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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Keeping pigs: a beginner's guide

If you are considering keeping pigs, even a micro pig, you need to understand the laws around feeding, tagging and moving them. Find out what you need to get started and how to keep your animals safe and healthy.

What pigs need

Pigs need certain things to be comfortable. Before deciding to get pigs, consider whether you can provide:

  • a large piece of land – the more the better, but ideally half an acre for two pigs
  • strong or electric fencing to stop the pigs wandering off
  • a shelter – you can buy pig arks from home improvement stores or online
  • plenty of straw for their bedding

If you are thinking of breeding pigs you also need to provide some protection for sows while they are giving birth to their piglets.

Feeding and watering pigs

It is now illegal to feed pigs with scraps from your kitchen

Pigs need constant access to clean drinking water, so you will need a sturdy trough.

It is illegal to feed pigs with waste food from your kitchen, including vegetable scraps.

If you have any questions about feeding pigs, you should ask your vet, feed supplier, or contact a pig society. You can search online for local pig societies. More information on pig feed is available in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) booklet on keeping pigs.

Choosing a pig

There are many different breeds of pig in the UK; many have particular characteristics that could affect your decision. For example, British Saddlebacks are very tame and Tamworths produce good bacon.

Some things to consider when choosing a breed of pig are:

  • the size it will grow to
  • the type of pork it will produce
  • how tame or unruly it is likely to be

The British Pig Association website has detailed descriptions of each pig breed.

Traditional or modern breeds of pig

There are two main types of pigs in the UK: traditional (rare) breeds and modern breeds.

Rare breeds come in various sizes and colours, and are able to live outdoors in all weathers.

Modern breeds are mostly used for intensive pork farming, because they mature quickly and produce large litters. They usually have pink skin and white coats.

Choosing a rare breed of pig will help to protect that breed from becoming extinct in the UK. Pig breeders agree that traditional breeds also produce tastier meat. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has information on rare breeds and how to protect them.

Buying pigs

There are magazines for people who keep a small number of animals, and they often carry adverts of animals for sale. Try searching the internet for ‘smallholder magazines’.

You should make sure that the seller has experience with pigs and will give you the necessary documents. See the ‘Licences and records for pigs’ section on this page for more detail.

When you go to view pigs, remember to look for animals that:

  • have a glossy coat
  • are alert
  • interact well with other pigs

These are all qualities of healthy pigs.

Licences and records for pigs

Whether you intend to keep one pig or several, you will need certain licences and documents. The information below on moving pigs only applies to England.

There are some differences on the pig keeping laws for Scotland and Wales. For information on these, visit the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly websites.

What to do before moving pigs onto your land

You will need a county parish holding (CPH) number. This is an identification number for the land and buildings where your pigs will be kept. To apply for a CPH number, contact the Rural Payments Agency on 0845 603 7777.

Moving pigs

You need a licence and a particular form whenever pigs are moved from one place to another, including bringing them to your land.

In most cases, you can move pigs under the ‘general licence for the movement of pigs’. The licence document tells you what to do before, during and after the journey. Your pigs should be fit and healthy to travel, and they should be suitably housed for the journey.

You can download the licence from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.

You must follow the following steps when moving pigs:

  1. the person selling the pigs must give you an AML2 ‘report of a pig movement’ form with their own details completed
  2. you must then fill in your details on the AML2 form
  3. if you do not receive the AML2 form you should not move the pigs
  4. make sure the completed form travels with the pigs
  5. send a copy to your local council within three days of receiving the pigs

What to do when your pigs have arrived

When the pigs have arrived on your land, the law says you cannot move any pigs, even those already there, for 20 days. If you already have cows, sheep or goats on your land, you must not move them anywhere for six days after your new pigs arrive. This helps prevent diseases spreading.

The next thing to do is register your pigs with your Animal Health Office. You will be given an identification number called a herd mark.

You can find your nearest Animal Health Office on the Animal Health website.

Pig identification

All pigs over one year old must have identification such as a paint mark, tattoo or ear tag with your herd mark on. Also, pigs of any age must have an identification mark or tag if you intend to take them to a market, slaughterhouse or another holding.

The Defra website has details of the different kinds of identification.

Pig health and diseases

You are responsible for the health of your pigs, and you should contact your vet if you spot any sign of disease. There are a number of diseases that affect pigs, some of which can be passed to humans.

By law, you must contact your local health office immediately if you or your vet detect any of the following serious (or notifiable) diseases:

  • foot and mouth disease
  • classical swine fever
  • Aujeszky’s disease 
  • African swine fever

Other diseases that affect pigs in the UK include:

  • salmonella
  • streptococcal infections
  • postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome (PMWS)
  • porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS)
  • infertility
  • pneumonia
  • diarrhoea

For more information about notifiable and other diseases, visit the Defra website.

You can also register with Animal Health to receive alerts about outbreaks of disease and advice on how to deal with them.

Additional links

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