Buying your first pigs without a proper assessment could be a recipe for disaster, so aim to do plenty of homework, advises Debbie Kingsley
Buying your first pigs
MY FIRST pigs were a couple of weaners who I raised to meat weight and who went on to grace our freezer and our plates. It was unexpectedly difficult to take them to the abattoir due to the emotional turmoil. Deciding that it would be easier to have a pair of breeding sows, meaning that my husband, Andrew Hubbard, and I always had pigs on our land and making the abattoir trip of youngsters less stressful, we acquired a pair of gilts, Dorothea and Persephone, known forever as Dot and Percy. We had already made a classic new smallholder mistake: we had no desire to host a full-time boar and were completely out of our comfort zone or knowledge regarding artificial insemination. We were also a very long drive from the nearest available boar for hire. What we would have done with all the resulting weaners or pork is beyond me. They would have fed a large village lavishly. In the end, Dot and Percy became pets and never had litters.
Lesson 1 What do you want pigs for?
If you want pigs to produce enough pork, sausages, gammon and bacon for your household, buy enough weaners to supply that want — but no more. At seven or eight months of age you will reap 45-50kg of meat per pig. The minimum you can have will be two weaners (you always need to have two or more for company), so expect around 100kg of meat, averaging 2kg of pork munching per week.
If you want to start a home-reared sausage or charcuterie business, you will need far more than two weaners, but the maths won’t fail you. Knowing how much meat you will need to process every week will give you the answers to the number of pigs you will require to rear or breed.
Lesson 2 Sourcing the stock
You can buy cheap as chips pigs from livestock markets, but there will be no follow on advice or support from the auctioneer. While your chosen pigs may have arrived at the auction in tip top health, having mixed with possibly hundreds of others, how it will leave them is something of a gamble. For first timers in particular who will be in need of support and guidance, it is best to buy pigs direct from the breeder. If you visit a breeder and don’t like what you see, walk away. However, the majority of breeders will have an admirable set up that you can learn from and they will be happy to give you invaluable advice.
Lesson 3 Selection criteria
What should you be looking for when choosing your very first weaners? They should be lively, curious and perky in demeanour. Their bottoms should be clean with no signs of scouring (diarrhoea) and there should be no lice or other crawling things running around on their skin under the bristles. You want them to be cough-free and a good pig shape, with nice chunky hams and no signs of lameness. As to what breed to go for, all native British breeds do well on the typical smallholder outdoor system and having a couple of weaners each year means that you could work your way through the whole list over time.
Lesson 4 Do your prep
Make sure that you are well prepared before you bring your new pigs home. Shelter (a solid pig ark, either bought or home-made), a permanent water supply, strong fencing, shade and feed will all need to be in place before they arrive.
NEXT MONTH: buying your first cows.
It is best to buy pigs direct from the breeder Having a couple of weaners each year means that a smallholder could try a variety of native breeds