So you’re thinking about keeping pigs. You’re not alone; after poultry, pigs are the most popular livestock for smallholders. And no wonder: they’re great for clearing and fertilising the ground, plus they produce delicious meat. There’s very little of a pig that someone somewhere won’t eat. They’re also intelligent, clean and likeable.
Assuming you want to keep pigs for their meat rather than for breeding purposes you can buy weaners at about 8 weeks old and in less than six months they’ll be ready for slaughter.
Before You Get Your Pigs
- Check out the legal aspects of keeping pigs. DEFRA, the government agricultural agency, has produced an online guide with which you will need to comply.
- Think now about how you will get the pigs slaughtered and butchered. Is there a local abattoir? How far will you have to travel? Do you know a good butcher who can cut up the carcass for you?
- Is there a vet in your area who will deal with pigs? Some will only handle small animals.
- Consider taking a course in pig-keeping. It will give you valuable experience in handling pigs as well as vital knowledge you will need.
Modern breeds are fast-growing and produce lean meat. The problem is that many people consider the meat tasteless.
British rare breeds take longer to mature and are fattier but much tastier. If you intend to sell some of the meat the more specialised rare breed meat will attract a premium. You’d also be helping to ensure the survival of the rare breeds. You can find out more about the eight British rare breeds including Gloucestershire Old Spot, Tamworth and Welsh, from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust website.
The website will tell you which breeds are better for pork and which for bacon. Also location and micro-climate will help determine the best breed for you.
As with any livestock, buy from a reputable breeder. Country and farming magazines run small ads or visit a local market and meet the farmers.
Male or female? Boar or gilt? Males tend to produce leaner meat and it’s said that females can be subject to the whims of their hormones. Having said that, many smallholders have successfully and happily raised gilts.
Getting Your Pigs Home
A puppy crate, lined with straw or paper is useful to carry the piglets home initially. Be prepared: pig poo is very smelly and the piglets will make a terrific ear-piercing noise when handled. By being prepared you can make the journey as stress free for all of you as possible.
Looking After Pigs
Purpose-built pig houses or arks are available to buy, usually as a simple-to-erect flatpack, or you can make your own from scratch. With a slightly raised from the ground floor and lined with straw they make a snug and comfy home.
Pigs are clean animals and don’t urinate or defecate on their bedding so the monthly clean-out isn’t an unpleasant task.
The pigs will need a well-fenced-in area around the ark giving them space to root and exercise. Wooden posts and fencing look more attractive if in view of your home but it needs to be strong; electric fencing is very effective.
A water trough filled with fresh water is an essential even though you may find that your pigs have tipped it over to make themselves a muddy bath! And don’t be surprised if you spot them washing their faces in their water trough!
Buy good quality pig feed, read the instructions and weigh it out carefully initially. Too much will lead to overly fatty pigs. Pigs should be fed at least twice daily. A feeding trough isn’t essential. Scattering the feed pellets over the ground allows the pigs to forage for the food – which is both more natural and helps stop them getting bored.
Some household left-overs such as brown bananas or wilted lettuce can be fed to pigs but it’s illegal to feed them any meat.
The Human Touch
Without turning your pigs into pets that you’ll be reluctant to slaughter, do stroke them. They seem to enjoy human contact and a good tickle. And getting them used to being handled makes it easier when there is a need for it, for example, if a visit to the vet is called for.
The End is Nigh
The day will inevitably come when your pigs have to be slaughtered. Again preparation is the key. Make sure that you have transport arranged, that you know the way to the abattoir and that the butcher has received clear instructions.
Don’t expect to make money from pig production. The cost of keeping, slaughtering and butchering the pig is likely to be more than you make from selling any meat. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing, as you sit down and enjoy delicious roast pork and crackling, that the pig that produced it enjoyed a happy life.