Caring for pigs

Published 8 April 2013

You and any staff working with animals must read, understand and have access to the welfare code of recommendations for pigs.

1. Qualifying for the Basic Payment Scheme and cross-compliance

If you’re involved in the Basic Payment Scheme, you need to follow cross-compliance restrictions.

To meet cross-compliance welfare standards for pigs you need to follow the current Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs):

  • SMR 12 - pig welfare (formerly SMR 17)
  • SMR 13 - animal welfare (formerly SMR 18)

The guide to cross compliance explains what you need to do to follow each SMR.

1.1 Cross-compliance inspections

Cross-compliance inspectors will measure:

  • light intensity in pens from a representative sample of your age groups
  • pens and stalls from a representative sample of age groups for all fattening pigs and boars
  • pens, stalls, slat widths and slat openings for accommodation brought into use or reuse since 1 January 2003

2. Stockmanship and managing pigs

Stock-keepers need to be competent in a range of animal health and welfare skills, including:

  • handling skills
  • preventing and treating lameness
  • preventing and treating internal and external parasites
  • giving medicines by injection
  • caring for sick and injured pigs
  • caring for sows and their litter
  • managing pigs to minimise aggression

You or your stock-keeper should be trained and competent in any specialist tasks, such as artificial insemination, or teeth clipping and grinding.

You should protect pigs kept indoors from bad weather, predators and risks to their health.

You need to make sure that pigs have access to a clean, comfortable and well-drained lying area (with clean, dry bedding) at all times.

Air circulation, dust levels, temperature, relative air humidity and gas concentrations must be kept within limits which will not harm your animals.

2.1 Keep housing clean

You must:

  • keep housing pens, equipment and utensils clean and disinfected
  • remove faeces, urine and uneaten or spilt food as often as needed to reduce the smell and avoid attracting flies or rodents

2.2 Space for pigs

Pigs must be able to stand up, lie down and rest without difficulty and able to see other pigs at all times. They must also have enough space for them all to lie down comfortably at the same time.

You should not tether pigs unless your vet has told you to do so. You must check regularly any tether you use and adjust it to make sure it isn’t causing any pain or injury to the pig, and that it lets the pig lie down, rest, stand and groom itself.

Although pigs must also be free to turn round without difficulty at all times, this does not apply for veterinary procedures, including:

  • when servicing pigs
  • for artificial insemination
  • when collecting semen

You can also restrict pigs’ freedom to turn:

  • when feeding
  • when marking, washing or weighing
  • while your cleaning its accommodation
  • while waiting loading or transport
  • if the pig can enter or leave an area at will (they’re not in a confined area)

However, even in these cases you should not restrict the pigs for any longer than needed.

2.3 Handling

You should move pigs at their own pace, and avoid creating too much noise, excitement or using too much force.

Anything you use to guide the animals (such as pig boards and flat slap sticks) should only be used for guiding animals.

Avoid using electric goads - if you do, make sure there’s enough space for the pig to move forward easily. You can’t use an electric current to stop any animal from moving.

2.4 Marking pigs

Only competent persons should permanently mark pigs (such as by ear or body tattooing, or ear tagging). They must use well maintained instruments under hygienic conditions.

You should only use ear tags suitable for pigs. You can use slap marking when you need to identify pigs immediately before transport.

You must properly restrain the animals when ear tagging, notching or tattooing

You should only use non-toxic aerosols or paints and only for temporary markings.

2.5 Farrowing sows and piglets

For pregnant gilts and sows you need to:

  • treat them against external and internal parasites, when needed
  • thoroughly clean them and any farrowing crates you put them in
  • give them enough nesting material in the week before expected farrowing time, unless it’s not technically possible with the slurry system used
  • keep a clear area behind the sow or gilt to ease natural or assisted farrowing
  • protect piglets in pens where sows are kept loose (eg with a farrowing rail)

You can keep sows and gilts out of sight of other pigs in the week before expected farrowing and during farrowing.

For piglets you must:

  • give them a heat source (where needed) and a solid, dry and comfortable lying area away from the sow where all of them can rest at the same time
  • use a solid floor or cover the floor with a mat or litter with straw (or other suitable material) that’s big enough for them all to rest together at the same time
  • give piglets enough space to suckle easily if using a farrowing crate
  • not wean piglets from the sow until the pig is over 28 days old, unless the health or welfare of the piglet or dam is at risk

You can though wean piglets up to 7 days early if you move them into specialised housings. You need to empty, clean and disinfect this before introducing a new group and it needs to be separate from housing where other sows are kept.

2.6 Weaners and rearing pigs

You should place pigs in groups as soon as possible after weaning and you should keep them in stable groups with as little mixing as possible.

When mixing pigs unfamiliar with each other you should do this at as young an age as possible, ideally before weaning but you can do so up to 1 week after weaning. When mixing pigs you should give them opportunities to escape and hide from other pigs.

You should limit your use of tranquillising medicine to exceptional conditions, eg to avoid stress where the animal is particularly poorly. Even then you must first consult a vet.

You should investigate any signs of severe fighting straight away to find out why and take appropriate steps (eg separate pigs).

2.7 Dry sows and gilts

You must:

  • feed sows and gilts using a system that makes sure that each individual can get enough food even when it has competitors for the food
  • give all dry pregnant sows and gilts enough bulky or high-fibre food, as well as high-energy food, to satisfy their hunger and need to chew
  • keep sows and gilts in groups except during the 7 days before the expected day of farrowing and the day weaning the piglets (including any fostered piglets) is complete

But you can keep sows and gilts individually if your holding has 9 or fewer sows, as long as you meet the housing requirements.

3. Pig housing and design

You must make sure that all pigs, including sows and gilts, have enough manipulable material (such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat, or a mixture) for pigs to investigate. The European Commission has draft guidance on what to look for in manipulable material.

You must use housing materials that aren’t harmful to the pigs and can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, or replaced if needed.

You must make sure that accommodation and fittings for securing animals don’t have any sharp edges or projections that could injure animals.

3.1 Flooring

If you keep pigs in a building, floors need to be:

  • smooth, but not slippery
  • designed so that they don’t injure or cause suffering to any pig standing or lying on them
  • suitable for the size and weight of the pigs

If you don’t supply litter, floors need to form a rigid, even and stable surface.

3.2 Concrete slatted floors: maximum width of openings and minimum slat widths

When using concrete slatted floors for pigs kept in groups you must make sure that openings meet set widths.

Pig type Definition Beam width Gap width Maximum opening width for concrete slatted floors of pigs in groups Minimum slat width Tolerance
Piglet Pig from birth to weaning 50-80mm 10-14mm 11mm 50mm No tolerance
Weaner Pig from weaning to 10-weeks-old 50-80mm 10-14mm 14mm 50mm 10-14mm +/-2mm
Rearer Pig from 10-weeks-old to slaughter or service 80-120mm 14-18mm 18mm 80mm 14-18mm +/-3mm
Gilt Pig from 10-weeks-old to slaughter or service 80-120mm 14-20mm 20mm 80mm 14-20mm +/-3mm
Sow Female pig after the first farrowing 80-120mm 20mm 80mm 14-20mm +/-3mm  
Boar Male pig after puberty, intended for breeding 80-120mm 20mm 80mm 14-20mm +/-3mm  

3.3 Sows and gilts pen sizes and floor area

The pen where the group is kept must have sides at least:

  • 2.4m long - 5 or fewer pigs
  • 2.8m long - 6 or more pigs

3.4 Standard minimum unobstructed floor area (square metres)

You must offer a minimum unobstructed floor area. When working out the unobstructed area measurement you need to subtract any furniture that stops pigs from using the area above it.

Pig 5 or fewer animals (square metres) Standard (6 to 39 animals) minimum unobstructed floor area (square metres) 40 or more animals(square metres)
Gilt after service 1.8 1.64 1.48
Sow when sows or gilts are kept in groups 2.48 2.25 2.03

You must reserve an area of continuous solid floor:

  • at least 0.95 square metres for each gilt
  • at least 1.3 square metres for each sow
  • up to 15% for drainage openings

This is a regular pattern that can include a fully slatted floor and must:

  • cover no more than 15% of the area
  • be at least 0.95 square metres per gilt
  • be at least 1.3 square metres  per sow

As autoblocking stalls allow sows free access to them, the area they cover can be included in the calculation of the total unobstructed floor area.

You can also include sunken continuous feeders less than 25cm deep, which don’t prevent the sows from occupying the space taken by the feeders. You can do this as long as you reduce the risk of food and water contamination and the harmful effects of competition between animals.

You must repair damaged floors immediately.

You should keep lying areas dry and drain pen floors, including the dunging area. All bedding you provide must be clean and dry, regularly topped up or changed, and not damaging to pig health.

3.5 Sow stalls

You can’t use close confinement stalls for breeding sows as they’ve been banned in the UK since 1 January 1999.

3.6 Boar pens

You must site and construct boar pens so that the boar can turn round and hear, see and smell other pigs. Pens also need clean, dry and comfortable resting areas.

The minimum unobstructed floor area for an adult boar is 6 square metres. When you use boar pens for natural servicing (breeding) the floor area must be at least 10 square metres and be free of any obstacles.

3.7 Weaners and rearing pigs minimum unobstructed floor area

You must provide weaner or rearing pigs reared in a group with a minimum unobstructed floor area.

Average weight of pigs in the group Unobstructed floor area (square metres)
10kg or less 0.15
10-20kg 0.2
20-30kg 0.3
30-50kg 0.4
50-85kg 0.55
85-110kg 0.65
Over 110kg 1

3.8 Ventilation and temperatures

You must make sure that you keep pigs at a comfortable temperature and ventilate them to keep them cool. Methods you can use include:

  • blowing air over the pigs
  • water spray or misting
  • wetting part of the floor

There should always be a dry part for pigs to move to.

You should avoid wide temperature fluctuations and keep above the minimum temperature. You must not keep pigs in the high temperature/high humidity environment known as the ‘sweatbox system’.

Type of pig Minimum temperature (C)
Sows 15-20
Suckling pigs in creeps 25-30
Weaned pigs (3 - 4 weeks) 27-32
Later weaned pigs (5 weeks or more) 22-27
Finishing pigs (porkers) 15-21
Finishing pigs (baconers) 13-18

3.9 Lighting and noise levels

If you keep pigs inside you’ll need to:

  • have enough lighting (fixed or portable) to be able to inspect them at any time
  • have at least 40 lux of lighting for 8 hours a day
  • give pigs a rest from artificial light for parts of the day

You shouldn’t expose pigs to constant or sudden noise, or noise levels above 85 decibels in any part of a building with pigs in.

3.10 Using automatic or mechanical equipment

You should keep all equipment and surfaces clean and inspect them to make sure they’re in good working order and fix any problems immediately. You must inspect any equipment essential for the health and wellbeing of your animals at least once a day.

Equipment you need to inspect includes:

  • feed hoppers
  • drinkers
  • ventilating fans
  • heating and lighting units
  • fire extinguishers
  • alarm systems

You must have:

  • a failsafe or standby device for any automated equipment that birds depend on for their welfare
  • an automated ventilation system and an alarm system to warn the flock-keeper of automatic equipment failure

You must test these systems weekly and fix any faults immediately.

4. Feeding and watering pigs

You must feed pigs at least once a day.

When pigs are housed in a group each pig must have access to feed at the same time if they:

  • don’t have continuous access to feed
  • aren’t fed by an automatic feeding system that feeds the animals individually

You should follow the minimum daily requirements for water for different types of pigs.

Weight of pig (kg) Daily water need (litres) Minimum flow rate through nipple drinkers (litres/minute)
Newly weaned 1.0-1.5 0.3
Up to 20kgs 1.5-2.0 0.5-1.0
20-40kgs 2.0-5.0 1.0-1.5
Finishing pigs up to 100kgs 5.0-6.0 1.0-1.5
Sows and gilts - pre-service and in pig 5.0-8.0 2
Sows and gilts - in lactation 15-30 2
Boars 5.0-8.0 2

4.1 Watering pigs

You must make sure that all pigs over 2 weeks old have permanent access to a good supply of fresh drinking water.

4.2 Use safe feed

You must not give your animals feed that could harm human or animal health on the market.

You must not:

  • feed your animals any substance, food or liquid that can cause them unnecessary suffering or injury
  • use feed that makes the animals who eat it unable to produce food that’s safe for humans to eat

You must:

  • arrange for unsafe feed to be withdrawn from the market if you believe that you supplied it - contact your local environmental health officer and the Food Standards Agency if this happens
  • destroy unsafe feed - unless an advising authority (such as a vet) has told you not to
  • tell anyone who uses your feed why you’re withdrawing it

See the guide to food safety and farmed animals for more information on how to follow safe feed laws.

5. Health and welfare

You or your stock-keeper should create a written health and welfare plan, using vets and other health advisers. You should review and update this at least once a year.

Your plan should include:

  • biosecurity arrangements (keeping animals healthy and diseases out) on-farm and during transport
  • purchased stock procedures
  • any specific disease control programmes, such as salmonella, erysipelas, E. coli, mycoplasma and parvo virus
  • vaccination policy and timing
  • isolation procedures
  • mixing and grouping of pigs
  • external and internal parasite control
  • lameness monitoring and foot care
  • routine procedures, such as ear tagging
  • prevention and control of vices such as tail biting

Your health and welfare plan should make sure that animals get any necessary medical treatment at the correct time and in the correct dose.

5.1 Inspecting pigs

You should regularly inspect your herd (at least once a day) and have enough lighting to do so.

Signs of ill health include:

  • separation from the group
  • listlessness
  • swollen navel, udder or joints
  • rapid or irregular breathing
  • persistent coughing or panting
  • shivering
  • discolouration or blistering of the skin
  • loss of body condition
  • sneezing
  • lameness (inspection of the feet and legs is particularly important)
  • lack of coordination
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • poor appetite
  • vomiting

You should also read the guide to pig health monitoring and control.

5.2 Sick and injured animals

When you see any animal that appears to be ill or injured you must:

  • immediately care for it appropriately
  • call a vet as soon as possible if the animal doesn’t respond to care
  • isolate it in suitable accommodation if needed

You can’t transport a sick or injured animal unless:

  • it’s fit for the journey
  • you’ve taken steps to take care of it on the journey and at arrival

If you need to kill a sick animal on your farm you can only use:

  • a free bullet - you should kill the animal with a single shot to the head
  • stunning with a captive bolt, concussion stunner or electrical stunner, after which you must bleed or pith it immediately

When stunning and bleeding or pithing the person carrying this out must be a licensed slaughterman, unless you’re the owner and slaughtering the animal for your own consumption.

5.3 Notifiable diseases

Pigs are at risk of catching several notifiable diseases, including:

  • African swine fever
  • anthrax
  • Aujeszky’s disease
  • classical swine fever
  • foot-and-mouth disease
  • rabies
  • swine vesicular disease
  • teschen disease
  • vesicular stomatitis

If you suspect a notifiable disease you must tell your nearest Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office immediately - failure to do this is an offence and you can be fined.

5.4 Lameness

You need to call a vet immediately if lame pigs don’t respond to any treatment you apply.

You mustn’t transport any pig off-farm that:

  • can’t stand up unaided
  • can’t bear their weight on all 4 legs when standing or walking

You shouldn’t take to market (or anywhere else) any animal that can bear its weight on all 4 feet but is slightly lame and movement is likely to make the injury worse (even if only slightly).

If a lame animal doesn’t respond to the vet’s treatment, you should cull it rather than leave it to suffer. If you can’t transport lame animals without causing them more pain, you should slaughter them on the farm.

5.5 Fallen stock

You must dispose of fallen stock (including stillborn piglets and foetuses) by:

  • sending to a knacker’s yard, hunt kennel or similar premises
  • incineration in approved premises
  • rendering
  • burial or burning - only in exceptional circumstances (and done so carnivorous animals, including dogs, cannot gain access to the carcass), such as in remote areas or after a natural disaster

See more guidance on fallen stock.

5.6 Breeding

You mustn’t use any breeding methods (either natural or artificial) that may cause suffering or injury to animals, except when this is minimal, momentary or unlikely to cause lasting injury.

5.7 Record keeping

You must record the:

  • number of mortalities found on each inspection
  • date you treated any animals
  • name and address of the supplier where you bought any medicines you used in treatments
  • identity and quantity of medicines used
  • animal or group of animals you treated

You must keep these records for at least 3 years and make them available to any authorised person who asks for them, eg from Defra, the APHA or your local authority.

6. Mutilating pigs

6.1 Boar tusks

You can reduce boar tusks in length when there’s evidence that it’s needed to prevent injuries to other animals or for safety reasons.

6.2 Castration

You should avoid castrating pigs wherever possible and use other ways to reduce aggression and avoid boar taint (male hormones affecting the taste of the meat). If you must carry it out you must use a method that doesn’t involve tearing tissues.

You can castrate pigs up to 7 days old yourself, as long as you’re trained to do so - older pigs must be castrated by a vet.

6.3 Tail docking

You should look at ways to reduce aggression such as separating pigs or reducing stocking densities. If those methods fail then tail docking should only be a last resort on pigs over 7 days old and must be:

  • carried out under anaesthetic and additional prolonged analgesia (painkillers)
  • carried out by a vet
  • done by a quick and complete cutting of the tail

6.4 Teeth clipping

You shouldn’t routinely reduce corner teeth in piglets (by grinding or clipping). You can only do so if there’s evidence that they’re injuring a sow’s teats or other pigs’ ears or tails, and you’re trained to do so.

You are not allowed to carry out grinding or clipping routinely. When you have taken steps to improve the environment or management of pigs to prevent tail biting but there’s evidence it’s still happening, you can carry out grinding or clipping. But grinding or clipping should only be:

  • done in the first 7 days of the piglet’s life
  • a uniform reduction of the corner teeth

6.5 Nose rings

You must not put nose rings in pigs kept continuously in indoor housing systems.

7. Getting more advice

AHDB Pork represents pig levy payers in England and can give further pig stockmanship advice and has links to other relevant organisations. It has advice on accommodation, pig production, and health and welfare.

8. Protect animals from hazards and emergencies

You must protect your animals from any potential hazards, like:

  • on-farm debris - eg wire or plastic
  • open drains
  • predators - including dogs

You should move stock to a more suitable area if there’s no natural or artificial shelter to protect grazing stock from extreme weather - heat waves, flooding or being buried by snow.

You should make plans for dealing with emergencies like fire or flood for housed livestock. Include details of how you’ll move your animals off site in an emergency and make sure your staff have read and understand the plan.

You should make sure that staff can get into all buildings as quickly as possible during an emergency.

You should read the guidance on:

8.1 Keeping surfaces safe

You should keep all surfaces that your animals can access (like walls and floors) free from anything that could cause injury or death, like:

  • sharp edges or sticking out parts
  • electrical wires
  • toxic paint or wood preservative - make sure that any second-hand materials don’t have any lead-based paint

9. Animal welfare inspections

Inspectors from the APHA and your local authority can visit your farm. They’ll normally give notice but may not if they’ve had a complaint about how you’re treating them.

Find out more at the guide to farm inspections.

They’ll check how you’re caring for your animals and if you’re following cross-compliance restrictions. You must allow inspectors to:

  • see all your animals in their normal rearing environment
  • see a demonstration of how your alarm system (to alert you if automated ventilation and other systems fail) and its back-up generators work
  • examine specific animals on request
  • take any samples, carcasses or photographs they need
  • inspect veterinary medicine records and mortality records
  • check any other records that will show you’re meeting requirements (like animal feed records)
  • ask if there’s been a known or suspected outbreak of a notifiable disease on your premises during the year