Owning and caring for pigs

Pet pigs are often sold, sometimes at low prices, to people without the knowledge or facilities required to care for them properly. Owners aren’t always prepared for what’s involved in keeping a pet pig: a great deal of time, skill, money and sufficient land on which to house the animal, specialist veterinary care when necessary, and compliance with the legislation governing keeping a pet pig. This includes the need for a new licence every time a pig is moved from its home, and certain rules on what a pig can, or cannot, be fed.

 
GloucestersPiglets may look cute, however even the so-called miniature breeds, such as the Vietnamese Pot-Bellied, can grow to about a quarter to half of the size of a commercial type pig and weigh anything from 35kg to 70kg, but if overfed can exceed 150kg. Other breeds will grow as large as a commercial type pig i.e. 200-300kg, sometimes more. Whilst some pigs have a very good temperament others should be handled with care! The average life span of these breeds is five to ten years, although some can live up to 25 years – a lot longer than the average cat and dog.

 
Behaviour

Pigs are highly intelligent and social animals, preferring to be in the company of other pigs. Pigs are social herd animals and need to be housed in a way that allows at least two pigs, which get on well, to live together.

 
julia with amanda mayThey are highly inquisitive and when given enough space they will spend a large part of the day exploring their environment, rooting and foraging at the earth, causing the land on which they are kept to be greatly disturbed with all visible signs of vegetation quickly disappearing. Straw, hard plastic balls and tyres can be placed in the pig pen for the pigs to play with, encourage exercise and prevent boredom. Pigs must be exercised regularly to avoid obesity, constipation and prevent their feet from becoming overgrown.

 
Housing

kune new shelterA pig shouldn’t be kept in the home. A minimum area of 36 square meters (e.g. 6 x 6 metres) is needed per pig, but ideally a larger space should be provided. Pigs are very strong so robust fencing should surround their living area to prevent escapes.

 
Pigs are very poor thermo-regulators, meaning they have great difficulty keeping cool in summer and warm in winter. It’s therefore really important to ensure that in warm weather pigs are provided with a wallow and shelter from the sun (pigs can get sunburn and can get sun stroke) and in cooler weather and at night, pigs must have access to warm, dry, draught-free, straw-bedded accommodation, as they easily get cold.

 
Feeding

To prevent the spread of disease it is illegal to feed any waste food to pigs. This includes meat, bones, blood, offal, or other parts of the carcass of any livestock or of any poultry, or product derived from the carcass, or hatchery waste, eggs or egg shells. In addition, used cooking oil and table/kitchen scraps cannot be fed to pigs, even if no meat or meat products are prepared in the kitchen.

 
danny tipping foodPigs should be fed several small meals a day rather than one large meal. A commercially prepared pig ration should be fed (available from agricultural merchants). This should have a maximum of 12 per cent protein and adequate vitamins and minerals. Concentrated food should be given in divided meals with the total amount not exceeding two to three per cent of the pigs’ bodyweight. Fibre should be added to improve gut fill and prevent constipation. Pigs can be encouraged to explore and forage for food by throwing a small quantity of the food ration into the paddock where they are housed.

 
A supply of clean, fresh drinking water must be available to the pigs at all times. Adult pigs may drink up to 20 litres of water a day and even mini pigs may drink around five litres.

 
Veterinary care

Pigs must have regular checks from a vet to make sure they are in good health. Pet pigs are prone to a few specific health problems, including:

  • Dry, scaly skin. Baby or vegetable oil can be rubbed on the skin to reduce the dryness. If the skin is crusting, causing scratching, the animal should be checked for mange.
  • Sunburn. This is a common problem in pigs. Shade must always be made available.
  • Arthritis and lameness can be a problem especially in older animals. Feet should be regularly checked to ensure they are not becoming overgrown and foot trimming carried out if necessary but only by a trained, skilled person. Keeping the pig’s weight in check, by providing the correct diet and adequate opportunities for exercise, helps to reduce the problems caused by arthritis.
  • Pot-bellied pigs can suffer from inverted eyelids. This causes the hairs on the eyelid to irritate the outer surface of the eye (the cornea) and can develop into conjunctivitis. Action needs to be taken, so a vet must be consulted.

If a pig requires veterinary treatment, the veterinary surgeon must be called out to see the pig. The animal should not be taken to the veterinary surgery. Pigs must have regular health checks from a veterinary surgeon. It is wise to consider vaccination against diseases such as Erysipelas (every six months), Parvovirus, Escherichia coli, Clostridial infection and various parasitic agents, such as mange, lungworm and lice.

 
Legislation

Under the Animal Welfare Act, which came into force at the end of March 2007, anyone who is responsible for a pet has a legal responsibility to meet the five basic welfare needs of pets. These are:

  • a proper diet (including fresh water)
  • somewhere suitable to live
  • any need to be housed with or apart from other animals
  • being allowed to express normal behaviour
  • protection from and treatment of, illness and injury.

Movement

By law, pigs require a license if being moved to other premises (except if going to a slaughterhouse), including pet pigs being moved to the vet’s surgery. They then can’t be moved again for at least 20 days. However, an exception does apply for exercising pet pigs, although the owner has to apply for a licence to their local Animal Health Office Veterinary Officer and meet certain other requirements (more information is available from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Defra).

 
Transport

It is illegal to transport pet pigs in any vehicle that has not been properly constructed to carry them – this includes a car. Pigs must be transported in compliance with the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order 2006.

 
Any vehicle used to transport pigs must be thoroughly washed and disinfected after use with a disinfectant approved as preventing diseases including Swine Vesicular Disease and Foot and Mouth Disease.

 
Pet/Agricultural Shows

If a pig is to be moved from the place where it is housed to a pet or agricultural show, a licence must be first obtained from the local authority Trading Standards Office. It is a condition of the licence that on return home from the show it must be kept separate from other pigs for a period of 20 days.

 
 


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