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A Guide to Section One | Acquiring and Keeping Pigs Traditional Pig Keeping • A stool or chair for use when waiting for piglets to be born (plus, if you really want to be well set-up, a flask with a hot drink, a radio or a book to read if you want to sit with the sow well before the actual births start!) Bedding Pigs need good bedding. They are heavy animals and if left to lie on hard surfaces they can rub their coat off, develop sores or get chilled. Bedding needs to be changed regularly; although pigs are generally very clean animals and don’t soil their houses or beds, bedding can get flattened and dusty or muddy, which makes it hard and uncomfortable as well as a possible cause of respiratory problems. It is a good idea to disinfect houses regularly and you can either use a liquid disinfectant or a powder one, which dries as well as disinfecting. Some good options for bedding are: Straw This is warm, fairly water-resistant, bulky and comfortable to lie on. You should make sure that your straw is not too dusty. Old or poor straw can harbour dust and it does pigs no more good than it would do you. Some pigs will eat their straw, especially if it is very fresh or if they are very hungry and this can cause digestive upsets if they eat too much of it. Barley straw is the best but wheat straw can also be good. Small bales of straw are very much easier to handle but are getting increasingly difficult to find. Larger bales require a lot more storage room and are harder to move about as the individual sections tend to fall apart more easily than those in the smaller bales. If you have a proper hay-loft, of course, the whole exercise becomes much easier. If you have a friendly local farmer this can be a good source of smallish quantities of straw. A further advantage of straw is that you can put it outside the entrance to your pig house in wet weather so that some of the mud on the pigs’ feet comes off before they go inside. Shavings and fibres such as hemp These are more expensive materials and produce a ‘thinner’ bed unless large quantities are used. Shavings also absorb water easily and can become heavy to move about if soiled. If you do buy shavings make sure that you get dust-free ones; they will cost a little more but are much better for your pigs to lie on. These are good options for animals allergic to straw. Cardboard/paper There is a range of paper-based beddings available now. Many of these tend to be relatively expensive, unless you have access to a scrap paper merchant, in which case they can be cheaper. Paper also tends not to not give as much ‘bulk’ as straw does and can be heavy once damp; you also need to be careful that, if it is off cuts, it does not have ink that could cause problems if eaten or rubbed on the coat. Also, shredded paper does fly about a lot and can make the place look very littered. Pigs can be very strange about their houses and bedding. I have a Berkshire boar who watches with interest as his house is filled with new straw. If I put the straw inside he immediately brings it out again, head up, mouth filled with straw, and often dumps it at my feet. So I have to resort to putting it just outside the entrance to the house, whereupon he promptly takes it inside for me! Carol Harris 51

A guide to traditional pig keeping extract

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