The Beginner's Guide to Raising Pigs in Zimbabwe

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


A female farmer raising pigs in Zimbabwe

Oh pigs, the other white meat.

We get a lot of questions from new and aspiring farmers wanting to raise pigs. They mostly come from people who have watched Kundai's Zimbabwe Farmer Union (ZFU) profile video where she shares how she grew an existing indoor pig operation on our family's farm in Ruwa. The number one question we get asked is can and should I raise pigs.


Should I raise pigs, you ask?

It depends. An annoying answer we know.

The positives: Pigs multiply fast.  They can rear on average 2.2 litters of about 8-10 pigs per litter size per year. They are also great at converting feed to meat.

The not so positives: it can be hard to turn a profit with a small-scale pig operation particularly because of high feed costs and low producer prices. You also need to be able to comfortably finance your pig operation which can be difficult in this funding environment.

That said, are you ready?!

Let's get started.

Definitions of Pig Farming Terminology

Getting Started 

To get started you need to get some pigs. You typically have two main production options. You can either buy weaners (piglets between 8 and 12 weeks) and fatten them up until they reach market weight for slaughter, or you can keep sows (adult female pigs) to breed.

The first option is the most economical and best way for a beginning farmer to learn the basics of pig farming. It enables you, as a beginning farmer to learn about pig behaviour, management techniques and feed requirements.

The second option is more intensive and expensive because it covers the entire production process from breeding to the sale of pigs.

The key to profitable pig farming is to learn as much as you can before you get started or scale your operation.

Selecting your pigs:

The criteria to use for selecting pigs includes assessing the pig's growth rate, the efficiency of weight gain, litter size and overall health. Pick the best quality pigs you can afford not the cheapest. Do not buy a pig because it is cheap, it will cause you more problems down the line. It will likely not reach its market size in a good time frame and may also carry disease.

When buying pigs make sure the supplier has maintained good records for the pig. Examine the pigs carefully to make sure that they are in good health before you make the purchase. If you acquire weaners make sure that they have been dewormed and weaned at least two weeks before arrival.

To move your pigs you must comply with any regulations on livestock movement and acquire the necessary permits for transporting your pigs to your farm.

Once at your farm keep your new pigs away from your current herd for at least 30 days to avoid spreading any disease.

Sources of pigs

You can buy pigs from recognised breeders in your area. Check with Agritex, the Pig Industry Board and farmers in your area for recommendations of good pig suppliers.

Another option for sourcing pigs is at a live auction. This is risky unless you know the herd of origin and the pig is accompanied by a veterinary health record. You have to be careful that you are not buying someone else's problem.

You can also buy pigs from your neighbours. You, however, need to know that they are selling you healthy pigs.

Breeds 


Exotic Pig Breed


They are a number of breeds that you can buy that are common in Zimbabwe. Different breeds have different functionality. Some breeds are known for their terminal sire (their ability to produce offspring intended for slaughter, not breeding), others for their ability to pass along desirable traits such as durability, leanness and quality of meat, and others for their reproductive and mothering abilities.

Below are some of the popular exotic breeds available in the country. Picking high-quality breeding stock is key to the success of your pig operation.

Yorkshire: Originally from England, this is a large white breed, with a long frame compared to the Landrace breed. Sometimes called Large White. It is known for its quality of meat and mothering abilities. It has long legs and large bones. It adapts well to living in confinement.

Landrace: a white-haired pig originally from Denmark. The Landrace breed is known for producing large litters and exhibiting maternal instincts. It has a long body, short legs and a nearly flat arch to its back. It also has white long floppy ears.

Chester: like Landrace, this very popular white pig known for its mothering abilities and large litter size. It originates from crossbreeding in Pennsylvania, USA. This is a medium sized pig that is solid white in colour and easy to handle.

Berkshire: this is a high-quality meat breed of pig. It is originally from England. This black and white pig has perky ears and a medium sized body. It is known for its siring ability and quality meat.

Duroc: this breed ranges in colour from solid colours of light tan to dark red. It is a strongly built pig. It is known for its rapid growth and ultra-efficient feed to meat conversion ratio. It is also known for its tasty meat.

Hampshire: this is a black bodied pig with a white belt around the front of the body.  The Hampshire pig has high-quality meat. High prolificacy and litter size of 9.

Breeding Basics

Gilts (young female pigs) are selected for breeding and mated naturally or using artificial insemination (AI) at their third heat (oestrus). This should take place when the gilts are 180 days of age.

Pigs are excellent candidates for artificial insemination. The process of artificial insemination consists of extracting semen from a boar and introducing it to a sow or gilt at a later stage using a catheter. Artificial insemination has the advantage of preventing disease spread from farm to farm through the sale of boars and it also increases productivity by providing the highest quality genetic material. You can contact the Pig Industry Board to inquire about artificial insemination.

The other option is to keep a boar to breed your sows. The boar you keep has a major influence on your herd since it contributes to half the quality of the pig herd. It is therefore very important that you select a superior quality boar.The boar must be at least 7.5 months old or weigh about 120 kg. A good boar to sow ratio is 1:20.

Usually, boars are kept for three years then they are sold. You should, however, cull your boar early if it is lame, overweight or not siring good quality litters.

To begin natural breeding, place gilts in pen next to a mature boar to stimulate heat. Take the gilt to the boar to breed following the start of the third oestrus. Observe mating and remove sow after service. Repeat 12 and 24 hours later. This increases the odds of conception and optimises the chances of producing the ideal first litter of 10 piglets.

The gestation (pregnancy) period of a sow is 115 days (3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days).They usually have between 8 to 12 piglets.  A week before a gilt is due to farrow (give birth), move her to a farrowing pen where she will stay until she is weaned at 28 days.

In the farrowing pen put a farrowing (birthing) rail around the sow so that she does not inadvertently lie on her piglets and crush them. It is critical to provide oversight during the first 72 hours post-farrowing to avoid or reduce losses.

Piglets should be marked for record keeping and identification purposes within 24 hours of birth. Provide a heat source for your newly born piglets using an infrared lamp suspended in one corner. This will keep them warm and avoid losses due to cold.

Piglets are weaned at 4-6 weeks.Some pigs are weaned as early as 4 weeks and provided with high-quality creep feed. This enables the sow to return to sexual activity more rapidly and allows production of more piglets per sow per year. A sow can be serviced at first heat after weaning if she is in a good condition.

Housing Your Pigs


Pigs can be raised indoors or outdoors. This article focuses on indoor pig production because that is the system we are most familiar with. In commercial operations, raising pigs indoors is easier for protecting them from inclement weather, theft and for controlling temperature and humidity in the pig housing.

Pig Housing Site Selection: place your pig housing at least 100 m away from residences and other farm animals. Have them face north or south to avoid too much sun entering the pigsties. Make sure that the site has access to water, electricity and the ability to remove manure from the sties.

Your pig housing structures can be as simple or as sophisticated as you want them to be. The main goal is to provide your pigs with a dry, safe and well-ventilated place to live. The cost to construct your pig housing depends on your pig production system and the size of your operation.

For the layout, divide your housing into different pens for the different stages of pig production including a farrowing (birthing) house, weaner accommodation, grower/finisher accommodation and feed handling and storage.

If you have a limited budget a simple 3 sided building with roofed structures, and concrete flooring is adequate. The size of the pens must be large enough to provide each pig with enough floor space.

The housing must have concrete flooring. Concrete flooring is important because it allows you to easily clean and disinfect your pens. Cover the floors with a thick layer of straw bedding.

Walls must be strong so that your pigs can be contained. You can use materials such as steel, timber or concrete to keep your pigs in.

The roof must provide plenty of shade as pig skin is prone to sunburn and heat stress.

Plan and build a way to load your pigs onto a truck. Place your finisher pigs closer to the loading area.

Good ventilation is important in pig housing. Ventilation systems may vary from sophisticated to natural ventilation using curtains and roof vents.Good ventilation helps remove carbon dioxide and other gases, water vapour, dust, body heat and pathogens from the building. Poor ventilation can increase the risk of diseases such as pneumonia.

Pig housing must be warm, and well constructed to prevent draughts. The younger the pig the more vulnerable it is to temperature extremes.You can keep your pigs warm, comfortable and protected by providing them with deep straw bedding in their shelter and an area to wallow (a muddy hole that they can lie in to keep cool.) Weaners burrow in straw which protects them from cold draughts.

Piglets in deep straw bedding

Pregnant sows need a quiet environment and can be provided with individual pens with plenty of bedding. Move your sows to farrowing pens a week before their due date.  The farrowing house should have a farrowing crate for the sow to farrow (give birth).

Provide a warm piglet nest box to prevent the sow from crushing her piglets. The sow is notorious for crushing her piglets when she lays down to feed them. Monitor the sow in the early days to prevent her from crushing her piglets.

Set up an outer perimeter fence to keep other animals out of your pig housing.

Contact the Pig Industry Board for plans for housing suitable for Zimbabwe conditions. The Department of Veterinary Services can also inspect and approve your pig housing.

Feeding Your Pigs


Pigs have a single stomach (monogastric) that is similar to humans. They require a balanced diet that includes grains (such as maize, soy, barley, oats and wheat), supplementary protein, minerals and vitamins. Pig growth rates and reproductive success are largely influenced by good nutrition.

The base ingredient of pig rations is maize. Maize makes up over 50% of pig feed. It is a good source of energy for pigs. Feed is the most expensive cost of running a pig farm. It makes up about 70  to 80% of your production costs. One way to reduce your operating costs and improve productivity is to grow your own maize.

Another way to reduce feed costs is to formulate your own feed mix by incorporating alternative low-cost feedstuffs such as whey (waste from cheese production). To formulate your own feed though you must understand pig nutrition or work with someone who does. They are computer programs that you can acquire to help you formulate your own pig feed.

Pigs have different dietary needs depending on their stage of growth from young weaners to adult pigs including lactating sows. To grow well pigs must be given adequate feed for their stage of growth.  Large-scale commercial pig farmers typically target a feed conversion rate of 2.5 kg feed to 1 kg of weight gain. Insufficient feed and an unbalanced diet can lead to disease, reduced growth rates and poor reproductive performance.

Piglets: Feed piglets milk at birth. It is important for piglets to receive colostrum for a good start.
After about two weeks, give the newly weaned piglets a good quality commercially formulated creep feed (starter feed) to ensure that your pigs have a steady growth rate.

Creep feed is high protein, highly digestible feed that has a high feed conversion ratio.The younger the pig the greater the need for complete proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.Creep feeding can increase piglet survival rates and give your piglets a healthy start.

Piglets need 900g of feed per day in two feedings in the morning and evening. This amount should be gradually increased to 1.8 to 2 kg by the time they are 4 months old.

Switch weaners from creep feed to grower feed and finally on to finisher feed. Weaner feed is typically for pigs between 8 and 25 kg. Grower feed is for pigs 26-60 kg in weight. It is lower protein and cheaper than creep feed. Finisher feed is for pigs 60 to 100kg.

Pigs prefer their feed wet so add some water to it. Serve the feed in a feed trough. The feed trough should be anchored to the ground to prevent overturning and wasting feed.Monitor that all your pigs are receiving their optimal feed requirement.

Sows have a special diet depending on their state. A pregnant and lactating sow needs a diet that will satisfy her higher nutritional demand without making her too fat, which can lead to complications during farrowing.

Watering: Pigs need fresh, clean water in their water troughs for good health. Water improves feed digestion and productivity. Water is usually the forgotten nutrient in pig feeding. Make sure your pigs have easy access to a constant supply of water. A pregnant sow needs about 10-12 litres per day. A lactating sow needs 20-30 litres, a growing pig 6-8 litres and a boar needs 12-15 litres per day.

Set up a manual or automatic watering system for your pigs. A waterer hung from the ceiling is a good option for ensuring that things stay clean. Keep a water storage tank or two near your pig sties to help you maintain a reliable supply of water.

For quality feed order from a reputable pig stockfeed supplier such as National FoodsWindmill Stockfeed Division, Ice Feeds and Fivet.

Pig Management


Good management is critical for a successful pig production operation. Poor management can lead to disease and losses. The key to good management is maintaining good, detailed records. Good records allow you to have a clear picture of your operation.

Some of the records you should keep include the number of pigs in the herd, feed consumption, gross output, mortality, medication, reproduction, weaner growth, boar performance, sow productivity and sales. Keep track of your pigs by marking your piglets  (tattooing or ear notching) at weaning.

Raising pigs is highly labour intensive, 7 days a week job. You need labour to remove waste and monitor your pigs. Inspect your animals early in the morning and observe any abnormal behaviour.

To avoid disease it is important to clean and disinfect your pig shelters regularly. Prevention is always better than cure. That should be your mantra as an emerging farmer! Clean your pens between batches of stock using disinfectant. Practice maintaining hygienic farrowing (birthing) facilities to minimise piglet losses and allow for special attention to be provided to both the sow and her piglets at this critical stage.

Have enough pens available to allow each pen to remain empty for at least a week between successive batches of pigs. Disinfect and allow your pens to dry for several days before they are restocked.

Health  & Disease


Pigs can build up good immune systems under the right conditions.To keep your pigs healthy give them clean water, a nutritionally balanced diet, keep them warm and vaccinated against diseases. Healthy pigs look fit, move freely, have fine hair and good skin colour.

Develop a relationship with an animal health professional who can help with pig vetting tasks such as ear notching, tail docking, castration, deworming, needle teeth clipping and vaccinations. Note that vaccinations are a prevention technique, not a cure.

Early disease detection is important for managing diseases. Monitor your pigs on a daily basis for any signs of disease, and cuts or grazes on their skin. Cuts and grazes can allow infections in your pigs.

Some signs that your pigs may be sick include: limited eating, abnormal breathing, diarrhoea, droopy ears, dry eyes, skin or hair and a limp tail. If you notice the signs of disease seek advice from an animal health specialist or vet.

Common diseases

During the rainy season, external parasites such as lice, ticks, fleas and mites are common.  These parasites typically cause skin irritations.  The symptoms of parasites include constant scratching and continuous movement.  Skin irritations can lower disease resistance and growth. This can be controlled by spraying insecticides and removing contaminated bedding

Other common diseases that pigs are prone to are:
  • Internal parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms can affect your pigs. This can slow down your pigs' growth rates. You can control parasites by deworming your pigs. 
  • E Coli: is a bacteria typically caused by contaminated faecal matter in the living environment.
  • Coccidiosis: symptoms include poor growth. Can be prevented by keeping pig housing clean.
  • Swine fever: highly contagious viral disease. Some of the symptoms include loss of appetite, pigs huddling together and blotches on the skin.
  • Malnutrition: cause by feed that is either too little, too watery, rotten or toxic. 
  • Mange: itchy skin. It affects pigs of all ages. It can be controlled by dosing and scrubbing your pigs.
  • Erysipelas: caused by bacteria found in the soil. Causes pigs to grow slowly. To prevent this disease vaccinate pigs at 6-8 weeks if it is present in your herd.
  • Heart infection and chronic arthritis
  • Foot and mouth disease: highly contagious viral disease common in animals with hooves. Symptoms include lameness, blisters on mouth, tongue and snort. It can be carried through contaminated food products. It can be prevented through vaccination. 
  • Other diseases are atrophic rhinitis (inflammation of nasal tissue), leptospirosis and porcine parvovirus infection (PPV), diarrhoea and anaemia (low iron).
If you suspect your pigs may have a problem send your manure samples for testing to the Veterinary Research Laboratories or contact an animal health specialist. You should also restrict movement of pigs, people and vehicles on your farm.

To prevent disease entering your herd stick to a vaccination schedule, purchase disease-free animals, practice proper sanitation and biosecurity.

Putting in place biosecurity measures on your farm can help keep your pigs healthy. Biosecurity means putting preventative measures to reduce exposure and spread of disease.

( Recommended reading: How to Practice Biosecurity on Your Pig Farm)

Here are some biosecurity measures you can apply to your farm:
  • Train staff to understand why biosecurity is important and to shower before entering pig pens
  • Clean the roof, walls, floors and feeding equipment 
  • Disinfect the farrowing house and rest pens between groups
  • Provide visitors with gumboots and protective clothing to wear to minimise risk.
  • Restrict people who have had contact with pigs within 24 hours
  • Put foot dips outside all your pens
  • Limit unauthorised entry to your farm as it can bring disease or infection
  • Transport vehicles must be sprayed
  • Install a fence around your pig housing to prevent animals entering your 
If disease enters your pig herd it may be very difficult to get rid of. Keeping your pigs healthy through prevention and treatment should be a top priority.

Processing & Transporting Your Pigs

When transporting your pigs to market or an abattoir for slaughter and butchering you must plan and prepare ahead.

Some guidelines you can follow when transporting pigs:
  • Use a clean, covered vehicle. Failure to clean and disinfect your vehicle may lead to contamination. A cover can help reduce the wind chill effect in cool weather.
  • Transport your pigs when it's not hot. 
  • Take the most direct route to the slaughterhouse because transporting is stressful for pigs and can cause deaths. 
  • Use straw bedding on the floor of the vehicle to prevent slipping. 
  • Use a long sheet of plywood, with hand holes cut in the top edge to direct your pigs in and out of your transportation vehicle. 
  • Stay calm.

Marketing & Selling Your Pigs

The hard work of keeping pigs pays off when you get to sell them. You should consider marketing your pigs and or pork products from the outset of your pig venture. They are various options for selling you can explore:
  • Selling to individuals, wholesalers or retail stores (supermarkets and butcheries). : you can sell them pork products or live meat
  • Selling live pigs: weaners, porkers or baconers. Pigs can be sold when they are 12 weeks old, when they generally weigh about 40 kg and are known as porkers, or kept until they are about 72 kg when they are known as baconers.
  • Selling to commercial abattoirs (meat processors). The Pig Industry Board has a list of abattoirs around Zimbabwe to get you started.
  • Selling at auction markets. Your pigs will require movement permits and tattoos. Prices for pigs at auction vary depending on what buyers are willing to pay.
  • Contract sales to a company like Colcom. You must be able to produce consistent quality to supply large companies under contract. You and the contractor must agree on a price and negotiate a time period of supply.
  • Export to regional countries such as Angola. This requires management of animal health and lowering production costs to compete with other exporting countries. 
Value Addition

To help with profitability you may consider making and selling pork products. This can help you to make additional profits. Promote your pork products to help increase the consumption. Some examples of pork products you can make are sausage, bacon, ham, pork pies and pig skin.

Convert the waste from raising pigs into biogas. You can also apply as manure to cereal crops or pelletize the manure to make highly efficient fertiliser to sell to gardeners.

More information and training:

Pig Industry Board: Arcturus (Harare) and Bulawayo
Pork Production Systems: Efficient Use of Swine and Feed Resources
Practical Pig Keeping by Smith, Paul (2001) Hardcover

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