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Effects of alternative housing and feed on pig growth and carcass quality

Quick facts

  • Growth rate of pigs housed in hoop barns is similar to pigs housed in confinement barns. 
  • Pigs in hoop barns eat more and are less efficient than pigs kept in confinement barns. 
  • Feeding a low-energy diet based on small grains slows growth and improves carcass leanness of pigs housed in hoop barns. 
  • It can cost more to feed pigs fed alternative grains compared to corn-soybean based diets.
small pig in straw

Housing pigs in hoop barns

Raising pigs in deep-bedded hoop barns is considered by some commercial markets as animal welfare-friendly. Midwest pork producers have been raising pigs in hoop barns for nearly two decades.

Compared to confinement barns, hoop barns:

  • Are less costly to build and operate.
  • Require a large amount of bedding.
  • Often don't support pig performance equal to indoor systems.

Hoop-reared pigs fed a traditional corn and soy-based diet eat more and result in fatter carcasses than pigs reared in more conventional housing systems.

Compared to pigs in confinement, pigs raised in hoop barns: 

  • Wasted slightly more feed.
  • Have marginally more last rib backfat.
  • Have a lower percent carcass lean.
  • Eat more to gain weight in the winter.

Feeding small grains

Small grains are lower in energy and higher in fiber than corn. Feeding small grains may limit fat in finishing pigs raised in hoop barns.

Managing pigs effectively in hoop barns requires a large amount of bedding. Cropping systems that rely on small grains generate both bedding for use in hoop barns and grains for pig feed.

This diversified farming system allows pork and crop production to complement each other.

Studying pig performance in hoop barn systems

Researchers at the West Central Research and Outreach Center conducted a study that looked deeper into swine hoop barn systems.

The study:

  • Determined the growth performance and carcass characteristics of finishing pigs fed a diet based on alternative ingredients and housed in hoop barns.
  • Determined if dietary changes can reduce fattening in finishing pigs fed in hoop barns.
  • Estimated the economic performance of pigs housed in hoop barns compared with environmentally-controlled confinement barns.


Common acronyms used throughout the results:

  • CCS: pigs raised in the confinement barn and fed a corn-soybean meal diet
  • HCS: pigs raised in the hoop barn and fed a corn-soybean meal diet
  • HAG: pigs raised in the hoop barn and fed isolysinic diets with alternative grains

Effects on carcass traits


Lee Johnston, Extension animal scientist and Rebecca Morrison, West Central Research and Outreach Center

Reviewed in 2019

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