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Our Pallet Pig Pen: Best Tips for Success

Shipping pallets are a popular building material right now. Just look on Pinterest and you’ll see plenty of pallet crafts and DIY projects. With a little internet browsing, you can find everything from cute pallet coffee tables to fully functional kitchen shelves.

But a pallet pig pen? That’s probably the only pallet project capable of exciting Ian.

Surprisingly enough, Ian does occasionally venture into the visual world of Pinterest, and when he saw photos of pallet pig pens online there was no going back. For the past five months, he’s been scheming ways to acquire enough pallets to tackle this project, and a few weeks ago he made it a reality.

Lots of people want to start living a more sustainable life by raising their own livestock, but they don’t think they can do it. They assume that making an animal pen is too expensive, takes up too much room in their yard, or is too hard to build.

We’re here to tell you that’s just not true.

With only some scrap wood and a dozen pallets collected from all over our region, Ian managed to create a perfectly functional pig pen for far less work than building one from scratch would have been. Best of all, the pallets were free, so the only costs for our entire pig pen was the pennies we paid for the pig’s water nipple.

Ian built our pen without any help and essentially figured out what he was doing as he went along. And guess what? It works!

Frankly, we all often make things a lot more complicated than need to be.

Are there things he will do differently next time? Absolutely (I’ve highlighted those points at the end of the article). And that’s entirely okay. We often hold ourselves back because we are afraid that we can’t do something perfectly, and that’s just silly.

If Ian took the time to get the exact right materials and make our pig pen perfectly according to an expert plan, he’d never be finished  or happy enough with the results to be ready to get a pig.

I’d rather have an imperfect pen and a pig.

If you have about 50 square feet of yard space available, a free weekend to scrounge up materials, and some promising pallet sourcing options, you are halfway towards building your own pallet pig pen. Follow our plan below and adapt it to make your own perfect pallet pig pen!

The Process of Making Our Pallet Pig Pen

Step 1. Getting your pallets.

Shipping pallets are used for transporting commercial goods around the world, meaning they are an essential piece of equipment for just about every big box store on the planet. You would think that would make it easy for us to come across some in our Central Appalachian town, but in fact the lack of big retailers made it almost impossible. We only had luck finding pallets when we traveled through bigger areas, but odds are good you’ll have better luck in your area.

Some tips to keep in mind when sourcing pallets: 

  • The dumpsters behind big box stores are a great place to start (so long as you’re legally allowed to look).
  • Pallets aren’t a “free for all”. If you see some that aren’t in a dumpster or otherwise obviously abandoned, ALWAYS ask permission before taking them. Many companies can get a cash refund when they return their pallets, so if you take them you are essentially stealing.
  • Avoid any pallet that seems to be rotting or is splintered and broken. It won’t be sturdy enough for the projects you need it for.
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One of a dozen pallets that we collected from surrounding cities like Asheville and Charleston.

Step 2. Digging the Pallet Trenches

Once he had twelve pallets, Ian was ready to start assembling his five pallet by one pallet pig pen. We chose to build ours FAR away from the house, downwind and lower down the hill, all decisions I highly recommend copying.

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Each pallet should be fit into a trench that allows them to be buried at least a foot deep. This creates remarkable stability for each pallet and helps them to survive any escape attempts from a bored pig.

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The deeper you can bury each pallet the better, but don’t bury them more than a third down, otherwise you compromise height!

Step 3. Assembling the Outer Pen

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As an act of melding the natural world with the artificial,Ian chose to use this tree as a post for a corner of the pig pen, a decision that he almost immediately regretted (read to the end to find out why!).

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The halfway point in the assembly process. This picture was taken around April, at which point this project was essentially stalled until late August.

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Each pallet was screwed into its neighbors, and scrap lumber was used to add an extra level of security. The logs on the bottom are placed to prevent the pig from digging his way out.

Step 4. Assembling the Sleeping Pen

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In the corner of the pen Ian built a small sleeping area with a wooden floor out of 3/4 inch plywood and the reject lumber scraps from a local sawmill. It’s not meant to be luxurious, but our pig has definitely taken to sleeping in it, which is more than Ian can say about the dog house he built last winter.

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Ian is always joking that the only thing he really knows how to build is a box- everything else is just a variation on that theme. He might have a point.

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The pen’s roof came from a section of an old metal roof that he happened to have lying around from a long forgotten project. However, a tarp would have worked just as well.

Note: When building a shelter for a pig it’s important to leave a space between the roof and the sides so that hot air can escape, which helps prevent the pig from overheating.

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A room with a view, what more could a pig want?
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Taa-Daaaaa!
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Ian’s lost in thought I guess. Or, more likely, contemplating how I always get to be the documenter of his laborious projects and consequently finagle my way out of doing any of them.

Step 5. Setting up the Water System

Someday we want this water to be gravity fed from rainwater from the roofs of the tool shed just thirty feet above this pen, but for now we simply fill it up with buckets for the pig to access through his water nipple.

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Step 6. Bringing Home the Bacon

Though Ian started this project back in the early spring, it took us a long time to decide if we actually wanted to raise a pig. After all, the more animals we collect the harder it is to leave our home for any length of time (no small concern, considering we currently live nine hours away from both sets of parents).

However, we recognize that we are living through a very special and unique time in our lives, and that not taking advantage of the available opportunities would be regrettable- so we took the risk and bought a piglet from our neighbor.

My new life philosophy: when faced with a tough decision, the right answer is always the one that provides you with the most animals.

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welcome home, Mr. Chris P. Bacon!

The gate for this pen was super easy- it’s essentially just a pallet on hinges.

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The best part about scavenging for pallets is that you have no control over what color they will be.
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One day before this picture was taken, his pen was filled with grass. Never doubt a pigs ability to efficiently turn his living space into mud!

Things To Do Differently Next Time

Though we are very happy with how this project turned out, there is always room for improvement, especially when you try something out for the first time. Below are some of our ideas to improve on our design if and when we ever make another pallet pig pen.

  • The horizontal slats of each pallet shouldn’t be facing inwards, as they create a ladder that we fear the pig might someday wisen up to using.
  • To add to the pen’s security, within the next few days, Ian will be putting four metal ‘T posts’ in the four corners of the pig pen and running barbed wire around the perimeter. This will hopefully keep the pig from attempting to jump out as he gets bigger.
  • Using a tree trunk as a post was a bad idea. Not only did the roots of the tree make digging the pallet trenches a huge pain for Ian, the tree also wasn’t uniformly straight, which meant that the angles of the boards he tried to attach to it were all off. He eventually got the design to work, but it probably took ten times longer than it should have.

And that’s it! Besides these issues, our pen is working better than either of us expected, considering how little money (none) was invested into it. Best of all, Ian recently shored up the fencing that made up an old goat pen, which has allowed the pig to have a much bigger ranging area and even allows him to come up in the goat barn and interact with other animals.

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Happy pig, incredible fall foliage.
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Sister Kathy’s pony often wanders onto our property, and in recent weeks she has become fast friends with our pig.

Building a pig pen out of pallets is extremely cheap, highly effective and a lot of fun. Trust me, if we can do it then you absolutely can do it too.

I hope we’ve inspired you to start your own DIY pallet craft project! And I won’t even judge you if you chose to make a coffee table instead. That’s definitely high on my list, but to be honest any project that doesn’t come with animals has lost some appeal for me. What’s the fun in that?!

 

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4 thoughts on “Our Pallet Pig Pen: Best Tips for Success

  1. “My new life philosophy: when faced with a tough decision, the right answer is always the one that provides you with the most animals.”

    ROTFL

  2. I would be interested to see what watering systems you have come up with. And more detail on that pig waterer with the nipple would be cool to read about. Also, any good ideas on watering systems for freezing temps? Maybe a topic for another blog post. Love the blog. Thanks.

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