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Outdoor pig production and UK agriculture

The outdoor pig industry has grown quickly over the last decade, a factor that has been hastened by the high capital costs of indoor pig housing as well as public demand for a less intensive industry. Planning regulations have also made it more difficult to develop indoor pig production.

outdoor pig housingOutdoor pig production is largely concerned with the housing of sows and the rearing of the young piglets for the first few weeks of their lives. Pigs are rarely reared to slaughter outside, as they are usually grown in conventional finishing units after weaning.

piglets at playThe best sites for outdoor pig production are level free draining soils. Favoured soil types include chalk and sand (because they are porous) whereas clays are generally unsuitable. As sows breed all the year round care has to be taken with the choice of field as the ground could become inhospitable for young piglets during winter months and compromise their welfare. Best results are obtained where pigs are kept on grass.

sun shadePigs that are housed outdoors have different welfare considerations to those indoors. In winter months when it is wet and cold piglet mortality can be a higher and in summer months stock can suffer from sunburn! These pigs are lying under a sun screen provided by the farmer.

electric fencingOutdoor pig units are usually found on arable farms where there is little suitable fencing to contain the animals. For this reason most units rely on temporary electric fencing that can be quickly taken down when the herd is moved onto a new field. Because there is usually plenty of space for the outdoor pig herd, the access routes through the field are generous in size to help prevent heavy rutting in the winter months.

a pig houseOutdoor pig production simplifies some of the waste management issues of pig production. Straw and muck from the sows are returned directly to the soil without machinery. Very often after use the straw from the individual arcs is burnt to prevent cross contamination of disease.

outdoor pigs Outdoor pig systems are very much part of the arable rotation and this field will be returned to a crop of winter wheat which will benefit from the fertility that the pigs have provided. Pigs remain in the same field for about two years and usually the stocking density will be 6 to 8 sows per acre.

Statistics for Pigs and Pigmeat

Pigs and Pigmeat 
Total marketing pigs
12381 10567 10282 9051 8679 8777 8731 9075 8994 8557 n/a
Pigs value of production
(£ millions)
822 738 689 686 681 677 685 736 865 976 984
Pork - home fed as % new supply
92 73 74 71 73 70 68 69
Bacon & Ham - home fed as % new supply
45 43 43 43 42 44 45 42
Pig meat - home fed as % new supply
49 48 48 49 52 50 53

June Census statistics for Pigs and Pigmeat

Pigs and Pigmeat
Sows kept for pig breeding
279,782 281,237 262,516 283,458 366,302 291,441 536,009 727,612 685,721 646,887 502,697
Other pigs
1,741,640 1,739,082 1,551,861 1,820,841 2,789,117 1,804,846 3,603,377 5,439,294 5,792,473 5,661,437 4,939,771
Total pigs
2,021,422 2,020,319 1,814,377 2,104,299 3,155,419 2,096,287 4,139,386 6,166,926 6,476,211 6,308,324 5,442,468