Where do you start with pigs?
Well first of course its important to know pigs are intelligent; it’s said they are as intelligent as a 3 year old child, I would have to say I agree with this and just like a 3 year old child they need an environment which meets their needs and stimulates them.
If you keep a 3 year old child in its play pen all day and do nothing with it; you can bet it will develop some anti social behaviour; imagine where it would go to the toilet if it had no space out side the play pen to go. Imagine what it would do with food if you did not teach it how and where to eat. I think by now you have a picture in your head of what this 3-year-old is like and how it will live.
So now if you set out to give your pigs some of the same advantages as you would realistically give your 3-year-old child then you might get close to giving it a chance to behave more congruently with its intelligence. So I would implore you to give it space preferable including outside space and if at all possible space with access to soil. Pigs are for the most part natural rooters I.E. they want to dig up the soil in search of roots and grubs, if you give them the space to do this they will find as much as !/3 of their daily nourishment. Saving you money and giving them a better more natural life.
Now down to specifics, if you are going to buy some pigs where is it best to get them from? First of all get them locally, pigs do not travel well and if you buy locally and have problems later its not as far to go and see the seller. If you can buy them from a small farm where they are kept as you whish to keep them, whichever way you intend to keep them they will be less problem if you do not change things dramatically. If you intend to keep them outside as I would advise and you buy them off of concrete they may not fair too well, constant selective breeding for less hair and pinker pigs means they are wimps and not good in outdoor conditions. If you intend to keep them on concrete indoors it would be cruel to buy outdoors pigs and then change their life completely. Older breeds of pigs are more adept at living outside.
Which breed should you buy? Well again get them locally so they are acclimatised to your surroundings if you can get a breed you like the look of too all the better, you should like your animals and if you like the look of them you will be more inclined to persevere through any problems that arise throughout their life time.
Commercial cross breads or Hybrids
Commercial pigs are bred for a purpose, to produce high quantities of meat in short periods of time; this has come at a cost however. Commercial breads tend to be pink and hairless making them generally unsuitable for outside living. They can burn in hot sun and freeze to death in cold spells; I exaggerate not. Although they produce high quantities of meat it is not always the best quality meat, older more traditional breeds have historically won most taste tests in comparison to hybrids.
I will not describe each one in turn this is done admirably on many sites on the web and I do not wish to simply repeat them. I will say however older pure breads are much more suited to out door living. They are generally coloured which protects them from the sun naturally, but does not mean they will not get sunburn if over exposed. Older breads are usually hairy which protects them from the cold, as does the extra fat, which they tend to put on as they grow. However just as importantly this layer of fat helps there meat cook more tenderly and with better flavour, of course its not fashionable to eat fat these days so let it do its job during cooking and then leave it on the side of the plate.
I like pigs and I prefer older breads just for their looks, and their character, if you intend to keep pig’s do it for fun as well as the joy of the excellent meat they can provide. Keeping pigs is a responsibility and it deserves consideration before you take the plunge. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us here at Le Bois de Grammont and if we can help in any way we will, if your in France and would like to spend some time with pigs feel free to come for a visit, but do let us know your intentions.
Pigs need housing of some sort even if its only straw bales pined to the ground with hazel steaks and a sheet of tin over the top, it will keep them dry and out of the wind, if you have woodlands to give them shelter in; all the better.
If you intend to keep them inside at least give them two distinct areas one to sleep in and another to eat, play and toilet in. this is a minimum requirement. If you leave them no choice they will sleep and eat in the shit you make them live in, do you really want to eat them after 9 months of living in those conditions? Shame on anyone who could do that to an animal.
If you can give them an inside area and an extended outside area so they get plenty of exercise, they are easier to manage if you can clean out the mess outside when they are enclosed inside and vies versa.
The perfect housing arrangement to my mind is 3 distinct areas a sheltered housing area with roof and draft free, an outside area where they are fed and watered and a larger outside area which is natural they can then indulge them selves in natural behaviour. For me there is no greater joy when keeping pigs to see them out in the field rooting up the ground raising their heads inquisitively when you approach with their nose covered in dirt. They will plough your fields ready for sowing of seeds for their own food having fertilised it organically, they will clean your vegetable patch of every plant including weeds and fertilise it organically.
If you are only able to buy in food for your animals and they are kept inside you will need to supply everything they need, a complete balanced diet with all the nutritional values they need. There are preparatory feeds available which do just that, but they are not cheep, consequently your pork will not be cheep. I have kept pigs on a restricted amount of land, which did not supply a great deal of their nutritional requirements; we had only enough pigs each time to supply our friends and ourselves with pork. But it was economical to do so if we sold the excess to friends at a reasonable price, keeping only 3 and selling 1 & 1/2 of them paid for the 1 & 1/2 we kept. Keeping 5 and selling 3 paid for the 2 we kept plus a small profit. However if you want to maximise your profit and give the pigs the best life you can then you will have to grow some food for them.
Our present situation is better suited for this and this is how we now keep our pigs, we grow crops specifically for the pigs, we plant Swedes (rutabagas), Fodder beat (beterave), and Maize. The root crops are left in the ground for the pigs to forage for themselves; we move the electric fence for them when they have exhausted the previous area of food. The maize is cut at the bottom of the stem and the whole thing is fed to them without any need for further processing, this way we control how much they eat and save some maize for the cows that benefit just as much from this wonderful crop. After all the maize is cut the pigs are allowed on that area to forage for the roots and clean the area for re-planting. Whichever food the pigs are eating the pigs will leave the area ready for re-planting when finished. When we have none of our own crops to feed the pigs we buy in feed Barley (l’orge) or Maize, which we grind to course flour this is mixed with water and biological vitamins to porridge like consistency, mixing the grains with water helps the pigs better assimilate the nutritional value of their food.
We also allow a few pigs in to our vegetable garden each year at the end of the season they clear up all the produce and remnants of any plants including the weeds and weed seeds, they leave the area clear cultivated and manure it for us too. This is a win-win situation they get extra food we get improved quality pork and a well dug garden, why wouldn’t you do it?
For the future we are planting 3 acres of rough ground with chestnut trees this will feed our adult pigs through the late autumn and early winter period and supply us with fire wood on a 5 to 7 year cycle, we will not be able to put the pigs in this area for about 5 years until all the trees are well established and producing nuts, but it will be a wonderful environmentally friendly project.