A beginner's guide to keeping pigs

Increasing numbers of Britons are starting to grow their own food, and while for many that means a vegetable patch or allotment, more and more are also adding livestock to their homegrown list.

Keeping pigs for beginners

Pic: Getty

If you have the space and time to care for them, pigs can either make great pets (depending on the breed) or be reared for the dinner table, and if you are thinking about keeping these endearing creatures, these are the things you should consider.

The law
In order to keep even one pig, the law requires you to register as a pig keeper with the Defra Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).

In England, you cannot move pigs without a licence, and that includes bringing them to your land. The AML2, or 'general licence for the movement of pigs', form is available to download from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), but the person from whom you are buying the pigs should give you their own AML2 with their details already completed. You then fill in your details, and the form must travel with the pigs. A copy must then be sent to your local council within three days of the pigs arriving at your home.

Thereafter, you must not move the pigs for at least 20 days, and any other livestock should not be moved for six days after the pigs arrive, in order to prevent the possible spread of disease.

You must also register your pigs with the Animal Health Office. The Animal Health website can help you locate your nearest office. You will then be given an identification number known as a herd mark. Any pigs over the age of one must have this herd mark, either as a tattoo, ear tag or ink mark, and this applies to pigs of any age if you plan to sell them at market or send them to slaughter.

What you need
The larger the piece of land you plan to keep your pigs on, the better, but at the absolute minimum you should give two pigs half an acre. Strong or electric fencing is a necessity to keep them in their enclosure, and they will need shelter from both the hot sun and the cold in the form of a pig ark, usually available at home improvement stores or online. A good covering of straw bedding is also essential, as well as access to clean drinking water from a sturdy trough.

What breed?
If you're looking for a pet, then a micro pig or pot-bellied pig is probably the best option as they do not grow too large.

Whether you plan to rear pigs for meat or keep them as a hobby, it's an idea to stick to traditional native breeds. Most pig breeders will tell you that these traditional breeds produce the tastiest meat. Some breeds are quite rare, such as Berkshires, Tamworths, Saddlebacks and Gloucester Old Spot, so if pigs are your hobby, raising these rare breeds will help to protect them.

How large the pigs will grow and their temperament are other factors to consider, so before you decide on a breed, chat to a local rare breeds centre or smallholder about the most suitable option. Alternatively the British Pig Association website includes detailed descriptions of each breed.

Once you have made your choice, smallholders magazines are a good place to look for animals for sale, or you may know someone locally that is willing to sell some of their pigs. When buying, however, always make sure that the pigs have a glossy coat, are alert and interact well with other pigs.

Caring for your pigs
The days of feeding leftovers and scraps from the kitchen are long gone. In fact, it is illegal to give pigs waste food from your kitchen. It is best to stick to commercial feed, though pigs do prefer their food wet so you may want to mix it with a little water or milk that is not from a catering establishment or kitchen. Just be sure to take care with quantities - there is a reason they have a reputation for gluttony, so stick to the guidelines on your commercial feed bag. Given a sizeable area in which to live, pigs will also happily supplement their feed by foraging for everything from acorns to earthworms.

If you have a number of pigs it is worth splitting the feed into two troughs to ensure that each one gets their share. And since excitement is likely to be high at feeding time, it's an idea to place the troughs where you can fill them from the other side of the fence to avoid being knocked over.

For more details of what you can and can't feed to your pigs, visit the website of the British Pig Association.

It is also essential that you keep your pigs in good health, and you should contact your vet if you notice anything out of the ordinary. Pigs are susceptible to diseases like salmonella, pneumonia, and diarrhoea, while foot and mouth, classical or African swine fever and Aujeszky's disease are serious and require you to notify your local health office.

Pigs are friendly and intelligent creatures with big personalities. Whatever your primary reason for keeping them, you will undoubtedly find it difficult not to become attached to these endearing characters.

Do you keep pigs at your home? What advice would you give to the pig-keeping novice? Leave your comments below...