Pork production: Getting the basics right

flies; fever; swine; sows; piglets; records; basics; breed; pork

The basics need to be in place before you set up a piggery. But what exactly are the basics, and which production system is most suitable?

All piggery sites must have a good water supply, says Dr. Peter Evans, a veterinarian and animal production consultant to the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (Sappo). “It’s one of the first things I ask prospective pig farmers,” he says.

He also asks whether the new facility will house more than 250 pigs, because then it will need Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval.

Good drainage is important so the piggery should be on a slight slope (3° to 5°). It should also have enough natural ventilation, and must be reasonably close to the markets. Delivery and feed costs increase the further away the farm is from the market.

“With greater distance, transport costs are added to the price of the feed, and deducted from the net return on pigs sold,” he says.

Modern commercial pork production takes place mainly in enclosed buildings, which protects pigs from the weather (they’re very sensitive to sun) and disease. Production can take place in either single or multi-site systems.

Also read: Protecting your pigs from sunburn

Most piggeries in South Africa are single-site operations, but most new expansions of pig farms are multi-site systems. Evans says although both have merits, multi-site farming is the future.


  • This system is set up in the same biosecure fenced area.
  • The breeding herd, weaners, and grower/finisher herd are all on the same farm (or site). Animals at different stages of development and production are usually housed in different buildings, however, about 25 m apart.
  • The advantage of this system is that pigs can easily be moved to pens/houses appropriate for their age, weight or stage of production.
  • Single-site production is also considered to be more convenient and labour costs are often lower as workers “multi-task” on site.
  • The major disadvantage is the spread of disease because animals of different ages with different levels of disease resistance are housed together.
  • This can increase stress levels, and more medication will be required to control disease.

Also read: How to keep disease off your pig farm


  • Health concerns have changed the way piggeries are set up.
  • Many modern operations house each production phase at a different site, which helps to minimise contact between pigs of different ages.
  • This is referred to as a multi-site operation.
  • A 2-site system, for example, could have breeding, gestation and farrowing at one site, while the weaners and grower/finisher pigs are at a separate site.
  • A 3-site system would have a breeding herd on one site, weaners on another, and growers on the third site.
  • The major benefit of this system is that animals are separated by age. “This assists in disease control as younger animals are less resistant to diseases,” says Dr. Evans.
  • A multi-site system is also more specialised and, he explains, it is hugely beneficial to have experts on each phase of pig production to operate a site.


Evans points out that structuring a breeding herd to farrow in batches is one of the critical tools to producing enough pigs to fill a single air space.

  • Batch farrowing means that a group of females all farrow within 3 to 4 days of each other; at 2-, 3- or 4-week intervals.
  • The aim of batch flow, if you want to produce 500 to 600 pigs, is to farrow a fixed number of sows every week.

“Housing a single age group in one air space makes it easier to monitor performance and feed conversion ratio, and reduces the spread of disease between age groups,” he says. “Another advantage is that it’s possible to clean and disinfect completely between groups, which reduces vertical disease transmission. About 500 to 600 pigs per house or room are ideal.”

Ideally the animals should not vary more than 5 days in age. “The danger of continuously adding pigs into a single air space is that disease spreads and animals recover with difficulty,” he says.

If there is disease, a batch-farrowing system can also stop a particular health problem in one batch spreading to other batches. Treatment is also easier as farmers know exactly which pigs are affected.

Evans recommends a 3-week system because a sow’s inter-farrowing period is 21 weeks (16 weeks for gestation, 4 for lactation and 1 wean-to-serve interval).

  • In this system, there are 7 batches of sows, compared to 21 batches in a weekly system.
  • If you decide to adopt a batch-farrowing system, first assess the capacity of existing housing; it must be able to house a single age per room.
  • And seek professional advice on how to move from a weekly system to a batch-farrowing one.

So, for example, if you adopt a 3-week system, you will need two farrowing rooms, 2 weaning rooms and 4 to 5 grower rooms, all of them providing sufficient space for the projected number of animals per batch.

Also read: Pork production: Getting the basics right for housing

  • This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.

share this