Raising your own animals gives you direct control over your food supply, and if you practice sustainable farming and treat your animals humanely, the end result will always be better-tasting, real meat.
If you are ready to raise your own pigs; have the confidence, time and space, here is a short guide to help you get started.
If you are considering keeping pigs, the first thing you need to do is understand the laws around feeding, tagging and moving them. You can find all relevant farmed animal welfare requirements in the UK, as well as specific additional standards that apply to pigs here.
LICENCES & DOCUMENTS
Whether you intend to keep one pig or several, you will need certain licences and documents. You need a licence and a specific form whenever pigs are moved from one place to another, which includes transporting them to your land. Once again, you can find all the detailed guides here.
HOW MUCH LAND DO YOU NEED?
How much land you need to allocate for pigs depends on a number of factors; the type of soil, number, breed and size of pig and how many batches you will be rearing each year.
The Soil Association standards for the outdoor management of pigs state that you must:
- give your pigs direct access to the soil and growing green food
- provide wallows and / or shade over the summer months
- minimise stress through good handling systems.
- in addition, you should use a rotational grazing system and should not return your pigs to the same land more than once in four years or
- keep your pigs on the same land for more than six months
CHOOSING A BREED
Pigs are incredibly social animals, which is why it is best to start off by buying two or more ‘weaners’ [piglets of seven to ten weeks old that have been weaned from their mothers and are ready to live independently].
Choose a hardy breed that is well adapted to outdoor life. This includes just about all the rare breeds, such as Gloucester Old Spot, British Saddleback, Tamworth or Berkshire.
WHERE TO KEEP THEM
Organic standards require a minimum of a thirtieth of an acre for raising two weaners. With enough space, pigs will set themselves up with a wallow and an area well away from their bedding to defecate in. It’s only when they don’t have enough space that these three elements become mixed, leading to the popular misconception that pigs are dirty animals.
The fencing should be free of any holes which your pigs might be able to squeeze through and escape. Your fencing will also have to provide a physical barrier good enough to keep any potential predators out. The most common types of pig fencing used are wood or wire mesh fencing. Cattle/sheep fencing is sufficient and the most cost effective.
Light or free-draining soil is preferable to heavy clay. The perfect pig run would be a little copse or patch of rough ground with a few trees on it for shade.
Pigs must have a secure shelter to sleep and rest in but it doesn’t have to be fancy. The specially made corrugated-iron pig arcs are economical and very practical. Choose a spot that is sheltered from the wind and shaded from direct sun. Pigs appreciate comfortable bedding materials, fresh straw being the most common. More straw around and outside the entrance will help to keep the inside clean. Give them fresh bedding every three to four weeks.
FOOD & WATER
These living garbage disposals will eat just about anything you offer them, so make sure they do not consume anything inappropriate. The golden rule is NO MEAT OF ANY KIND.
They require a protein rich diet and a heap helping of digestible energy with a relatively little bit of fibre on the side! Pigs will enjoy and appreciate your leftovers, but few households generate enough leftovers to keep them properly fed, so they’ll still need access to organic (if possible) pelleted feed (pignuts), to meet their nutritional needs.
Pigs need a constant supply of clean, fresh water. A lactating sow can drink up to 45 litres a day! There is a variety of watering systems available that suit different production systems and classes of pigs. Troughs made from galvanized iron are usually sturdier and easier to clean. Watering systems ѕhоuld bе checked аnd cleaned regularly, еѕресiаllу during warm weather. Make sure the water system provided is secured firmly аѕ pigs will root undеr it аnd spill thе contents!
Pigs are pretty hardy creatures if you take care of them correctly, and chances are you won’t have to worry about your pigs health if you consistently provide clean housing, clean pasture, healthy diets, fresh water and plenty of time foraging in the dirt.
Find out more about treating parasites, diseases, and disorders here.
Making careful preparations will help you remain calm. The first time is always the hardest and most daunting. It’s a crucial welfare procedure if you only have two pigs to take them to slaughter on the same day.
As the time for slaughtering and processing approaches, you will need to arrange transportation for your pigs. If you don’t own an adequate trailer or pickup truck and have a safe way to load them, hire someone or get help from a friend. It is important to keep your pigs calm and stress-free before, during, and after transport. Pigs that are stressed and upset before being butchered do not have tasty pork.
PROCESSING YOUR PIG
Whether a butcher is processing your pig for you or you are slaughtering your pig yourself, you will need to know your cuts of meat: the shoulder, the side, the loin, and the leg.
Each pig will produce around 150 to 180 pounds of final pork products (depending on how long you grow them out), so the more you process and preserve the less valuable space you will take up in your freezer.
Want to grow your own pork but lack the space and time
Carlotta Cooper – The Complete Guide to Raising Pigs: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply
Dirk Van Loon – Small-Scale Pig Raising
Chuck Wooster – Living with Pigs: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Porkers
There are a number of great pig farming courses around the UK. Ask at your local pig breeders association, and they should be able to point you in the right direction.
Here are a few around the South West: