Do you want to start pig farming? This comprehensive guide will walk you through the process of setting up a pig farm. Learn about which pig breeds are the best for your location and the type of business you want to run. Expenses can make or break a business, find out what expenses you need to be aware of when you start pig farming.
Related: Run your farm like a business
Why start pig farming?
Pig farming only needs a small investment in buildings and equipment. Pig farming also offers quick returns because the marketable weight of fatteners (piglets you’re raising for the freezer) can be reached within six to eight months.
Pigs have the highest feed conversion efficiency. This means pigs produce more live weight from a given weight of feed than any other class of meat producing animals with the exception of broilers chickens. Wide variety of feeds, such as:
- Damaged feeds
All of which pigs convert into valuable nutritious meat.
Top tip: Feeding your pigs damaged grains, garbage and other unbalanced rations can result in lower feed efficiency.
The pig is prolific and has a shorter generational interval. As an example a sow can be bred from the age of eight to nine months and can farrow (give birth to a litter of piglets) twice in a year.
Six to 12 piglets can be produced in each farrowing. Pigs are usually known for their meat production: Their dressing percentage which is the percent of the live animal that ends up as carcass can range from 65-80% whereas other livestock usually don’t exceed 65%.
Pork is the most nutritious when it has high fat and low water content. It has a better energy value than any other meat. It is also rich with vitamins such as: Thiamine, niacin and riboflavin and is the most consumed meat globally.
Pig manure is commonly used for fertilizer in agricultural farms and fish ponds. Also, pig fat, which is stored rapidly by pigs, has an increasing demand from poultry feed, soap, paints and other chemical industries. There is a good demand from the domestic and international market for pig products.
Know your market
The most key question you should ask yourself before you start pig farming is:
Is there a demand for pork in my area? Is there someone who will buy my pigs?
You should ask this question before you buy your first pig. If the answer is “yes” then decide which pig breeds are the best fit for you and your land. Then decide if you’re going to sell weaners, porkers or baconers. Baconers can be sold for more, but on the other hand it costs more to get the pig to 85 to 90 kg.
When you start pig farming it is often a better idea to sell weaners because pigs that have just been weaned and weighs less than 40 kg are faster to produce and more cost effective. You should be able to pay all your expenses until your first pig can be sold. You’ll need to be prepared for your profit margin fluctuating from year to year.
The market price of pigs can go up when pork is limited and can drop when there is an oversupply of pork. The same can happen with feed prices, specifically with maize which makes up 60% of pig feed. Pig feed will also take up between 60% and 80% of your total production costs. Keep in mind pork farmers go through a hard time when feed prices are high and pork prices are low, when planning your finances.
Most of the pig meat can be used as fresh meat for re-sale. A whole suckling pig can be used and are usually sold between the ages of two to six weeks. Pork is the most common ingredient in many kinds of sausages. Ham and bacon are made from fresh pork which has been salted and/or smoked. The pigs’ shoulders and legs are most commonly cured for picnic shoulder and ham. Bacon is taken from the sides of the pig.
Additionally, pigs can be used for an array of products, such as:
- Pig skin: Pig skin can be used for safety gloves, collagen in energy bars and plastic surgery, low-fat butter, chewing gum, x-ray films, drug capsules, bread (the flour improver is made from their hair). The skin can also be used for practising of tattoo art as well as used to simulate human flesh when testing bullets.
- Internal organs: The pig’s internal organs are used for pet food, tambourine skin (bladder), heart valves (surgery), surgical anticoagulant (stomach mucus) as well as insulin (pancreas).
- Pig Bones: Can be used for: Refining cadmium, bone china, inexpensive wine corks, stabilising the propellant in bullet making, inkjet paper, fabric softener, concrete, match heads, train brakes, yogurt, beer, wine and don’t forget ice-cream.
- Pig fat: The fat from pigs bodies are used for biodiesel, soap, shampoos and crayons
- Pig blood: Can be used for: cigarette filters, colourants in some types of ham, aluminium ingot moulds, fish foods as well as toothpaste.
- Bristles and ears: Some paint brushes are made from pig bristles and pig ears are used for chemical weapons testing.
Buying your first pig
Pigs bought from a farm that has good quality animals and a high standard of management and hygiene are a good investment. The boar you’re buying should come with complete records. From these you will be able to see the boars’ performance as well as his parents’ performances.
You should probably take someone with experience and knowledge in this field with when buying pigs for the first time. There are also regulations for moving pigs that you’ll need to comply with.
Often start-up entrepreneurs make the mistake of trading from their personal bank account. This makes it harder to differentiate between your personal expenses and business expenses. It also doesn’t allow you to build up a credit risk profile for your business, which is an important factor should you ever want to approach a bank for financing. Rather, start trading as a business from the get-go by opening up a Business Current Account.
Rather pay more for a good pig than less for a lesser pig that might die or doesn’t perform well. Examine the pig carefully to ensure you’re purchasing a good quality animal.
Asking the seller questions such as:
- How old is the pig?
- Has it ever been sick?
- Has it received vaccinations? If yes, for which diseases?
- Has it received treatment for parasites?
- If it’s an adult pig, has it ever bred?
- Why is the seller selling the pig?
You should study the animal when it’s lying down:
- Does the pig look comfortable and relaxed?
- Is it breathing regularly? It should not be wheezing or gasping. If the belly of the pig contracts when it breathes this means it is battling to breath. Only the chest should be rising and falling.
- Observe the pigs’ reactions. When you clap your hands, shout or whistle loudly a healthy pig should react by looking at you.
Study the animal when it’s standing up:
- Is it too fat or too thin? If you can see the hips, shoulders, ribs or backbone under the skin, the pig is too thin. If it has rolls of fat around its neck it’s too fat.
- If the pig is too fat this can cause it to develop leg and foot problems as well as the possibility of not breeding well.
From the overall appearance:
- Is the back straight?
- Is the coat glossy?
- Does the pigs’ skin look healthy and clean?
- Does the pig have any swellings on the head, body or limbs?
- Are their legs strong and straight?
- Does the pig walk normally?
You should specifically watch for:
- Itching – This you can see if the animal rubs against objects for prolonged periods of time.
- Diarrhoea – This can be seen by soft or watery dung
- Constipation – This you can see if there are small, dry and hard droppings.
The South African Pork Producers’ Association (Sappa) gives us three basic steps to consider when purchasing pigs:
- What breed will best suit your farm
- Don’t buy other people’s problems
- Plan a breeding program which will match your resources.
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Pig breeds to consider
There are four pig breeds in South Africa namely the:
- Large White: This is a particularly large animal. It is lean and active. It can adapt to most climates. This type of pig has a long, productive life in the breeding pen. It produces good quality bacon and pork. It also has the ability to cross with and improve other pig breeds which has made it quite popular.
- SA Landrace: An indigenous and locally produced breed. This means it can survive on both marginal and high potential grazing also that it is disease and heat tolerant. It is popular among non-commercial producers who slaughter mainly for domestic consumption.
- Duroc: Originated form the eastern U.S, one of the recognising characteristic is its drooping ears. Because it has a high ratio of marbling fat to carcass fat, its meat is juicy and tender.
- Kolbroek: Is an indigenous breed that’s smaller than most modern pig breeds. This type of breed has sturdier legs, stronger feet and is extremely hardy. The Kolbroek is known as a good forager and efficient converter of high-roughage rations
Your boars need to be raised differently to your sows. They have different healthy weight requirements as well as different age groups of productivity. Their health and the success of the breeding program will have a lot to do you. How well you’ve planned along with how well you’ve keep records of previous partnerships and pervious serving dates.
A heathy boar should weigh 90kgs before he is 140 days old. He will require a maximum of 3kg of feed to gain 1kg in weight. Buy boars at least four weeks before putting them to the sow for the first time. This will allow you to keep them quarantined and will give the boar a chance to adapt to his new environment and become comfortable.
There are a few tips to prevent boars from hurting themselves or the sow the first time they serve. The boar should be at least eight months old and the same size as the sow. A smaller sow and not a gilt (a young female) should be used for “training”. The boar should serve the sow in his own pen. By removing any obstructions from the pen and ensuring that the floor is not slippery, you can save both your boar and sow from potential injury.
With 20 breeding sows you should have at the very least two boars. The younger boar will be to serve the gilts that come on heat for the first time and a mature boar to serve the older, heavier sows. If at all possible it is advisable to have a spare boar available.
Keeping a record of when which boar served which sow as well as how many sows have been served can be very beneficial. By doing this you can cull boars that are infertile or produce small litters. On average boars have a working life of a maximum 18 to 24 months old. This means they ought to be replaced when they are 30 to 36 months old.
Healthy gilts should have legs which are strong and straight as well as even-sized claws. They should have a well-formed vulva and six well-shaped, noticeable teats on either side of their belly. The teats should start well forward and be evenly spaced to allow for piglets to have adequate suckling space.
Always have enough gilts to keep your breeding programme going. If you need to you can always buy extra animals, when doing this try to buy from the same farm your boars came from so that the owner can give you some advice on your breeding programme.
Gilts should be between five to six months old before breeding. Pigs that are not chosen can be sold as baconers at a live weight of around 90kg. You should nurture your breeding gilts until they weigh between 120kg and 130 kg, which should be between seven and eight months. Then they are ready to be served by the boar for the first time. In order to produce large litters (8 – 10 or more healthy piglets) the gilts have to be in good condition.
Reasons to remove sows from your herd:
- Failure to conceive
- Not coming on heat
- Small litters
- Old age
- Lack of milk.
Once you’ve removed the sow, don’t try to make them larger by feeding them more. The sows’ udders need to return to normal after weaning before sending her to the abattoir. You can then bring in a replacement gilt.
With successful sows that farrow regularly, rear large litters and are problem and disease free, they should be allowed to rear six to more litters before culling.
If your pigs are fed properly they’ll be heathy, grow well and produce good quality pork. This will increase your profits. The various groups of pigs should be fed differently and in different quantities. These groups include:
- Boars and pregnant sows
- Sows with piglets
- Pigs three to ten weeks old
- Pigs weighing 60kg to 90 kg, who are up to slaughter.
The digestible energy, protein and vitamins and minerals should be at the right quantities for each group to ensure proper health. Feed mixture can be bought or mixed on your farm. It is cost-effective to mix the feed yourself but please consult an expert before attempting this yourself. Consult an expert in pig nutrition before altering the feed or the quantities used in a mix.
There should always be fresh and clean water available. Also feed and water should be kept as far apart as possible in order to keep the feed dry.
Related: Contract farming: A legal guide
Costs involved in a pig business
The amount of piglets your sows produce will affect the amount of profit you make. To ensure they produce the maximum number of piglets and that the piglets are marketed as soon as possible you will need:
- Housing which allows your pigs to be reared efficiently and comfortably. Preferably well-maintained clean housing
- Simplify disease control as much as possible by making sure conditions on your farm are clean and precautionary measures are in place.
- Pigs which are highly productive breeding animals, grow well and use their feed efficiently are more likely to produce carcasses with low fat and can produce 20 or more piglets yearly.
Assets you will need when starting your pig farm:
- A room where the feed can be mixed and stored. Equipment can also be stored there.
- Housing for the farmer and workers, if this is needed.
- Pig housing
- Water facilities which includes: pumps, pipes, taps, drinking nipples, reservoirs and boreholes if this is needed.
- Feed scale
- Fencing and gate
Key movable assets you will need for your pig farm:
- Trucks for transportation of pigs and feed
- Ten to twenty pregnant gilts between ten and twelve months
- Two to three boars between eight and twelve months.
Remember that your first pig will only be sold eleven months after you’ve bought your first pigs. You should have enough savings to cover all your costs until you can start selling your pigs.
Feed is the biggest cost for a pig farm. Keeping the costs as low as possible is imperative to survival. You will need to:
- All your feed mixtures should be well-balanced for the different groups
- Try not to waste any feed
- Mixing your own feed is cheaper
- Choose cost-effective ingredients for the feed.
Other costs involved in pig farming are:
- Veterinary Bills
- Slaughter fees
- Repairs and maintenance of fences, buildings and vehicles
- Additional animals.
Sappo assist farmers who want to start pig farming as well as coordinating and managing emerging farming projects countrywide. Sappo offers a developing programme which offers training as well as connects you to other farmers who want to start pig farming or have just started pig farming.
Farmers on the verge of becoming commercial will receive mentorship. Those who are already commercial receive frequent and more specific attention. Sappo covers the costs of the veterinary visits for commercial farmers.
For more information, guidance or training contact the South African Pork Producers’ Association on 012 361 3920, or at [email protected], or visit www.sapork.com.