Pig Talk Episode 3, Pig Perception

Today, I want to lay the groundwork for bringing your first pigs to their new home. We’re going to talk about moving pigs. I also have some recommendations about when NOT to move a pig. We’re also going to talk about the way pigs perceive everything around them. Trust me, their perception is tied to how you successfully move them (or not).

Let’s talk about moving pigs.  There are three main types of pig moves.

The first is the piglet move.  This is easy.  You can bring a piglet home in a pet carrier in your Honda.  We’ve done it at least four times.  This method leads to some great anecdotes and your vehicle will never be the same.  I highly recommend driving a piglet six hours in a car with a pig.

You might be wondering how you get a piglet into a pet carrier. To maneuver the piglet, you must catch it. Ah, this can be very entertaining. It’s best not to wear clothes that you care about. Piglets are fast and squirmy and chances are you’re going to go to your knees a few times until you are proficient at catching them. Piglets are picked up by their hind legs, and the hind legs are a good place to try grabbing them. Hopefully your piglets are in a small area. If they aren’t, you’re going to have to try things like luring them close with treats. It’s to be noted that piglets don’t like being picked up, even if you cuddle them. Expect screaming and flailing. Feed them gently, head and front feet first into your pet carrier.

Piglets aren’t very good at keeping their body heat regulated. That’s one reason for the straw you’re going to include in the carrier. Moving them is stressful and an opportunity to catch pneumonia if it’s cool. Pigs, even big ones, have trouble keeping cool when the weather is warm. An 80 degree day can have them panting and seeking shade. A road trip in the heat can be a recipe for disaster. Part of the reason piglets get transported in our Honda is that we can run the heat or the air conditioner as needed.

Here’s a side note. Your footwear can carry disease. Think about wearing shoes/boots that are just for your pig area. Be religious about not wearing them anywhere else. There are some really bad bugs out there, like the Porcine Epidemic Diarhea virus.

At a certain age, a piglet gets too big to fit in the carrier that will fit in your car. Also, you have to haul more than one piglet.  This leads us to the second type of pig move. This is for moving several small piglets or a piglet that you can just barely pick up.  At this point, we use a wire dog crate that goes in the back of a pickup.  We put straw in the crate and make sure that the piglets aren’t exposed to wind.  Hopefully there’s a topper on the back of the pickup.  Otherwise, a tarp can be used as long as the weather isn’t too cold.   This is important because the straw can blow into their eyes and do some damage.  I don’t recommend letting piglets run around loose in the bed of a pickup, even if it has a topper. There’s a lot of room in the bed of a pickup and that means the pigs can slide around and get hurt.

The third method is a trailer. We use this once a pig is 3 months old or older.  I recommend a trailer that has windows or lots of slats to let in light.  More about this later.  An eight foot by six foot area is enough for a year old pig or bigger.  Choose your trailer accordingly. Our trailer can be pulled as a gooseneck or bumper pulled.  Its walls are slats and bars, letting in plenty of light.  The problem with our trailer is that it’s too small for more than one really big pig.  More would fit in, but it would be very hard to load them.

Remember that pigs are not good climbers when they are calm.  Your trailer needs to be easy for them to step into and out of.  Trailers that tilt are great.  Tilting the trailer lowers the back end and makes it easier for the pigs to enter. The problem with trailers that tilt is that they are usually small.

I do not recommend using trailers that have windows or large openings to move pigs. You’ve all probably seen the small two-horse trailers that have the back doors that come up about 4 feet high. A neighbor of mine bought a sow and took her home in a trailer like that. On the way to his place, she jumped over the top of the gate while they were on the highway, doing 60 miles per hour. This sow probably weighed about 400 lbs and she was able to get out of the back of that trailer. It’s good to know what pigs are capable of.

That brings me to the next point. Do your best not to transport bred pigs. A move is very stressful, especially if they’re within a month of farrowing. A bred pig does not want to leave her home. The sow that I mentioned earlier—the one that jumped out of the trailer? She was pregnant. She did survive, but the litter was lost. Moving bred pigs to a new location can cause problems even when they arrive safely. Often, they’ll break fences looking for places to nest, rather than settling where they should be.

It’s probably good to take a look at how pigs are different than us.  It’s true that biologically, we have many similarities to them.  On the other hand, we perceive and react very differently than pigs.

Our eyes are on the front of our faces.  This means we have stereoscopic vision.  VIsion is our main way of perceiving our environment.  You may not have thought about this, but most animals that have eyes that face to the front are predators.  Our eyes give us depth perception, which is important for catching prey with our hands, chucking spears, etc.  Our hearing helps us know where danger is so that we can turn and see it.

To pigs, what they see is less important than what they hear or smell.  Their eyes are on the sides of their heads.  Pig eyesight can see 330 degrees around, but at best, 50 degrees is seen with both eyes.  Pigs prioritize what they see to the side over what they see directly in front.

Pigs can see some color–most likely blues and greens. As far as I know, scientists haven’t figured what color does for pigs.

Why is understanding pig’s sight important? If you understand this, you can build better enclosures, load pigs into trailers more easily etc.  Pigs count on their side views to let them know if there is danger.  Since they can only see one side with one eye, they don’t have good depth perception.  This means that they’ll have a hard time going through narrow doors.  First, they’re not sure that they can fit.  Second, they have trouble seeing what’s past the door to know that it’s safe to go through.  For this reason, I recommend that doors and gates be at least 4 feet wide.

I firmly believe that a smart pig will trust his or nose if there’s nothing scary to hear or see. That’s my key to loading pigs in trailers. Use trailers that allow the pig to see inside. Throw something that smells good inside, preferably something that they know. I use baby carrots. And most of all, avoid loud sounds. Be patient and the pig will eventually figure things out.

Knowing how pigs see, you can move them easily even if they’re skittish, by coming up on them from the left rear or right rear into their vision.  This seems like a threat to them and they’ll move.  Don’t expect to be able to push pigs into what they may consider a dangerous place though.  New places may require short stops where they can sniff and look around.  Patience is the key.

It’s very important to understand your animal as you build fencing, gates, loading areas and feed areas.  Temple Grandin wrote a great book about this.  It’s called, “Humane Livestock Handling: Understanding livestock behavior and building facilities for healthier animals”.

Just a side note, Temple Grandin is a pretty amazing person. She’s autistic and that gives her a different perspective about her environment and the way animals perceive the things around them. A biographical movie was made about her. She’s famous for designing enclosures and systems for managing animals.

Let me give an example about pig behavior. I found that the pigs are beating up my fencing in one or two specific spots.  Imagine that you have two paddocks next to each other.  I’d better stop right here and give some word definitions.

A pasture is an area that is set aside for animals. It’s usually fenced. You probably know other forms of the word, “pasture”. The word, “pastor”, the person who works at a church, comes from the same place. A pastor is a shepherd, in this case, figuratively of their flock of churchgoers. Pasturized milk is a process for killing germs in milk and it was developed by Louis Pasteur, who probably got his last name from some ancestor that worked in a pasture. So a pasture is a field where animals live.

A paddock is a piece of a pasture. Not all pastures have paddocks. When you divide up a pasture into several sections by putting up fence, you’re making paddocks.

Ok, imagine that you have two paddocks next to each other. They’re both in a square shape, and being next to each other, they look like a sideways domino.  Imagine that your feed bin is in the bottom right corner of the paddock on the right side.  Your feed method is to throw feed to the pigs in the right paddock, get more feed from the bin, walk over to where the left paddock meets the right and throw feed to the pigs in the left paddock.

I would not be surprised if in a month or two, all the pigs are found in the right paddock.  The left-most pigs will want to get to the food.  They have no patience and they will work by hook or by crook to get into the right paddock. Extra diligence needs to be paid to the places where pigs wait for food.

Once pigs find a way through a fence, they will try and try again to get through, even after careful repairs. Once this happens, and it will happen, I recommend that you use other, visible barriers on the outside of the fence. I’ve used pine saplings for this purpose, laying them on top of each other outside the fence so that the pigs can’t see past them. You could use almost anything—pallets and tires have worked for me as well.

I promise that I’m going to talk about fencing in a future episode. There’s more to a fence than its materials and I want to make sure I talk about everything you’re going to need to have, to do and to know to put in a good enclosure.



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