Domestic pigs have changed a great deal over the last century or so. The
dwindling use of lard in cooking has led pork producers to breed a leaner animal
to satisfy consumer demand. The round, fat pigs of the past, called “chuffy” pigs
or “cob rollers,” are no longer as prevalent. Wild pigs, which are termed “leggy”
or “rangy,” do not quite meet the needs of the modern pig breeder either because
they lack the meat quality consumers want. Instead, the contemporary swine
falls somewhere in between the two, favoring a larger loin eye area.
A pig’s anatomy is remarkably similar to that of a human being. Pigs have a
respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive system so much like ours that it is
common for them to be used as test animals in laboratories. This is important
because it helps pig owners understand these animals and how to care for them.
Essentially, pigs need the same things humans do. If your diet, climate, and
shelter seem comfortable to you, it is safe to assume that it is suitable for your
pig as well.
Like human beings, hogs are omnivores, which is probably a big part of their
success, both as a species and as a complement to humanity. Omnivores are
extremely adaptable, which allows them to survive more readily in new
environments and ecosystems. Like many omnivores, pigs are extremely
intelligent, using their exceptional brainpower to hunt out new food sources and
opportunities. According to the National Pork Producers Council, pigs are the
fourth smartest animal after humans, apes, and dolphins.
Often, they are friendly, sociable creatures, but at the same time, they tend to be
individualistic — each pig has a unique characteristic. Some pigs, especially
boars (adult males), may exhibit aggressive or antisocial tendencies, though most
are gregarious, curious, and playful.
Most males are castrated when they are a few days old because they are destined to be feeder pigs instead of being used
for breeding. If you are considering raising pigs, they should be raised in groups,
or at least with some form of companionship. Most pigs bond readily with other
animals or human beings, and you will want to be sure your pig is not lonely.
Often, a badly behaved pig is a bored or lonely pig, so attend to the animal’s
emotional needs — not only for the pig’s sake, but also because a contented pig
is easier to manage. You should provide a pig with toys, because pigs are often
as playful as puppies. Suggested toys include empty plastic trash cans they can
push around, a bowling ball, or knotted pieces of rope or strips of cloth attached
to the walls of their pen, which they like to pull.
Pigs have poor eyesight, as their small, bleary eyes seem to suggest. For this
reason, they tend to be wary of new places and are easily startled. Although their
wild counterparts can be nocturnal, modern domestic pigs lack the tapetum
lucidum, or inner-eye reflective tissue, that allows improved night vision, so pigs
are not fans of dark places. The placement of their eyes favors lateral vision, but
they lack the fine musculature needed for sharp focusing. This means if you are
trying to move pigs, you will need to consider the effect that darkness and their
limited forward vision has on them. A pig may put up a terrible fight about
moving forward into a dark building, for example, because its forward vision
makes the area ahead seem frightening. However, if you use a carrier or scoot
the pig forward by means of a chute with pig boards placed close behind it and
in front of it, the pig will move forward without any problem.
Pigs tend to interact with each other through their excellent sense of hearing and
ability to vocalize, making pigs great communicators. It has been observed that
pigs can make more than 20 distinct sounds that communicate meaning to other
pigs. For instance, a single grunt, short or long, seems to indicate that a pig is
happy, while a pig that grunts many times in succession is hungry. When a pig
grunts several short times together, it usually means the pig is angry, and when a
pig squeals, it is an indication the pig is in pain or fear. Sows give instructions to
their piglets at feeding time and are known to make soothing noises as their
For all the power of pigs’ ears, their most important tool is their super-sensitive
snout. A pig’s snout is its fingers, eyes, and nose, all in one. The surface of a
pig’s snout is covered in thousands of tiny hairs that aid in capturing scents. Not
only can they smell out all kinds of different foods with that powerful snout, but
it also contains a structure of cartilage that they are able to use as a sort of shovel
to root around, turning over clumps of earth to expose tender plants or grubs.
They achieve a surprising degree of dexterity with their snouts, rivaling even the
elephant’s remarkable “fingers” in the tip of its trunk. Although a well-fed pig
does not need to root to find food, most will do so to amuse themselves and
better understand their environment, so it is best to provide them with fresh
straw or hay.
Sometimes rooting can be an undesirable behavior, and some
farmers put a humane ring through a pig’s nose in order to prevent it. If you are
keeping pet pigs, be aware that most breeds will tear up lawns or flowerbeds.
Rooting is an excellent way to turn the soil, but it can destroy anything planted.
Pigs have rather short legs when compared with the length of their bodies,
though this does not prevent young or fit pigs from achieving surprising speeds
— in some places, pigs are even raced. Their feet are made up of four toes, each
with an individual hoof, though they walk only on their front two, which are
larger and more solid, while the other two dewclaws at the back of the hoof
rarely touch the ground, except when a pig is moving at top speed.
One unfair stereotype about pigs is that they are dirty animals. It is certainly true
that pigs like to wallow, or lie about, in mud and water because they do not have
A cool wallow allows them to regulate their body temperatures
when it is hot. In addition, light-colored pigs are susceptible to sunburn and
biting insects, and a coat of mud will protect them from both. However, if your
pigs are given sufficient shade and a clean living area free of fecal matter to
minimize insects, your pigs can wallow just as well in fresh, clean water. Most
pigs are excellent swimmers, though potbellied breeds sometimes injure their
bellies by kicking their back feet. You can provide your pigs with a mud wallow,
a child’s wading pool, or even a small, clean concrete pool. Pigs love water, and
so always make certain there is an ample supply for swimming and wallowing
during the summer months, as well as for drinking.
Although most farm animals will defecate or urinate wherever they happen to be
when the urge takes them, pigs do not do this. In fact, they are quite fastidious
about such things, designating a specific place in which to do their business that
is well separated from their nesting and feeding areas. Pigs living communally
also will cooperate in this, establishing one or two restroom areas respected by
all. This makes housetraining a pet pig easy. Researchers at the University of
Illinois also found that pigs will not play with a toy that has been soiled with
Pigs often are found in dirty, muddy pens, but you should not keep your pigs this
way. One reason people may do this is that it helps create emotional distance
from animals intended for butchering. It is important that you, as a responsible
owner, make certain your pigs spend most of their lives with clean bodies,
bedding, and food, even if a mud wallow is in the mix. It can be difficult to
include a clean mud wallow in a pigpen, but not impossible. Along with kiddie
pools for your pigs, you could include a shallow concrete wallow filled with
water. Not only will keeping your pigs clean make life better for the pigs, but it
will lead to better meat and a better overall experience for you