Where To Keep Your Pigs

The perfect pig paddock would be on slightly sloping, sandy soil, conveniently dotted with a few trees for shade and scratching. If these trees then provide an edible harvest that gently drops its crop over a couple of months – pig heaven. Sadly, all I have to offer is loam over clay; flat and very wet in the winter, baking hard in the summer, and almost treeless. Not ideal, but with a bit of thought, the creative pig keeper can add features to enhance even the dullest environment.

A boring patch of pasture can be made more pig-friendly by adding a large chunk of tree or a tractor tyre, and a tarpaulin can be rigged up to provide a little shade in the summer. Whatever you supply must be sturdy – you’ll be amazed at a pig’s strength. If you keep adult pigs, then any object within their reach will be severely tested. Our boar Freddie has been known to move his entire house across the field in an ecstasy of scratching. Fine, up until the point where the metal ark meets the electric fence, and then his true nature is revealed, as he runs off shrieking, and we have to go and rescue him!

Give your pigs as much space as you can spare – at least 400 sq meters for two weaners, and never keep a single pig. If you intend to breed, allow at least 400 sq metres per adult pig, and make sure you have the same again, lying empty, so that you can rotate paddocks.

A wallow in summer is really important. Pigs don’t sweat and easily over-heat, so they need to cover themselves in mud, which not only cools them down, but acts as an effective sunscreen, so they don’t burn. Usually, you don’t have to make anything for them, just let them make their own wallow by tipping water from their drinking trough, or run a hosepipe to soak the ground and keep it topped up every few days, as they hollow out a bowl. You’ll always notice depressions caused by wallowing on any ground left by pigs. Fill them in or leave them for the next tenants.

Build a basic sturdy shelter where your stock can sleep and rest. I like traditional corrugated-iron mobile pig arks. Some of ours are homemade and others have been bought second-hand. These are generally sturdier with insulated roofs, keeping their inhabitants cool in the summer and warm when it’s cold. We also made a wooden one based on the dimensions of an 8′ x 4′ (2.4m x 1.2m) sheet of heavy-duty ply that worked well, but was too heavy to move around without dismantling.

When positioning the house, keep the entrance away from the prevailing wind, and bed the inside down with a good layer of straw, especially in winter. Pigs won’t soil their house, but straw gets dirty especially if it’s muddy outside, so keep it topped up. Your pigs will enjoy a top-up of new straw, wandering in and out of the house with mouthfuls, as they re-arrange their beds. When the new bedding arrives, our two sows chuck Freddie out of the house, so they can do their housekeeping in peace. He stands waiting patiently outside until they’re ready, and he’s let back in. Pig manure and bedding make excellent plant food and soil conditioner, stacked in layers on your compost heaps.

Feeders come in all shapes and sizes, and we’ve tried most of them over the years, but nowadays we don’t use troughs for feeding. It’s easier to feed straight on the ground, spreading the feed further so the greediest pigs don’t grab all the food.

We’ve tried traditional Mexican hats, plumbed-in water troughs, and cut-down water butts as drinkers. All fine and dandy till your lovely pig turns them over with a flick of its nose. If it isn’t empty, it’ll be full of mud, so you will need to tip the mud out regularly and refill. If you end up keeping several pigs in a number of paddocks, then it’s worth investing in a nipple drinking system.

Available from agricultural merchants, it consists of a barrel with metal nipples screwed into the side. The barrel is filled with water, either manually or by attaching a hosepipe to a ballcock system in the top, and the pigs drink from the nipples – easier for us, and ideal for the pigs, who always have clean fresh water on tap. The barrel stands on a sheet of ply, to deter them from making a wallow and undermining the barrel.

Finally, to fence your pigs, use either fixed fencing or electric wire, for which you’ll need a sturdy post in each corner, and a couple of strands of wire tensioned between them. Plastic posts pushed in every few feet will keep it level. It’s worth investing in a system where you wind the wire onto a reel, then use the wheel for tension. Make sure your charger is powerful enough to cover the distance, and more importantly, will still work if grass and clods of mud are chucked up onto it. The pigs will regularly try and bury the wire, so walk the perimeter on wet mornings and kick off any mud you find. Buy all your kit from your local agricultural merchant, who will advise you.