Housing : Getting Prepared for your Piglets
© Mandy Garbutt
So you’ve taken the plunge, chosen your piglets, got your CPH and herd number from the appropriate authorities so its time to get ready for their arrival.
First of all where are you going to put them? There are a number of issues to consider in making your decision where to locate your pigs. We’re assuming you’re going to keep them free range outdoors. Ideally they should be on good, suitable free-draining ground away from close human neighbours who might be offended by piggy squeals and smells. Also think about access for both yourself and vehicles, you need to visit twice a day and take your pigs to and fro. Where is your nearest water? Where will you keep your feed and straw and don’t forget to have an emergency plan for when your land is flooded or winter weather takes a turn for the worst.
Now you’ve decided where they’re going to live our best advice is to divide your plot into separate smaller paddocks, a few weaners don’t need a large area so doing this enables you to move them around your land and give parts of it a rest.
We have a piece of land 18 x 36 metres approx and have divided it into three equal-ish paddocks which we use through the year weather permitting. We use wire pig netting, posts and barbed wire but you could divide the area with electric fence if you wanted something less permanent or more movable, this depends on your land and finances. Some people use a mixture of both. When putting your fencing up you need to remember that pigs are incredibly strong animals even at eight weeks old and are extraordinary escape artists so your fencing needs to be robust and piggy proof. We run a length of barbed wire along the base of the fencing to discourage tunnelling under it. Fencing with posts and wire can be expensive but with good maintenance it will last a good many years.
After each batch of pigs, paddocks are cleared of any muck, the straw is removed from the housing and composted. The ground is sub-soiled, left for a week or so to drain and air, then rotavated, rolled and seeded. It’s then left to grow and rest. We try to do all the paddocks in the autumn so they have all winter to rest. In winter we vacate the paddocks to let them recover. This summer’s project is to improve the drainage and concrete the winter runs as the pigs have taken great pride in digging out the hardcore bases we put in! Whilst the paddocks are unavailable to us we make temporary paddocks with security fencing on the vegetable garden, or, as in this last winter on the patio and front lawn as all our ground had turned into a clay slurry!
Now you’ve got your area fenced off, let’s think about where your pigs are going to sleep. There are lots of different arks made from wood, plastic and tin and a wide range of suppliers can be found by googling ‘pig arks’ (or ‘pig arcs’ as some suppliers seem to spell them). If this is your first venture into pigs and you’re not sure it’s for you, a temporary house made of straw bales, posts, pallets and a tin sheet roof could be used. See ‘Starting with Pigs’ by Andy Case for ideas. We prefer wooden arks with floors, warm in winter and cool in summer. We make our own arks out of 8’x6’ exterior ply and they have lasted about five years before requiring attention (we refurbished two of our oldest arks last weekend with roof felt left over from one of ever sufferings’ building projects, once melted on with a gas gun the felt will make them last another four or five years). In the pictures you can see one ark which straddles two paddocks, each end has a removable wooden door so that when the paddock on the left is in use the right end can be closed off and when it’s time to move the pigs we just shoo them through the house and then close off the opposite end. This way they move paddocks but don’t change their house.
We also have an old hen house which we use for a couple of fatteners up to about 24 weeks old. We use sacking or old carpet as a door covering. We lift all our arks into place with our loader and strong straps, not advisable on a windy day! We also have sun shelters for the summer; one is an old garage door nailed to the top of four fence posts. In winter or in an emergency you could consider moving your pigs into a gated/fenced off area of a barn or large building, with a smaller shelter within. Remember it needs to be fairly sizeable so your pigs can still get some exercise. An area like this filled with straw would be piggy heaven in the cold winter months allowing your grassland to rest and the pig keeper to thaw out occasionally!
We fill our arks with wheat straw though some people prefer barley either of which must be dry and not mouldy. Pigs don’t as a rule soil their living area so straw can be removed and topped up as the weather dictates. We compost or burn waste bedding depending on how much we have.
Next on the agenda before your piglets arrive you need to think about how you’re going to get water to your pigs. Pigs cannot be without water at any time so it is a serious issue to consider. As we have access to mains water we dug in a water pipe to a tap stand near the paddocks and we attach a hosepipe to fill the Belfast sinks we use as water troughs. It does freeze up in winter so we end up lugging watering cans and buckets from the house which is jolly hard work. It worth bearing in mind the location of your tap when you realise you need to water your pigs at least twice a day and more often in hot weather and in winter to go check for icing over. If you don’t have mains water then a bowser or large plastic container could be used to store water but be careful it doesn’t get stale in hot weather and it will freeze in very cold temperatures. Pigs drink a lot of water, finishers over 6 litres a day and a sow with piglets will consume well over 30 litres a day so be prepared and don’t forget you’ll need water for a wallow in summer.
There are also a number of self-filling troughs and nipple drinkers available to consider if you have access to mains water.
You’ll also need to order some pig food, (we’ll cover feeding and storage in our next article in more depth), find out what they feed their pigs on at the place your piglets are coming from and ask the breeder for a carrier bag full to come home with then you can gradually mix it in with your own preferred brand. We always send any piglets we sell with their first meal in a carrier bag and a sack of straw from their house which can be put in the doorway of their new residence to help them settle in.
Also in the next article we’ll cover transporting your piglets home. A cardboard box on the backseat of your car is not a good idea.
Hopefully we’ve given you some ideas on how to set up your piggy enterprise. Please post any questions you might have on the GOS Forum. We want to hear any good ideas, discoveries or experiences you have had as these might help new pig keepers in their setting up. Everyone has different ideas so tell us what has and hasn’t worked for you.
Happy pig keeping.