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Keeping pigs in woodlands ~ by Rose

Keeping pigs in woodlands

Many people have asked us how practical it would be to keep a few pigs in their woodland so we’ve asked around …

Pigs are native to Eurasia and North Africa and are in their element in their natural habitat of the forest.  Pigs were some of the earliest animals to be domesticated by humans, and first tamed around 6000 BC.  They’re now more likely to be farmed intensively in barns or fields than left to root around for their food in a forest.  However, woodlands provide an ideal environment for pigs, offering a steady supply of food and space to roam.  Pigs do their bit for the ecosystem, clearing the undergrowth to allow plants to regenerate whilst foraging for their own food. 

Pigs are omnivores, with many living on a varied diet of seeds, roots, acorns, nuts, vegetation, fruit, fungi, insects and small animals such as snakes.  These are abundant in wooded areas, and some pig-keepers maintain that a healthy, natural diet of acorns and beechnuts actually enhances the taste of pigs’ meat.  Although pigs will forage for their own food on the woodland floor, it’s important to provide water and extra food such as bread, fruit or vegetables.  If left to rely on the forest for food, they’re likely to strip tree stems, dig up roots and destroy vegetation. 

The damage that pigs can cause to the delicate environment means that they shouldn’t be kept in ancient woodland.  Fiona Tooth, whose forest was once home to a family of Gloucester Old Spots, warned me of their potentially destructive habits.  She told me that pigs often plough bulbs and bluebells, disturbing the balance of the woodland floor and clearing significant expanses of land.  To limit the damage, she recommended rotating the land where pigs are left to roam. 

Fiona compared her pigs to children, saying that the young ones were hyperactive and naughty.  She told me that you could often tell a pig’s emotions, and that these intelligent, sociable mammals are not happy if kept on their own and should be kept with a litter mate or group. 

The bulky, hoofed animals can trample over ground-nesting birds and should be kept away from vulnerable nesting sites during the winter and spring months.  In summer and autumn, when young birds have fledged, pigs can be left to rove freely within the forest.   It’s important to keep roaming land secure to prevent pigs from escaping.  Fences must be strong and well maintained, as pigs are skillful diggers.  They are particularly suited to broadleaf woodlands, which feature trees like ash and beech and provide a plentiful supply of food.

 Have you used woodland for keeping pigs or other livestock?  Share your experiences here.

Posted in: Flora & Fauna, Practical Guides, Woodland Activities ~ On: 20 November, 2009

12 comments so far

Hallvord R. M. Steen
2 January, 2010

Note that pigs should have access to water and will love somewhere with a bit of wet, muddy soil.

If you want to take children to the wood be aware that pigs are somewhat overwhelming and easily scare the children, even when they intend to be friendly.

Building fences – and moving them later on when the pigs need a new area – makes pig keeping somewhat high maintenance in my view. Fun animals though.

Marcus
6 April, 2010

I run a dozen Old spot Tamworth crosses on 3 – 4 acres this wood land was well over grown and in dire need of maintenance I feed twice daily and the pigs do the rest you’ve never tasted pork like it, as far as fencing is concerned two lines of electric suffice and the old saying goes here and thats you never find a dumb pig they never forget its there

Hope this has been of help

Chloe
28 May, 2010

Hello Rose

Please can I take this opportunity to correct you on this sentence “The bulky, hoofed animals can trample over ground-nesting birds and should be kept away from vulnerable nesting sites during the winter and spring months. In summer and autumn, when young birds have fledged, pigs can be left to rove freely within the forest”.

Birds nest between March and August (primarily) they do not breed in the winter and will certainly be breeding (and have nests) through the summer. It is therefore best to keep the pigs in a woodland over the Autumn/winter period not the summer as you suggest.

Thanks

Chloe

Lewis
28 May, 2010

Interesting comments here about pigs and pannage (acorns etc) in the New Forest – in the autumnal months
http://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/pigs

Bea
12 August, 2010

I came across pigs feeding in the New Forest at the roadside near Penn Common in early August. The pannage season is September to November so these were probably ‘privilege sows’ allowed out the whole year round. I suppose on ‘the adjacent commons’ and roadsides – as opposed to the woods – these pose little danger to nesting birds.

Paul
21 March, 2012

What land-use conditions that might we have to look out for if buying a forest with the thought of keeping a couple of pigs?

Stu
15 August, 2012

I am having troubles keeping my pigs in wet areas that have tall grasses. I have tried electric but the tall grasses ground the wire. I tried hog panels put down with t posts to keep it temporary but the hogs just lift up the fence, t posts and all. Do i have any other options for making a temporary fence?

Mick
6 December, 2012

We have been told that we can use a piece of woodland, basically it is overgrown, not touched for 13 years we have lived here. We cleared all the “evil” thick wild rose growth, and brambles and fenced part of it off and have got 3 pigs in there now. In 4 weeks they have cleared all the overgrown ivy which was nearly 1 ft thick in places. It now resembles a minefield where they have dug out the bramble roots that we couldn’t move. We were told we could do whatever we wanted with the woodland, as the owner didn’t want nothing to do with it anymore. We were given this information after a chance meeting that one of our neighbours had with the owner. We cannot find the owner, neither can our neighbour as the owner moved away approx 15 yrs ago and has never been back since. It is not a huge piece of woodland, only approx 60mt x 30mt with a few hawthorn and willow trees in it. We are in the process of trying to find how to claim it for ourselves to rotate pig rearing on it in sections. We also want to erect nest boxes for birds and hopefully bats as we have bats in the area. Any advice would be gratefully appreciated.

Mike
14 December, 2012

Mick…..the law of ‘Adverse Possession’ stated (it may have changed) that if you use a property or land for 12 yrs continually you can claim it as your own and gain the legal deeds and rights to it (30 yrs for MOD and Crown Property) Just found this link: http://www.landregistry.gov.uk/professional/guides/practice-guide-4

Hannah
8 March, 2013

Does anyone know of any moves by the forestry commission towards keeping pigs on their land?

Ian
14 September, 2013

I have an area of land that is an old garden of about 1.4 acres located Kirk Deighton near Wetherby North Yorkshire.
It is ideal for rearing pigs but I do not live close enough or have the skills or dedication to look after them myself.

I would like someone to keep the pigs for me. I will put up any fences necessary andf would only seek to cover costs.

Would anyone like to take up this offer.

Paul
7 April, 2014

Ian, I would take up this offer of looking after the pigs for you .

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