Farming pigs: how to get started – Part 1

Here are some basic facts you need to know before starting your own piggery.

Farming pigs: how to get started – Part 1
A single sow can farrow 20 piglets a year. These can be sold as weaners, or kept for longer and sold as porkers or baconers.
Photo: FW archive
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The first key factor to take into account when farming pigs is that female pigs, or ‘sows’, are pregnant for about 116 days – that is, just over three months and three weeks.

A sow usually farrows (gives birth to) between eight and 10 piglets, which are weaned at about 35 days. The sow comes on heat four to six days after weaning her piglets. She must then be served by a boar at least twice over a 12-hour to 24-hour period. If the sow doesn’t conceive during this time, she must again be served after 21 days.

Farming pigs – starting out

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The onset of oestrus – when ovulation occurs and a sow is ready to mate – is hastened by bringing her into contact with a boar.

Young sows are usually served for the first time at seven to eight months, when they are about 100kg and in their second oestrus cycle. At this age, boars are also used to serve sows for the first time.

Depending on the size of your enterprise, the ratio for farming pigs is normally one boar to 12 sows. Under normal circumstances, a sow can rear about 20 piglets per year.

If each piglet is reared to a weight of 90kg, one sow can therefore produce 1 800kg live weight or 1 400kg of meat per year. Feed intake per sow is about 1,2t/year and each pig needs up to 270kg of feed to reach 90kg.

Making a profit
In order to make a reasonable profit, you need to ensure that your sows produce the maximum number of piglets and that these are marketed as soon as possible.
To do this, you will need:

  • Well-maintained housing that allows the pigs to be reared comfortably and efficiently.
  • Clean conditions and precautionary measures on the farm. These will simplify disease control.
  • Highly productive breeding animals that grow well, use their feed efficiently, produce carcasses with a low fat content, and produce up to 20 or more piglets per year.
  • Correct feeding. You must understand the feed requirements of the various age groups and feed each one correctly.

Know your market
Although all these factors are important, the most critical question when farming pigs is this: is there a demand for pork in your area? In short, is there someone who will buy your pigs? You must ask this question before you buy your first pig.

If the answer is ‘yes’, decide which breed is best for you, and whether you are going to sell weaners, porkers or baconers. Although you can sell a baconer for more, it costs a lot to get it this big!

It is often better for beginners to sell weaners. Be sure you can pay all your expenses until your first pigs are ready to sell. Remember, too, that your profit margin can change from year to year.
The market price of pigs goes up when pork is scarce and drops when there’s an oversupply. Likewise, feed prices change, particularly that of maize, which accounts for up to 60% of pig feed. And feed amounts to about 60% of total production costs. So, when feed prices are high and pork prices are low, pig farmers go through tough times.
The SA Pork Producers’ Association has identified seven key factors when farming with pigs – marketing, breeding, housing, feeding, welfare, health, and bio-security. We’ve already looked at marketing; over the next few weeks we’ll examine the others.
Sources: Farming with Pigs (compiled by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture); EH Kemm, Guide to Small-Scale Pig Farming (department of agriculture); the SA Pork Producers’ Association (