Pork production starts with the breeding of a sow (female pig) with a boar (male pig). Three months, three weeks and three days later, the sow gives birth to a litter of between 6 and 12 piglets, on average, although with today’s genetics litters can be as large as 21 piglets.
Piglets are born very small, and without any fur to keep them warm. Therefore the farmer must ensure that the piglets find a warm, dry place to sleep. Piglets are kept with their mother for the first four weeks, so that they can drink their mother’s milk as they would in nature. In some countries, competition has led pig farmers to seperate piglets from their mother earlier; at 3 or even 2 weeks of age, but most Maltese farmers disagree with this practice, and leave the piglets with their ‘dam’ until they are ready to eat solid food on their own.
Once piglets reach 4 weeks of age, they can be moved to a ‘Weaning Pool’. This is a temperature-controlled room where many litters are housed together. They are kept here until they reach a body weight of about 45 kg, at which time they are moved to ‘Grower’ housing.
By this point the piglets are growing into strong young pigs, and they no longer require such warm temperatures. In fact, after this stage, pigs must be kept cool so that they do not feel hot. In Malta, this can be a difficult and expensive task.
When they reach a body weight of about 65 kg, pigs have almost finished their skeletal development and start to develop alot of muscle. From this stage onwards they are called ‘Fatteners’, and are normally moved to a different housing structure, where they have more space to move around and an even cooler environment.
Pigs grow very fast, and can reach slaughter weight of about 110kg by 5 to 6 months of age. At this stage the farmer sells his/her pigs to the Pig Breeders Cooperative Society Ltd., which finds a buyer for the pork, which is either sold as fresh pork cuts or processed into products such as ham, bacon and sausages.