Starting with pigs

Before you buy pigs, think about the end game. How much pork do you want? A porker at six months old and 80kg liveweight (depending on breed) will produce a carcase of about 60kg deadweight. This is minus blood and internal organs, but with head and feet still on. The usable meat yield will be about 45kg.

Now, some of that may be sausages and some may be bacon or ham, but it’s still a lot of meat. If you estimate that a portion of meat is about 125g, that’s a lot of meals.

For welfare reasons, you mustn’t keep a pig on its own, so do think about what you are going to do with all this pork that you’re going to have in your freezer in four or five months.

Registering your holding and herd

Before buying pigs, you also need to deal with the legislative side. Detail will vary from country to country, so we suggest you contact your local Department of Agriculture.

In Scotland, the relevant agency is the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Department (SGRPID).

In England, you need to contact the Rural Payments Agency, an executive agency of DeFRA.

From them, you will get a County Parish Holding (CPH) number, also known as an agricultural holding number. If you buy or rent agricultural land, it may already have a CPH number, so do check.

Having got your CPH number, contact Animal Health, an executive agency of DeFRA that was formed from the State Veterinary Service and a number of other related inspectorates in 2007, and they will provide you with a Pig Herd Number and explain about movement licences and the other legislation you will need to know about. They will also send you their Pig Welfare Guide.

Transporting pigs

If you move pigs from one holding to another, including the abattoir, you must complete a movement licence (AML2). This allows stock to be traced in the event of a disease outbreak. When you buy your pigs, the seller will complete a movement licence and give you a copy, so you will need your CPH number before buying. The licence must be retained for 6 years.

When you send your pigs for slaughter, you must complete a licence and either send it or take it with you (the abattoir will advise on what they want done) to the abattoir to be completed, then distribute copies as appropriate and keep a copy for yourself.

You must also keep a record of pig movements on and off your holding, including

  • the date of movement
  • ID mark or temporary mark
  • the number of pigs
  • the holding from which they were moved (name or responsible person, full address and CPH number
  • the holding to which they were moved (name or responsible person, full address and CPH number)

Movements must be recorded within 36 hours of them taking place. Once a year you must record the maximum number of pigs normally present on the holding. This record must be kept for six years after you stop keeping pigs and can be in written or electronic format. Animal Health may visit your holding and ask to see these records at any time.

Medicine book

You will also need an animal medicine book. These are available from agricultural suppliers. All medicines, including wormers, must be entered in the book at the time they are administered. Many medicines have a withdrawal period, during which the animal cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. Check each medicine before you buy it as some can have withdrawal periods of 56 days or so.

Pig identification

By law, all pigs require to be identified, either temporarily or permanently, depending on circumstances.

Permanent ID is by eartag, tattoo or double slapmark.

  • Eartags must be stamped or printed (not hand written) with the letters UK followed by the herd mark. Tags used for slaughter must be metal or flameproof plastic to withstand carcase processing. For movements between holdings, tags can be plastic.
  • Tattoos of the herd number (UK not required) are made on the ear
  • Slapmarks are tattoos of the herd mark (UK not required) applied to each front shoulder area of the pig. They are legible for the life of the pig and throughout the processing of the carcase.

Temporary marks can simply be a paint mark on the pig, so long as it lasts until the pig reaches its destination and that, combined with the movement document, it identifies the holding from which the pig was moved.

Pigs under 12 months moving from one holding to another can be identified with a temporary mark but must have a permanent mark to move to slaughter.

Pigs over twelve months moving between holdings and to slaughter must have a permanent mark.

Breed societies will have their own rules on identification so if you have registered breeding stock, make sure that the method of identification complies.

Vets, abattoirs and butchers

Three other things you should do before you buy any pigs are to make arrangements for veterinary treatment, do some research on how you’ll have them slaughtered (including how you are going to get the pigs to the abattoir) and how you will have them butchered.

If you're only taking weaners to killing weight, with good husbandry and a modicum of luck, you won't need the services of a vet. It could well be a different story if you intend to breed pigs and James Herriots are pretty thin on the ground. Not all veterinary practices treat farm animals, so do locate one that does before the pigs are on site.

It's unlikely that you will be able to (or will want to) have your pigs slaughtered at home - even if you can get someone to do it, the regulations are prohibitive. Many abattoirs have closed, some don’t slaughter pigs and some only take pigs to a certain weight so find out what’s in the local (or not so local) area before buying pigs. Also think about how you are going to get them there – you can stick two weaners in a puppy cage in the back of the car to bring them home. You can’t do that with two porkers.

You will also have to make plans for butchering. You may want to do this yourself, and courses to teach you how to do so are now widely available, or you can use a local butcher. Sometimes, an abattoir will have a butchering service attached. Some butchers will make sausages for you, if you don’t want to make your own, but few cure bacon, so do check in advance. There will probably be an extra charge for making sausages and curing bacon, due to the additional labour cost and the cost of materials (sausage casing is expensive!).

Remember, if you intend to sell or give pork to a third party, there are very strict rules around butchering and processing, so you may not be able to do it yourself at home.

The time to start this research is not when your pigs are fast approaching slaughter weight!

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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