Dear daktari, I am an upcoming pig farmer but the experience I have had in the different farms I have visited for tips is not one of the best. One of the key things that stood out for me in all the farms I visited is the status of the sties, feeding and the general treatment of the animals. I wanted to do it differently as this is something I have always been passionate about. Please fill me in on the best practices for a pig farmer.
Thank you Anita for raising a pertinent animal welfare issue that has been the case here for decades. The demand for pork has been on the rise in recent past. This has placed a production stress on pig farmers in a race to meet the market demands.
Here are a few things to consider before venturing into pig farming
The abuse comes in many forms starting with housing; where farmers are tempted to keep many pigs in a small house. It is common to see many pigs in overcrowded stall on concrete floors without straw for bedding or rooting. Such conditions deny the pig’s fresh air and enough room for exercise and hence boredom. As a sign of stress such pigs will fight and bite each other.
For pigs kept indoors, at least there should be provisions for them to express normal behaviour. These natural behaviours include rooting, wallowing in water/mud and foraging.
Many people have a false belief that pigsare dirty animals. This isn’t true, pigs are among few animals that don’t mix their food with waste.
Given enough room, pigs will defecate at the furthest corner from where their feed is served. However, this false belief is a creation of farmers who keep pigs in squalid conditions and later blame it on the pigs.
A good house should protect the pig from extreme weather conditions (cold and heat). Each pig requires about five metre square of pen space.
Seeing sows as production machines
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The number of piglets weaned per sow per year is the indicator used to measure productivity of a sow.
The target for this indicator has increased from 30 piglets and with breeding and increased market demand this number projected to increase.
This index unfortunately doesn’t factor in the animal welfare component of the breeding sows even as most sows high producing sows produce smaller piglets (runts).
It is therefore common to find farmers weaning piglets at only three weeks instead of the recommended 30 days or based attainment of weight.
The reason for this is to get the sow pregnant as first as possible to produce yet another litter of piglets.
Most sows will start their reproduction cycle three weeks after weaning; however research has shown that this greatly reduces the sows reproductive lifespan and exerts stress on it reproduction. Piglets weaned early will show signs of stress through aggression and this can further slowdown their growth rate.
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Transportation causes a lot of stress to pigs; unlike other animals pigs don’t have sweat glands when transported on a hot day; this causes heat stress which can be fatal.
To minimise this stress, pigs should be preferably be transported on a slightly cooler day – early in the morning or late afternoon. When being transported, the pigsshould be handled gently and should be in good health. The vehicle should have a nonslip floor to avoid injuries to the legs.
Why care for pig welfare?
Taking care of your pigs is the first obligation you should take up as a farmer. If the animal gives you income, it is only fair that you take good care of it in return.
Pigs that are housed well, treated humanely are likely to be more healthy, will grow fast and will produce better pork which a guarantee for better prices.
(Dr Othieno was the winner of Veterinary doctor of the Year Award in 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council –KENTTEC, [email protected])