Many times people have called me enquiring about how to select a good dairy or beef cattle, but somehow farmers assume that on the contrary, pigs do not have to be selected like cows.
This is probably because pig farming is not heavily promoted in the same way as cattle farming.
However, over the last four months, I have had several enquiries from various parts of the country, particularly, Murang’a, Kiambu and Bungoma of people seeking to know how they can ensure the pigs they wish to buy would be good for breeding and slaughter.
Orina from Bungoma said he had bought two groups of five pigs each but was disappointed that they calved few piglets.
I knew he was unfamiliar with pig farming when he concluded, “I believe the heifers and bull I bought to start my stock were not of good quality”.
Well, heifers are female cows of breeding age that have not given birth.
The equivalent in pigs is known as gilts while the males are boars. A mother pig is called a sow while in cattle, it is a cow.
I always advice farmers and those planning to be farmers to familiarise themselves with the various terms that are used for each type of farming.
This is important because when looking for information, the farmer will be able to recognise and understand the correct terms.
In addition, the farmer is seen to be knowledgeable and gets respect from the animal health service providers and other farmers when she uses the right terms.
Interestingly, even livestock traders respect farmers who are knowledgeable and offer them better prices for their animals.
SELECT FROM WELL-MANAGED FARMS
To assist Orina and others wishing to learn more about pigs, I will delve into the process of selecting pigs for breeding and producing slaughter hogs, as pigs are also referred to. They are also called swine.
Just like cattle, swines have various breeds that have different characteristics that are associated with each. Some of the performance parameters in pigs are the number of piglets they can produce, maternal performance or the ability to nurse the piglets to weaning age, meat production which is measured by the rate of weight gain and the longevity of the breeders.
The lifespan of a pig farmed in confinement is five to 10 years depending on the quality of management and the swine’s genetic composition.
As a cardinal rule, a farmer should always select breeding animals from farms or herds that are well managed and have high levels of cleanliness.
The most common and preferred pig breeds in Kenya are the Land race and the Large white. Both have good breeding, mothering and meat production qualities.
Due to the pigs’ white colour and cross-breeding, many people are not able to differentiate them.
The Land race is a large white pig with a depressed or dished nose while the Large white has a straight nose. The Land race has large straight ears while those of the Large white tend to droop forward.
The Land race has a long body and longer legs than other pigs.
The Hampshire and Duroc breeds are also available in Kenya. Hampshires are black and white pigs while the Durocs are brown.
Black spots or bands seen in white pigs are due to cross-breeding of the Large white and Land race with Hampshire pigs.
Some white pigs have brown hairs that are attributed to crossing of the white pigs with the Duroc breed. The white pigs fetch the best prices in Kenya and hence they are preferable.
CHARACTERISTICS OF BEST BREEDING STOCK
In selecting the breeding stock, regardless of the breed, there are specific characteristics a farmer should be interested in. They include:
The neck should be moderately long. Shoulders should have a smooth downward slope while the forearm should slope downward and slightly forward when viewed with the pig standing steadily at ease.
The area between the hoof and the joint with the dew claws is called the pastern. It should have a gentle forward slope. Both the toes of the back and front legs should be large and even-sized.
The buttock, otherwise known as the rump; and the top line should be flat, with the tail sitting high on the rump. Hind legs should be straight but with a well-defined curvature of the joint below the knee.
This is called the hock joint and is the equivalent of the heel in humans. Often, farmers confuse the joint with the knee joint. In most four-legged animals, the knee joint is attached to the body by a fold of skin and muscle called the knee-fold.
Finally, the pig should have long slender teats that are well-spaced.
Pigs have between six and 32 teats running in two parallel lines on the underside of the body from the chest to the groin.
On average, pigs have 12 to 14 pairs of teats. Each teat projects milk from its secreting organ called the mammary gland.
The glands in pigs are separate from each other. Good breeding pigs should have 12-14 teats. In countries with pig breed registry, a purebred pig should have a minimum of 12 good teats for it to be registered.
The number of teats is important as it ensures the pig can suckle at least 12 piglets at once. This reduces fighting and injuries among the piglets as each will have a suckling position to itself.
When inspecting the teats, one should ensure that all are potentially functional. Teats that are inverted inwards such that they do not project outwards from the skin surface will most likely not be suckled when the pig gives birth.
Mammary glands with such teats dry off within three days from the date of birth and become non-functional. Some sows have too many teats known as supernumerary teats and such tend to be non-functional.
Gilts with supernumerary teats should not be selected for breeding.
Finally, one should confirm that the farm selling the pigs has good record-keeping on the animals regarding the mothering performance of the sows, growth rate of the piglets and the presence of inherited deformities such as hernias in the piglets.
Hernia is the protrusion of body organs such as intestines into the umbilical cord area or scrotum. The condition is inherited from the boar.
Gilts from mothers that wean less than 10 piglets should be avoided. It is also advisable to avoid gilts from mothers with consistent record of a disease combination called mastitis, metritis and agalactia abbreviated as MMA.
Mastitis is the infection of the mammary glands. Metritis refers to infection of the uterus while agalactia is lack of milk production.
Sows with MMA do not produce milk and piglets may all die unless they are fostered by another mother or fed artificially with eggs and cow milk.
Pigs are good animals to keep, in fact, they are one of the cleanest if trained right. Their nutritional needs vary with age, weight, and stage of production.
You can feed them on commercial feeds but this may turn out expensive. Feeds formulated at home should always contain all classes of nutrients. Restaurant remains are not advisable, if a must, cook them first.