Raising Pigs Outdoors - The Basics
How do I get started in free range pig farming? It’s a question that is now being asked on a regular basis.
Firstly, and probably most importantly, contact your local council and ask if there are any restrictions or special requirements for farming pigs in your area. You must have landed that is zoned Rural 1A before you can even contemplate pig farming. Some states require licences and Development Applications. You may also need to have a waste management plan in place. Check before you invest any money into you planned venture as you could be shut down if your piggery is deemed illegal.
You now have the green light to get started but do not just rush out and buy any old pigs that may be handy in your haste to get up and running. Select your breeding herd carefully as they are the foundation of your business. It’s an expensive lesson to learn if you buy unsuitable sows. Generally, sows that have been bred for the intensive indoor industry will not perform well in a true free range environment. They are selectively bred for traits that suit that industry; in particular, leanness and strong legs that can withstand a lot of time on cement floors. While we will be aiming to produce fairly lean pigs, the lean genes of these commercial type pigs makes it difficult for the sows to keep on condition in an outdoor situation.
The ideal sows will have been raised free range and proven that they can perform outdoors. Look for an animal that has a nice straight, wide back with nice hams, at least 14 good teats and not too leggy. The sow should have just a nice fat coverage: not too lean and not too fat as neither of these types will perform well.
Boars on the other hand, should be purchased from a commercial breeder. They will make all the difference to the pork you produce. Be very careful introducing him to the outdoors. It will take several weeks for him to adjust.
Free range pigs will put your fencing to the test so it will have to be sound.
Getting pig nutrition right will mean the difference between success and failure of your farm – it is that important. Pigs have the ability to grow at an incredible pace. During the first few months they will lay down mostly muscle and bone and little fat. If you do not have their diet correct you will disrupt that and risk producing pigs that grow too slowly resulting in excess fat, poor muscle development and boar taint. The secret to any successful piggery is to grow your pigs as quickly as possible.
No matter what state you live in, to sell your pigs you will need to purchase a registered pig brand to identify your animals and ensure traceability. In some states you will also be required to have a Food Safety Program in place that is audited by a third party. Pigs must be accompanied by a National Vendor Declaration (NVD) when they are sold. NVD’s are available from the PigPass website. Each state has different requirements so check with the relevant departments of agriculture.
Free range farmers must become stewards of the land and ensure that pigs do not cause permanent harm to their environment. Pasture management that includes paddock rotations and even spread of manure are vital. Manure built up and run off must be prevented. A carefully planned system can actually be of benefit to the land enabling you to grow crops and grasses fertilized by your pigs. Set stocking of pigs will cause problems not only to the land, but to the health of the herd.
Caring for pigs and all of the above topics and more are discussed in depth in the book Free Range Pig Farming - Starting Out, or take up a paid membership at Australian Pig Farmers.