Choosing and Keeping Pigs

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9781554074693: Choosing and Keeping Pigs
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Everything you need to know about small-scale pig keeping, either for food or as a pet.

Backyard pig keeping is growing in popularity, both as a food source, as demonstrated by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, and as pets. Pigs are easy to rear, breed and feed, and they are hardy and adaptable animals that help clear ground, recycle waste and fertilize soils.

This practical and accessible guide is the ideal beginner's handbook and includes expert advice on:

  • How to choose and purchase a quality animal and how to help preserve rare breeds
  • Equipment, housing and fencing
  • Moving and handling
  • Feeding, nutrition and pasture
  • Pig health care and common diseases
  • Selecting a boar or sow for breeding, hogging, farrowing, taking care of piglets and pedigree breeding
  • Preparing for slaughter, butchering and subsequent storage
  • Showing pigs in competitions.

Choosing and Keeping Pigs also includes a history of pig keeping and a comprehensive directory of 30 traditional and rare breeds. This unique reference provides all the information a pig keeper requires.

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About the Author:

Linda McDonald-Brown is a highly respected pig keeper who runs her own company constructing pig shelters. She keeps and breeds a wide range of traditional and rare pig breeds and teaches courses on how to keep pigs.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

Pigs are sociable, intelligent animals that will give you many hours of entertainment and pleasure throughout their lives. This chapter explores the history of pigkeeping and looks at how to select a breed. One thing is for sure: your life will never be the same again!

Why keep pigs?

Pigs can give you years of enjoyment, just as much as any cat or dog, as long as you give them the space and care they need. You don't need a reason for becoming a pig owner -- pigs are simply a pleasure to keep!

A passion for pigs
Ask any smallholder why they keep pigs, and the chances are you will be with them for the next couple of hours -- after which you will leave none the wiser. You will, however, know everything there is to know about their pigs. As you walk through the pig pens listening to their owner regaling you with stories of their favourite pigs over the years, it will occur to you that, whatever the reason, their pigs have become an all-consuming passion.

Rearing your own meat
Most smallholders start out by buying and raising two weaners (newly weaned piglets) just for their freezer. Sitting down to home-produced pork is not only an extremely tasty experience, but you also have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what went into your meal. Many smallholders experiment with different sausage recipes or try their hand at curing bacon, which they then either use for their own consumption or sell locally.

Keeping a couple of weaners for the freezer doesn't take a huge amount of work, and the cost of getting them to porker weight is reasonable when you consider the amount of meat you get in return. However, pigs should not be seen as a 'get-rich-quick scheme', for feed costs can fluctuate wildly. Whether you plan to keep ten or a hundred pigs, a budget needs to be set and a close eye kept on it.

Today pedigree weaners are in demand. If you are planning to breed in the future, selling newly weaned pigs is a good way of maximizing profits faster than breeding weaners to fatten them on and sell for meat. However, the initial outlay of breeding pedigree weaners can be considerable. Buying in-pig pedigree gilts (female pigs that haven't yet produced a litter) can be expensive, depending on the breed. However, if your gilt has a large healthy litter that is sold at eight weeks for a good price, you should get back the money you paid for her (and more).

Many pig owners progress to selling the meat they produce on a more professional but small-scale footing through cooperatives, local shops or farmers' markets. If done properly, keeping a close eye on costs, this can earn smallholders a decent profit, because the demand for local free-range meat is growing rapidly.

Other reasons for keeping pigs
If breeding for meat doesn't appeal to you, but you would still like to find a use for your pigs, buy a couple of older pigs and put them to work on any rough land or woodland that needs clearing. Pigs are renowned for digging up ground, and in no time at all will clear nettles, thistles, weeds and other unwelcome growth. If you are planning to plant young trees in woodland, put pigs in first to clear any bracken and briar.

Alternatively, you may wish to keep pigs for them pleasure of showing them and reaping the rewards of your careful husbandry and pedigree stock (see Pigs on Show, pages 106-115). Or you may want pigs to help you become self-sufficient in food, alongside growing your own vegetables; or simply to bring a touch of the farmyard to your suburban lifestyle, whether you keep pigs as pets or for their meat. Whatever your reasons, your plans should not be set in stone. What often starts out as a bit of fun, with minimal time and effort required, frequently turns into an all-consuming passion.

How to use this book
This book is aimed at anyone who wishes to keep a pig for the first time, particularly novice smallholders who need guidance on how to care for their animals and get the most from them. Getting Started (pages 18-45) offers advice on essential equipment and preparing for your pigs' arrival. Caring for Pigs (pages 46-65) describes the daily, weekly, monthly and annual tasks, explaining how to feed, water and handle your pigs. Pests and Diseases (pages 66-77) discusses common pig ailments and how to treat them.

Breeding (pages 78-95) looks at getting your pig in-pig, the birth and caring for piglets. Processing (pages 96-105) explains what happens to pigs when they are processed as meat. Pigs on Show (pages 106-115) covers showing your pig and the etiquette and ethics involved. Pig Breeds (pages 116-191) is a directory of all the main pedigree breeds, detailing each breed's appearance, character and care needs. Finally, the questions and answers section on pages 192-201 deals with frequently asked questions about choosing and keeping pigs.

The history of the pig

Pigs are one of the most versatile creatures around, and over the centuries they have provided us with food and clothing and products such as buttons, artists' brushes and fertilizer; they have also played an important part in the medical industry.

Domesticating pigs
The pig has been around for thousands of years and is believed to have been one of the first animals to be domesticated. Early breeds of the domesticated pig were descendants of the wild boar (Sus scrofa). Pig remains have been found at Neolithic sites, including one in Wiltshire in England, and cave paintings thousands of years old, such as those at Altamira in Spain, show wild pigs and humans together.

Domestic pigs historically have been raised in one of two ways: either by keeping them confined to a pen (the method that is familiar to us today) or by the more natural method of allowing them to forage over a wide area (a method that is still popular in some countries). Pigs are omnivores and, left to forage for themselves, will survive by eating almost anything, including roots, fruit, reptiles and carrion.

Early practices in England
Pigs were an important source of food for the Anglo-Saxons and were looked after by swineherds who took them to pannage. This is a legal term for the practice of turning pigs out into the forest at certain times of year to forage for foods such as acorns, beech nuts, roots and berries. Pannage came to play an important role in woodland ecology and is still practised today in parts of southern England.

Up to the Middle Ages, pigs were probably the main source of meat for humans and were kept in most villages. However, the widespread practice of letting them out to forage meant that they were often viewed as pests. To discourage unsupervised foraging, stray pigs were killed or the pigs were impounded and the owner charged for their return.

Traditionally, most pigs (apart from breeding stock) were killed at the beginning of winter to provide the villagers with much-needed meat to keep them alive during the cold season. Those pigs that were not killed often wintered out in the forests, with no extra food.

The popularity of pig-keeping slowly declined after the Middle Ages, due to the growth in sheep-breeding and restrictions on pannage. A new type of pig was now kept -- the cottagers' pig, less hardy than the forest pig. During the 18th century most cottagers kept at least one pig, feeding it on leftovers and waste produce from the vegetable garden. They would rarely breed from their pig, instead buying it at weaning and keeping it until it was ready for killing a few months later.

Changing fashions
During the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain, important improvements were made in the selection and breeding of pigs. Prick-eared pigs of Chinese and Siamese bloodlines were introduced to improve existing breeds, establishing the pig breeds that we are familiar with today. The Berkshire, for example, displays the prick ears and slightly snub noses characteristic of Asian pigs. In contrast, the Tamworth, unlike other breeds, has not been

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