So You Want to Keep Pigs? Part 1

Getting Started © Mandy Garbutt

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Our first GOS weaners Apr ‘04

If you’re reading Spot Press or browsing the GOS website the chances are you’re thinking about getting some pigs or you have already taken the plunge and bought your first weaners. We remember how daunting and exciting it was when we first started and hopefully we’ll be able to help you through keeping your pigs using the experiences we have had keeping GOS here at Fowgill Farm in North Yorkshire. Even now we continue to learn what makes our animals happy and makes them produce good pork and bacon.

What you have to decide is whether or not you’re the right person to keep pigs and why you want to. There are several reasons people want to keep pigs ranging from they just like pigs; they have some land that wants rotavating; they want to know where their meat is coming from or they want to help conserve rare breeds. Whether you intend to keep pigs as a hobby or a small business there are several factors you really need to consider before starting your venture.

Firstly, do you have adequate resources to finance your pig venture even as a hobby -there can be some steep costs including fencing, shelter, transport, food, bedding and storage? Will you be able to finance suitable land with secure fencing, adequate shelter, and access to water?

Secondly, can you give the time and commitment to your pigs? Animals are a big responsibility; pigs need attention at least twice a day, 365 days a year so you can check on their food, water, health and well being. Will you be able to tend to them morning and evening? Will you have a back up plan to slot into place if you became ill or unable to look after them?

Thirdly, are you physically able to look after pigs? Pigs are very strong animals and even young weaners can soon knock you over as they clamour for their food. Can you shift barrow loads of muck, move bales of straw and heavy sacks of food? Could you cope with being outdoors throughout the year come rain or shine, in mud and all weathers?

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Perfect conditions?

And then there’s the ‘red tape’. If you are thinking of keeping pigs you will need to comply with several legal requirements. You will need to contact your local Defra office or Rural Payments Agency for a CPH (County Parish Holding) number. When you get your pigs you will need to speak to them again to obtain a ‘herd mark’. This consists of two letters followed by four numbers and is used to identify your animals especially when they go to the abattoir and move to and from your holding. All moves must be registered with the authorities, and an on-line system at www.eaml2.org.uk handles this. It is easiest to register with them before you get your first pigs, but you’ll need your CPH and Herd no. first.

You must keep a movement record book to record all movements of pigs on and off your property and each movement must be accompanied by the paperwork known as an AML2 form – which is obtained using an on-line system . You can obtain both the movement record book from your local Trading Standards Officers who are on the whole very helpful to beginners. After you’ve brought a pig onto your property, you cannot bring another one in until 20 days have passed (unless you have a separate isolation unit but these are generally only used by showing herds). You will also to need to keep a medicine book even if you never need to medicate your pigs with drugs, you will need it to record the use of worming and parasitic control products and the applicable meat withdrawal periods. At least once a year you will need to make a stock count and record it in the back of your movement book; we do ours in the first week of January. All records must be kept for six years even if you stop keeping pigs and must be available for inspection on demand.

Finally do you have a good sense of humour and are prepared to take the ups with the downs of being a pig keeper? Believe me when you’re on your hands and knees in the mud trying to coax weaners back to their pen after a breakout in a force nine gale and it’s peeing down in darkest November, you do begin to question your sanity but then when you see the same weaners gambolling about their paddock playing tag with each other in the sunshine or you see your first litter being born it really does make it all worthwhile.

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Pigs in Clover!

On the lighter side of keepings pigs – we found one of the ladies in the above picture laid out on her side in terrible distress. We took her temperature, rubbed her stomach as it seemed incredibly bloated and just as we reached for the mobile to call the vet she gave the most tremendous fart you ever did hear, got up and sauntered off. We later discovered she’d been in the sugar beet store and scoffed heavens knows how many!!!

So do you still want to keep pigs? We would highly recommend going on a pig keeping or smallholder’s course or visiting a nearby pig keeper. This way you can get first hand knowledge of keeping pigs. Courses and nearby pig keepers can be found by contacting the breed societies or in any of the smallholding publications available. Members of the Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders’ Club can be found by region on the this website – Click here

Pig keeping isn’t for the faint hearted, they take time and hard work but if done well are a rewarding and enjoyable pursuit. In future issues we intend to go through some of the different aspects of keeping pigs and we’d welcome any questions you might have.

If you want to know the legal guidelines for keeping pigs, a good starting point is to download a free brochure from Defra giving a lot of useful information:

New pig keeping guide

(opens in a new window)

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