planning on keeping pigs on your smallholding?

Pigs are intelligent, clean and friendly animals that smallholders can rear for meat, showing or breeding.

As long as you are prepared from the outset and take the right steps, you can get a lot out of it.

Here’s what you need to know when starting out.

Environment

As social creatures, pigs prefer to live in groups. However, outdoor runs should accommodate no more than five or six pigs per acre, provide direct access to soil and vegetation, and feature a wet area for wallowing to help the pigs keep cool and protect them from the sun.

A shelter is essential to avoid sunburn in the summer and keep the pigs warm in the winter. Straw bedding should be provided, which should be large enough to allow the pig to lie on its side.

Pigs are curious animals, so it’s vital to make sure they can’t escape by using pig wire or electric fencing.

Did you know? While friendly, pigs can have a nasty bite, so be careful.

Feeding

Pigs will naturally root out anything edible from the soil, but they will also need to be fed twice a day. Keep an eye out for bullying to make sure each pig has access to food.

They need a balance of fibre, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals, which producers can provide with purchased pig feed as well as vegetables, fruit and grain. Pigs should be fed 1lb of food per day for each month of age, up to a maximum of 6lbs.

Pigs also need constant access to fresh, clean water. They are likely to stand in water troughs, so these should be cleaned out regularly.

Did you know? No matter how tempting or convenient it may seem, it is illegal to feed pigs any catering or household waste.

Legal requirements

All pigs need to be registered with Defra – or the relevant authority – and a holding number obtained. Pigs must be identifiable and you must ID them, for example with an ear tag, tattoo or a slapmark, which is simply another type of permanent ink mark. You can usually do this marking yourself.

After you’ve brought a pig onto your property, there’s a 20 day ‘standstill’ period where you can’t bring in any other new pigs. This is to protect against the rapid spread of any diseases.

If raising pigs for meat, you can arrange to get your pigs butchered. If doing it yourself, understanding the terms used will help you decide when to slaughter your animal to get the desired outcome. This will usually depend on a combination of age and weight.

For example, a ‘porker’ is a pig good for pork meat cuts. A pig is usually considered to be a ‘porker’ when it weighs around 60-80kg, usually when the pig is between four and six months old, depending on breed. When they reach eight to 10 months they tend to become a ‘baconer’ (80-100kg and ideal for bacon cuts).

It’s useful to know because you can then make the most of your pig when you decide to slaughter it by knowing its age and weight, and how this should correspond effectively. Although the weights and terms stay the same, the pig’s breed can determine how quickly or easily a pig will reach certain weights, or the likely quality of meat.

Also, be aware of the legal requirements for slaughtering at home. For example, the Government says that you don’t need a licence to slaughter animals at home, provided:

  • You own the animal and kill it on your property
  • It’s for you or your immediate family, who live on your property, to eat.

Failure to follow any of the rules set out in the Government guidelines could lead to prosecution.

If outsourcing, contact a local abattoir in advance and find out what paperwork you need to fill in for them, and when they need it by. Any movements between holdings or to the abattoir will require a movement licence and the relevant paperwork must be used.

Stock must be transported with minimal stress, and the trailer disinfected within 24 hours, both before and after, for biosecurity.

Did you know? If you are planning to sell or give your meat to a third party, a host of complex regulations come into play. For more information, read the Government’s guidelines.

Common ailments

Lice are fairly common on pigs and can be treated with a skin wash. Regular worming should also be carried out.

Pigs are also susceptible to diarrhoea: They can be vaccinated against gut infections, but good hygiene and minimal stress will help prevent them. Should symptoms appear, consult a vet immediately.

All notifiable diseases must be reported immediately, by law. These include African swine fever, classical swine fever, Aujesky’s disease, foot and mouth disease, swine vesicular disease, teschen disease, vesicular stomatitis and anthrax. For more information on notifiable diseases and your requirements, visit the Government’s guidelines.

Did you know? A medicine book will need to be kept which is readily available on request of the relevant authority.