Managing your pigs: Tips for new farms and pig owners
Whether you are new to owning pigs or expanding your pig farm, managing a group of pigs can be overwhelming – especially with the risk of harmful pathogens and diseases like African swine fever. But don't worry! This article provides valuable tips and biosecurity practices to help you and your pigs. Discover the best practices for housing, feeding, and slaughtering your pigs. Let's root around!
Housing your pigs
In Canada's harsh climate, pigs need adequate shelters to help protect them from sunburns in summer and shivering from the cold in winter. They also need shelter for critical biosecurity and disease control. The size and design of your housing structures should prioritize these factors, as they play a significant role in safeguarding your pigs and preventing the spread of diseases.
Whether you opt for a barn, shed, or hoop structure, it's crucial to construct robust and reinforced shelters, considering that pigs can be destructive. Frail walls can be easily knocked down. To ensure the strength of your shelter, make sure to:
- use lag bolts instead of screws;
- opt for 2" × 6" lumber instead of 2" × 4"; and
- reinforce all corners.
Avoid using treated wood for your pigs' shelter, as it contains chemicals that can be harmful if ingested and could contaminate the meat. Since pigs are susceptible to all kinds of weather, your shelters should be able to protect them whether it's 25°C or −25°C. Weatherproof your shelters by including features such as a dry nesting area made of straw or wood shavings, ample shade to prevent sunburns, and adequate temperature and ventilation regulation for indoor pigs.
For outdoor management, it's most common to set up paddocks containing penned groups of pigs, each equipped with its own shelter. Another option is to have an indoor building with access to an outdoor run. A typical rule of thumb for raising pigs outdoors is 6-10 pigs per acre, but this can change depending on the space you have available.
Since you don't want your pigs escaping or coming into contact with wild animals, whether that be predators or smaller mammals carrying diseases, fencing is a must for raising pigs. Pigs are curious and smart, so they will try to root or dig under a fence that's not designed for them. Here are some recommendations to ensure your fencing provides reliable containment:
- Use fencing materials designed for hogs so that they provide sufficient strength;
- Ensure fencing is tall enough to prevent adult pigs jumping over and dig-proof by burying a portion below ground;
- Monitor and maintain fences, looking for weak spots when using page wire, wood, or mesh fences;
- Double-layer fencing, such as electric fenced pens within a larger perimeter fence, can also help prevent nose-to-nose contact with wildlife that can put your pigs at risk of contracting a disease; and
- Ensure proper grounding of electric fences to avoid electrical shorts.
While ASF is currently not present in Canada, it's still important to prepare for the spread of any other harmful diseases that can infect your pigs. To minimize the risk, an important biosecurity measure is to construct separate housing areas for pigs that are new, sick or have potentially been exposed to a disease to prevent nose-to-nose contact with the rest of your herd.
Best housing practices
- Build reinforced shelters for your pigs that protect them from all types of weather;
- Never use treated wood when building a shelter;
- Build strong fences (double-layered is recommended) to keep unwanted pests from coming into contact with your pigs; and
- Build separate shelters to isolate new and sick pigs.
Feeding your pigs
Pigs can be raised on a variety of feeds, as long as they meet the pigs' nutritional requirements and align with the age and stage of production. The specific feed requirements vary depending on factors such as breed, age, sex, stage of growth, and overall condition. There are several feeding options to consider:
- Complete feeds: Usually purchased from a feed mill and designed to meet all the nutritional requirements. Although they may be more expensive, they provide optimal growth;
- Grain-based homemade feed: If you prefer to make your own feed to save on cost, use a single grain or multiple grains, with or without by-products. Ensure you include additional vitamin/mineral supplements so nutritional requirements are met. This type of feed tends to be a cheaper option, however, your pigs will most likely grow more slowly;
- Produce-based homemade feeds: In some cases, produce (fruits and vegetables) may provide a low-cost opportunity in feeding your pigs. Add vitamin/mineral and protein supplements to ensure nutritional requirements are met. While produce can be used, it must not have been in a kitchen or have come in contact with meat or pork products of any kind; and
- Remember: DO NOT feed your pigs food waste or table scraps of any kind, since it could be contaminated with viruses like ASF and could spread the disease. In order to ensure the health and safety of your animals, feeding meat to pigs, including pet foods with meat, is illegal.
Consider consulting a swine nutritionist to help you determine how to meet the nutritional needs of your pigs.
To prevent competition among pigs, ensure easy access to feeders. Protect the feed from pests by adding hinged covers to feed bunks, which pigs can open with their snouts.
Pigs require a lot of water. They may consume up to 20 litres daily, 2-3 times more than their feed intake. Provide clean drinking water 24/7 using options like nipple drinkers, tubs, or troughs.
Best feed and water practices
- Source your feed and feed ingredients from a reputable supplier;
- Make sure your pigs are getting enough feed that has a mix of grains, protein, and minerals;
- Keep feeding troughs rodent- and pest-proof;
- Provide enough feeder space to prevent your pigs from competing with each other;
- Provide constant access to fresh, clean drinking water;
- Make sure water doesn't freeze in the winter; and
- Avoid feeding your pigs kitchen scraps, and never feed them meat products, as it's illegal to do so.
Note these are general guidelines for feeding your pigs. It is important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate feed and quantities for your specific pigs.
Slaughtering your pigs
When the time comes to slaughter your pigs, you have multiple options, including on-site slaughter, provincially inspected abattoirs, and federally inspected abattoirs. Each option has specific considerations and regulations to follow.
For on-site slaughter, consult your provincial ministry of health or agriculture for farm-specific requirements. Provincial government websites provide information on licensed slaughter facilities in your area.
Regulated slaughter facilities are recommended as they can quickly identify unsafe carcasses. Before slaughtering, research your chosen abattoir. Some require you to reserve your date for slaughter months in advance, so don't leave your planning to the last minute. Ask about their ID requirements and acquire the necessary equipment, such as ear tags, tattoo ink, and animal spray paint. Ensure compliance with the Health of Animals Regulations for pigs being moved to slaughter.
Preparations for slaughter include adhering to withdrawal times for medications, ensuring pigs are healthy for transport, and withholding feed 12 to 18 hours before slaughter (while providing water access).
Federally regulated slaughter facilities require Canadian Pork Excellence (CPE) standards and identification. CPE is a national program that covers three on-farm components: Traceability (PigTRACE), Food Safety (PigSAFE or CQA), and Animal Care (PigCARE or ACA). These programs are mandatory for everyone transporting pigs to a federally inspected slaughter facility.
Biosecurity measures are crucial when bringing pigs to slaughter facilities. Treat these areas as potentially contaminated with diseases. Protect yourself and your livestock at home with the following biosecurity practices:
- Be aware of the slaughter plant's biosecurity rules;
- Wear disposable boot covers and wash or sanitize hands; throw away boot covers before returning home;
- Do not transport sick pigs; and
- Thoroughly wash and disinfect your vehicle and trailer prior to returning to your farm.
Remember to prioritize cleanliness and hygiene. Wash and disinfect your vehicle, trailer, clothes, and footwear after leaving the slaughter facility. If visiting your pigs on the same day, change your clothes and footwear and wash or sanitize hands to prevent the spread of diseases like ASF.
Best slaughter practices
- Check provincial regulations;
- Research chosen abattoir's biosecurity practices;
- Follow abattoir's ID preferences (while adhering to federal identification requirements) and prepare pigs for slaughter; and
- Practice biosecurity during pig transportation to and from slaughter facilities.
Biosecurity practices to follow when managing pigs
To summarize the most important biosecurity practices in managing pigs:
1) Build strong housing and fencing
- Construct separate shelters to quarantine any sick pigs to prevent disease spread.
- Install double-layer fencing to prevent nose-to-nose contact with wildlife that could carry and spread diseases.
2) Watch your feed
- Source feed and feed ingredients from a supplier with good biosecurity practices.
- Keep feeding troughs rodent- and pest-proof to prevent pathogen transmission.
- Do not feed your pigs food waste or table scraps since they could be contaminated with viruses.
Feeding meat to pigs, including pet foods with meat, is illegal.
3) Stay alert and wash everything
- Complete the applications for the Canadian Pork Excellence programs.
- Research and follow your slaughter facility's biosecurity practices.
- Wash and disinfect your vehicle and trailer before returning to your farm.
- Change your clothes and footwear before tending to any pigs remaining on your farm.
- Biosecurity: it's a pig deal for small farms and pig owners
- Canadian small-scale pig farming manual (PDF – 6,543 kb)
- Assess the risks on your farm – Biosecurity checklist
- Biosecurity training videos
- National farm-level biosecurity planning guide proactive management of animal resources
- National swine farm-level biosecurity standard (PDF – 2,068 kb)
- What's hitching a ride in your feed? (PDF – 444 kb) (Canadian Pork Council)
- Pig owners: Protecting pigs from African swine fever
- Spot the signs of African swine fever
- Common swine diseases
- What is biosecurity? – Fact sheet (PDF – 754 kb)
- Infographic: African swine fever on-farm biosecurity
- Regulation of livestock feed in Canada
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