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By November 10, 2017 0 Comments Read More →

Keeping Pigs in the Garden

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Linda MacDonald Brown, author of Pigs for the Freezer, considers the possibility of keeping pigs in your garden.

The idea of keeping a couple of pigs in your garden can be a scary one – after all, there is a huge difference between keeping a few chickens for their eggs and two pigs for their meat. You will need to be organised before you go out and buy your pigs, but it shouldn’t be scary. In fact, it can be quite exciting and the end result is worth that extra effort. But why would you want to keep two pigs in your back garden? After all, you can drive down the road and buy a pork chop or two from your local supermarket with a lot less bother. The main reason is that then you will never experience the extreme pleasure of sitting down to your home-produced Sunday joint listening to the oohs and aahs of your family as they taste, probably for the first time, the sublime flavour of a slowly matured traditional breed. You will also miss out on such pleasures as the pigs talking to you as you walk down the garden. Most of all you will miss out on the immense pleasure you will receive just having these beautiful, intelligent animals in your life.

Pigs are considered by many to be unclean animals, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the pig is one of the cleanest animals around. Very rarely will they dirty their house, preferring instead to use a corner of their pen which they will return to every time. This makes them ideal to keep in a small area and low maintenance as, unlike some animals, they do not need constant cleaning out. However, that isn’t to say you can leave them for a couple of days. Do that and you may find that when you get back you have a rooted up garden and fences to mend, both in practical terms and with the neighbours.

ANIMAL WELFARE

Please note that pigs are social animals and like many animals thrive on contact of other pigs and do well mixing with human company so you must not buy a little piglet to keep at the end of the garden on it’s own. Also make sure that you can provide room and afford the feed and shelter. A few piglets may look cute as anything running about but they do not stay cute for long! You must consider the size they grow to and whether you intend to keep them as pets or for the table. If for the table do your research into despatch BEFORE you purchase. Please do not buy on impulse.

They are quiet animals to have around on the whole except at meal times when their excited squealing can reach ear-splitting proportions, but this does stop when they get their snouts in the trough. They are among the friendliest, most intelligent creatures on the planet, loving your company as much as you love theirs. They are not out to eat you alive as suggested by some films and even the most nervous person will be able to handle one of the lop-eared breeds. For me, pigs beat the company of a dog or cat any day. Area wise, if you choose the right breed for a garden, such as Berkshire, Middle White or even Gloucester Old Spot, and they can romp around and get enough exercise to stay healthy, then that is all the space they need. Pigs are classed as farm animals so you can’t just go down to your local livestock market or pet shop and bring one back. There are some things that have to be in place before you can bring your pigs home.

PIG SMALLPRINT

First you need a holding number from Defra – this nine-digit number will allow traceability of your pigs. By law, every property that keeps farm animals must have one so it is pretty important to have it in place before the pigs arrive. It is very easy to get one even if you live in an urban area. A call to the Rural Payments Agency normally sees you receiving your number within two weeks. Don’t ever think that you can get away with keeping a couple of pigs without this number. Defra will find out and when they do, expect to part with a lot of cash. Once you have the holding number and the pigs, you then apply to your local Animal Health Divisional Officer for a herd number. Again this is very easy to obtain, normally arriving within days of your phone call. With the herd number comes a wealth of information about looking after your pigs and various other documents such as a medicine record book and a movement book. At this time you may well get a visit from the Environment Officer (EO) who will probably want to satisfy himself that the pigs are not going to be either a nuisance or a health hazard. Keeping pigs in an urban area will flag all sorts of problems up for the EO. It could well turn out to be an arduous task convincing him or her that the pigs will not escape and cause a major accident on the road outside your house, or that they won’t cause such a smell that everyone within a one-mile radius will have to live with their windows closed.Remember, keeping pigs in an urban environment will probably be as new to them as it is to you, so make sure you have considered all the potential problems before they visit.

MIND THE NEIGHBOURS

Any animal that lives in the garden permanently has the potential to make it look unsightly. If you live next door to a couple that spend every waking moment tending their flowers and keeping the outside of their house pristine, you may have problems with them warming to your pigs. Even if your neighbours are as excited about the pigs arriving as you are, make sure that you do everything in your power to keep their pen and surrounding area as clean and tidy as possible. Plant quick growing trees to screen their shelter, tidy away buckets and make sure that if you have a manure heap it’s out of your neighbour’s vision. Above all, make sure the fencing is as straight and as neat as possible. Nothing drags down a place more than fencing that is not straight or badly erected. In any case anything less than proper, well-built stock fencing will not keep pigs in.

HOUSING

Pigs, especially when small, can live in almost any type of shelter, although common sense must prevail.

The coal bunker just will not do. If the budget is tight, a well-made shelter will do the job of keeping the pigs dry and warm. Having said that, no matter how well they’re constructed homemade shelters have a habit of falling to bits once pigs turn their attention to them. It may not be in the first week, but during their time with you the homemade shelter will become their demolition project. It is therefore worth investing in an ark, the type depending on your preference and whether you are in a conservation area. Some councils would take a very dim view of a shiny galvanised ark shining like a beacon from your garden. If you are in any doubt, choose an ark with green galvanised sheets or a wooden one. Think very carefully about the sort of bedding you plan to use in the shelter. Straw is by far the warmest but you could go through quite a lot, so you need to be sure you can dispose of it properly. If you don’t have too much, working it into your vegetable patch will do wonders for your vegetables. Some people even cover the roots of tender plants with straw in the winter.

RATS AND OTHER PROBLEMS

To many people who have not experienced anything other than keeping a dog or a cat, farm animals mean one thing – rats. In suburbia you also have the problem of foxes and possibly dogs other than your own. It is important therefore to keep feed inside a building and, if possible, inside feed bins. Any container will do as long as it is vermin proof – it could be an old freezer that is not working or surplus to requirement. Any leftover food inside the pen should be cleared up and if you do start to see rats or their telltale droppings, seek advice on how to get rid of them. If you see one rat, I guarantee there are quite a few more lurking nearby.

Foxes are not quite as much of a problem – contrary to belief they will not take weaners, although it has been known for them to take very young piglets.

PREPARATION AND PLANNING

When thinking of buying a couple of pigs for the freezer you must plan ahead. In four or five months you will be taking these pigs to the abattoir. They will not be the cute little eight week olds that you carried through all those weeks ago, but fairly large animals with minds of their own. Careful thought has to be given to loading the pigs in a trailer when it is time for them to go. Of all the potential problems urban pig keepers come across, this is the one that is not given enough thought, even though it is the most dangerous, especially if you are loading reasonably close to the road. A loose pig can cause a major accident, so a well thought out plan with sufficient help must be in place when the time comes.

LEARNING FROM OTHERS

It’s worth joining a local smallholder club or even your breed society once you have your pigs. That way you will come into contact with other like-minded people who will be very happy to help and advise you in all matters piggy. As a beginner, no doubt you will have millions of questions and hearing advice first hand definitely beats reading it in a book. If you can, go on a pig-keeping course either just before or just after your pigs arrive. They are springing up all over the country and a good one is worth its weight in gold. You will come away brimming with ideas and a better understanding of your pigs.

WHEN TO PURCHASE

The best time to buy pigs is undoubtedly during spring when gardens are in flower and looking at their best. Two little pigs will enhance a spring or summer garden Two miserable-looking pigs in a foot of mud in pouring rain in the winter is no comparison, at least for the neighbours overlooking your garden. Buying them in spring means that you will have the pigs throughout the summer when the weather is hopefully warm and dry and you can then despatch them just before the weather changes in the autumn. You can then try your hand at butchering your pigs and perhaps even having a go at making hams and sausages. One thing is for sure; I can guarantee that once you have sat down to your first home-produced joint or sausages, you will never again buy pork from a supermarket.

Posted in: Pigs

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