Be Ready!
Practical Pigs|Autumn 2017

Experienced keeper Michaela Giles advises that it’s never too early to start thinking about winter, and how best to shepherd your pigs safely through it

I find it mildly depressing to be thinking ahead to the winter months while we’re still in the midst of summer, but pig keepers need to be practical and realistic and, as always, preparation is the key to good stockmanship.

On the plus side, you can make the thought of winter less daunting by gearing yourself up for it now, while there’s still plenty of dry, warm weather and evening light to sort things out after work, and at weekends.

Organised approach

Over-wintering pigs needn’t be an arduous struggle if you’re organised and sensible. But, at the very heart of everything will be the health of your pigs. If you ensure that this is good as we head into the winter, then the battle is half won already.

The thing to appreciate is that cold, damp conditions will exacerbate any underlying health conditions, exposing weaknesses and causing you and your pigs extra problems. What’s more, the darker mornings/evenings mean that you’ll inevitably be more likely to miss the early signs of trouble, especially if you’re still relatively new to the hobby.

So, heading into the bad weather with your livestock in tip-top condition really should be a primary objective. This includes making sure any vaccinations and all deworming plans are up to date.

Quality stock?

If you don’t breed, but buy-in fattening weaners to rear over the winter, then make sure you source good quality animals that aren’t showing any signs of coughing, diarrhoea or lameness. Also make sure with the supplier that they’ve been wormed before you take them, and that they’ve been weaned from the sow for at least one week, preferably two.

The most immunologically vulnerable time for a pig is in the first couple of weeks following weaning. The piglet loses the immune protection provided by the antibodies (immunoglobulins) in the mother’s milk, and has the additional stress of losing the presence of mum during times of perceived danger and for warmth.

Then, when you factor-in the additional stress triggers, such as suddenly being removed from the litter it grew up with, possibly mixing with other litters before finally being loaded into a crate or trailer and transported to a strange, new environment, it’s a great deal to cope with.

It can prove to be too much stress for an 8-10-week-old youngster to manage, especially when combined with cold winter weather. I prefer to introduce stress in bite-sized chunks, and always leave a two-week gap between weaning and rehoming.

To complement a pig in perfect health you need a perfect environment to maintain it. So making the pigs as comfortable, warm and safe as possible, and taking all possible steps to avoid the associated problems caused by cold, wet and freezing weather are all important steps to take.

Act now!

Repair those broken or ‘about to break’ arks now – we all have a couple of arks that need attention, plus nothing screams winter more than trying to fix an ark in a wet, muddy pen in the driving rain. Likewise, if you house your pigs indoors over the winter, then get any necessary repairs to the building done now, while you don’t have a group of pigs ‘helping you’ inside.

Consider re-siting your arks if required. The best place to put a pig ark is on level, free-draining and firm soil (chalk/sand is ideal), and it’s often said that you shouldn’t keep pigs on heavy clay. Our farm is on very heavy clay, luckily the major portion of the land is on an incline, so we reserve the pens on the highest area of ground for use in the winter.

As a general rule, your pig ark should be positioned in the area that’s least likely to get water-logged during bad weather, so that the bedding has a reasonable chance of staying dry. If the surroundings aren’t ideal, then it can make sense to put a ‘doormat’ of straw in front of the ark entrance, so the pigs walk over that before entering and, in so doing, help clean and dry their legs as they pass.

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