Pigs are great farmyard additions. Pigs are hardy, very smart and have unique personalities. Whether you have weaner pigs for the summer or are breeding pigs, diet and healthcare are important. Pigs have litters, averaging 10 piglets per litter. A gilt is the name for a female pig that has not had a litter. Sows are female pigs that have had piglets. Boars are males and barrows are males that have been castrated. There are many breeds of pigs with the most common being the Landrace, a white pig ideal for commercial production. Common backyard breeds include Berkshire and Tamworth. Pigs are very intelligent and can be taught simple tricks. They are easy to train to come for food, but it can be very difficult to herd pigs.
Pigs need a dry warm area where they can be sheltered from rain, snow and wind. A shed filled with straw is an excellent way to keep them warm as they will bury themselves in, especially during the winter months. Pigs love mud, but it is very important for them to have somewhere dry as well. It is also good to have a turnout area or pasture where they can dig into the dirt and mud, as well as eat roots of plants. These turnout areas or pastures will not remain flat – pigs are notorious for digging and making mud holes. These mud holes are important for pigs to keep cool and help prevent sunburn. Having mud, dirt, grass and trees are good for pigs’ welfare as it keeps them active and engaged. Piglets born in a barn will need supplemental iron – those that are allowed to go outside or have dirt floor pens get iron from the soil as they root around.
Pigs are omnivores, meaning that they will eat both plants and animals. The majority of their diet should be a pig ration of different grains, with garden leftovers as a supplement. Pigs eat roots and will graze when they are kept on pasture but should be supplemented with pig feed. Pigs are often viewed as the garbage disposals of the farmyard, but there are some foods to steer clear of. Raw meat, raw eggs, foods high in sugar, rhubarb, moldy food and raw sweet potatoes are all foods that can cause health problems. Pigs should not be fed any products that contain pork. Most producers do not add meat into their pigs’ diet as it can be a way of transmitting disease, especially if fed raw. Pigs generally get all the protein they need from using high protein grains in the ration. Pigs rarely overeat (unless they are pot belly pigs) and can be fed with large feeders. When keeping pigs in groups, care must be taken to make sure that there is enough space for all the pigs to eat. Keep an eye on the older and younger animals as these are generally lower on the pecking order.
Even backyard pigs should have a basic herd health plan. Sows and gilts should be vaccinated with Farrowsure, which helps to protect against parvovirus, erysipelas and leptospirosis. These diseases cause reproductive failure, small litters and can make piglets extremely sick. Tetanus is a disease found in soil, especially in rusted equipment. Any animal, including people, can get infected with tetanus, often with disastrous effects. There is a tetanus vaccine available. Deworming is important as well. Pigs are dewormed with Ivermectin once yearly, unless there is cause for concern.
Biosecurity is extremely important in large commercial pig barns, but it is also very important for small herds or backyard pigs. There are many infectious diseases that can travel between pigs. The most common diseases cause signs related to respiratory disease, reproductive disease and diarrhea. Many of these diseases can be fatal, especially to young piglets. Vaccinations can help to prevent some of these diseases. Others have no prevention, except to prevent the disease from getting into your herd. New additions should be quarantined for at least 14 days to look for signs of illness. Changing clothes and shoes between visiting other farms helps to minimize the spread. Single pigs should not be introduced suddenly into new groups as pigs have a hierarchy and fights can break out.
Pigs are wonderful additions to your farm life. For beginners, getting a couple weaner pigs for the summer is a great way to start. Pigs are very social and should have at least one other pig for a buddy. For more information on vaccinations, herd health or general information, please call the Dawson Creek Veterinary Clinic.