Complete guide to farming pigs from start to finish
Farming pigs can be a joyous and rewarding experience. They are wonderful animals, a privilege to farm and they produce delicious meat. There isn’t anything quite like eating bacon from a pig that you have reared yourself.
If you are considering getting a few pigs to raise for meat then you might be scouring the internet looking for tips and advice to help you along the way. So, we thought we would put together our complete guide to pig farming to offer as much advice as we can!
We might as well start at the very beginning. Before you purchase your pigs, you will need to ensure you have sorted out a wide variety of things, from the correct food supplies to pig pens and more. So, let’s start off with the all important pig pen.
Picture courtesy of Andreas Klinke Johannsen via Flickr Creative Commons
Get yourself a pen
You can’t have pigs without a pig pen. When it comes to building the pen, there are a number of things that you will have to consider. For starters, it needs to be sturdy and safe. Pigs are rather strong and can be rough at times, so the pen in which they are living will need to be able to withstand some wear and tear - four and five gauge steel is often a good choice. It must also offer your pigs the right amount of ventilation and be nice and spacious.
You will also need to have some good rigid troughs from which your pigs can eat and drink. We would recommend using a sturdy and safe metal that is nice and easy to clean. Galvanised troughs are your best bet. They are nice and rigid, easy to clean and a pig will struggle to tip one over. If you get one fitted with braces then it will prevent your pigs from climbing into the water - which they love to do.
It is always great to offer your pigs an open pen with a little piece of open field securely fenced off. However, if you don’t have the space then you will want to ensure that you aren’t keeping your pigs in a pen that is too small. Whilst the exact size depends greatly on the size and number of your pigs, here is a rough chart to offer you at least some idea of how much space your pigs will need.
If you are having large areas of pasture for your pigs to explore you can use electric or a combination of electric and woven wire fencing. However, field fencing is the best option. This comes in a variety of heights and can to be made out of heavy duty steel netting, a close mesh and top and bottom rails, which creates a very strong fence.
Woven wire fences are also an option, however, they are not as sturdy so you may want to reinforce it with some electric fencing situated on the inside to keep the pigs from pushing through or rooting under.
Using electric fencing alone is an option, however, you must train your pigs on how to react to getting shocked. Pigs will tend not to back up when shocked, but will rather plough through the electric fence. If they have no visual reminder to back up then they will just continue to do this. Therefore, as a way of training the pigs to back up when shocked, you should run some electric fence through a small corner of the hard pen or on the inside of some field fencing. This way, when they are shocked they will only have the option of backing up.
Picture courtesy of Michael Newton via Flickr Creative Commons.
Other things to consider before you get your pigs
Other things that you need to consider before you purchase your pigs include waste disposal and bedding. So here are a few things to take into account before you jump in and grab your pigs.
Once they have eaten, your pigs will, without doubt, produce plenty of manure for you to clean up. Whilst the smell can be rather pungent and not very nice, it is important for the health and wellbeing of the animals that you regularly clean their pen. Refreshing their drinking water regularly and removing waste is very important.
However, if you find a fellow local farmer who is in need of some manure then your pigs could actually offer you an extra stream of steady income. Pig manure can be very good for fertilising crops.
As with humans - and most animals in fact - pigs love bedding. In the warmer summer months just a few small square bales of hay will be enough. However, in the winter you will want to up the amount of bedding on offer so your pigs can keep nice and warm inside their pens.
Picture courtesy of bertconcepts via Flickr Creative Commons
Getting your pigs
When it comes to buying your first pigs you will need to take into account the space you have available and the time you want to spend caring for them. If you are a first timer then we would advise you to keep your herd of pigs relatively small to ensure it is manageable.
How many to get?
Pigs are social animals, so it’s a good idea to purchase no fewer than two. Having a companion around means that their mental and emotional health will be far better, but they will also fare better physically. They are competitive animals and will tend to eat more and grow faster when they have some friendly competition in the pen.
It tends to be a good idea to start out with pigs that are between four and eight weeks old. You should be aiming for piglets that are around 20 to 50 pounds in weight and it is wise to avoid runts or piglets that are small and seem weak.
You should shop around, speak to farmers in your local area and, of course, browse Farming Ads for pigs for sale.
Registering them legally
You are legally required to register these animals with the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA). This applies to everyone no matter if you have one pet pig or a giant herd. If there is a disease outbreak then it is vital that the governing bodies know the precise location of all the livestock. This is so that they can make the right moves in order to control the outbreak. If you fail to register your pigs then you are putting your own livestock, as well as other livestock in the area, at risk.
New to keeping pigs?
If you are new to keeping pigs then there are a number of things that you will need to do and a number of things that you must obtain. Here is a list of things that you must do in order to keep pigs, according to Defra:
- Obtain a County Parish Holding number - This is a number for the land on which you will be keeping your pigs. If you already have one of these then you are not required to obtain a new number. You can get one of these buy phoning the Rural Payments Agency Customer Registration Team on 0845 603 7777. You can also visit the RPA website and take a look at their customer registration section. When you are registering, you should let them know that you will be keeping livestock.
- Contact the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) - As mentioned above you need to register your pigs with the AHVLA. This must be done within 30 days of them arriving on your land for the first time. You can contact them here. When you register you will be provided with a unique flock or herd mark which will be shown on official ear tags that you will use to identify your animals. This mark is stored on a national database which is used to record livestock movements.
Feeding time - what to feed your pigs
It is very important that you make sure your pigs are well fed and get all of the required nutrients. As with all farm animals, it is vital that they are well nourished in order to produce the best quality meat. However, it is not just important to ensure you feed them well, it is also vital that you know the laws surrounding what you can and can’t feed your pigs.
Picture courtesy of Tambako The Jaguar via Flickr Creative Commons.
What not to feed them
There are number of laws surrounding what you can and can’t feed your pigs. After the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak in 2001 the laws have become more strict. This is mainly down to the fact that the first outbreak was located on a farm where unprocessed waste food was being fed to the pigs. It is now illegal to feed your pigs any waste food from catering, including used cooking oil. This means you are not allowed to feed your pigs leftovers from any kitchen be it domestic or commercial.
There is also a restriction on feeding pigs any food that contains materials of animal origin with some exceptions. These exceptions are :
- Liquid milk or colostrum may be fed to pigs kept on the same holding as that on which the milk or colostrum originated
- Former foodstuffs other than catering waste food from kitchens etc, containing rennet, melted fat, milk or eggs but where these materials are not the main ingredient
- Fishmeal, (animal derived) di-or tri-calcium phosphate, or blood products if suitably processed (see TSE Regulations internet link below)
- Milk, milk products and white water when suitably treated.
Good things to feed your pigs
Once you have established what you aren’t allowed to feed your pigs, it is worth working out what you will be feeding them. Pigs are omnivores and can eat a wide variety of food and just like you and me they require a balanced diet of fibre, protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. When it comes to the keeping of pigs, their feed will be your largest expenditure.
The most common way to feed your pigs is with commercial pig feed. This comes in a variety of types so it is worth shopping around. You may wish to opt for an organic or GM-free feed, however, these will cost you more. There are a number of pig feed suppliers online. Here are a few to get you started:
Duffields – manufacturers of animal feeds from mills which are UFAS approved
Mole Valley – A small group of farmers started this business in South Molton in the 60s. They were concerned by the discriminatory practices and the large margins being taken by many of their input suppliers
Massey Feeds – family business with over 100 years experience in producing feeds
Once you have purchased your feed it is important that you keep it situated in a dry place that is free of rodents. And, once you have opened a bag of feed, it is important that you keep it in a container that is again rodent-proof. Make sure that you are checking the best before dates on your feed as the vitamin and mineral levels in the feed will decline after the date expires.
For instructions on how to feed your pigs, consult the notes on the bag. You may, however, wish to increase the amount of feed you use in the winter months as your pigs will be using up more energy in keeping warm.
Picture courtesy of Boudewijn Berends via Flickr Creative Commons.
In order to keep their diet interesting, it is a good idea to supplement their feed with fruit and veg. However, you must remember that it is illegal to feed them kitchen waste. If you’re adding large amounts of fruit and veg to their feed then it may be an idea to reduce the amount of feed you are giving the pigs in order to avoid overfeeding.
As with all animals, pigs will also need plenty of clean water for drinking. However, they will often tip the trough over in order to make a muddy wallow. And, they are also known to climb in the water trough in order to clean themselves. Therefore using a galvanised heavy duty trough with brackets to avoid them climbing in, is a good idea. It is vital that you check their water troughs regularly and clean them out and refill them when they appear dirty.
How much are you supposed to feed them?
Your commercial pig feed will often have guidelines printed on the back allowing you help when it comes to how much to feed your pigs. It is generally considered that you should feed your pigs 1lb (450g) of food a day for each month of age. So if they are one month old you are feeding them 1lb of food a day and two months old - 2lbs and so on and so forth. However, this is only to go up to a maximum of 6lbs per day. You should not feed more than this unless you have some lactating sows.
It is important that you weight the food before you feed them as 6lbs is probably less than you would think. Another good pointer is to see how long it takes for all of the food to be eaten. It should take around 20 to 30 minutes to be cleared up. If it takes more time than this then you should reduce the amount gradually until their appetite increases.
Characteristics of pigs
When keeping pigs, it is worth knowing as much as possible about their tendencies and traits. Pigs are fantastic animals to farm and have plenty of character and they are also great fun to be around. Whilst their characteristics will vary from breed to breed, here are some common characteristics that are present amongst pigs.
Common misconception alert time - pigs are generally very clean animals. Whilst they are often deemed to be dirty and grubby creatures, they are actually the opposite. They will, for example, defecate far away from their food and water troughs as well as their shelter. And, they will also avoid spending large amounts of time near their manure.
One of the main reasons people believe pigs to be dirty is because of their innate love of mud. However, what they are doing here, is using mud to block out the sun from their sensitive skin and protect their body from insect bites - pretty clever.
Social and smart!
Pigs are very clever and can be mischievous. It is important that you do not underestimate them from the off. You must ensure your pens are nice and strong as these animals are great at escaping. They have even been known to work in pairs to escape and even more incredibly, they have been known to open other pens in order to allow for other pigs to escape.
Depending on when you send them off for slaughter, pigs can live for around 10 to 15 years if you have cared for them properly.
Other characteristics and traits
Pigs will use their sense of smell and hearing in order to find their way around as they are near-sighted. They will also use their snouts to search for food and will often sniff for things to eat.
They are also only able to sweat from their snouts. This is one of the main reasons that they love to hang around in the mud in order to maintain their temperature levels, which is even more obvious in hot weather.
Tips for caring for pigs
When you are caring for your pigs there are a number of things that you will want to do in order to ensure that they are healthy and live a good life, whilst also being nice and easy to manage. Whilst we have offered you plenty of advice on what you will need in order to care for these animals, here are some useful snippets of advice to help you out in the actual act of caring for them. Follow these closely and you will find these animals to be great fun and a pleasure to farm.
Picture courtesy of Matt Feifarek via Flickr Creative Commons.
Be the top pig
It is important that you establish yourself as the boss from the off. You will want to ensure that your pigs exhibit good behaviour as much as possible. When they are young and they nibble at your feet or charge into you, it can be seen as cute and a bit of fun. However, when your pigs are much larger, this sort of behaviour could be dangerous. You should ensure that from an early age they don’t nibble on you, swarm you at feeding times or jump up at you or push you at all.
Their snouts are sensitive, so if they do exhibit bad behaviour a gentle tap on the snout accompanied with a firm “No!” should show them that their behaviours are not acceptable. Pigs are intelligent animals so should learn quickly.
Don’t feed them by hand
Now this may sound strange but it is quite important. When trying to tame a pig many people will take to feeding them by hand. The idea behind this is that young pigs tend to scare easily, so luring them in with food will allow you to get up close and personal straight away. However, this is not such a good idea and can backfire later in their life.
If you do this you are allowing the pig to think that it is ok for it to take food directly from you and whilst this is ok when they are small, having a giant 200 pound pig trying to forcibly take food off you can be a bit of a predicament.
Pigs don’t really need taming efforts as they do tend to become more relaxed later in life, so don’t worry too much about this. If you do feel the need to get close and give your cute little piglets a stroke then you should leave the food on the floor next to you and then give them a touch while they are eating.
Make sure you get in with them
Whilst it can be tempting to avoid contact with your pigs when you find yourself getting outmuscled by them, this is a bad idea. Some farmers will place their feeding and water troughs near the circumference of their enclosure so that you don’t have to get into the pen with your now boisterous pigs.
In theory, this is probably an OK idea. However, there will come a time at some point where you will have to get in with your pigs. If you have avoided them from a young age, then you really don’t want the first time you mingle with them to be when they are all huge 200 pound beasts. Get in with them regularly and get your pigs accustomed to human-pig interaction.
Fences fences fences
It is very very important that you check the fencing around your pigs regularly. As stated previously, these animals are very clever and great at escaping. Pigs will capitalise on any weakness in your fencing and make their getaway. And, sometimes, getting them back in their pen can be a bit of a chore.
Keep an eye out for health issues
You don’t want your pigs to get ill so make sure you are checking them often. Listen for those that are breathing heavily and sound wheezy as this could be a sign of illness. You should also check them for lameness and call a vet if you see anything that could indicate that one of your pigs is unwell.
One good indicator of a pig’s health is its appetite. A weak appetite is a sign of a pig being ill, but don’t think that a pig has to be completely reluctant to eat in order to be ill. If your pig is slower to start eating or less enthusiastic about food than usual, then you could catch its illness early. Catching symptoms early gives your pigs more chance of survival.
Picture courtesy of sammydavisdog via Flickr Creative Commons.
As well as keeping an eye out for health issues, you will also want to check the condition of your pigs in order to know that you are feeding them well enough. To do this simply run your hand along the animal’s spine. If you can feel the spine clearly then the pig is a bit thin and could do with more food. If you can feel it fine with a bit of firm pressure, then your pig is perfect and if you cannot feel it at all then your pig is too fat and should be fed a little less.
Transport and slaughter
Picking up your pigs may be easy as you will most probably purchase them at a young age, meaning they can fit in a crate etc. However, when it comes to take them to slaughter they may be far bigger and require a larger vehicle.
When it comes to getting the animals slaughtered you will want to ensure you are all booked up early and have the right amount of space in the freezer for all that delicious meat. Pigs will produce roughly 150 - 180 pounds of pork products so you may need some more freezers.
When to take them to slaughter
Whether you have raised your pigs conventionally or not, you will most likely send your pigs to slaughter when they are around 260/275 pounds. However, you can send pigs that range from around 240 to 300 pounds. The reason you send pigs to slaughter at a certain weight is not to do with the animal’s size, but to do with it’s ‘finish’. This refers to the fat cover and the marbling of the meat and it is these factors that give the cuts of meat their flavour and keeps it moist throughout the cooking process.
The wide range of weights at which a pig can be taken to slaughter is due to the ‘finish’. For example some pigs who are naturally fatter will put on a good fat cover younger and at a lighter total body weight than pigs who are more lean.
However, if you send a pig that is too light or too heavy it can mean that they haven’t got enough fat cover, or, conversely, they have too much. Both of these situations will lead to the production of poor quality pork.
Picture courtesy of Sean via Flickr Creative Commons.
When you are transporting your pigs to slaughter it is worth knowing the law. The eAML2 electronic pig licence combines the AML2 and food chain information (FCI) paper forms that are required when moving pigs to slaughter. If you pre-notify the move via the bureaux service the movement will still combine the AML2 and FCI.
You are required, by law, to keep a movement record when transporting pigs to slaughter. This must contain:
- The date of movement
- Identification mark, slapmark or temporary mark (if applicable)
- The number of pigs
- The holding the pigs have been moved from
- The holding to which the pigs are moved
You must record these details within 36 hours of their taking place and then you are required to keep these records for three years.
If a pig dies on your farm
There are strict laws in place to govern the disposal of livestock carcases. This includes pet pigs as well. You are not allowed, by law, to bury your pigs if they die. This is very important. If any of your pigs do die on your farm they must be taken to, or collected by, an approved knacker’s yard, hunt kennel, incinerator or rendering operator by private arrangement.
According to Defra, the details of suitable facilities in your area can be found on the AHVLA website or are available from your local AHVLA office, local authority or veterinary surgeon.