5 January 2001

Not just a fad, but a real alternative to pigs

Many pig producers may consider wild boar production a

quirky hobby, but a huge untapped market, high profits and

ease of management may persuade them otherwise.

Hannah Velten reports

WILD boar might prove a useful alternative enterprise for struggling outdoor pig units.

"This is a serious business opportunity that has not been fully exploited, and one which farmers should consider," says Gael Edwards of Glos-based, Good Meat Company.

"Low labour requirements and cost-effective land use should appeal to producers," she says.

The breeding herd of 40 sows and four boars at Cleeve House Farm, Pendock, is managed single-handedly by Mrs Edwards, along with 250-300 finishers which are produced each year for meat.

"It is a case of management rather than production because you give boars all they need and they get on with it." All mating is natural, sows farrow without interference, piglets need no routine treatment and worming is done twice a year through their feed.

Although boars are kept on 16ha (40 acres) of sandy paddocks in groups of 10, Mrs Edwards believes that any type of land is suitable, such as woodland or waste land. But because they dig up soil, steep hills can lead to mounds of earth building up at fences.

Paddocks are rotated every year in January, so boars have fresh vegetation and ground is rested. Because they are effective cultivators of land they are moved to paddocks that will be re-seeded or planted with cover crops.

Boars are wild animals and do not like being kept inside for long periods as they become stressed, get foot ulcers and will not farrow. But growers can be kept in open barns as long as they do not feel hemmed in.

Feed is the greatest cost on the unit, but Mrs Edwards buys the cheapest pig concentrates she can find. "As long as the lactating sows are getting 20% crude protein, growers 16-20%, dry sows 16-18% and the feed is additive free, there is no problem," she says.

Poor quality root crops and corn left at the end of the season can be mixed into the concentrate ration. In total, the 40 sows eat 0.5t a week of potatoes and growers 3t a week, in addition to pig feed.

The breeding cycle starts in September when boars rut and cover sows. Boars are permanently kept with a sow group and will mate again as soon as sows have farrowed. Sows must be in good body condition to become pregnant which means that gilts, whose weight fluctuates, may experience conception problems.

Gestation is about four months and sows receive 2kg a day of concentrate until they are ready to farrow. Most sows wait until high pressure weather days to farrow, a natural instinct to protect their young. Sows will either farrow in a hut filled with bedding or will move piglets inside after farrowing outside. For this reason Mrs Edwards makes sure doorways to arcs are kept clear.

Litter size varies depending on the females age and body condition, but on average they will produce seven piglets. Lactating sows are fed 4kg a day of concentrate until piglets are weaned and ear-tagged at eight to 10 weeks.

Ear tags are used for herd identification purposes, so bloodlines are kept separate to avoid in-breeding.

After weaning, growers are moved indoors to open barns where they are mixed in one group. They eat ad-lib pellets for four-and-a-half months and then 1kg a day of grower pellets, reaching their slaughter weight of 75-80kg at about 12-18 months.

Even though wild boars seem to look after themselves and need little land, pig farmers have been reluctant to bring them on farm because of the perceived disease risk.

"Recently we exported some boars to Ireland and Canada and they all passed strict health tests. Because we are a closed herd and have effective fencing around paddocks, disease is not a problem." Boars bought from reputable herd owners should cause no concerns, she says. Breeders can be traced through the farming Press and the British Wild Boar Association.

Due to their ability to breed in the wild, boars fall within the Dangerous Wild Animals Act and an annual licence must be obtained from the local authority. Effective fencing is crucial in order to obtain one. Environmental Health will inspect and pass fencing that is made of good quality, high-tensile stock fence at a height of 1.3-1.5m (4-5ft). Usually a two-strand electric fence is put within the fencing as an extra precaution. "A licence will cost £50-£100 depending on the local authority," she says.

Even experienced breeders such as Mrs Edwards are still learning about boar management, she says. "If we were to pamper them, wild boars would reach higher rates of consistency in terms of litter size and growth rates," she says.

Wild boar production is a serious alternative for struggling pig farmers, says Gael Edwards.

WILD BOAR

&#8226 Alternative to pigs.

&#8226 Low labour requirements.

&#8226 Cost-effective land use.