunburn while grazing.
    • Managing pasture takes much time and commitment to make it successful.
  • If you decide to use pasture on your farm, you need to be committed to managing the pasture plants and grazing. Pastures can be made up of either perennial or annual plants. A perennial pasture is a long-term investment. It is important to try to prevent rooting damage to perennial pastures to maintain their long-term productivity. Annual pastures will need to be replanted each year. Tillage used to establish annuals can also be used to smooth out fields and reduce bacterial and parasite contamination. Reestablishment adds considerable cost to the use of pasture.

Hoop Barns:  Used to finish hogs to market weight, hoop barns are another option for producers to use as a swine production facility. They are lower in cost compared to traditional confinement barns. A hoop barn is a Quonset™-shaped structure with sidewalls 4 to 6 feet high made of treated wood posts and wood sides or concrete. Tubular steel arches fastened to the tops or sides of the posts form a hooped roof, which is covered with UV-resistant, polyvinyl tarp. When used as swine housing, hoop barns have concrete or earthen floors. Buildings with earthen floors have a concrete slab for a feeding and watering area. The floor, except for the feeding and watering area, is deep bedded and cleaned after each group of pigs is marketed. 

  • Advantages: Hoop barns appear to be most beneficial for producers who have one or more of the following needs:
    • Want facilities to match a rapidly changing swine industry.
    • Need a short-term structure that can be removed after use or that can be adapted for other uses.
    • Want to keep fixed costs low.
    • Have limited capital.
    • Need facilities for groups of 150 to 200+ pigs, which could be impractical for other housing types.
    • Are not interested in accepting the financial risk associated with a large capital investment.
    • Prefer to handle solid manure and have the capability to do so.
    • Have the equipment and land resources to harvest crop residue for bedding.
    • Prefer a system of production that is less automated and requires different husbandry skills than those needed in confinement buildings.
    • Believe pigs should be reared in an environment with bedding.
    • Can be built quickly.
    • May qualify for some niche market requirements and premium prices.
  • Disadvantages
    • Observing animals in large groups is more difficult.
    • Hoop-housed pigs may use feed less efficiently during cold periods.
    • During inclement weather, the labor environment is less favorable in hoops than in confinement buildings.
    • Hoop-raised pigs may be slightly less lean than confinement-raised pigs.
    • More labor may be needed for hoops than for confinement buildings.
    • Hoops require large amounts of bedding, and labor needs for harvesting bedding may conflict with the labor needs for harvesting grain.
    • Raccoons and other animals that can foster farm-to-farm disease transmission may use the bedding storage area for nests.
    • Excluding birds and other pests that may carry diseases is difficult.

Confinement Building:  The hogs are confined in a closed system called confinement buildings. These buildings allow the producer to control many aspects of the building and the environment in which the pigs are living in. They are built with biosecurity practices in mind and work to keep disease out. They are also set up with the latest technology and have close monitoring systems to help the producer monitor the health and feed rations of the hogs. The primary advantages of closed herd systems are tighter control of hog supply and potential reduction in the risk of disease introduction. They remove the risk of disease breaks from each part in the production chain. Some of the disadvantages of confinement operations is that they do require additional management to monitor and care for the hogs inside and with all the advantages and use of biosecurity practices they are a lot more costly.

  • Advantages
    • Tighter control of hog supply
    • Reduction in the risk of disease introduction
    • Closer monitoring systems
  • Disadvantages
    • Require additional management to monitor and care for the hogs inside
    • With all of the biosecurity protocols they can be a lot more costly

Interest Approach or Motivator

Have students generate a list of the following questions.

  1. What do we have in common with pigs? (We both need food, water, and shelter to survive)
  2. Discuss the types of homes humans live in and ask what type of structure do pigs live in? Do they live in structures or not?
  3. Does the type of environment/climate determine what type of home we live in? How about hogs? (Climate impacts how homes are built and how they are structured)

After students have answered the questions have them partner up and discuss their answers then have them share with the class (Think, Pair, Share).           


  1. Discuss pork production in Iowa.
    1. Where do pigs live? (Predominantly in hog confinement buildings or hoop buildings)
    2. Why is Iowa the number one producer of hog production? (Because hogs eat a lot of corn and Iowa is the number one producer of corn. It’s less input cost when you do not have to ship the feed the pigs eat)
    3. What do they eat? (Mixed ration of corn, soybeans, and micronutrients)
    4. What is their job for humans? (To be a protein source and pig by-products are used for other products)
    5. Why do pigs live inside? (For biosecurity reasons and to protect the health of each animal)
  2. Show PowerPoint presentation on hog confinements. Talk through main points and have students capture key information in their notebooks. 
  3. In groups of three to four, have students design a pig facility and create a drawing or rendering of it on a large poster board. The image should explain what type of building it is based on what was shared in the PowerPoint or a new style that the students come up with. The drawing should include technology and an explanation of systems in the facility (watering systems, feeding systems, temperature controls, etc. 
  4. After 10 minutes of work time, have the students present their designs to the class and explain their renderings.
  5. Have students discuss these question:
    1. How have the designs of pig housing structures changed over time as well as the way pigs are raised? Why?
    2. How are pig buildings managed? What are the decisions concerning manure, pigs, feed, water, etc. handled?
  6. Have students analyze different management practices and have them explain the potential outcomes the different managements will have on the environment.
  7. After the discussion, students will have the opportunity to re-design their pig housing based on what they have learned from their research. Provide new paper if needed. Allow another 5-10 minutes of work time as needed. 
  8. Have students share their new design and explain the changes they made and have them discuss why they made those changes.

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • A litter of pigs has 10-12 piglets that weigh approximately 3 pounds each.
  • A market pig weighs around 280 pounds.
  • It takes about 6 months for the piglet to be market ready
  • The pig’s teeth and tail are clipped when they are a day old to prevent them from biting the other pigs.
  • Pigs can’t sweat.
  • Both male and female pigs have teats.
  • The gestation period (how long the pig is pregnant) is 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days.
  • Pigs can be used for more than just meat. They can be used in medicine.

Essential Files:

Pig Housing PowerPoint. pptx

Extension Activities

  • Get in contact with a local pig farmer and have a FarmChat® with them on their operation.
  • Have students research where hog production takes place in the United States. Then have them discuss why they are produced in those areas (because there is an abundant feed source). See if students can identify the correlation on their own first.



Hannah Pagel and Randi Koehler

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Lawton-Bronson CSD

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • Theme 5: T5. 9-12e. Discuss how agricultural practices have increased agricultural productivity and have impacted (pro and con) the development of the global economy, population, and sustainability.

Iowa Core Standards

  • SS.9-12.3. Gather relevant information from multiple sources representing a wide range of views while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection. 


Creative Commons License

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