Pork production: Buying pigs

Question: I’ve decided to take up pig farming to supplement my pension when I retire. I want to start with two females and a male and to aim for quality rather than quantity. Where should I buy the pigs and what should I look out for to make sure they’re healthy? A friend who has pigs said I should avoid buying pigs at auctions because sometimes the pigs are sick.

When buying pigs, ensure males and females are sturdily built with straight backs and strong, straight legs and feet. Your friend is right – the quality of pigs at auctions can be quite variable and unless you know the herd from which the pigs have come, or the pigs come accompanied by a veterinary certificate, you would definitely be taking a risk.

It’s better to pay a higher price and buy good pigs from a recognised breeder than to risk wasting money and being disappointed. Information about breeders in your area should be available from your nearest state veterinary office or agricultural extension services, or from people you know who have bought pigs and are satisfied with them.

  • Even when buying from a good breeder you need to examine the pigs that you intend to buy to ensure they are healthy.
  • Both males and females should be sturdily built with straight backs and strong, straight legs and feet.
  • The legs should be set at the “corners” of the pig – not too close together.
  • The feet should point forwards and the joints should not appear stiff.
  • The pig should move freely and not look as if it’s walking on eggs or tiptoeing.
  • The skin should look clean with no sores or swellings and the hair should lie flat to the body and be shiny.
  • Modern white pigs have very fine, sparse hair, and if the hair becomes longer and thicker and looks scruffy it’s definitely a sign of illness.
  • The eyes should be bright and the face clean, without any staining at the corners of the eyes or discharge from the snout.
  • The snout should be symmetrical, not twisted to one side, and should look clean and moist.
  • The pigs should be alert and react to sounds like clapping hands by turning to where the sound’s coming from and pricking up the ears.
  • Even if the pig is a breed that has the ears hanging forwards, like the Landrace, the base of the ears will be lifted and the pig will look towards the sound.
  • The pigs should be in good condition, not too fat or too thin – you shouldn’t be able to see the backbone, ribs, shoulder or hip bones, and rolls of fat around the neck show that the pig is too fat.
  • Have a look around the pen and make sure there are no signs of diarrhoea – loose stools on the floor, splashes of dung on the walls or staining of the hind legs of pigs.
  • Listen for any coughing or sneezing in the pig house and also look out for pigs that are rubbing themselves against the walls or other objects – that’s a sign of mange.
  • The male should have two well-developed testicles in the scrotum and the females should have at least 12, but preferably 14, well-developed teats in two straight rows.

Finally, remember that if you will need a permit from the veterinary department to move the pigs, you must get one – don’t risk a fine or confiscation of the pigs.

Starting the right way with the right pigs is a good investment in a bright pig-producing future!

Also read: Pork production – Getting the basics right

  • This article was written by Dr. Mary-Louise Penrith and first appeared in Farming SA.

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