So You Think You Want Pigs?

Perhaps you are considering a pet pig, or maybe you want some pigs for meat or for farm jobs like ploughing. There are some important questions you need to consider; Will a pig suit your environment? Is there enough space for a pig? How much sheer destructive power will be unleashed if a pig enters your life?

Here is where we have put our four pigs to start with. This area is 10 metres x 12 metres. Here it is on the day we put the pigs in there. Note that there is electric fence around the inside at about 6 inches off the ground. There is also electric fence around the top of the enclosure to stop possums getting in because we don’t want the pigs to eat any meat.

Pigland 01 sm

Pig enclosure 12th of April

The pig people had been locked inside their lovely red house for the first week they lived with us so they could become accustomed to their new surroundings. Now they have freedom. We replaced the gate that had been keeping them locked inside their house with a half door so they can get into and out of the house and yet retain some of the straw in the house. They immediately pushed most of the straw out of their house onto the ground.

This is actually a feature. It means stale straw doesn’t build up in the house necessitating the cleaning of said house. Stale straw is all one really needs to worry about with a pigs house as they otherwise keep it really clean. Once they could go outside they immediately selected a designated poo area and from that moment there was a very clean pig house. Stale straw is a problem as they will eat their bedding straw. This is one reason we use Barley straw as it is very nutritious. For now we just keep throwing about a quarter of a bale of straw a day into their house, along with a half a cup of diatomaceous earth. This tops up the straw they push out and ensures they have enough cozy straw bedding for cold nights.

Four little heads poke cautiously out of the house, and then, in the blink of an eye, they are all outside exploring, snuffling and digging.

browsing in the world 01 sm

If there was a job description for pigs it would say “dig all the things”. Digging is pigs raison d’être. What are they digging for? Pigs are omnivores, just like us, so they are digging for roots, worms and fungi, as well as eating pasture. They will also eat small mammals, newborns of larger mammals, eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and reptiles. Basically they will eat anything they can catch, just like us. Including us. Pigs have basically the same teeth as we do; molars, pre-molars, incisors and canines. Theirs are just a bit more hardcore.

Porcine teeth

lateral view pig teeth

Human teeth

lateral human teeth

Pigs are not mild mannered unassuming animals. They are like industrial strength dogs. Smarter than dogs and fast, really fast. And cunning and ruthless. If you fall down and can’t get up in your pig pen they will eat you. Which is only fair, because we will eat them. You have to respect pigs. Pigs are very smart (but you probably won’t be able to see that article because Elsevier thinks it is more important that they should make money than that research should be shared so read this instead) as smart as a three year old human. Now imagine a 300kg three year old and you will have some appreciation of what keeping pigs is like.

So the pigs are out and about investigating their new environment having a great time. Just one problem, they can’t get back into their house. As you can see in the image below, the pig house is raised off the ground. This is important to keep the pigs both dry and warm as we live in sunny Tasmania and it’s coming on for winter. In this photo you can also see the rocks that were there from the last time we had pigs. Sadly these new pigs are too small to get back up into the house via said rocks. If you look closely you can see that there is a row of apples across the front of the inside of the pig house. This was our attempt to motivate them to try a bit harder to get back into the house. This was a total failure. Their little legs are just too short. Pigs seem conscious of their bulk and don’t like to get into situations that involve any kind of unsteadiness on their feet.

pig house rocks sm

We set about ensuring easy pig access. The end result is this ramp, made from logs stacked up and packed with dirt with straw over the top.

pig house ramp sm

After some cautious exploration the pigs love it and can now sleep snug in their house.

pigs snug in their house sm

Time passes and the piggies affect their environment. They eat the green things and dig. Only five days after they are released they have already done this.

Pigland 02 170415

Pig enclosure 17th of April.

As you can see they have turned over a considerable amount of the area.The left hand corner appears almost completely unscathed, this is because it is the pig toileting area and so they don’t like to dig it. We have added some hay for them to eat and to dig into to start preparing the soil for the thing we will do after the pigs have moved on, which is plant something.

Ten days later it is like this. They are also noticeably bigger. They have dug in most of the hay we provided them, as well as the straw that escapes from their house daily.

Pigland 03 270415

They have eaten a lot more of the vegetation and turned over much more earth. With a bit of rain things are starting to get slippery in pigland. It is now strictly gumboot territory though there is still some greenery.

Two weeks later, it looks like this.

Pigland 04 120515

90% of the greenery that was growing is gone. The entire are has been turned over. After having 55mm of rain over these two weeks portions of the yard are now gumboot eating mud slicks. Four three month old pigs have destroyed an area of 120m2, an area similar in size to many suburban back yards. If this is all the space you have available then perhaps pigs are not the animal for you, unless the gumboot eating mud slick look is what you are going for.

Time to give them more space.

more space 01 sm

This is the paddock area that they four little relentless growing, digging machines now have access to. When we let them out they wouldn’t go out at first! Their egress had been restricted by an electric fence. Now that it was suddenly gone it took them a while to come to this awareness. At first they absolutely would not cross the line where it had been. It was the line of pain, and the pigs had come to respect the magic pain giving white tape. We lured them out with apples and eventually they crossed the line. Once out they immediately ran around the entire perimeter of their new area until they decided that under the trees was the place to be. Here are Midnight and siblings overlooking their new domain.

midnight and siblings under the trees sm

Future posts will detail how they treat this new extended area. But in the mean time here is a video showing just how good they are at digging.

And Then There Were Pigs

We are very happy to again have pigs. These guys had just been tackled by a couple of large humans and put in a box which was put on top of a ute for the longest drive they have ever had. Then we had to get them from the box to their house. This meant individually picking them out of the box and carrying a squirming, squealing (loud – oh so loud – no really – really fucking loud) creature across a paddock. Despite being only eight weeks old they are remarkably strong and determined. Here they are, ensconced in their fancy pig house wot we made. Notice that it has double walls which are insulated with straw in between the two layers of the walls. It’s cold here.

who are you sm

“Doesn’t look very fancy” you say…

moving the pig house 01 sm

Here is a photo of it being moved from the shed where we built it down the hill to where it lives now. Please do not notice the dodgy arse way we have loaded it onto the carry all.

“What kind of pigs are they?” you ask. The very nice lady we bought them from told us the mum was a Saddleback and the dad a Berkshire. The mum was all black and we didn’t see the dad. The pig on the right in this photo is a Saddleback. They are a black pig with white across their shoulders and forelegs.

Wesse and kids

The pig in this photo is a Berkshire pig. They are a black pig with white feet.


We have one all black pig (female) and three black and white pigs (two males and one female). Not saying they aren’t exactly as advertised but… I suppose it’s possible… The main thing is they are healthy, well formed pigs.

three little pigs 01

They settled down after we had put them in the house which is packed with barley straw. Straw is better for use in animal houses than hay, as hay has too much moisture and will go mouldy quickly. Barley or oaten straw are preferable to grass straw as they have substantially greater nutritional value. Lots of straw to start with is great as it gives them somewhere to hide when they are feeling uncertain of their new surroundings. Also it keeps them really nice and warm, it’s going to be 3 degrees celcius overnight tonight and 12 to 15 tomorrow.

Soon there were apples and they began to realise we weren’t all that bad. Though they were still keeping a good eye on us.

This is my apple and I am totally watching you sm

Looking at them from behind made me think they look a lot like hippos.

Hippopotomus pig


In fact hippos were originally first classified as being most closely related to pigs, because of their teeth. But later DNA evidence revealed they were actually most closely related to cetaceans [1].

I must confess I already have a favourite. Here she is. I think I will call her Midnight. She looks just like her mum.

black pig 01

Finally, after several apples, they relaxed and began to explore and enjoy their new home. Eventually they came close enough to us that we could see they had lice, so we put plenty of diatomaceous earth on them, and in their house. Last time we had pigs they also came with free bonus lice. Three days after the diatomaceous earth treatment they had none. However we do put diatomaceous earth in their house regularly. It is composed of the fossilised remains of diatoms, a group of algae with the unique feature that they are enclosed within a cell wall made of silica.


There are two types of diatomaceous earth, food grade and industrial. The former is so named as it is totally edible. The latter is used in industrial filtration processes and some swimming pool filters and is totally not edible. The food grade has a wide range of uses for many animals, including humans. We put it in our grains stores to prevent insect attack. This means it coats the grain so when animals eat the grain they ingest the diatomaceous earth as well. We also dust our hens’ houses with it to prevent lice and mites. As a result our birds never get scaly leg mite.

Diatomaceous earth is a mechanical rather than a chemical method of controlling insects [2]. It has a two fold method of killing insects. Firstly it is composed of very sharp, small pieces. Insects have a layer of lipids on their carapaces to help them retain moisture. Diatomaceous earth scratches this layer and as a result moisture escapes, making the insects dehydrated. Secondly diatomaceous earth is very absorbent, for which reason it is used in kitty litter, and this adds to the insects’ dehydration sufficiently that they die. Because it is not toxic one doesn’t need to be bothered about it building up in the environment.

Until recently it was quite hard to get hold of here in Tasmania and we had to buy it in bulk from Fossil Power, although it costs as much for shipping as for the product from them. Recently it has become available here at Riverbend Farm in Margate.

half nose pig 02

When one gets pigs it is vitally important to keep them completely contained for a few days until they realise they live here now. Otherwise you may never see them again. Stout fencing is required. We keep them shut in the pig house for four days and then let them out into a 10 metre by 12 metre fenced yard in the middle of a paddock. This yard has electric fence, one strand at six inches off the ground and another at eighteen inches off the ground, on the inside of a wire mesh fence. This has proved to keep pigs contained. Once they get too big for that area we open the gate and let them out into the paddock.

Our goal is to try to create an environment they won’t want to leave, so we provide them plenty of space, access to pasture, a comfortable, dry house that is raised off the ground and we make a special effort to hang out with them and play. This is no work at all as they are incredibly funny and intelligent. They will chase a thrown ball, though they haven’t got the knack of bringing it back to us so we can throw it again. We also make sure they know we are the source of yummy foods so they will come when we call. Having said all this though they are very wilful and determined animals. They will charge electric fences to get through them even though they know they will get zapped so it isn’t wise, at least at first, to rely only on electric fences to keep them in.

One of the reasons it is important to keep pigs contained is that if they eat meat they can get the parasite trichinosis, which can be passed on to humans who eat them. For this reason it is illegal to feed meat to pigs in Australia [3].

We will be feeding them a crushed grain muesli made by Tasmanian Seedhouse [4], who are a local feed supplier who grow their own grains. When grain is crushed it looses nutrients quickly, which is why we choose a local supplier. We soak it in milk to start with as milk is $1 per litre. This feed is 16% protein, 2% fat and 7% fibre and contains the following:

Barley, Wheat, Triticale, Peas, Soy, Salt, Dical Phosphate, Lime, Canola Oil, Lysine, Threonine, Methionine, A (retinol), D3 (Cholecalciferol), E (α-tocopherol), K (Menadione), B1 (Thiamin), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenate), B6 (Pyridoxine), B9 (Folate) B12, (Cyanocobolamin), H (Biotin), Calcium (Ca), Phosphorus (P), Sodium (Na), Chlorine (Cl), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Iodine (I), Selenium (Se), Cobalt (Co).

It is designed as a whole feed, but these guys will be getting out onto pasture pretty quickly. Pigs can do very well indeed on pasture alone [5], although young pigs do need their diet supplemented as they cannot eat enough vegetable matter to provide them all the nutrients they require. Also, all our apple trees have ripe fruit on them at this time of year so things are looking good for the pigs.

  1. Scientists find missing link between whale and its closest relative, the hippo.
  2. Diatomaceous earth under the microscope by Dr. Stuart B. Hill.
  3. Don’t feed food scraps (swill) to pigs.
  4. Tasmanian Seedhouse
  5. Pastured pigs.