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Ever wondered what it would be like to run a smallholding? Follow the trials and tribulations of Kim, a newbie to farming, on her quest to learn more about keeping animals and the French agricultural system. Will she have the patience, endurance and resilience to keep going? More Info

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February 2014
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An Accidental Farmer in France

What a Pig Sty!

February 3, 2014

When our pigs Whitney and Wrinkles arrived chez nous we had this naive idea that we would pop them in a paddock with electric fencing and they would be happy as…well pigs in mud. We placed the cages we used to transport them inside the fence, opened them and off they ran, straight through the fence and they just kept running. It took us a month to persuade them to come back.  In that month we set about building an escape proof pig pen. In this time Whitney had her piglets, they were born free, a few weeks after she decided freedom wasn’t such a great thing with three mouths to feed, she kept hanging around the pig pen which Wrinkles was already occupying, so I opened the gate and she gave herself up.  Things quickly settled down once we got the pigs in the pig pen. Wrinkles, Whitney and the three little pigs were soon joined by Wrinkles seven piglets!  

 Argh, what a lovely story, at this point I should say “and they all lived happily ever after”, but I would be lying. Of the ten piglets, there are three males (we were very lucky there were only three), the boys need to be separated from the girls preferably before they are three months old, although opinion seems to be divided on exactly what age they are capable of reproducing.  Having not long finished one pig pen, we had to then start building another to put the boys in.   We decided that the best position for the new pen was right next to the existing one, this makes pig keeping easier, I wanted to incorporate a way to transfer pigs between the two pens easily. I pondered the design of the new pen for some time. First we needed a pig size doorway between the two areas, the pig pens are in the ruin of an old farm house, therefore the walls are dry stone, not the easiest of materials to try to put an opening in, but Steve thought we could do it and there didn’t seem any other way.  Knocking out the doorway couldn’t proceed until we had a way to close it off again immediately, otherwise the pigs would be able to escape from their existing pen.  We decided that a sliding door would be the best option and Steve set about making a door with a handle to pull it upwards and a catch to hold it in place when it was in the open position.  We could then knock through. As I guessed, this was not straight forward, the wall above the doorway started to collapse and we quickly had to add lintels on both sides and then build the wall above these back up.  Whilst we were working on the doorway we moved massive boulders to block up the hole so the pigs couldn’t use the doorway before we had the new pen completed. I then decided that what we needed was some sort of holding pen, we couldn’t choose which pigs went through the door but if we had a holding area we could then pick out the ones we wanted. A lot of our gates, fences and animal shelters are built with pallets because they are often free and very sturdy.  We worked out that five one meter pallets would give us a holding area of one meter wide by two meters long, two pallets down each side attached to the wall where the doorway is and then the pallet at the opposite end would be hinged and bolted to make a gate. See picture below.  The gate looks a bit skew-wif because the ground is on a slope.

Inner Holding Area Pen


During this time I also started re-building the back and side walls of the area, first I tried dry-stone walling but it just kept falling down, then I decided to cement the wall, this was better but at the time the weather was fairly cold and often the cement didn’t set properly or it was very brittle because the temperatures were too low.  I persevered but it was slow going, I managed to build the walls up to about one meter and then decided to put pig mesh fencing on the inside in some areas just to be sure the pen was pig proof. Once all this was done we then added another pallet gate for access to the main sty. Pictures of the  finished pen.

Outer gate and side of holding pen


Back and side walls with mesh fencing


Inner holding pen

Finally we could attempt to separate the boys and girls.  I spent a week just opening the door and throwing food into the holding pen so that the piglets would get use to going in there, this worked very well apart from Wrinkles deciding she wanted to check out the new accommodation too, she kept sticking her head through the doorway and blocking the way for the piglets to get in, one time she managed to knock the door out of its holding and emergency repair work had to be carried out. 

The holding pen has definitely been a success, although getting all of the pigs you want in there at the same time is not easy. We managed to get two of the three males in there at the same time along with a couple of the girls, at this point I closed the door to the other pen off, the gate at the opposite end was already locked and I wasn’t going to open it incase they made a run for it, I just climb over into the holding pen and then grab the piglets I want by the back legs, there isn’t anywhere for them to run so it makes it much easier. I lifted the two boys over the inner pen and popped them down in their new sty.  Re-opening the door between the two pens allowed the girls to go back to their own sty.  The third boy was a bit of a mummies boy and wouldn’t leave Wrinkles to come through to the new section, so we had to chase him around and catch him rather than use the holding pen.  We have also used the holding pen to capture one of the girls when we sold her and to capture two more ready to go to the abattoir.  More on our trip to the abattoir in the next blog post.

Do you keep pigs?  How do you manage moving them around your holding?  Every time I watch a dvd or video of pigs they are calmly plodding about with their owner, usually the owner has a board and stick or a bucket of food, that is it.  Our pigs are not calm, they are not particularly friendly (at least the piglets aren’t, the mums aren’t too bad they will eat out of my hand and come to the fence to say hello), they are fine unless we try to go into their pen then they start running around and panicking.  Trying to clean out the pen is a nightmare with pigs running about all over the place squealing!  I have noticed since we separated the boys that they are much calmer, perhaps it is because there are only three in a pen. It will be interesting to see if the girls become calmer when there are less of them.  When we get down to two piglets and the two mums I am going to attempt to train them with a board and stick, could be interesting or a total disaster, I will let you know how it goes.  In the meantime if you keep pigs and you have any helpful tips please pass them on.

by KimmyP. Find out more about KimmyP here.

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