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Here we offer some friendly advice and guidance about keeping your own pigs. 

Why keep pigs?

Pigs often receive bad press but it’s generally unfair – they are among the cleanest, most intelligent and friendly animals and they make great pets.  An added bonus, for those wishing to rear their pigs for meat, is that they provide good home-reared pork and bacon and they’re an excellent recycler of waste food.  It has been said that the only part of a pig you can’t eat is its squeal!  They are certainly the most rewarding and enjoyable of all the ‘edible pets’.  Many people keep a few weaners for home use and for sale to their friends, although on a smallholding they are also useful for consuming surplus goats milk.

Keeping PigsPart of the fun of keeping pigs is that they are very engaging animals.  They are highly intelligent and bore easily, so they need to be entertained.  The best way to do this is to devote some time to them - they can be trained with repetition and consistency, using positive reinforcement to set rules and boundaries.  Free range pigs are by far the happiest as they have a natural desire to wallow and dig in the ground, but you can further exercise your pigs by playing fetch with them and letting them run together.

Beware – if you don’t provide entertainment for your pigs they will seek their own.  A favourite past-time is escaping.  Pigs can get through wire mesh and lift doors off hinges, so make sure you have thought ahead.  They are very curious, so providing toys to play with will be much appreciated.  Hanging strips of cloth overhead has proved popular; rubber hoses, chains, etc are less popular as pigs like to tug and chew and these materials are not so easy to get their teeth around.  They also enjoy rubbing themselves against things, so make sure that important structures are well anchored!

Pigs are very sociable and prefer to live in small groups.  They are very clean animals and won’t spoil the areas where they eat or sleep.  As pets they can even be house-trained!  They love being petted and stroked, to scratch and be scratched and with care (including softly spoken words) they will become very tame.

Before deciding to keep your own pigs: 

  • Happy pigsBe certain that you will have enough time to devote to them all year round and that there is someone willing and able to look after them if you’re not there. Pigs need regular attention.

  • Learn about common pig ailments and make sure you can spot signs of disease.  Also ensure you’re happy to administer vaccinations and wormers.  Introduce yourself to a trusted local vet, if you haven’t already, and know when to call them.

  • It doesn’t matter whether they are commercial, domestic or pet animals, all pigs are subject to regulations.  You’ll need to familiarise yourself with them (see Regulations below for more details).

  • Make sure that your pigs are not going to be a nuisance to neighbours.  Pigs are naturally clean but they inevitably produce manure, the smell of which might not be appreciated by others living nearby. They can also be noisy at feed times.

 

 

Caring for Pigs Hints and Tips

Happily, the national trend for keeping pigs outdoors has been steadily increasing during recent years.  Rare breeds are particularly well suited to the outdoor life, as their hardy characteristics suit the conditions better than those of intensively-bred breeds. 

Piglet in straw

Pigs are very sensitive to extremes of climate.  They have no sweat glands so when they are hot their only solution is to wallow.  In hot climates, pigs are generally nocturnal for this reason.  They are also highly susceptible to sunburn and wallowing in mud will provide a helpful sunscreen.  In cold weather, they have no thick hair, only a layer of fat, so they’ll huddle together to keep warm.  It is important to provide adequate shelter.

Pigs prefer scrub or light woodland for their outdoor habitat, rather than open grassland where they feel more vulnerable to predators.  Their bodies are adapted to push through scrub, so if you’ve got scrub to clear they’ll do a great job of rooting it up for you.  This will also provide them with a more varied diet (although good management, housing and additional feeding will still be required).  Pigs forage for all sorts of vegetable and meat, even carrion – they’ll eat anything they regard as edible! 

If you decide to keep your pigs indoors, they must have adequate shelter from draughts (but good ventilation), freedom of movement, lighting (so that they can be checked at any time of the day or night) and fresh water at all times.  Furthermore, all pigs must be protected from disease, injury and vice.  You must have ample time to check for signs of distress, disease or aggression.
 

Get to Know your Pig

Pig snoutPigs use a wide variety of sounds to communicate.  They squeak, grunt, bark and squeal to indicate hunger, thirst, alarm, fear, terror, affection, courtship and more.  Squeals can however reach 112 decibels (similar to a jet taking off), which can damage human hearing.  Funnily enough, pigs have sensitive hearing and loud unfamiliar noises will panic them.

Pigs have well developed vision and are able to see colours, although their floppy ears often interfere with their line of sight!  Their sense of smell is also acute and is used to recognise other pigs.  In some parts of the world, pigs are used by police to sniff out drugs, as their sense of smell is better than that of dogs.  Research shows that pigs have clear taste preferences, with suckling pigs enjoying sweet tastes and more mature pigs showing a preference for apples!  They have approximately 15,000 taste buds, which is more than any other mammal, including humans.

The lifespan of an average domestic pig is 10 – 15 years, though wild pigs and some of the smaller, pet breeds can live more than 20 years.  The heaviest pig ever recorded was named "Big Bill".  Big Bill was a Poland China hog that weighed 2,552 pounds (1157.4 kg) and was over 9 feet long.

 



 

Pig Health Care  

Pig Health CareYou must contact your vet for advice about vaccinating your pigs.  You can pick up useful skills in this area at courses run by agricultural colleges.

Lice are reasonably common in pigs but can be treated easily using a parasitic skin-wash, or a suitable alternative provided by your vet.  Worming must be regularly carried out and your vet can advise about this as well.

Piglets are not normally castrated as they should reach bacon weight before six or seven months of age.  If you’re keeping yours as a pet though, you may wish to speak to your vet about having it neutered. 

  



A Note About Pigs as Pets 

The ultimate pet pig has to be a house pig – an increasingly popular concept.  The most suitable breeds are the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig and the kune kune (Maori for ‘fat and round’).  These pigs do however have very different nutritional needs from most others.  They are not kept for meat and have a tendency to become obese if fed on normal pig feeds and not given sufficient exercise.  If you’re tempted to have such a pet, source some pot-bellied pig food before committing to the idea.Pet pig

Pigs are extremely intelligent and can be trained rather like a dog who is motivated by food – pigs can learn to 'sit' for food which is no mean feat for a 21 stone pig.

Pig feed is a lot cheaper than dog food and you will be able to feed pigs with scraps (though in spite of pigs being renowned for eating anything put in front of them, it is important to control their diet. Any direct or bi-product of another animal or even anything mixed with animal product is absolutely forbidden). 

An important point to remember is that pet pigs are subject to certain regulations in just the same way as any other pig.  These include welfare and registration rules.  See Regulations below for more information.

“I have two daughters, two dogs, a cat and two pigs and the pigs are far and away the cheapest and easiest to keep, providing you have a destination for the large volume of output from the rear end.”

 

 

Feeding Pigs 

Pigs kept outdoors, in an environment where they can forage, will be able to gain some of their nutritional requirements naturally.  Pigs will benefit from grass, brambles, acorns, apples and even earth worms in their diets.  However they will always need supplementary compound feeds, to ensure that they have all the nutrients that are essential to their health.  

Pretty pigPigs are normally fed twice a day (if not on an adlib system) and it is important to make sure that all pigs in a herd receive their fair share.  It might be necessary to provide more than one trough, to allow timid pigs access to the food, or even to separate the pigs at feeding time to ensure accurate feeding.  That said, pigs enjoy foraging for their food, so you can scatter it on a clean floor as long as you are aware that bullying might result and that more waste will occur this way. 

It’s tempting to feed pigs all your kitchen scraps but, although they’ll love this diet, they won’t grow and reproduce healthily on scraps alone.  More importantly, it is illegal to feed household waste containing meat of any sort, in any form, to pigs.  Potatoes, carrots, parsnips and the like may be fed and will increase the variety of your pigs meals, but should not be fed exclusively.  When feeding raw peelings, keep an eye on your pig’s mouth – if it becomes sore you may need to roast the peelings before feeding them.  

“If you are breeding pigs for meat, the diet you give them can influence the taste in a big way - my pigs are just pets but if I chose to eat them they would undoubtedly taste of apple as they work their way through at least 20 wheelbarrows of cooking apples from my tree each autumn.” Pigs prefer their feed to be wet and this can be useful if you have surplus milk to dispose of.  Wetting it with water will also be appreciated.  

The amount of feed that pigs require will depend greatly on their age.  

 

 

Breeding Pigs

Sleepy pigsSows will begin to come into heat when just a few weeks old and will continue to come into heat every three weeks.  When on heat, they will seek out a male.  Mating is a prolonged affair, compared with other farm animals, and sows can be on heat from 48 -120 hours.  While a boar can be hired in some localities, artificial insemination is often easier.  Pigs will breed all year round but if kept outside, their fertility will decline in the darker winter months. 

The gestation period is generally very precise - 115 days (or 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days).    Sows generally farrow (give birth) without trouble, but you should be on hand to lend support and call for assistance if necessary.  The size of litters varies, but averages 8 – 14 piglets (the largest litter ever farrowed was reportedly 37!).  It is possible for sows to have two litters per year. 

Once piglets are born, it is important that they suckle because, as with most newborns, they need the essential antibodies in the colostrum, or first milk, which the sow provides.    The antibodies will help the young pigs to build immunity to diseases and if the sow does not have sufficient milk, a milk replacement powder should be prepared for them.  They will also need an injection of iron, as sow’s milk is very low in iron and without it piglets will become anaemic.  In the wild they will tend to get iron from the soil, but you will need to speak to your vet about providing a supplementary dose of iron within the first three days of life. 

Sow and pigletsIt will be around 3 – 4 weeks before the piglets can be weaned.  By around 5 weeks, the sow’s milk production begins to fall rapidly but, because piglets will need additional feed once weaned, it is essential to get them used to dry food in advance – the use of sugar or flavourings can help.  Such feeds are known as creep feeds and will help the piglet’s digestive system to become used to solid food.  They can usually be introduced from two weeks of age.   If managed well, the piglets will be accustomed to dry feed and better able to cope with stress by the time they are weaned, which is often a traumatic experience for piglets that can affect them socially and psychologically.  As they continue to grow, the pigs can be fed a starter or grower feed, generally as much as they can eat. 

The sow will need plenty of feed before, during and after pregnancy.  This is especially true if she is her young (or a gilt), as she will still be growing and will need sufficient food to fuel her own growth and that of the unborn piglets.  Specific breeder feeds should be used, to ensure she has all the right nutrients. 

Once weaned, pigs will traditionally spend 20 – 24 weeks growing and finishing, reaching an ideal slaughter weight of 60 – 100kg.  Finisher feeds can be fed from 14 – 16 weeks until slaughter.  For more information about feeding your pigs.

 

Pig Terminology

Gilt – a female pig that has not yet had a litter of piglets.  Also known as a maiden sow.

Sow – a female pig that has had at least one litter of piglets

Boar – an entire male of any age

Rig – a male pig with an undescended testicle (can still be fertile)

Barrow – a castrated male pig

Oestrous – what occurs when a female pig comes on heat.

Farrow – a litter of piglets.  Sows are said to be farrowing when they are giving birth.

Litter – a group of piglets produced at one birth

Sucker – a young suckling piglet

Runt – the smallest piglet of a litter

Piglet – a young pig up to weaning, after which it becomes a weaner

Weaner – a young pig being weaned from milk onto compound feeds (up to about 10 weeks of age)

Fattener – a pig being prepared for slaughter

Porker – a pig slaughtered at about 50kg (liveweight) for fresh meat

Baconer – a pig slaughtered at about 80kg (liveweight) to produce ham or bacon

Chopper – an older, mature culled animal that is used for byproducts

Liveweight – the weight of the animal before slaughter

Deadweight – the weight of the animal after slaughter 


Regulations on Keeping Pigs

DEFRA (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is the Government department that oversees animal welfare and regulation.  DEFRA publishes a welfare code for pigs and it is available free of charge from their website (www.defra.gov.uk).  It is your duty to check these regulations and ensure that you comply. 

The regulations cover important things that you must provide or do.  These include: 

Shelter 

You must provide shelter from wind, rain and cold weather as well as shade from the sun in hot weather. 

Food and water 

You must provide fresh water and nutritious food. 

 

Free range piglets spot pig

Freedom of movement 

You must provide sufficient space to allow pigs their normal behaviour and provide company for them, ideally in the form of other pigs. 

Registration 

You must register and ensure identification of your pigs.  This applies to all pig owners, even if they only have one or two as pets. 

Movement records 

Rules exist to minimise the spread of disease and allow traceability.  A record book must be accurately kept and be available for inspection by Government officials. 

Notifiable diseases and those which can be passed to humans 

You must familiarise yourself with these. 

Welfare during transport, at market and at slaughter

Rules also exist to cover these stressful situations and you must familiarise yourself with them.  If an animal needs to be slaughtered and cannot be transported without causing unnecessary suffering, it must be slaughtered humanely on the premises.  Your vet can give further advice. 

Sale of meat 

Pig Housing and Fencing

Buildings and Shelters 

Pig housingPigs are highly sensitive to temperature and overheating can be fatal.  As a general rule, the following is true:  adult pigs should be kept at 15-20 Celsius (60 – 70 Fahrenheit), piglets should be kept at 24 – 30 Celsius (75 – 85 Fahrenheit), weaners should be kept at 21 – 24 Celsius (70 – 70 Fahrenheit), fatteners should be kept at 13 – 21 Celsius (55 – 70 Fahrenheit).

Pigs will rest happily in lower air temperatures as long as they are able to lie together.  Shelters must always be draught free, dry and have plenty of straw available so that the pigs can make a bed.  It has been proven that pigs favour an outdoor run, with an indoor sleeping area.  They will need a toilet area that is separate from their bedding as they are exceedingly clean animals.  Pigs are very focused on eating and do produce a lot of end product, but always do this away from where they sleep and have no desire to live in muck.

If you don’t have a building that can be suitably converted for pigs, you can use outdoor farrowing or rearing huts or, even simpler in construction, pig arks.  They usually have a low rail inside, to stop the sow trapping and killing the piglets when she lies down.  Arks should be insulated with straw and never used in muddy or wet locations.  Light, well drained soils are best.  Pig arks can be repositioned when necessary and this allows easier rotation of their grazing land.

For pigs kept indoors, the sleeping area (which is different from the exercise and ‘toilet’ area) should be large enough to allow all the pigs to lie on their sides.  Outdoors, about five or six pigs per acre is generally acceptable, as long as the soil is well drained.  If you don’t provide enough room for your pigs to move about, they won’t thrive.  Tension will build and behavioural problems such as tail-biting will result.

Fencing 

Pigs can be fenced by traditional pig wire, or by electric fencing.  The benefit of electric fencing is that it can easily be moved.  Pigs will sometimes dig under fences, so it’s best to use a very tight strand of barbed wire at the base of an ordinary pig fence to discourage it.  It’s important to check your fence regularly though, whatever type you use.

 

 





 


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