Keeping pigs

Alert

African swine fever has been confirmed in countries close to Australia including Timor Leste.

Early reporting is critical for containing the disease. Report any sick or dead pigs to your vet or by calling 1800 675 888.

Find out more about African swine fever.

There are no commercial pig farms in the Northern Territory (NT) but there are a number of hobby producers.

Many people in rural areas keep a few pigs for food or as pets in their backyard.

Caring for your pigs

If you raise pigs at home, you must meet minimum welfare requirements.

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs provides guidelines on how to manage all types of farmed pigs.

This includes making sure pigs:

  • have access to the right food and plenty of clean, fresh water
  • have shelter and protection from extreme weather
  • can stand, stretch and lie down
  • can socially interact with other pigs
  • are handled gently
  • are protected from injury or disease
  • get immediate treatment if they have an injury or a disease.

Get the code of practice on the CSIRO Publishing website.

The Livestock Act 2008 and the Animal Welfare Act 1999 control livestock in the NT.

Under these laws, owners of an identifiable property with any livestock (including pet pigs) must have a property identification code (PIC).

This lets livestock biosecurity officers identify relevant animal owners quickly and easily if an emergency or exotic animal disease breaks out.

If you keep pigs on your property, or move them into or out of the NT, you will need a property identification code.

Find out how to get a property identification code.

You must meet biosecurity requirements if you want to move pigs from one property to another within the NT.

Read about moving and exporting livestock.

Pigs need a balanced diet of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. Commercial pig mixes meet these requirements at each stage of growth.

Good pasture can replace about 1kg of pig mix per day for dry sows, boars and older grower pigs. Pasture can also benefit pigs by providing:

  • exercise
  • sunshine
  • fresh air
  • social interaction.

Keep pig food and clean drinking water separate from wallows and manure to maintain a hygienic feeding environment.

Rules

There are rules on what food you can and can't give to pigs. Many human foods are prohibited. Prohibited pig feed is called swill.

Swill feeding is illegal because meat can carry exotic diseases, such as African swine fever or foot and mouth disease. These diseases can devastate livestock industries.

What you can't feed pigs

You must not feed any of the following to pigs:

  • meat or meat products
  • anything that has been in contact with meat
  • dairy products from overseas
  • pies, sausage rolls, bacon and cheese rolls, pizza, deli meats and table scraps
  • household, commercial or industrial waste, including restaurant food and discarded cooking oils
  • anything that has been in contact with prohibited pig feed via collection, storage or transport in contaminated containers such as:
    • meat trays
    • takeaway food containers.

What you can feed pigs

You can give pigs the following if they are Australian made and haven't been in contact with meat:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • eggs
  • cereals
  • milk
  • milk products.

To find out more, read the Agnote Don't feed swill to pigs PDF (159.4 KB).

Housing for pigs is called a pen. When building a pen, make sure it is suitable for the NT climate. For example, it should be cool, well-ventilated and have suitable drainage.

Before building a pen, think about the following:

Location

  • Where will it be?
  • Is it near a dwelling?
  • Is it close to neighbours?

Shelter

When building a pen:

  • include a large roof overhang or blinds to protect from sun and rain
  • align the long axis east to west to minimise heat absorption.

Flooring

  • A slatted timber floor or concrete floor is recommended because they are easier to clean.
    • Slatted timber floors must be high enough off the ground to allow faeces to fall through.
    • If using a timber floor, check whether termites could easily invade as they will weaken or destroy it.
    • Pour concrete floors with a gradient so that urine drains away easily.
  • Pay attention to the surface finish. Very smooth surfaces can cause slipping injuries. Rough, cracked and pitted surfaces are difficult to clean, and allow the build-up of faeces and overgrowth of bacteria, fungi and parasites.

Bedding

You can use the following for bedding:

  • straw
  • soft hay
  • wood shavings.

Space requirements

The model code of practice provides guidance on minimum space requirements for indoor housing:

  • dry sows in groups - 1.2 to 1.5m2 per sow
  • lactating sows with piglets - 4 to 6m2 per sow
  • boars - 2m2 per boar.

Breeding pigs

If you keep female pigs for breeding (sows), you will need to provide a farrowing pen.

Farrowing pens are important so that the sow:

  • has a place to deliver and feed her litter
  • is less likely to trample and crush her piglets
  • can lie down slowly and carefully, to protect the piglets.

Farrowing pens also have a ‘creep’ area where piglets can retreat. This is also where piglets are introduced to solid food at around four weeks old.

Farrowing pens should be 5.m2 per sow.

Adult pig with piglets shown inside a farrowing pen

Credit: Queensland Government

To find out more about farrowing pens, go to the Queensland Government website.

Make sure the pen is always clean. This will help control pig diseases.

Pigs produce a large amount of manure that needs regular removal. Manure attracts a lot of flies, which can create environmental concerns.

When a group of pigs leaves a pen, clean thoroughly with a pressure hose, brush and detergent. You should then disinfect it with a suitable product that kills bacteria and viruses.

Leave the pen unstocked for a week after cleaning before introducing new pigs.

Pigs are prone to heat stress in temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius. Light-skinned pigs need access to shade while in pasture, as they are vulnerable to sunburn.

During the build-up, check drinking water temperatures and add ice blocks if necessary.

Attach sprinklers and fans on the roof to optimise cooling.

Digging

Pigs love to dig for roots and tubers, as well as to create cool holes to sleep in.

They also enjoy wallowing and will dig in damp ground, or near a water source to create a muddy puddle to lie in. They will tip over unsecured water containers if they can.

Applying nose rings to pigs will reduce their capacity to dig up the ground and can help to reduce environmental damage.

Another way to deter excessive ‘rooting’ is to provide solid vegetables for pigs to chew on such as sweet potatoes, carrots and turnips.

Parasites

Pigs are host to a large number of internal parasites (worms) that infest their lungs, kidneys and intestines. Worms can damage other organs when parasite larvae migrate around the body.

Most parasite eggs pass out of the pig’s body in their faeces. If pigs graze pasture or eat from the same area where they pass their faeces, there is a high chance that they will be infested with worms.

While the most important way to control parasites is regularly removing faeces, you may also need to consider a wormer for your pigs.

Diseases

Always practise good hygiene after handling pigs to help prevent the spread of diseases between pigs and from pigs to people.

This includes:

  • washing hands thoroughly with soap and water
  • changing clothes if they are soiled.
  • removing pig dung or yard mud from shoes or boots using detergent and a scrubbing brush
  • consulting your doctor immediately if you develop symptoms after contact with potentially infected animals.

Report signs of diseases in pigs

To report unusual signs of disease in pigs, call the 24-hour emergency animal disease hotline on 1800 675 888.

Consult your veterinarian if you notice signs of diseases in other animals that may have been in contact with sick pigs.

Find out more about notifiable diseases and how to report them.

Shared or zoonotic diseases in Australia

Pigs can transmit potentially debilitating diseases to humans and other animals.

Get information about animal diseases that can affect people.

The following shared diseases affecting pigs and people have been detected in Australia.

Brucellosis

A bacterial disease causing severe long term illness, fever and influenza type symptoms.

Brucellosis may be contracted by butchering and handling raw infected pig meat (especially reproductive organs), contaminated equipment and clothing, urine and contact with infected dogs.

Symptoms in dogs can include:

  • fever
  • lameness
  • back pain
  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • enlarged testicles.

Q Fever

A serious bacterial disease that causes severe influenza like symptoms which can be fatal. Infection is via contaminated animal tissue (especially intestinal tissue, faeces, urine and foetal fluids).

Q fever is mainly spread by inhalation including during high pressure hosing, slaughtering animals and dressing carcasses.

Leptospirosis

A bacterial disease that can cause fever, kidney disease, jaundice and meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) which can be fatal.

Leptospirosis is found in animal tissue, urine and commonly in swamp water. It enters the body through cuts or abrasions and contact with the lining of the nose, mouth and eyes.

Melioidosis

A bacterial disease that commonly affects livestock and can be passed onto humans through contact with infected animals or soil.

Swine influenza

Swine influenza is a highly contagious, rapid onset, respiratory disease of pigs.

Pigs are known to have the potential to mix different strains of influenza viruses together to produce new strains that may be able to infect humans.

Signs of pigs infected with Swine Influenza include:

  • high fever
  • discharge from eyes and nose
  • sneezing
  • breathing difficulties
  • barking cough.

Last updated: 12 January 2022

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