This is an article I wrote that was published in the April/May 2012 Grassroots Magazine:

Wessex Saddleback pigs enjoying the sun in the orchard

Wessex Saddleback pigs enjoying the sun in the orchard

If you are thinking of free-raising a few pigs here are some tips on getting started and what you’ll need to provide them.

It’s worth putting some time in to planning the best possible set-up as it will potentially save you time, money and wasted energy solving problems that needn’t have arisen. How do I know this? Through my personal experience of having blown cash buying expensive feed when I could have found more cost effective alternatives. I’ve also spent frustrating hours fixing badly erected fencing, and developed the upper body strength of a professional wrestler whilst hauling buckets of water – all of which I could have avoided if I had sited and constructed my original pigs pens more thoughtfully.

ACCOMMODATION

If you want to have happy pigs you need to provide them with somewhere nice to sleep and relax- it doesn’t have to be flash, but it does have to keep them dry from above and below. It needs to protect them from the elements – ideally in a shaded spot, and out of the wind. It can be as basic as a water tank cut in half and attached to the ground with star pickets, or a converted shed (which I would line with roofing iron). As long as they can keep dry, and it can withhold being rubbed against by a pig with a serious itch, it should be fine.

FENCING

There is a range of fencing options depending on how you intend to manage pigs on your property. Many favour the flexibility of electric fencing which allows you to move pigs over different areas of ground easily. Pigs quickly learn to respect electric fences – though remember that if you buy young pigs (slips) they may have not been have been in contact with them before. I’ve heard tales of new pig owners placing their newly acquired slips into their lovely new electric fence enclosure, only to spend the next few hours chasing them around the neighbourhood, as the slips have become spooked in their new environment and bolted straight through the electric wires. I’d recommend making sure new arrivals have a small yard with solid fencing for the first few weeks. You can line this yard with electric fencing so they come to understand its purpose, before moving them into an electric-fence only yard.

I prefer having set pig paddocks, with fences constructed of quality ring-lock mesh wire, and a string of barb-wire at ground level. Some people dislike the barb-wire, but I have not seen any injuries caused by it and it’s tough enough to dissuade the most destructive pigs.

FEED

Pigs like being fed twice a day – in fact some will complain very loudly if you don’t remember to feed them on time – so you need to be prepared to make that time commitment.

Some people believe they’ll be able to feed their pigs solely with scraps and garden waste. While this type of feed can be a useful addition to a varied pig diet, it won’t be enough for them on its own, and there are regulatory restrictions about swill feeding meat products to pigs that you need to be aware of (see your local agriculture department for more info).

In order to thrive pigs require decent sources of protein. This is done through feeding grain-based feed, which you will need to purchase unless you have the capability to grow and mill you own. Supplementary feeds such as apples, whey, green waste and bread can also be useful additions. I’d advise looking in your local area for sources of feed, and pricing it to establish costs.

WATER

Your pigs will need easy access to clean, fresh water. Make sure you have a system in place that allows you to easily provide them with it, and locate the pigs near this source of water. Finding vessels to hold water can be tricky – pigs have a fabulous talent for upending water containers. I’ve had success with square shower bases (about 30-40cms deep) found at the tip shop as they are easy to clean, but too heavy to be tossed when filled with water. I did have recycled baths tilted on their side but found that during summer the pigs preferred to use them as swimming pools which made them filthy, and they were heavy to empty and clean.

You will also want to provide your pigs with a wallow especially during summer months to aid them in cooling themselves. This will require some source of water with which the pigs can create a muddy hole, the contents of which they can use to protect themselves from heat-stress and sunburn.

THE NEIGHBOURS

You may be enthusiastic about getting a few pigs but the neighbours may not. Some people have strong opinions about pigs believing them to be ‘dirty’ animals, despite the opposite being the case (for example, pigs defecate in the same place so as not to soil their environs). Smell/poo removal? Some neighbours may take offence to the sight of a paddock being dug up by pigs, preferring to see green rather than brown. Your pig-raising venture can go sour quickly if you upset those living nearby, so I’d suggest considering this when you choose where to put them, and trying to get the neighbours on side – I find bribing with promises of home-grown bacon often can do the trick.

THE END GAME

I guess it’s ironic that before you even start raising your pigs you will need to think about the ending their lives, but it’s an important consideration if you are raising pigs for slaughter. I am lucky enough to live with 30 minutes of a reputable abattoir, and am confident they are going have their lives ended as humanely as possible, and that’s very important to me. Why spend so much time and energy giving your pigs a great quality of life if you fail to ensure that they accorded the same high standards of care in their final days? Besides which it has been shown that stress can negatively affect the quality of the meat produced.

Find out where your nearest abattoir is, and see if you would be comfortable sending your pigs there. Also worth knowing is how much it will cost and what additional services they provide, for example, our local abattoir will convert carcasses into any cut you desire, as well as doing hams and bacons. Alternatively you could access a home butcher who can butcher your pig on your property.

THE PIGS

So now that you’ve prepared all of the above, it’s time to get some pigs. Pigs are social animals so get more than one. If it’s your first time keeping some pigs I’d recommend just getting a few to see if you enjoy raising them and processing them into pork. Look for slips

around 8 weeks of age (though a week or two either side of that age is OK). I like supporting breeders who raise rare breeds (see the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia website for a list of pigs currently considered rare: www.rbta.org.au), but it may be the case that you may not have a a range of choices in your area.

If you have a choice from a litter of piglets go for the healthiest and most robust looking pigs – you may prefer to get females to remove any chances of getting boar-tainted meat if you are going to kill them after they reach sexual maturity. Check to see if they’ve been wormed. If not do it as soon as you get them home. It’s also worth treating for lice also. Both worms and lice can affect your slips ability to grow and thrive, and given pigs do much of the growing in their first few months of life it’s good to get on top of those potential issues early.

Pigs are a delight to keep – there’s great satisfaction to be found in giving a pig a scratch that makes it go wobbly at the knees with delight, of watching them playing or digging or just generally doing piggy things in the paddock. If you do decide to raise pigs I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

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