I have found every word of this to be true with each and every pig I have taken in over the years. Some very good information when trying to decide if a pig is for you...and also for problem solving any issues you may be having with your pig. Definitely worth the read!!!
General Behavior of pigs in captivity
Pigs live 15 to 20 years. Some small percentage may live even longer. we don't have enough history yet to know how many might do so. The oldest possible pigs in 2010 could be about 24, the second generation of the original (all deceased) imports in 1986.. They do not stay little and cute, despite what you may have seen or heard on TV or in ads. Normal,healthy pot bellied pigs average 120 to 160 pounds at maturity. And unlike animals like dogs, which do make good pets, pigs mature mentally and develop intelligence far greater than other animals. What playfulness was so enjoyable when he was a 3 month old piglet will be gone and forgotten when he is 4 years old and entering the mature pig years. He will no longer be willing to be entertained in such silly ways. He will become an adult pig with adult PIG needs.. not human needs or dog needs.. he will need the society of pigs, an environment that is challenging and interesting, relationships that have social and emotional content suitable for his species. A single pig is one of the saddest things on the planet. He knows, somehow, that he will never in his lifetime get to speak to someone who understands his language, or share his needs and his fears. Many, when they reach this point of awareness and the desperation that comes with it, simply give up and die. If you expect that your companionship is enough to sustain him, you are simply not thinking about what he needs. Think long and hard about life, and imagine that you are raised by groundhogs and will never in your life see or speak or touch another human, living in an environment that is unhealthy to your genetic type and mentally incompatible to your needs... it's not a life we would choose. And he does not choose it. Those who point to the social nature of wild pigs to indicate how willing pigs are to live with humans forget the simple basis of the interaction, the pigs are free to come and go.
When he weighs 150#, rejects the very concept of being led or picked up and is aggressive to everyone in the family because you are keeping him in jail, you have a major problem on your hands. Starting right and planning for his maturing needs will reduce these problems. Outdoor pigs with plenty of territory seldom exhibit aggressive behavior towards people.
Pigs are outdoor animals. While inside time is fine in moderation, it is not his natural setting and will not make for a happy pig in the long term. It is like keeping your teenager locked in the house.. not a good plan for either of you. Start out with a well-planned outdoor area and invite him in for visits. He will be happier and healthier and both you and the pig will have a more normal life style. Pigs have to graze to keep their immune function working properly. It is for that reason (and others) that house pigs often only live half as long as outdoor pigs. Grazing, exercise and an outdoor life with sun and breezes and rain is essential for a healthy pig.
Careful attention to his environment is the key to your long term relationship. Environment as much as genetics drive his behavior and while there is nothing you can do about the genetics, you have control of his environment and are solely responsible for providing a suitable one. Observe and learn from your own pig what he really enjoys for entertainment. Some like a soccer ball to push around, others absolutely have to have company. The biggest mistake you can make with a pig is assuming he will be content with being a "pet". Pigs are as intelligent as primates and have emotional and social needs that very closely parallel the same in man. In many cases their reasoning results in conclusions that are far more "mature" than one would expect based on similar situations in human society. A pig needs intellectual stimulation to mature into the adult of his species that he is designed to be. He needs emotional fulfillment through lifetime bonds with others of his own kind, especially his family. He needs the opportunity to develop his own society and rules of behavior that are satisfying to his innate psyche.
Look around you at how pet pigs are kept. Is it any wonder they become aggressive, depressed or simply lie in a bed and vegetate? Pigs succumb to depression very quickly when their youthful years are over and adulthood holds nothing to stimulate them. Humans don't speak their language so unless they are in a situation with another pig they are essentially forced to live without communication forever. The company of cats has saved more than one pig from depression, and rabbits and goats and other species, although a far cry from the best choice, certainly help.
If you are going to keep a pig as a companion, look to his needs, look to what nature had planned for his life and see what you can do to provide for those needs. You cannot return him to the life he was designed to live, he must live his life enslaved in a world of restrictions, under the control of another species.. but you can do a great deal to make that life richer. Providing plenty of territory, the companionship of another pig or pigs and privacy in his life, will keep him fit in both physical and emotional terms. While not many homes can provide the size territory he needs, (acres) and cannot give him the full range of social life through a herd of pigs that includes his siblings and mate and children, most people can make some major improvements in their pigs life by fencing all the available space, adding "pushable" items like logs, a sandbox for soaking up the sun, a "hide out" of dense shrubbery, a small mud hole for wallowing to keep skin protected from sun, providing a warm dry house outside and allowing the pig to have that private area without interference. If you have dogs who bark and run around and want to play, put them in a fenced dog pen and keep them away from the pig. As he matures into an adult at 4 to 5 years of age he will have less and less patience with the "silliness" of our canine friends. Cats will appeal to him as they are quiet and make good sleeping companions.
If you are already living with an aggressive pig, fix the environment and solve the problem He may need a another pig as a companion to exercise the territorial instincts he is developing as he grows up. We will be glad to try to help in any way we can with solving your pig problems. For the pig the options are few, and you control them all. Either fix his environment or he will end up like so many others being put down or abandoned. For a problem that wasn't of his making, those are terrible penalties to pay. And its a shameful failure on our parts as guardians, to make a pigs life so intolerable that he dies from depression, obesity or being destroyed by the very person who made him that way.
Behavior Modification is for the pig owner.. not the pig. He is doing what is natural and proper for him. All your "modification" is likely to do is make his life miserable and that's not what you planned when you got that sweet baby piglet. Read more on the natural behaviors that he will exhibit as he grows up to understand them.
The foundation of the Vietnamese pot belly breed (shown below left) is a mid size, long bodied black pig and quite social in its wild state. Hanging around villages they were welcome 'cleanup crews" and were not typically used for food.
The US potbellies today, with or without "papers", are a mix of Vietnamese potbelly, a white domestic pig (perhaps middle white) mixed with potbelly to produce the white potbellies and the flashy black and white and silver color patterns and a "smushed face" and a wide variety of other genetic influences, including Guinea hogs, South American and island species, African miniatures, ferals and domestics. The Chart of Pig Breeds on the Pig Site, an excellent resource, will give you a brief history and details on the importation of the first potbellies in 1986 to the U.S. as well as some fundamental history on all domestic breeds
Ref: photo of native Vietnamese pigs.
- Wild vs Domestic pigs
Porky, Piglet, Wilbur, Freddy and Napoleon are one unlocked gate away from becoming all that they can be.For reasons unclear to me, many people want to classify the potbelly is a domestic breed. Biological definition and behavior indicate this is incorrect. They perhaps confuse domestication with socialization. A domestic breed is "created", a "socialized" breed is simply taken into captivity and bred. To create a whole new "type" or sub species, typically requires hundreds of years and thousands of generations.
Domestic or wild, if set free these pigs will soon return to their wild state, a state of exceptional survival skills. The difference with the potbellied and other wild pigs in captivity is that they never really stopped longing for their freedom. And handling them. treating them when sick will be a much greater difficulty than handling the mild mannered domestic pig.
To be a prey animal has some unique characteristics. As predators, we humans seldom consider how different the perspective is . A prey animal will never sleep without a sense of what is going on around him; he will use whatever skills to disguise and protect his habitat, leave no trails, and attempt to send the tiger or crocodile onto a trail which leads to the neighboring village, not his own. Many of the "bad habits" of pigs in human homes are direct applications of these survival skills.
Being aggressive about his "home", his bed (Protecting self and family)
Aggression toward strangers (Protecting self and family)
Tearing up blankets, carpet, walls and even floors (Nesting material; frustration with inactivity and lack of freedom)
Peeing in his pool ((if this were a stream of water in the wild it would carry his scent away)
Making a weaving trail through the fields and following it every day (species specific pheromones lead him home)
Screaming if you pick him up, restrain him or try to give medicine or injections. (Response to restraint which to a prey means they are caught and will be killed)
· Wild animals respond to illness much differently than domestic animals
A wild animal such as a potbellied pig will respond with strong species preservation and self preservation behavior to the same stimuli that a farm pig will look at with mild curiosity. Why? Because farm pigs have been domesticated for thousands of years. The strong survival instincts and much of the innate intelligence has been selectively bred out of the species in favor of lean meat on their hips and shoulders. A 1200 pound boar with strong survival skills would not be bred. He would be far too aggressive and territorial. He would be slaughtered and a more amiable animal selected for breeding. Over 6000 years of selection has produced a more docile pig.
- A sick pig will go off by himself away from the herd. This is species preservation. Sickness has odor.. Odor that predators recognize and seek out.. Staying in the herd endangers the herd > the species.
- He will be very quiet, no matter how much pain he has, this is self preservation.. Noise brings predators.
- A wounded or crippled pig will not put himself into any danger by getting too close to a bluff, deep water or a gully. Pigs have a very well developed sense of personal danger, recognizing their limitations and risk.
- A sick pig will often stay motionless under a pile of hay or leaves.
- A sick pig, even of the friendliest kind, will often scream at your attempts to touch him. At the instinctive level you are still a predator.
- The six Senses of the pig at work
- Sight Poor in all pigs. Especially poor in potbellies who have folds and smushed faces. Most fat pigs accumulate enough fat over the eyes to make them "fat blind". Pot bellies are also very frequently plagued by entropian eyes (lids which fold in, causing painful contact and infections from eyelashes.
- Hearing Keen. You won't sneak up on one very often.. and never in a free roaming herd state.
- Touch They succumb to the scratch and the belly rub very quickly, being touched is a great pleasure to them once they overcome inital fear of being confined/restrained. . Cats will "knead" them and they just fall over to better enjoy the pleasure.
- Smell Keen.. hide a cookie and they will find it.. With farm pigs this can be a high risk .. never enter a farm pigs field with a pocketful of cookies or gum or anything that smells good.. they get excited and try to rip away the fabric to get at the goodies.
- Taste Unlike many animals who seem to treat all foods as one topic, pigs will "shop" the plate and each has his special favorite foods. Usually they will go first for the breads, second for fish and cheeses, eggs, etc, and last to vegetables. (sound familiar? Its typical of humans as well.). They enjoy food more than anyone and are often obese because of it. However, they will rarely overeat to the point of creating an acute health hazard. Unlike animals who eat until they founder and die, pigs eat until they sigh with contentment.
- Pheromone Probably Keen No, they do not read our minds. They do however, actually possess this “sixth sense”, a separate sense organ, known as the vomeronasal organ which is an “auxiliary” olfactory sense (smell), which receives pheromones. Humans as well as all animals give off, receive and respond to pheromones. Some species may be much better at it than others. As a wild animal it is imperative if Mr. Pig wants to see another morning that he be able to read the signals of the tiger in the bush ahead. If the tiger is hunting, and the pheromones he is giving off read ”man, I could sure eat a nice fat pig for supper,” it is as clear to the pig as if we see a sign ahead that says “Bridge Out.” If the message he receives is “burp, boy that was great antelope” then he can relax and move on. There are many identified and well studied pheromones. One that has always intrigued me is the trail pheromone, which lays down a non volatile hydrocarbon trail. Ants use this to get to and from their hills. And I expect its what pigs use too. I have watched in wonder over the years as a pig, even a blind pig ambles off into a new pasture or into the woods without apparent concern, and then comes back later on the EXACT trail. Nose to the ground he walks, leaf by leaf over the same trail. A sudden, unprecedented snow left me with 6 pigs on the hilltop pasture one year who could not find their way down.. watching them search for the trail was frustrating. Eventually I had to walk to the top and walk down, leaving a trail they could follow with the snow disturbed. Whether they followed my trail's scent or simply walked in the path I can't say. As pheromones become better known it will be up to us, who are not blessed with great pheromone recognition ability, to understand how this added sense impacts animals who rely upon them. Domestic animals, like humans, have lost the ability to recognize the pheromones but still transmit and act upon them at a less acute level. There is nothing magical about pheromones, they are simply signals sent by our physical bodies that have physiological impacts on others (Usually defined as within a species). They do answer many questions about why things happen as they do in our sensory world. With our pigs the senses are much more direct and keenly honed because they have not been selectively bred until survival traits are diluted beyond usefulness. And, in addition to the pheromones, they read the body language signals very well. The way I walk tells them a lot about what’s going on in my mind and what it could mean to them. When I walk out to give a pig a shot of Baytril, knowing it stings and the pig will hate it, I am broadcasting that trepidation clearly on several bandwidths. The pig knows before I ever get close there is something he doesn’t want on its way. How often in planning a trip to the vet has the pig suddenly become “shy” and won’t come in the loading zone. Every day for a week he came in.. What's different today? Today I am sending out the message of, “I hope it’s not kidney failure...Please don’t die, Sparky...Oh, I hate to take you and leave you over there.” Sparky reads all these fears in me and says, “I am OUT of here.” We also read a lot that is coming from them. I can often “sense” a serious illness when I walk out the front door. I have sometimes had to hunt for hours looking to find the source of the “wrongness” feeling but eventually I will find a pig in trouble. It is no doubt a combination of experience and senses working at a level that "feels" the total impact but can't define it. I can usually tell if a pig is about to die from a long period of illness. I am not psychic...there is often a message of impending death sent out quite clearly in the last day or so. Recognizing these signals is just a matter of learning.
While pheromones have been studied for years, there have been none done with potbellies. A wealth of knowledge is there waiting to be identified and classified.
When animals are young many relationships exist between predators and prey. As the animals mature, the rule of nature takes precedence and prey animals become viewed by predators as targets for food use or for just killing to destroy them. Keep your pigs safely fenced from all dogs. They are the number two killer of pigs (number one being humans). No matter if they all got along fine as puppies and piglets.. and they may have... the day will come when they don't and that pig will be horribly killed or ripped apart. Building fences is for keeping risks OUT. If spayed/neutered pigs won't leave home (except to find food).
Other predators: Coyotes are not much of a danger to adult pigs . I have never lived anywhere that wasn't knee deep in the little guys. They are hard on rabbits and chickens and other small critters but adult pigs pose a bit more of an aggressive resistance. Coyotes are shy and easily driven off by a LS Guardian dog like a Great Pyrenees. Keeping a Pyr is as close to 100% effective against coyotes as you will find. Years ago I used to have problems with them and skunks getting my little Silkie chickens and rabbits so I got a Pyr pup and that was the last loss I ever had ( 1985) . I have never been without a Pyr since. I sleep soundly here, surrounded by wildlife, knowing my 350 pigs and my cats are all safe from harm because the two Pyrs are wandering around doing their job. For info on Great Pyrenees.
A much bigger concern is stray dogs and the neighbors dogs. Dogs all have a natural instinct to kill pigs.. its the predator prey relationship and it doesn't matter what kind of dog or how it was raised or how friendly it seems to be with the pig, given the right opportunity one day it will kill it. Simple as that.. .. dogs are by nature intended to kill prey animals.. and they will. So a fencing project should be undertaken with dogs more than coyotes in mind. It only takes one wandering dog to brutally kill 2 pigs in a few minutes. They rip them apart, eating their ears and rectums and vulvas .. and sometimes chewing off the feet while the pig screams.. Its a horrible thing to even contemplate but knowing the enemy is half the battle. And dogs are the pigs enemy. He's who you are building the fence to protect from, not the coyote. Coyotes seldom weigh more than 30 pounds.. and are used to living off small prey.. a pig may smell like a big meal but he will also appear like a big task to bring down and they will move on. I won't say its impossible for a coyote pack to kill an adult pig but in the 25 years I have been working with pigs I have never heard of it happening.
If you don't want to add a Pyr pup then leaving your large dog out at night will help discourage the coyotes. Its a matter of pheromones and some breeds have been bred to have a better ability to ward off strangers.
From my experiences with various fencing types, cattle panels, properly installed so that there are NO gaps at the bottom that don't have flat panels extending out and staked are far and away the best choice for safety from dogs and absolutely prevent pigs getting out. Coyotes may be small enough to wiggle in but aren't likely to do so.
- Interaction with domestic farm animals and companion animals.
- Good relationships can be established with cattle in large fields and the sharing barns is safe with a little modification for the pigs to have a corner that they can get in where the cows don't step on them. Cows are careful and considerate of small animals who are not in the predator family. My cows used to surround the pigs whenever a coyote showed up.
- Friendly relationships, though not really healthy ones can also be established with fowl, goats and rabbits. Pigs are by nature very clean animals and do not pick their food out of fecal matter or eat urine soaked morsels. They will if that's all that there is, and so would we, but its not healthy and not appealing. Goats, fowl and rabbits deposit their waste wherever the urge occurs. It is often in the food and water dishes. If they are to live in a shared area, provide a lockup area for feeding and some various types of water reservoirs to keep the pigs food and water safe. Goats can often present a risk to pigs by butting them in the abdomen. If you have goats who exhibit this natural goat play behavior, they should not be in with pigs. Pigs are pretty well padded all over, except the soft underbelly and it is easy to have serious life threatening injuries there.
- Bad companions and often deadly are horses, who have a major innate fear of pigs, and their close kin llama, donkeys, and other equine. Consider it probably a no to the multitude of other species I haven't named, some obvious like big cats and dogs of all kinds and some not so obvious such as sheep, whose butting instincts are too strong.
Once you have created spaces for his life and yours to coincide comfortably, then establishing some rules may be necessary. If they snap at you they are exhibiting a territory ownership and a few strong words and a slap will usually convince them that you are bigger and have a claim on that territory. It is enough to make them settle into "second" place. But don't claim their sleeping area, that is the pig's very private space. Serious aggression problems virtually never occur with outdoor pigs in suitable environments. 99% of aggression is attributed to confinement. The house pig has no other territory but the house, he has to claim it. And as he grows his territory also grows. And as he grows he becomes an adult pig and doesn't want you in it.
If you think "its all in how you raise them" you are living in a fantasy world. Instinct will prevail. You must remember that these are "wild animals", not domestic, unlike dogs who have been living in man's world for centuries. Many of the pigs in homes today have great grandparents who were wild in the jungles of Vietnam or Thailand. They are wonderful social animals, but they are still dependent on their keen "wild" instincts for survival. You won't change their instincts and trying may make for a very unhappy relationship. The idea of behavior modification is born of an irrational arrogance that says all things must serve the human captor that controls it. This doesn't work with pigs. Like some peoples in history who could not be enslaved, some pigs would prefer death to subjugation. It is a fine line between the instinct to preserve life for the species benefit and the plain and simple despair of the individual. If behavior needs modifying to make a good relationship between pig and human, it will be the human behavior that usually needs change.
There seems to be a good bit of confusion about "bonding"; both bonding with humans and bonding with other pigs.The sex does not matter much in any bonding relationship. Once you eliminate the sexual relationships of a pig's society, the relationships that form thereafter are those of mutual friendship and benefit. And his bonds with human are less stressful as well. Whether you bond with a single pig or two at a time the bonding process is the same and the bonds have no greater or weaker threads. Bonding with two makes for a more well rounded group for the pig. Since you have other relationships with humans or perhaps other animals, it is certainly unfair to expect the pig to "make do" with only you as his companion. You cannot satisfy the need he has for his own kind, no matter how much you care for him.
A good human to pig bond is beneficial for both of the beings involved.
A pig-to-pig bond is natural and better for the pig than any other bonds. It matters little about sexes in a pair of pigs but in general, the tightest bonds are between siblings, followed by a bond between two males; then that bond between two females and the least bonding occurs between male and female unless they have been a mated pair prior to neutering.
- Effects of social lifestyle
Some observations about social behavior from our years of work with pigs:
- Territory is rarely extensive. Most pigs do not travel more than a range of perhaps 7 or 8 acres. Young pigs in small groups are much more likely to explore new territory.
- Pigs sleep in the same beds for years. They sleep with the same companions for years. What motivates them, after 10 or 15 years of being a group to change their patterns is sometimes health related. One becomes arthritic and realizing his infirmity, the arthritic pig moves to a less populated area.
- With a large territory available and no restraints as to when and how they spend their time, pigs settle into routines of early morning grazing, mid day naps in favorite spots, afternoon grazing and woods foraging and bed. They are very much creatures of habit.
- Pigs in groups fight. Not serious fights as a rule but challenges over a bit of food or a bed arise frequently. Why they fight is perhaps like asking why you get into arguments with your mate or teenage children.. because.. different ideas surface and disagreements happen. It is not because they dislike a=one another and the minute the argument is over they go back to normal Intelligence and choices breed independence. Its not always peaceful. Small groups argue less, groups of disabled pigs do not fight and interestingly, very large groups without territory are calm, but it is the calm of acceptance of life without freedom. In the wild extended family groups of a dozen or so are all you would expect to see living together.
- Families raised together usually stay a "unit" for life.
- Pigs grieve the loss of their mates and family members. I have seen pigs lie beside the grave of their mate and refuse food, grieving for days. And pigs touching their dead sister all over and then 'talking' among themselves as they go off into the woods and stay a day or two. Grief is not unique to humans. They grieve for the loss of their home and family when they are given away, and for a human family member that dies. For a lesson in this kind of broken heart see White Wilbur's story.
- Pig parents teach their children how to behave. They nudge them into place and correct them with little bumps and nips. Both parents share in the rearing from birth onward. Read about this child rearing from M'Goo and Penelope's Story
- Effects of aging
The dynamics of aging can be studied better in pigs than in any other living being. With domestic/ companion animals the brain size has decreased during the eras of human dependency and the dietary and environmental needs skewed by the generations of non natural behavior. With wild animals the captivity wreaks such damage on the overall health that you often can’t tell what aging is “natural” and what is directly resulting from the poor health the captivity itself engenders.
Humans have a life span too long for objective study. The inability to “see” it all, repeatedly, from birth to death, leaves us too close to the forest to see the trees.
But pigs are social by nature, adapting to being captive with a great degree of pragmatism, are long lived but not so long you can’t “see” the processes as they occur and they exhibit much the same types of aging “issues” as humans, making an understanding much easier. They get blind, they get senile, deaf, indifferent, slow, arthritic, lose competitive interest, seek more warmth and get picky about their food. They grumble and complain and want more comfort. Sound like Grandpa? Well, it’s about the same with pigs reaching their late teens and early twenties.
To see our old friends age and become fragile is a sad reality. Once they become seniors, at 14 or so, they begin requiring more specialized care. They tolerate less cold, less heat, less humidity, less poor feed, less anesthesia... The Elder pig and his needs will be addressed in several sections of pig care as it is at the end of life that his needs are greatest and most likely to be difficult to attend.