Outdoor pig production for the arable rotation

See our information on costs and business options, and find out the benefits of pig production and how outdoor pigs can fit into the arable rotation. 

Back to: Livestock and the arable rotation

Incorporating pigs in the arable rotation

Outdoor pig production systems can work well in an arable rotation, and a range of options for pig production is available to arable businesses.

There is a high demand for outdoor born and reared pig meat, linked to quality and suitable land. A benefit is the support readily available from already established pig producers. 

Outdoor pigs can be used following root and vegetable crops or grass to forage. This helps to remove any missed cropping, and the pigs assist in cleaning the field. 

Benefits of this complete outdoor pig system include:

  • Weed control
  • Pest and disease control
  • Soil fertility, health and structure improvements
  • Additional income from the livestock
  • Opportunities for environmental improvement (e.g. land around the pig sites can be put down to grass margins or pollen and nectar mixes)
  • Providing a valuable addition to the cropping rotation portfolio by providing a break from traditional rotation methods

About outdoor pig production

Outdoor pig production accounts for over 40% of the total UK sow (breeding) herd, but many more additional pigs are reared and finished outdoors. Commonly, outdoor weaned pigs continue to be reared in outdoor accommodation. In some cases, the rest of the finishing period is also completed outdoors, either in tents or in open paddocks, often commanding a premium for the product.

Business options for pigs in the arable rotation

Breeding pigs

A breeding unit requires land on a two-year rotation. Land with good, free-draining sand will command good rental returns. Outdoor pigs are becoming a growing opportunity because they are based on shorter-term arrangements and fit in best with crop rotations that include hungry root crops or maize (since manure helps to feed them).


Muck-for-straw deals are also common. This is where the pig unit help speed the process of straw removal from the fields in summer, and the arable staff can move the manure in the winter months when their workload reduces.

Various agreements exist between landlords and tenants, from simple rental of the land, to working partnerships. Some larger pig production companies provide start-up opportunities for new entrants and, in return, are paid a management fee for the number of pigs produced.

Cost considerations for outdoor pigs

The rental income from outdoor pigs is closely linked to the quality of the land provided. The additional provision of a secure yard and access to mains electricity can provide significant returns.

Water is a must for any livestock enterprise and should be considered for any potential land rental. The increasing regulation of water supplies often means the tenant is responsible for approaching the local water company to secure a water supply for the rental period. However, if the landlord can provide a supply from their own source, this can add to the potential rental figure.

Accounting for the factors discussed above, current returns can range from £300/ha to over £400/ha. With an average outdoor breeding unit of 1,000 sows requiring 40 ha, potential income can be very profitable when measured against other cropping incomes.

In addition to this figure, there is also the potential improvement to soil fertility, health and structure. These benefits can last for up to three years after the pigs have gone.

Case study: outdoor pig production

Chris Fogden farms a herd of around 1,200 outdoor sows on a large estate in Suffolk.

He rents land for two years as part of a rotation. The pigs provide a valuable rotation break from the various crops grown on the estate, which include root crops, onions and maize. On the estate, the pigs have been able to provide valuable fertility and health back to the very sandy soils.

The estate is at the forefront of environmental management. Using a variety of cropping methods (the pigs being one), it has seen big benefits, not just to the soils but to the surrounding area, including an increase in bird species and other wildlife.

Useful links

Download our guide to Livestock and the arable rotation

To order a hard copy of the Livestock and the arable rotation guide, please contact publications@ahdb.org.uk or call 0247 799 0069.

Information on grass cover mix options on outdoor pig units

Find your local pork knowledge exchange manager

Protecting your outdoor pig unit from predators