Pigs provide us with many different food products: bacon, ham, pork, sausages, black pudding, loin chops, pork pie, spam, indeed it is often said of the pig you can use everything but the OINK!
As a major sector in UK agriculture, the pig industry, unlike many other sectors, is not supported by state or European subsidy. Throughout the 6,000 years of farming history, the pig has been invaluable. Pigs where traditionally kept to consume waste products with many families having a pig ‘down the garden’ to eat any household leftovers, before being slaughtered to provide food itself. This practice is no longer allowed now, nor the feeding of ‘swill’ which is food waste from hospital and school kitchens for example, so pigs as the ultimate recycler are no more! Instead they are fed on specially processed and formulated diets predominantly made up of cereals and vegetable proteins (eg soya bean).
The pig breeding cycle starts with Mating. Boars (male pigs) mate with or as farmers say ‘serve’ sows (female pigs).
Many herds now use Artificial Insemination or A. I. rather than a real boar pig. This is for several reasons. The main reason being that it allows the farmer to use semen from a higher quality boar than he would be able to afford in the ‘flesh’. The use of high quality boars means that the farmer can produce a quality lean carcass as required by the consumer.
The farm will still have boars to use if the sow does not get pregnant at the first service and also to stimulate the sows during the A. I. process.
The sow to be AI’d is put near a boar so that the boar’s smell makes sound stand for mating.
That’s it the sow can then go back to her own pen and hopefully in 114 days she will have a litter of piglets.
Pregnant sows, often called dry sows because they are not producing milk, are kept in groups.
By law all sows in the UK must be loose housed. They are housed in various different systems depending on the farm, sometimes outside, sometimes inside.
In contrast stalls and tethers, illegal in the UK, are still permitted almost everywhere else in the world including the whole of the EEC.
Sows are usually fed automatically, it is very difficult feeding lots of sows at once otherwise and they make a lot of noise!!
Sows giving birth is also known as Farrowing.
The sow is brought into farrowing house a few days before she is due to farrow.
This allows her to settle in.
Farrowing crates are used to protect the piglets from being crushed.
Once started most sows farrow without any difficulties ending up with 10-15 piglets or even more.
New born piglets must be kept warm at around 30 C.
There has been a move recently back to using farrowing arks.
These don’t confine the sows as much and use bars to protect the piglets from being laid on by the sow.
Piglets stop with their mothers for about a month after birth.
During this time they will drink their mothers milk and they are also introduced to special solid food.
Called creep feed this has high levels of energy and protein.
Once they are eating enough solid food to not need their mother milk the piglets are weaned.
Weaning and fattening
Weaning is when the piglets are old enough to leave their mother.
The sow goes back to the boar to be mated again. After weaning the sow dries off. Sows normally come on heat (exhibit oestrus) within a week. They are then mated either naturally with a boar or with artificial insemination (AI) or with a combination of both.
The piglets are put into pens with other newly weaned piglets.
Once big enough the weaners are put in smaller groups, moved to fattening accommodation and grown up to slaughter weight.
Weighing bacon pigs and pig carcass.
As pigs approach the weight when they are ready for market the farmer will weigh them each week so that he sells them at the correct weight. Selling pigs which are too heavy will mean that the farmer will get a lower price for them.
Once the pigs have been slaughtered they will be sold to butchers in 2 halves. The butcher will then cut these carcasses up and treat and cure some of the meat to make ham and bacon