Bringing Home The Bacon – (Well, Piglets For Now and Feeding Them) © Mandy Garbutt
So you’ve made your preparations and the great day has arrived, it’s time to go to collect your weaners.
Eight week old piglets are very boisterous, noisy and can be smelly when excited or stressed so it’s not advisable or allowed to collect them in a cardboard box on the back seat of your car! Ideally they should be collected using a trailer attached to your vehicle. Make sure the trailer is well lined with straw and if it’s the larger type make a smaller compartment within by using dividers or a couple of straw bales so your piglets don’t rattle around. Either you or your breeder will lift the piglets into the trailer and don’t forget to drive considerately with your passengers on board.
If you don’t have access to a trailer (though you will need one to take them to the abattoir later) and your breeder cannot deliver, an alternative if you have a 4×4 or estate car is to lay down a waterproof liner in the rear compartment and fill with straw. A couple of weaners could be transported a short distance this way i.e. less than half an hour’s journey. Do not do this on a hot or sunny day. Remember whatever vehicle you use it will need to be thoroughly disinfected afterwards.
The breeder will also hand you an AML2 movement licence. When you get home, you will need to register your move with the authorities. If you are on-line, then you can do this through with www.eaml2.org.uk (and register if you have not already done so), or telephone the number on the aml2 form. You must do this within 3 days of the move. You can also ask the breeder if they have been wormed and for a little of their current food to mix in with your own when you get home. Note your piglets should have already been taken away from their mum (weaned) when you collect them; this way they’ve stopped having milk and are fully used to hard food and water and are ready to move on. My advice would be to not take piglets that have not yet been weaned properly. When we first started keeping pigs we knew no better and we ended up with bringing home piglets literally taken straight from the sow’s teat that needed milk or wet food for two or three weeks more and they suffered tummy upsets and lost on average two weeks’ growth just because they had not been weaned properly.
Another pearl of wisdom is do try to collect your piglets in the morning which gives them all day to settle into their new surroundings, explore their sleeping quarters and get used to you – try sitting quietly in their pen and their natural curiosity will make them come and investigate you! – before darkness descends. For the first night we advise shutting the piglets in their house otherwise they might try to sleep outside and catch a chill.As mentioned in previous articles, you need to tend to your pigs at least twice a day so once you have your piglets home, make sure they can reach their water, (we use breeze blocks as steps to reach and bricks in deep troughs so if they fall in they can get out again and won’t drown), so probably their first meal will be in the evening. We have found that pigs are creatures of habit and pretty much like to be fed at a similar time every day – if I’m 5 minutes late, gates take a battering! – and we feed at 7am and 5pm as this fits in with our household routine but you’ll soon work out a pattern that works for you and your pigs.
As a small scale pig keeper the best option for feeding your pigs will to buy formulated food in the form of nuts or pencils in 20kg or 25kg bags depending on your preferred brand, prices per bag range widely from approx £6 up to £11 for organic. Unless you are already on an organic holding and have to, we advise to go for the best natural, non-organic, non GM, drug-free feed you can afford. Ask around and find out what other pig keepers use and their reasons why. Remember your pork will only be as good as the food you feed! Most sow/weaner nuts are 16% protein but some people feed their pigs on grower rations which are higher 18 – 20%, this certainly gives them a kick start but we have found that GOS have a tendency to put down fat and the 16% suits them better allowing them to grow slower and make muscle rather than fat.
We have always worked on the rate of 1.1lb/500g per month of age so your weaners will need 2.2lb/1kg per day split into two feeds. We continue with this regime until they get to 2.5kg a day and continue at this level until they reach the desired weight for slaughter. We feed from troughs, rubber horse trugs or plastic washing-up bowls as we have found ground feeding wasteful in muddy weather and by feeding our way we can see what each pig is eating and if anyone is falling behind or getting ahead.
Our pigs’ diets are supplemented all year round with fruit and vegetables from our land, in summer we have an abundance of courgettes, lettuce, tomatoes, beans, sweetcorn etc.; in autumn there are orchard fruits, pumpkins and squashes as well as sloes, haws and damsons from the hedges; in winter there is sugar beet, stored apples and pony carrots from the local agricultural merchant; spring is the hardest time for home grown produce but we normally manage – weather and rabbits permitting – to have some turnips and spring greens growing.It is very important that you remember you cannot feed your pigs any food that has come from your domestic kitchen or from any catering premises, even a vegetarian restaurant.
They cannot have any food that has been in contact with meat or meat products. For more guidance on feeding do’s and don’ts check out Defra’s
New pig keeping guide
We assume your pigs are living free range and will have the freedom to root and dig in the ground to source valuable minerals and vitamins; their activities will help them put on muscle instead of fat and grow leaner and stronger. We had a local farmer who took a couple of piglets off us and some months later he remarked he was having no more because they were too fatty. I found out he had kept them locked in a shed, fed on the cheapest nastiest brand of pig meal and rammed it at them like commercial pigs – no wonder they’d tasted awful and fatty. Needless to say I will not be letting him have any more weaners! GOS and all traditional breeds need to work and grow slowly; this is what gives their meat its unique texture and flavour.
Feed and care for your piglets well and they should grow nicely and in about 22 – 26 weeks they’ll be ready to be turned into delicious pork, a few more weeks growing and they’ll make great bacon too.
In our next article we’ll be deciding when your pigs are ready to go and how to book them into the abattoir and how to find a butcher.
If you have any questions or have experiences of your own to relate please get in touch through the forum.