Thursday, 9 November 2017

Pigs: not just a pretty face

I spent some time with our latest litter of young pedigree Saddleback weaners today who are still confined to the farrowing house but are shortly going to be moved into a paddock. They displayed lots of curiosity, nibbling anything within reach: broom, dustpan, a bucket, my boots, all in quick succession as they became available and subsequently moved out of reach. I had to keep my feet moving.

Pigs have a reputation for being intelligent animals. It is no coincidence that George Orwell identified the pigs as the leaders of the livestock revolt at Manor Farm. The fact that they claimed that two plus two equals five was a sophisticated ruse, not a miscalculation. From my own observations I think I would have to agree and this is also borne out in research that has been undertaken on pig behaviour. 

Pigs are cognitively complex animals, on a par with dogs and some primates. I have witnessed problem solving behaviour in my own pigs. For example, once when an icy breeze was blowing the pigs built up a straw barrier outside of the open entrance to their ark to keep the wind out. Anyone who has kept pigs will have noticed distinct and individual personality traits. Pigs are also social animals (one reason why you should never rear one pig on its own). I find that sibling pigs will spend most of their time together, staying close to each other. 

Pigs  are also very playful. I've seen weaners running up and down the paddock after each other as if they are playing chase. Pigs appear to be able to learn from each other. Certainly piglets learn from their mothers, for example, that the right thing to do is poo outside of the ark, not in. Pigs have been found to be able to prioritise memories which can lead them to anticipate positive experiences and to use avoidance behaviour associated with past negative experiences. One of our pigs will run to the drinking trough 3 or 4 times when feeding. Sometimes, when the trough is empty, I've seen her turn back to rejoin the others but if she sees me at that point getting hold of the hose she will change her mind again knowing that the trough is about to be re-filled with water.

These are all salutary considerations if you keep pigs and are concerned to do your best for their welfare in their time with you.

Aside from their psychological capacities, there is one behaviour pigs display that is also very characteristic. Pigs have voracious appetites and when food is put before them they have an absolute and single minded focus on devouring it to depletion; nothing else matters. They lose all interest in current affairs, deliberating on the meaning of life or reciting the times tables. Their table manners leave something to be desired too. They especially like the otherwise unappetising looking sow pencils. When I've fed the pigs apples or vegetables at the same time as their commercial feed they will always comprehensively scoff the latter before they turn to the vegetables. 

Their focused concentration at feeding times does have its advantages. This is the time to slap mark them or insert a tag or give an injection. Virtually nothing will distract them.

One of our Saddleback pigs devouring its feed


  1. Mmmmmmmm Pork with crackling - do miss our own pork and as for lamb - haven't had anything anywhere good enough to match what we used to raise.

  2. We have two pigs going off week to replenish our pork supplies plus sell a bit. I have to agree with the quality of home grown lamb. We hang on to ours for a bit longer to get a stronger flavour.

  3. Pigs are very intelligent. I have read they are closely linked to chimps and humans. We recently had two Tamworth crosses slaughtered. We are not keen on the meat and prefer the large whites.