Raising pigs requires the right housing, diet and healthcare. Compared with other livestock, pigs are relatively low maintenance so if you have pigs on your lifestyle farm and they are well fed with a comfortable free-range lifestyle, they are likely to be relatively healthy and content. Following are a few health problems you should take steps to prevent.


sleeping pig

Shade and shelter

Pigs need a warm dry adequately ventilated area for sleeping and resting.

As pigs cannot sweat, they depend on their lungs for temperature control, and they don’t have an insulating layer of wool or hair. Therefore they are highly susceptible to lung infections and need much better protection from bad weather than cattle or sheep.

If no heating is provided for piglets with their mother, they must be given a warm draught-free area with plenty of bedding material for nesting.

Barley straw is the best bedding for pigs as meadow hay can contain moulds and dust that cause lung damage. Sawdust is dusty too and it isn’t as good an insulator as straw. Bedding material like shredded paper is not recommended as it quickly gets wet and dirty.

On hot days, shade from the sun must be provided, or a wallow, or both.

Foot problems

These are common and often the result of overgrown hooves or cracked hooves. Wet and muddy underfoot conditions make things worse by softening the horn. Stony ground bruises the feet and this too predisposes to infection.

To help prevent foot problems:

  • Make sure the pigs have a dry place for sleeping, resting and standing.
  • Make sure the paddock is not too stony.
  • Get our vet team to trim overgrown horn.
  • Adding methionine and zinc supplements to the diet can improve the quality of the horn.

Digestive disorders

Diarrhoea is most common in young pigs, particularly soon after they are weaned, with the sudden changes in diet. If it’s mild, cut back on food, or go back to the original feed and introduce new feed very gradually. Make sure the pigs have plenty of fresh water available. If the diarrhoea persists call us.

Overweight pigs are a common problem. Pigs are always hungry and it can be difficult to ignore their demands for more and more food, but this can lead to health problems, so don’t let your pigs get too fat!

Any food that contains meat scraps should be boiled for an hour before feeding to prevent the introduction of serious diseases.

Other risky waste foods are:

  • Cooked bones (even fish and chicken)
  • Food containing bits of string, wire or plastic
  • Toothpicks
  • Mouldy feed
  • Chunks of indigestible food like cooked corn cobs

These can perforate or block the intestine, which is painful and often fatal.

Garden trimmings can be dangerous too if they contain poisonous plants like rhododendron or azalea.

Parasites

Lice and mites are the two main external parasites affecting pigs in NZ. Both cause itchiness and hair loss – look for your pigs regularly itching themselves on a fence post or tree. Lice can be seen with the naked eye and may be found attached to the hair around the ears, armpits, and undersides. Mites, also known as mange, live within the skin itself and need a microscope to be seen. They also reside in the ears (look for white-grey plaques) but can be found all over the body. Both spread from pig to pig and lice can be a serious problem in cooler conditions.

Treatment for affected pigs

Injectable avermectins (e.g. Dectomax) treat mite and lice infestations. Both parasites have eggs that take up to 20 days to hatch, so doing two rounds of avermectin treatments two weeks apart is usually enough to get rid of them. All pigs on your property and those coming onto your property should be treated.

As with all livestock, internal worms can build up, especially in young pigs until they cause diarrhoea and failure to gain weight. We recommend starting drenching with Dectomax at 3 months old. If you suspect that worms might be a problem, give us a call and we will work out a drenching plan for your pigs.

Vaccination

Providing the pigs get the recommended vaccines, they are not as susceptible to diseases as other farm animals.piglet

Vaccinate piglets at 6 weeks (or weaning) and repeat in 4 weeks and then 6 months thereafter with Lepto-Eryvac® (used to control Erysipelas and prevent Leptospirosis in pigs).

It is important to vaccinate your pigs for leptospirosis as it is a zoonotic (humans can catch it) and the resulting disease is very debilitating.

Desexing

If not being used for breeding, male pigs should be castrated at 4-6 months of age. To reduce testosterone levels which helps with easier management and lower expression of aggressive behaviours, and also to ensure there aren’t any unplanned piglets.

General concerns

If you have any questions about your pig’s health, please don’t hesitate to contact your local Franklin Vets Clinic. We are happy to give advice over the phone on whether the animal requires treatment.

For specific information on raising piglets, visit our piglet rearing page.