Land and fencing for pigs
How much land you need to allocate for pigs depends on a number of factors: the type of soil, the number, breed and size of pig, how many batches you will be rearing each year.
For instance, 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
This is probably the ideal, but many people successfully rear pigs without such an extensive use of land.
Land for pigs
Pigs are natural forest dwellers, so if you have woodland available, then that is the perfect habitat.
Pigs also naturally root so can turn grassland into something resembling the Somme quite quickly, especially if the soil is heavy and the weather wet. Some breeds are harder on the soil than others – Kune Kune pigs are grazers, while the Tamworth is a four-legged plough.
A close look at their respective conformation gives a clue – the long snout of the Tammie is ideal for rooting; short snouted breeds like the Middle White are far less destructive.
You will probably want to give your pigs as much room as possible, but weigh that against the cost of fencing and how much land you have. Pigs can be successfully kept on quite limited areas of land and if you are only going to raise one batch of pigs a year, the land will have six months or so to recover. This break will also keep the worm burden down. If you are going to keep pigs all year, you should consider setting up in such a way as to allow you to rotate and rest the pens.
In hot, sunny weather, pigs can suffer quite badly. Being natural forest dwellers, they haven’t evolved to live in bight sunshine. Pigs can only sweat through their nose and their light coats mean that white pigs in particular can get badly sunburned. In summer, make sure that the pigs have a good wet, wallow and plenty shade from the sun, as well as constant access to drinking water. If you can rig up a shower, your pigs will love you for it and will push and shove to get under the spray first.
While pigs like to wallow in warm weather, they don’t appreciate being constantly in mud so if you are going to keep pigs all year or your soil is heavy, you should plan to move the pig ark regularly to protect the ground around it from poaching.
Having an ark that is on skids will make this much easier. Throwing out old bedding straw (or new for that matter) at the house entrance will help to lessen the impact of piggy trotters. Similarly, having an area of hard standing or concrete will make management and feeding much easier. Walking out of your mired wellies in a sea of mud is no fun!
As well as a house you will need some kind of fence to keep your pigs within their allotted area. Many people use electric fencing for pigs with great success - most pigs soon learn the consequences of touching the wire and, so long as the power is maintained, will respect the boundary. The main benefit of electric fencing is the ease with which it can be moved making strip grazing possible. It is not secure enough to form the outside boundary, though.
If you erect a post and stock net fence, it’s a good idea to put either a line of barbed wire or a single electric strand on the inside of the fence at nose height, to discourage undermining the fence. Metal gates are tougher than wooden ones and hinges that won’t allow the pig to lift the gate off are advisable. Don’t forget how powerful that snout is.
Whatever kind of fence you choose, it needs to be properly installed and very robust and once it’s in, it needs daily checking for any weak spots or you’ll be spending time trying to get your pigs back from wherever. Fences suffer particularly in winter, so do any repairs in autumn.
When planning where to locate the pig-pen, do think about how you are going to get the pigs in and out. It’s easy enough to tuck a weaner under your arm and carry it to the pen, but you won’t be able to do that when you’re taking your pigs to slaughter, so suitable access for a trailer is very helpful.
We plumped for post and rail fencing, together with pig netting. We originally had a single pen for our 2 gilts, measuring about 40x30 feet. We subsequently added another 2 pens of the same size, intending to practice a 3-year rotation of pigs, vegetables and pig fodder.
As it turned out we used the original pen to permanently extend the vegetable garden, and now have two adjacent pigpens separated by post and rail fencing, with the ark bisecting the fence line.
Since the ark has a door at each end we'll never need to move it again (thankfully, 'cos it weighs a ton!). Three pigs trash the area in six months but it then has six months to recover before the next batch arrives.
Pigs: A Guide to Management Neville Beynon
Pig Keeping (Countryside Series) Richard Lutwyche
Small-Scale Outdoor Pig Breeding Wendy Scudamore
Pig Ailments: Recognition and Treatment Mark White
Know Your Pigs Jack Byard
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