Pigs are intelligent, likeable characters.
They are individuals by
nature and unlike their reputations will be extremely clean if they
are allowed to be. Given enough space they will conveniently
deposit their dung in one prescribed area, leaving their bedding
clean. When pigs are crammed together and are unable to do this
they start to look like the fabled 'dirty' pig.
There are two basic methods of pig production: intensive and
extensive. Taken to extremes, intensive can mean production on a
battery scale. Litters of piglets can be removed from the sow very
shortly after birth to be reared in 'flat decks' on sow milk substitute
and then weaned at a very early age. The sow is put back in
pig as quickly as possible. The aim is to achieve as close to three
litters a year as is possible. This kind of production is extremely
capital-intensive and also the subject of much concern as to the
welfare of the animals. The main motivation for this kind of
development has been the low profit per head of bacon or pork
For a small producer the answer has to be to produce absolutely
top-grade pigs and also to catch a premium market. Our pork pigs
have always been extremely lean and we have sold mainly to the
home-freezer market. When we have produced pigs surplus to our
orders, the slaughter-house has happily bought them because of
our good gradings. Our production is not on a battery scale. Our
dry sows live together in threes in kennel-type buildings made of
concrete blocks; these have outside areas where they dung and
inside the kennels are liberally bedded with straw. When it is fairly
dry the sows eat outside, when it is wet they eat inside. They are
given plenty of trough room. Pigs do like to eat and will fight
viciously if they feel deprived. We clean the outside dunging areas
morning and evening. That way there is little dung to remove and
the work is speedy. Also it keeps the pigs clean and contented.
They have constant clean water available. Weaners thrive on a
similar regime. (Weaners are pigs that have left their dams and are
in the process of growing on either as more breeding stock or as
potential pork pigs.) We keep weaners in batches of eight to ten.
We have tried using a covered building to avoid wet feeding in
the rain but we soon found that the pigs were much more
susceptible to infection and we also disliked the unbelievable shrieking
they all set up at feed-time.
We have very few calls from the vet and these are almost entirely
limited to when a sow or gilt is farrowing (giving birth).
farrowing house is essential if you have more than a very few sows. With
one or two you could use a stable or similar building. The main
aim is to have the area as germ-free as possible and to provide
adequate protection for the piglets. The protection is mainly from
their mother. A large sow is an unwieldy creature and as she is
producing up to eleven tiny piglets the odds of her squashing one
or two are quite high. To prevent this, many births take place in a
farrowing crate. These are metal crates that restrain the pig from
turning round and keep her confined during the birth. We use
them as there does not really seem to be any other satisfactory
way. They are also extremely useful if the vet has to render
assistance. A boar pen is the last necessary building. A boar should
be housed on its own but fairly close to the females you want him
to serve. This encourages the females to come on heat.
We only run a few pigs extensively as our land is heavy clay and
therefore cold and wet. Pigs thrive best on exactly the opposite
soil, one that is well drained and warm. Pigs kept in fields in arcs -
those tin-covered huts, rather like miniature Nissen huts require
plenty of warm straw for bedding and supplementary food. They
will take some food from the grass but this is not sufficient. Some
pigs breed out in their huts, the major drawback here being that if
there are difficulties it is extremely hard to deal with an
unrestrained pig and, of course, since many births occur at night, you
have the dark as well as the wind and rain with which to contend.
Having said all that, it is a fact that piglets who live out with their
mothers tend to thrive. Because they have free access to the
ground and its inherent minerals, they do not need the injections
of iron that indoor-reared piglets must have. Probably the best
compromise if your land is suitable for running pigs is to breed
them in confinement and gradually introduce them to the open
The facility that pigs have of rooting into the ground can be a
menace or a blessing.
It is a menace if you are intending to run
them on grass fields: you then have to put rings through their
noses or they will effectively plough up your grassland for you.
Of course, if you have some scrubland that you want cleared, their
labour is a great help: in go roots, leaves, fallen apples and so on
and out comes an excellent manure. You could even plant a tasty
root crop for the pigs to dig for and in their search they will
effectively rotivate and fertilise; however, they will still need some
Pig food comes in one of two forms: one is
a mixture of grain, added-protein fishmeal or something similar,
and necessary vitamins and minerals; the other is swill. Swill used
to be the great money-maker in the pig business. In some areas it
may well still be. However, it is, of course, waste food and is a
potential spreader of disease to pigs. It is thought that several of
the particularly virulent pig diseases are spread this way. There is a
legal requirement that all swill is boiled for at least one hour. The
immense boilers necessary on large farms are often horrifying in
appearance. Total effectiveness is necessary and this includes a
routine that prevents the contamination of boiled swill by proximity
to newly arrived swill. If you are only processing your own
household swill the problems are not so enormous; even so, when
you realise that if you eat bought bacon and leave a rind it is a
potential source of infection to your own pigs, it is clear that even
this must be well boiled.
Many years ago pigs were selected and bred for their beauty.
are some staggeringly fat pigs in nineteenth-century paintings; with
the quantity of fat on those creatures you can certainly see why
Jack Sprat's wife was the fat one. Today pigs have been bred to be
leaner almost everyone prefers lean pork; in fact, the ideal pig
would have an extremely long back and four rear legs. When you
sell meat the reason for this is quite clear: everyone wants the
chops and leg. The head and hand and spring we could do without.
We have Large White boars and Landrace sows. This gives us the
virility of the Large White and the finer body of the Landrace. The
French Pietrain pig is often bred into this mixture. Again the aim
with modern pigs is for leanness and high birth numbers.
more traditional you can go for Gloucester Old Spots; these pink
and black pigs have become popular again in recent years and they
do produce excellent pork. They are also enthusiastic outdoor pigs
so if you want to clear some land, they will thrive and look
decorative at the same time. To get more ethnic still you can
choose a Tamworth. These orange hairy pigs are an instant
reminder of Tudor boar hunts; they are slow growers but if you
are not in a hurry and are not aiming to make much money, it is
interesting to have a go. Actually one way to make money from
the more unusual breeds is to rear them to sell to other enthusiasts.
The selection of breed depends partly on how you intend to rear
them and also on what you intend to do with the produce.
are aiming for the home-freezer market, a good pork pig is necessary.
Bacon pigs are generally produced on contract. We make our
own bacon for home consumption there are some recipes in
Chapter 17. We make ours from mainly pork weight animals as
that is what we produce most of.
Having chosen a breed, or a
hybrid, look in the magazines Farmers Weekly and Pig Farmer.
These provide advertisements of suppliers. You can also look
through the pig farmers in Yellow Pages. Many producers of pork
or bacon pigs buy in all their stock as weaners they never breed
their own. Many breeders sell all the piglets they produce: they
never grow any on except as replacement breeding stock. Some
producers breed and rear we do.
One way to get in at the deep
end is to buy in gilts. A gilt is a young female pig that is about
to produce her first litter. You buy her, bring her home and
then wait for the day. It should not be a case of 'buying a pig in a
poke'. You can study the records of the gilt's parents and grandparents,
the numbers of live births and so on. It is essential to go
to a reputable breeder; here you will buy a good animal and get a
lot of advice. If he sees you as a repeat buyer, you will get his full
attention because top breeders make a lot of their income selling
in pig gilts.
The gestation period of a pig is sixteen weeks.
When you buy in a
gilt you will be given an approximate due date. If you have had
her served by your own boar then it is essential to keep clear
records. It is all too easy to confuse pigs and their dates. To put
the wrong sow into a crate would be to court disaster with the
litter you have not protected. Put the sow into the crate a day or
so before she is due to farrow. Give her plenty of short cut straw
to lie on long straw can tangle piglets. Many sows make a nest
for themselves with the straw. When the piglets start to arrive you
should take them away, wipe them clean and dry and pop them
under an infra-red light until the total delivery is finished. The sow
should not be allowed to eat the afterbirth or to lick the piglets if
they still have blood on. This could overexcite her and tales of pigs
eating their young are not old wives' tales. When all the piglets
have arrived let them go to their mother. Most pigs make excellent
mothers, they flop over on to their sides and give rhythmic grunts
to stimulate the piglets.
Newly born piglets are wonderful creatures. They are quite
ready to leap up and start exploring they are inquisitive and full
of 'go'. That is one of the main reasons why they get into trouble
if allowed to do what they want to the instant they are born. Left
to their own devices, they have an uncanny instinct of making
straight for the sow's mouth exactly where you do not want
them until the whole situation has calmed down.
A creep area that
the mother cannot get into, complete with an infra-red light, gives
them the greatest chance of survival. If there is only one warm
spot in the pen and the sow can get to it, they will all pile into it
and the little ones will get squashed. If you cannot obtain a
farrowing crate or are totally opposed to using one, the next best
thing is to fix a rail nine inches away from the wall and the same
distance up from the floor; this at least gives the piglets some
chance of escape. What it does not do is help anyone who has to
assist at the birth. A heavy sow is not only a threat because of her
size, she can bite with shattering power.
A sow will eat plenty of food once she has recovered from the
birth and also consume a lot of water.
If you are aiming to wean
early, say at six weeks, you should put in some creep food with
the piglets in the very first days. If you intend to wean at eight
weeks then you can wait a little. Piglets must have an injection of
iron in their first few days unless they are on open ground. When
the piglets are born you must check their teeth; if they are
extremely sharp, they must be clipped or they will damage the
In common with other lactating animals it is
essential to keep an eye on the sow to check that she does not develop
mastitis. If she does, the areas around the nipples become hard and
painful to touch and naturally the piglets drop off in condition.
The vet must be called immediately and if the condition perseveres,
the piglets will have to be fed on a bottle. We never find piglets as
amenable as lambs in this respect. They seem to feel that it is a
great indignity to be handled in this way and very audibly make
their feelings known. Of course, they soon get used to it.
When you are approaching weaning another fundamental
decision has to be taken: whether or not to castrate. For years there
has been a major argument between the meat trade and pig
farmers. The meat trade is generally opposed to boar meat. However,
if the pigs are slaughtered at pork weight, the animals are not
sexually mature and there is no taint.
The practice of castrating
pigs is unpleasant to say the least. It is performed using an
extremely sharp knife or razor. It is essential to know how to do it
correctly and so if you intend to do it, ask the vet first. Or you
can join us and many others who refuse to do it. Eventually it
must be discontinued as it is an astonishingly barbaric practice.
When the piglets are eating the dry food well you can remove
them to another pen and then you have a batch of weaners and a
sow ready to begin her reproductive process again. If you do this
at six weeks, you may well get two litters a year from your sow; if
you leave it until eight weeks, you will get under two. When the
piglets go off on their own, leave them for a few days on creep
ration but then change over in a couple of days to a grower's
Traditionally there is always a runt in the litter in reality this is
not always the case. Sometimes there are none and sometimes
there are two.
They are quite recognisable: they are smaller and
weaker than their bullying brothers and sisters and tend to get
trampled in the rush to the milk bar. If the litter is small, say eight
or under, there will not be too much competition for teats and the
weak one will probably cope. In higher numbers, it may well be
pushed off all the teats, with obvious results unless you intervene.
Runts will always grow a little more slowly than the others but we
have always felt it was worth giving them a helping hand. They
usually need encouragement to take milk from a bottle and sometimes
the only way to get them started is to put a little milk into
an empty syringe case (no needle) and very gently trickle it over
the tongue. You must be very careful not to simply pour it down
into its lungs or it will die but once it gets started on the idea it is
If you cannot really face the prospect of all the fiddling then
why not offer it around? The most surprising people will be
tempted. The only awful price you have to pay for your act of
mercy is that when the time finally comes and Grunter or Porky
or whatever else he has been called is destined for the freezer, you
find the whole family in a state of collapse at the thought. Of
course, you cannot keep an ex-runt for breeding as it is inferior
stock. This is one of the times when you wish you had never gone
into pigs in the first place.
Sows come into heat at three-week periods throughout the year,
that is until they are successfully served by a boar.
The sow will
not come back into a heat after she has given birth until you wean
the piglets. When they have been removed she will probably come
into heat after two or three days but it may be as long as ten days.
A mature boar is often a fierce creature.
Even hybrids can have
mediaeval faces with curling tusks and spiky hair. The problem
with keeping a few sows is that you do not justify owning a boar
and may find it difficult when you want your sows served. If there
is a pig restriction movement in force it will be impossible. These
movement restrictions are put into force during outbreaks of
transmittable pig diseases and prevent the movement of livestock
except to and from market.
Many pig-keepers will not in any case
wish to allow their boars to come in contact with sows from out-
side as there is a risk of infection. Having said this there are stud
boars available in some areas; for some reason rural pub-keepers
seem to be the likeliest owners. Presumably you can have a drink
while your sow is being served. If you do decide to buy a boar,
buy one from proven stock and follow any advice the breeder
gives you. Not all boars know what they are about. We had a
delightful boar named Fritz. His manners in the pen were impeccable,
he obligingly moved around as you wanted him to, he
dunged in a tiny corner and never slobbered when eating. Unfortunately,
he was just too refined and we could never get him to be
enthusiastic about his job. Sadly he had to go and a much more
reprobate character filled his place. He, of course, was a great
success even if he did continually try to eat your Wellington boots
when you cleaned out his pen.
This is the end of the production line.
Pork pigs are ready at
between 120-130 Ib live weight. If you are aiming to sell the meat
privately, take the pigs to the slaughter-house and collect them
when they are ready. This will not be the same day as the pigs
must be chilled. It is difficult to cut a pig that has not chilled
sufficiently and if the slaughter-house is amenable, it is best to
leave them in the chiller for two days.
The slaughter-house will
probably cut and wrap them if you want but much of your profit
then goes in their charges. You could always do as a friend of our did who
enthusiastically bought a whole pig from us some years ago.
Armed with a sharp knife and a saw, she reduced the whole
carcass to six-inch-wide joints. As you can roast any piece of pork
this was acceptable but not to her husband. He rebelled at being
faced with continual nameless pieces. Now she buys them already
If you are producing bacon pigs, you must rear them to the
weight your customer wants. There is a small market for suckling
pigs which are totally milk-fed piglets. Most customers want them
at about twenty pounds dead weight. It is sometimes difficult to
get a slaughter-house to deal with them but the point to remember
is that they are extremely likely to 'go off. They must either be
delivered immediately to the customer or deep-frozen. In any case,
certainly avoid doing it in hot or humid weather.
In other countries
such as France and Italy, the pigs are killed and then processed
into pates, pies, salamis and so on by the farmer. That is not done
very much in Britain but we do process a fair proportion of our
pigs that way. It is very useful to be able to process the head,
collar, hand and spring and belly into pates and pies. Then you can
sell the loin and legs at a very competitive price. There are suitable
recipes for pork under Recipes.