Introduction

As well as containing information about how we farm our pigs and the standard that we set, we've also included a lot of information based upon our experience of setting up a free range pig farm from scratch.
This covers everything we've learned on a first hand basis including fences, paddock layout, setting up a watering system, yards, loading and much more. So if you're new to pig farming, thinking about setting up a free range pig farm or are just curious as to what practices we use, then read on!
Laneways are an important feature when moving pigs
Well constructed yards are essential for good stock management
Secure raceway for vaccinations and weighing pigs

Paddock Layout

Before you do anything, you'll have to plan on where you will put your paddocks and loading/handling yards. We use a system of laneways onto which the paddocks open out either side and our loading and handling yards at the end. This means that there is vehicle access to all paddocks, and it makes moving pigs so much easier. There is nothing worse than chasing pigs around!

Some people use a moveable paddock system with electric poly tape, we've tried this and found it can be unreliable and very frustrating, and I would definitely not recommend it for large numbers of pigs or if you do not have secure boundary fencing.

Another system that can be very effective is a central hub with triangular paddocks radiating out from the centre, with a laneway to access the centre hub. This system is generally used effectively in very open areas, however if you do not have a lot of open and flat area and a lot of trees (as we do) I wouldn't recommend it.

In regards to yards for handling pigs, these are an absolute must. Without them you won't be able to effectively vaccinate your herd or load market pigs onto a truck or trailer. We learned the hard way, when we started out our yards were not up to scratch and believe me, there was a lot of time wasted chasing pigs around!

Yards for pigs are similar to sheep yards, although should be slightly higher. Anywhere from 1000 - 1200mm high is a good height. Our yards are 1000mm high, with a 1200 mm high loading race and ramp.
Its important to have all parts of the yards constructed with a blind, meaning that they can't see through them, because pigs will respect a solid barrier and if they can see what's on the other side, they can be very difficult to move.
Loading ramps for pigs cannot be too steep, otherwise it is difficult to get them to move up and down the ramp. Ours is 4 metres long and 1 metre high at the loading point, and this gradient works well. Its also 600mm wide, which stops big pigs turning around once they are on it.

Once you have your yards set up, you will figure out what works and what doesn't, and then you can modify them to what works best for you.

Fencing

One of the things that people seem to have a lot of trouble with is fencing for pigs, and often the first question I get asked is "How do you keep them in?"
First of all, you will need to carefully plan your layout of where you will need you fencing - but more on that later.
Assuming you have your layout sorted, you can begin your fencing. Fences for pigs are not all that different than sheep fencing, but they absolutely must be tightly strained. The best way to do this without pulling over strainers in the process (especially if you have soft ground) is to use steel posts and stays, and concrete them in. The hole should be at least 900mm deep and about 200mm in diameter if you are using 100mm posts. This will take around 4-5 bags of concrete to fill.

Once your posts are in, the next and most important step are your stays. I've tried several different methods of staying fences, but there is one absolute standout. For a start, don't position your stays too far up the post, they should be around 500 - 600 mm from the ground where they join to the post, preferably with a steel stay point and washer.
When you have your stay on the post, align it as closely as possible with the direction that you fence will run, then dig a hole around 250mm wide, 450mm long and 200 mm deep. You should have your stay end sitting about a third of the way into the hole.
Once you have you hole and stay in place, hammer a 600mm star picket all the way into the ground hard up against the stay post, and concrete it in. Once in place this way, your post and stays will never move, and you will be able to strain your fences very tight indeed.

How you construct you fence will depend upon personal preference, how much money you want to spend and what sort of pigs you will be keeping in that paddock. For a general paddock, we use 700mm high waratah stocktight ringlock, with a plain wire at the top and bottom of this to which the ringlock is ring fastened.
Above this goes barbed wire, which stops boars bellying over then fence, and on the very top goes a plain wire, which we also use as a guide wire when setting out the steel posts. Generally one star picket every 5 metres will be sufficient, but may very depending on your terrain. We also use an offset electric strand located about 300mm from the ground, as this prevents any damage from pigs to the fence as they absolutely love fence lines!
If you plan on keeping weaners in a paddock, you will have to add 300mm chicken netting to the bottom, or alternatively you can use a dedicated pig mesh which waratah also makes, although this is very expensive, as well as only coming in 100 metre rolls.

In regards to electric fencing, this can be great to use especially if you are on a budget. The only trouble we have had with electric fencing is containing small pigs, up to around 8 weeks of age. This is because to have electric fencing capable of keeping piglets in, the bottom wire needs to be about 120mm from the ground and when it is this low the wire will constantly get shorted out by sticks, clumps of wet earth ect which will render the fence useless.

A good compromise for keeping in pigs from 8 weeks and up is a 2 strand system with one strand at 230mm, and the second at 530mm above the ground. This is a system we use for our dry sow and boar paddocks and it is very effective at keeping them in.
In these situations, one star picket every 8 m will be sufficient. The other plus about using only a 2 wire system is that you will not need steel strainers and stays as there is not much pressure on the posts. We simply dig a 500 mm deep hole, and concrete in a 1500mm x 100mm hardwood post.
A good boundary fence is essential. This one has 2 electric stand off wires
Tightly strained and properly stayed fences are a must for pigs
Proper anchoring of your fence stays is important in the overall quality of your fence
The standard double sided trough we use. Note the pig mesh behind it.
A 200 L round trough. These can be good for smaller pigs or large pigs where there are a lot of animals that need to drink at the same time, but pigs between 50 - 110kg will try and sit in them so beware!
Wallows are an absolute must

Water

One of the most important aspects of any farm is water, especially so with pigs!
Pigs need a constant supply of clean, cool water not only for drinking, but for wallows when the temperature gets over about 20 degrees.

One thing about pigs is that your water troughs or drinkers need to be very secure and very robust. They just love to play/tip over/try to get into any available water, even if they have a wallow so anything that is not strongly constructed and weighs enough to resist this sort of behaviour will quickly be tipped over or destroyed.

We've always used rapidplas products for our watering (and feeding) needs and I really can't recommend them enough. They will last a lifetime and are very, very tough - as well as being immune to rust and easy to move when empty. We use the double sided 200l square poly water troughs, we dig these into the ground about 200mm and when full, they cannot be moved. They also have the added bonus of being able to water 2 paddocks with one trough.

Our system runs from a large tank that simply gravity feeds downhill into a 1 1/2 inch pipe that runs for about a kilometre, and branches off into each trough along the way. The pipe must be buried all the way up to the trough, and outside the paddock. If it is not, the water will become too hot and the pigs will overheat which will kill them when it gets hot.
Having paddocks planned out properly is also very important for this. It might seem like a lot of work, but once done properly you will never have to do it again and it really does make life much easier to have a reliable water source because without it, you simply will not be able to farm pigs!

Wallows are an absolute must, especially if you have white pigs. They not only use them for cooling down, but also as a sunscreen and insect repellent. You will need to fill in and relocate wallows from time to time to ensure they do not become contaminated and start to stink.
We use a water tank on a ute with a pump to keep our wallows topped up during hot weather, and usually only have to do this once a week. We've found that if you let them dry out, it is much more of an effort to get them going again.

Housing

In regards to housing and shelter for your pigs, keep in mind that simple is best. Shelters must ideally be easy to move, provide protection from sun, wind and rain as well as be robust and sturdy enough to resist damage by the pigs themselves.

We've found that the quickest, easiest and strongest design to build are the semi-circular pig arks. These are simply a square or rectangular base of hard wood which is screwed together and braced in the corners with brackets, with either 2 or 3 sheets of curved corrugated iron that is screwed to the base. We also add a back wall made from either corrugated iron or a piece of ply-wood cut to shape.

Not only are these quick to build and quite cost effective, but they are extremely strong but also light enough to move easily, and will not blow away in even the strongest wind. We use them for both farrowing and general accommodation huts, with the larger 3 sheet huts being 2.4 m long and 1.8 m wide.

Shelters this size will happily accommodate 3-4 fully grown sows. For farrowing we use the 2 sheet huts, which are 1.8 x 1.5 m. This provides ample space for a sow and her litter.

Alternatively you can use A frame huts which are popular in some areas, or you can make permanent rectangular huts, although these take much longer to make, use more materials and can become a problem as they are not moveable.
One of the larger huts we use. This will accommodate 3-4 sows
One of the smaller, 2 sheet huts for farrowing
Moving shelters made easy!
Disclaimer:

All photographs contained on this site are copyright and may not be used without permission elsewhere or reproduced/distributed by any means.

All the information contained within this site are the intellectual property of the author, and are based on our results and findings.

As such individual experiences in practice may vary and we are not responsible for the use/misuse of this information and will not be held liable for any financial loss or investment made as a result.
 

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