Porky Pigs

It is es­sen­tial to keep pigs fit and healthy and free from obe­sity. Liz Shank­land ex­plains how to keep them in tip top con­di­tion

Country Smallholding - - Contents - By Liz Shank­land

One of the most com­mon mis­takes new­com­ers to pig keep­ing make is over­feed­ing their an­i­mals. It is not dif­fi­cult to do, of course: as pigs ap­pear to have never-end­ing ap­petites and will al­ways tell you they want more — loudly and re­peat­edly.

What’s more, as a new owner, you will be so en­chanted with them that there is a good chance you will give in. The calo­ries in those ex­tra treats — an ex­tra half scoop of pel­lets here or there, or a pile of ba­nanas or ap­ples do­nated by the lo­cal green­gro­cer — soon add up. If you aren’t care­ful, you could be un­wit­tingly giv­ing them more food than is good for them — to the detri­ment of their health.

Over­feed­ing can hap­pen whether you are rais­ing wean­ers for meat, keep­ing breed­ing stock, or sim­ply have a few pigs as pets. With meat pigs, you will see the re­sult of your gen­eros­ity in a dis­ap­point­ingly fat car­cass at slaugh­ter time; breed­ing an­i­mals can suf­fer fer­til­ity and far­row­ing prob­lems; but pet pigs are likely to suf­fer more than most, and for longer.

Own­ers of­ten don’t re­alise the se­ri­ous dam­age they are do­ing to their pigs by con­stantly in­dulging them. Over­weight pigs can suf­fer from health prob­lems sim­i­lar to those in hu­mans, in­clud­ing pre­ma­ture arthri­tis, di­a­betes and heart and liver dis­ease. As the ex­tra weight puts ad­di­tional pres­sure on limbs and joints, caus­ing pain and loss of mo­bil­ity, pigs can be­come depressed, un­com­fort­able and even aggressive. Other ef­fects can be sight prob­lems, due to fat rolls around the eyes, and loss of hear­ing, as a re­sult of fat de­posits in the ears.

Recog­nis­ing that your pig is over­weight can be tricky. Al­though pigs can be con­di­tion-scored on a scale of 1 to 5, as with sheep, it isn’t quite as straight­for­ward or easy to as­sess. With a pig which has a healthy weight and is in good con­di­tion you will be able to feel the spine when you run your hand firmly along its back. If the spine can be felt re­ally eas­ily, even when only touched lightly, the pig is too thin, but if you can’t feel the spine, even when you ap­ply firm pres­sure, it is obese. Other things to look out for in­clude:

Large jowls. While chubby cheeks or fat around the neck may be ac­cept­able in piglets, older pigs should not have them.

Flabby stom­ach. In some small pet pigs that are car­ry­ing too much weight, a low-slung stom­ach can make walk­ing dif­fi­cult, caus­ing them to spread their legs, thus putting ad­di­tional strain on joints and mus­cles. Low-slung stom­achs also run the risk of scrap­ing on the ground, caus­ing in­jury and in­fec­tion.

Fat rolls/folds over brow and eyes. A pig’s eyes should never be hid­den. Lack of vi­sion can lead to ac­ci­dents and the pig may be­come ner­vous or ap­pear ob­sti­nate.

Fat pads on the shoul­ders and folds or creases over the hind legs. When a pig de­vel­ops what looks like body ar­mour, it is a clear sign of obe­sity. Mo­bil­ity can be af­fected and joint pain can oc­cur.

Prob­lems stand­ing, walk­ing, or ly­ing down. Of­ten caused by dis­com­fort due to pre­ma­ture arthri­tis. The sheer ef­fort of car­ry­ing ad­di­tional weight makes it dif­fi­cult to move nor­mally.

Low­ered or sag­ging per­ineal ar­eas in boars. There should be no fat sur­round­ing the sheath of the pe­nis.

Giv­ing the cor­rect feed

Breeds like the Kunekune and the Viet­namese Pot-bel­lied pig (VPB) are the most pop­u­lar choices for pets, but it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that they do not have the same nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments as larger commercial types which have been se­lec­tively bred to grow fast and pro­duce lean meat. The Kunekune (which, in­ci­den­tally, means ‘fat and round’ in Maori) is thought to have orig­i­nally come from the trop­i­cal is­lands of Poly­ne­sia. It is a nat­u­ral for­ager, just like the VPB and both can sur­vive on rough graz­ing. Nei­ther breed has a con­sti­tu­tion which suits the high pro­tein feeds sold by commercial feed com­pa­nies, so it should come as no sur­prise that so many end up se­ri­ously fat and un­healthy when own­ers un­wit­tingly fol­low the feed­ing guide­lines on the sacks.

It is gen­er­ally ac­cepted that, along with grass or other for­age, a lower pro­tein diet should be fed — ideally no more than 12% pro­tein. Very few man­u­fac­tur­ers pro­duce spe­cial­ist feeds with pet pigs in mind and they can be much more ex­pen­sive than con­ven­tional pig food. The ta­bles be­low show the dif­fer­ence be­tween a stan­dard pig feed for­mu­lated for adult pigs and one cre­ated specif­i­cally for VPB, but suit­able for Kunekunes and other small pet pigs. Both are from the same man­u­fac­turer.

As you will see from the foot­note on the right hand side of the ta­ble, the man­u­fac­turer’s rec­om­men­da­tion is to feed pet pigs ac­cord­ing to weight, but how do you find out how heavy your pigs are if you don’t have the lux­ury of a pig weigh­ing crate?

A cheap mea­sur­ing de­vice, avail­able from many on­line small­hold­ing sup­plies web­sites, is a weigh band. Just pass the tape un­der the ‘armpits’ of your pig — just be­hind the front legs — and over the shoul­ders and read the mea­sure­ment in kilo­grammes. It helps if the pig is eat­ing when you do this. If you are good at maths, you could also try this tra­di­tional method: 1. Mea­sure around the pig as be­fore; 2. Mul­ti­ply the mea­sure­ment by it­self; 3. Mea­sure the length of your pig — from the top of the head, be­tween the ears and down to the point where the tail sprouts from the body (not to the end of the tail); 4.

Take the re­sult of step two and mul­ti­ply by the length of the pig; 5.

Mul­ti­ply by 69.3 for a weight in ki­los, or di­vide by 400 for a weight in pounds.

Fit and ac­tive

Pigs in the wild would be ac­tively for­ag­ing for food through­out the day, but do­mes­ti­cated pigs have a pretty easy life. If you want to trim a bit of weight off your pigs, as well as keep­ing a close eye on their daily diet — and care­fully mea­sur­ing out the amount you are giv­ing them — you can en­cour­age them to take a bit more ex­er­cise. Find­ing ways to get them mov­ing will not only help them burn off calo­ries, it will also keep them men­tally stim­u­lated.

Don’t feed in a trough — spread the food widely so that your pigs have to move around to get it;

Hide the food un­der rocks, fallen leaves or branches, or un­der piles of straw, so the pigs have to use their amaz­ing sense of smell;

Buy or make a treat dis­penser — like the kind used for horses or dogs. Fill it with pig nuts and let them toss it around the pen;

Try teach­ing your pigs some tricks. Pigs are hugely in­tel­li­gent crea­tures and can be trained to do many things dogs can do.

Liz Shank­land is the au­thor of the Haynes Pig Manual. She teaches cour­ses in pig hus­bandry and small­hold­ing at Kate Hum­ble’s ru­ral skills school, www. hum­ble­by­na­ture.com.

A healthy pig is a happy pig

Keep­ing a check on your pigs’ weight is vi­tal

The calo­ries in those ex­tra treats soon add up

It helps if the pig is eat­ing when you mea­sure

Try teach­ing your pigs some tricks

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