By Richard Hoyle of The Pig Preserve.
– Before you begin taking in pigs learn all you can about them. They are unlike any other animals, farm or otherwise, that you have ever cared for.
– Pigs are intelligent, clean, social, inquisitive, and emotionally sensitive animals.
– Pigs are nomadic, herd animals. Social interaction and their social groupings and structure are very important to their emotional well-being. Given their freedom, pigs roam acres every day while they graze, forage, root, and explore their environment. The more room a pig has to be a pig…the happier and healthier the pig will be.
– Pigs deprived of the company of other pigs will be difficult to handle and will eventually have severe emotional issues, which will translate into physical and behavioral problems.
– Pigs have around 40 different vocalizations which, when coupled with their extensive use of body language, makes them fairly effective communicators.
– Pigs will try and communicate with you. Learn their language.
– Pigs respond poorly to corporal punishment or coercion. Pigs see you as another pig and will respond best to voice and physical things that are similar to what another more dominant pig would do. And, of course, their main motivation is food.
– Find a good veterinary service that is familiar with pigs (or willing to learn about pigs) and that is not shy about making farm calls for sick or injured pigs. There is some kind of unwritten rule that says pigs can only get sick or injured late at night, during bad snow storms, and on weekends and major holidays.
– If you get a good vet or vet service…spoil them. If they are deficient on “pig knowledge,” buy them books about pigs’ veterinary problems, print out articles on the web for them to read, or sponsor one or more of them to attend one of the periodic “pig conferences” put on across the country. If you call them for a farm call…have the pig available and ready for them to work on…confined if possible. Have one or more people there to assist the vet—preferably people who know the pig and how to work with him/her. Have the area well lit and have water, towels, and other equipment handy. Have a complete and thorough history on the pig ready for the vet, including a list of accurate vital signs taken over a number of hours or days.
– Learn how to do a lot of routine (and some not-so-routine) medical procedures so that you do not “abuse” your vet with a host of minor veterinary problems.
– Stock plenty of medical supplies, drugs, and antibiotics that you know you will need. Invariably, you will have to treat a pig while awaiting the vet’s arrival, do surgical aftercare, or take over the long-term treatment of a sick or injured pig once the vet has left.
– Learn to network with other pig people. Do NOT invest a lot of time and effort talking to pet pig people; unless they are long-time rescue people, they know very little about the care of sanctuary pigs. Talk to knowledgeable veterinarians and people who have been involved with the rescue and care of pigs for a number of years and who have accumulated a good reputation for giving sound advice. Remember that many vets, the guys at the local farmer’s co-op, and the guy at the feed store probably have experience only with production farm pigs where the goal is to raise as many pigs as you can as cheaply and quickly as possible so they can go to slaughter. Your goals are just the opposite of theirs, and these people often have no clue about keeping pigs well fed and healthy for 12-18 years.
– If you take in different species of pigs (miniature pigs, feral pigs, and production farm pigs) you must understand that miniature pigs are not simply tinier versions of the farm pigs. The miniature pigs and the ferals are entirely different breeds of animals and they have different needs, different requirements, and they need a different kind of care than do the larger production farm pigs.
– You will be told that the varying species of pigs cannot coexist. This is false. With planning and some understanding, it is entirely possible to house and care for miniature pigs, feral pigs, and production farm pigs in the same area, and even to house them in the same barns or housing units. But you must learn to be sensitive to the different needs of the three species. And you must constantly be on the lookout for problems that need to be addressed.
– There is a rule of thumb for housing pigs that says as long as a pig is healthy, kept dry, kept out of the wind, and afforded adequate bedding they will survive virtually any winter. This, by and large, is accurate for the production farm pigs and the ferals. The miniature pigs are tropical animals, having been originally bred and raised in Southeast Asia and other tropical places. As such they have respiratory systems that are more fragile than their larger cousins who have been traditionally and historically bred and raised in more northern climates for centuries.
– Farm pigs do well in open-sided run-in sheds as along as the opening is protected by facing it away from the prevailing winter winds and, when possible, backed into a tree line where the trees act as a wind break.
– Hay or straw should be used for bedding material. Wood chips, sawdust, etc. do not provide the pigs sufficient material in which to burrow during cold weather, although these products are fine for putting on the floor of the barn as long as hay or straw is added in copious amounts afterwards. Bedding must be added frequently during winter months as the pigs “break down” the hay and straw while tracking in mud, snow, ice, and water. Periodically, old bedding must be removed as the organic material will begin to decompose. Old bedding can be easily composted and used for fertilizer.
– Elderly/compromised pigs and miniature pigs should be afforded shelters with more protection—i.e., fully enclosed barns.
– The decision on whether or not to insulate or heat a barn is up to you and is often a hotly debated topic among sanctuary people. Obviously, areas with traditionally longer, harsher winters lend themselves more to insulation and heating than do areas with less-severe winters. Keep in mind that fully enclosed and heated barns become damp, musty, and foul smelling after a few months of winter and pigs coming out of “warm” barns into frigid temps often contract respiratory problems such as pneumonia or bronchitis. If you heat barns you should try only to reduce the temperature to a non-dangerous level (around 32 degrees) unless you are housing piglets or elderly/compromised pigs. Piglets and compromised pigs need warmer temperatures due to their inability to adequately regulate their own internal thermostats.
– Remember that any heating device—no matter how safe—is a potential fire hazard and barn fires are not pretty things to deal with. Every winter we hear of several barn fires at sanctuaries, usually with the loss of life of a number of rescued pigs.
– If you supplement your pigs’ bedding with blankets, do NOT use synthetic blankets. Pigs are inveterate nesters and will shred whatever you give them. In the process they ingest pieces of the blanket. Synthetic material cannot be digested by the pig and will eventually cause a blockage somewhere in the pig’s GI tract. We use only biodegradable material when we use blankets or alternative bedding (cotton, wool, etc.). And we use blankets only sparingly, if at all, in the barns.
– Most pigs do better in winter weather than they do in the heat of summer. Absent the ability of pigs to sweat, even moderately warm temperatures (in the 70s) can cause heat problems for pigs if they do not have access to water/mud in which to cool themselves. The hotter it is, the more likely it is that your pigs will develop heat-related problems.
– While heat-related problems will be your biggest worry during the summer, your biggest concern during prolonged cold periods will probably be dehydration. Pigs tend not to drink sufficient quantities of water when it is extremely cold. Their primary water sources are often frozen and water provided by the sanctuary is often too cold for them to drink as much as they need. After several days of below freezing weather, dehydration becomes a serious concern if the pigs do not have free and unfettered access to clean, drinkable water.
– Simple farm fans in barns and housing units do a great deal to keep the temperatures at a safe level during the summer months. In very hot climates, “misters” can be used in conjunction with fans and will substantially reduce the temperature in barns or living shelters. Farm fans are generally sealed to prevent sparks and shorts which could cause a dust explosion or other emergency problem while hanging in barns for extended periods of time. As with all electrical devices in your pig living areas, each fan should have a dedicated circuit of at least 15 amps (lights) and 25 amps (power equipment) each with its own separate breaker for safety. The use of GFI plugs is highly recommended in barns and all pig sleeping areas. Light bulb fixtures in barns should always be of the farm type where the bulb is enclosed in a thick glass container and a metal protective device to keep hot shards of glass from dropping into bedding should the light bulb break. Never use open, unprotected light bulbs in a barn or anywhere where hay, straw or other flammable bedding is stored.
-You will need to develop an “emergency plan” for periods when the temperatures soar well above normal. All pigs, but especially elderly and compromised pigs, will be more susceptible to heat related problems. We use several backpack sprayers filled with cool water, a large cooler with several bags of ice, a small generator, and a small farm fan as our “heat emergency” unit. Mounted on the tractor or four-wheeler, we can drive around and check on all of the pigs several times a day. Those pigs with problems or who may potentially have problems can be gently sprayed/misted with cool water several times a day. If a pig is found with a heat-related problem, we can cool the pig using evaporative cooling with spraying coupled with the use of the fan. It often takes several hours to bring an overheated pig’s core body temperature down to a safe level. Rapid cooling (ice baths, etc.) are not recommended unless the pig is seizing and has a core body temp of 105 degrees F or greater. In all cases of heat-related problems, a vet should be called to examine the pig and administer drugs to help prevent brain swelling and other secondary complications.
– Poisons used to control rodents, snakes, flies, etc. should NEVER be used in pig housing areas.
– Smoking and the use of ANY open flame should be prohibited in all pig housing and sleeping areas where bedding is present.
FEEDING and WATERING
– A healthy pig will drink between 10-15% of his or her body weight each day in water. To encourage good water drinking, always provide numerous drinking locations filled with clean, fresh water. These should be separate from any water sources where your pigs wallow or cools off. Ponds are excellent sources of both drinking and cooling water as long as the water does not become foul, contaminated, or stagnant.
– Galvanized stock tanks with installed “pig drinkers” are extremely handy in both summer and winter. They are available in 4-, 5-, and 6-foot lengths and with several different combinations of drinkers installed. While they are expensive to purchase initially, they provide an excellent source of fresh water for your pigs after they have tipped over or drained their smaller water bowls. By putting “tops” on these tanks, the water in them will stay fresh for a long time and the tanks will only have to be emptied and cleaned once or twice a year. The drinkers, however, will need to be cleaned of dirt, debris, and old feed daily. In the winter, stock tank heaters will keep the water from freezing. We also top off each of our water tanks daily to ensure that they stay full of fresh, clean water. At least once a year we empty the tanks, move them to the shop where we can address any rust issues, and recoat the exterior bottoms with a thick, rubber roof repair substance, remove and service or rebuild the drinker float system and re-solder any joints that show signs of leaking or rusting. We have a number of stock tanks with drinkers that have lasted well over 15 years with only minimal maintenance.
– Some sanctuaries feed their pigs twice a day. We feed once, in the late afternoon. We have found that pigs fed in the morning want to lay around all day, whereas pigs fed only in the afternoon tend to get up and spend their days foraging, grazing, and rooting…all of which are healthy activities for them. Feeding late in the evening also ensures that our pigs go to bed with “full tummies” in the winter time.
– Commercial pig feed is NOT good for pigs and should only be used as a last resort. Commercial pig feed is designed simply to bring production pigs to slaughter weight as cheaply and quickly as possible. The ingredients are often substandard. Many commercial pig feeds are laced with antibiotics as well as growth hormones, neither of which is good for the long term health of your pigs.
– We advocate finding a small mill that can custom mill your feed for you. Ideally, the feed will contain no additives, preservatives, or chemicals. Most mills will mill as little as 500 pounds at a time for customers. By using local mills you can not only check on and verify the quality of the ingredients; you will make sure that the feed you purchase is freshly made and that it has not been stored for an inordinate length of time. Be advised: if you wish to use organic or non-GMO products in your feed, your feed bill will increase exponentially…if you can even find these products available locally.
– There are several excellent natural grain-based feed recipes available for custom milling. To decide what additives you want to put in your feed you should first do a soil sample. The results of this will tell you if your area is deficient in any minerals or trace elements essential for your pigs’ good health. These minerals and trace elements can be added by the mill at your direction. We do not recommend adding minerals, vitamins, or trace elements unless you know that your area is deficient in any of these items. Some additives, like selenium, can be dangerous for pigs at too high a level as well as too low a level. Pigs get more “use” out of cracked grains as opposed to whole grains. A high percentage of whole grains pass through their GI tract undigested and are, therefore, a waste of money. We have all whole grains cracked using a coarse hammer mill before being milled into our feed. Smaller grains such as oats can be purchased already “rolled,” which means the grains have been crushed and their tough outer shells broken making the meat of the grain available for digestion.
– As a rule, pelletized feed is not good for pigs in the long term. Pelletized feed is “micro-pulverized” and is corrosive to the pig’s GI tract as it is digested. Pelletized feed is also “cooked” before extruding and an unknown percentage of nutrients are removed by this process. Finally, pelletized feed contains a “plasticizer”, which is a chemical designed to help the pellets hold together and reduce the amount of fines in each bag of feed. This is a commercial chemical, which is supposedly harmless and digestible by the pig. We do not use pellets in our sanctuary feed mix.
– A growing number of sanctuaries are having diamataceous earth (DE) added to their feed either at the mill or at the sanctuary before feeding. DE is a naturally occurring substance that many believe provides a natural source of internal parasite control while being beneficial for the pigs’ joints. Dusting pigs and their bedding with DE can also help prevent/control external parasites. We add DE at a rate of 2% to our feed. We believe that it is beneficial for our pigs but all the evidence for and against the use of DE is purely anecdotal. It is an inexpensive and natural additive that we believe is beneficial to the long term health of our pigs.
– Pigs should be fed an amount that keeps them at a healthy weight given their exercise level and body style. In the summer time, when forage is available, feed should be cut back dramatically to encourage the pigs to move about and graze/forage. In the winter, when forage is not available, the amount of feed each pig will need to maintain a healthy body weight goes up dramatically. In the fall, pigs will gorge on acorns. This is natural. Acorns put fat on a pig just before the arrival of winter. This is natural. Acorns consumption will not hurt a pig although overindulging in acorns often causes constipation due to the amount of tannic acid in the acorns. Feeding your pigs pumpkins during the time when acorns are abundant should help mitigate this problem. Pigs also will sometimes present lame from eating too many acorns. This problem always disappears in a few days without treatment, although any lameness in a pig is cause for concern and should be closely monitored.
– New pigs, smaller pigs, less aggressive pigs, and elderly pigs will have to be monitored closely at feeding to make sure that they get sufficient amounts of feed. This is especially true if you feed miniature pigs, feral pigs, and/or production farm pigs together. Separating/penning up pigs who are not getting sufficient feed is highly recommended, as is segregating pigs who are eating too much and who are gaining too much weight.
– Feeding time is an excellent time to physically check each and every pig under your care. We recommend you not rush through feeding, but observe each group of pigs as they eat to make sure all pigs are accounted for and that all of the pigs are in good physical shape. This procedure allows you to proactively identify and treat any potential problems before they become more acute.
– Pigs should always be fed on some form of hard surface as opposed to broadcasting their feed on the ground. Troughs, bowls, and even large sheets of rubber are all excellent means of keeping the pigs from eating off the ground. There are a number of economical and homemade trough plans available from various sanctuaries that are actually better than commercially obtained feed troughs. Troughs and bowls should be cleaned regularly. Feeding pigs on sandy soil is especially dangerous as the pigs ingest the sand, which is corrosive but which also settles in the lower portions of the stomach during the digestive process.
– Diets can be supplemented with fruits and vegetable if available. Keep in mind that many fruit and vegetable products are produced using potent chemicals or are GMO products. Further, many are coated with chemical coatings to preserve their freshness during transport. Fruits and vegetables purchased from stores should be washed before offering them to the pigs. Pigs will not eat all vegetables. Vegetables high in acid content should be offered sparingly to pigs.
– Fencing is designed with two purposed in mind: to keep the animals inside an enclosed area and to keep unwanted humans and potential predators out. A fence that does not accomplish both of these purposes is not a good fence.
– Probably the best all-around fencing for pigs is cattle panel or combination panels. Hog panels, while cheaper and easier to use, will contain most miniature pigs, but will not contain the larger ferals and farm pigs and, because of its low height, hog panel does not protect against intruders—human or non-human.
– Other fencing that can be suitable for pigs includes: field wire, no-climb horse fence wire, and other pasture wires of similar construction. Fencing not considered adequate for pigs includes: barbed wire, electric wire, chain link fence, or multiple strands of high tensile wire.
– Electric fencing is often used to augment or supplement regular fencing. It is especially used with pigs down low to help keep pigs from rooting under fences. Electric fencing has been responsible for a number of pig deaths over the years, and we suggest it be used with caution and only after serious deliberation of the positive versus the negative aspects of using it. Electric fencing does have a use if placed on the OUTSIDE of the fence where the pigs do not have access to it. Used in this manner, it can be an effective measure for discouraging predators and trespassers.
– All fencing should be installed tightly and should be well braced using sturdy wooden fence posts set in concrete at regular intervals. “Tee posts” can be used but should not be relied upon as a sole means of fence support. Special attention must be paid to the bottom of the fence. It should be tight and as close to the ground as possible. Any slack or gap in the bottom of the fence will encourage the pigs to root at that spot.
– Gates need to be sturdy and well braced on both sides. Gates are always the weak point in any fencing system, and pigs can readily destroy many styles of tubed metal gates. Gate latches must be sturdy and “pig proof.” With the farm pigs it is often necessary to have more than one latch on a farm gate…one high and one low. After trying virtually every metal gate on the market, we are now returning to the use of homemade wooden gates. They are cheaper to make, can be custom made at the sanctuary, and are easily repaired when damaged or worn out. Wooden gates are much heavier than metal gates and, thus, must either have a wheel device at the latch end to help support the weight of the gate, or a wire and turnbuckle system to cantilever the fence off the hinge post will be necessary to help bear the weight of the gate. This is especially true for gates over 6-8 feet in length.
– Gates should normally be installed so as to open into the pasture. This allows you to “push” any animals who have gathered at the fence back into the pasture so you can enter without them escaping.
– If you use traditional barrel type “gate hinges” that screw or bolt into the fence post, we recommend using at least three per gate, one of which should be mounted “upside down” with the barrel facing the ground. This way the pigs cannot lift the gate off the hinges with their snouts, something that farm pigs are famous for.
– Fences need to be checked on a regular basis to make sure they are intact and serviceable. Over time, pigs will root and travel along fence lines often exposing a gap at the bottom of the fence. During storms, trees and branches can fall across fence lines damaging the fences to the point pigs can escape. Occasionally, trespassers will damage fences and, in our area, we have a problem with black bears bending over the 16-foot panels as they climb over to traverse the property. Fence inspection and maintenance is should be a regular and ongoing event at any sanctuary.
ROUTINE ANIMAL MAINTENANCE
– Pigs are fairly “low-maintenance” animals compared to other animals.
– Hooves and tusks should be trimmed as needed. For miniature pigs this can be done by simply rolling them on their backs while tusks/hoofs are done. The pigs do not like this procedure, primarily because pigs, as prey animals, do not like any procedure that robs them of their mobility or which confines them. They will be very vocal about their displeasure, but the procedure does not hurt them and is the safest way to trim tusks and hoofs. Farm pigs and ferals will need to be sedated for these procedures. Your vet may be needed to sedate the pigs.
– Tusks should NEVER be cut closer to the gum line than ¾ inch. Close cutting encourages the introduction of bacteria into the gum and can result in extremely bad tusk infections. Likewise, NEVER cut a pig’s tusks with bolt cutters or other “compression” tools. This very often fractures the tusk below the gum line. Only veterinary OB Wire (Giggly Wire) should be used to shorten tusks.
– Hooves should be trimmed as necessary so that the pig stands “upright” on the hooves. Elderly pigs and pigs with mobility issues are most likely to need routine hoof trimming. Hooves should be trimmed back only enough so that the quick is not damaged. “Quicking” a pig results in a pig with a bloody and sore hoof. Hooves that are especially long may have to be trimmed two or three times over a month-long period to get them to the proper length. Dewclaws should also be trimmed when hooves are trimmed.
– Parasite control is important in pigs. Pigs routinely get both internal and external parasites. The most prevalent external parasites in pigs are scarcoptic mange mites. These parasites are zoonotic and can be passed from pig to pig as well as from other species of animals, including humans. Internal parasites are prevalent where pigs have access to fresh forage or hay. Parasite larvae are ingested from the fecal matter of other animals as the pigs graze. If not addressed, parasite infestations can cause pigs to lose weight, become lethargic and unthrifty, and can eventually draw down the pigs’ immune systems.
– Some sanctuaries worm their animals routinely twice a year—spring and fall. Other sanctuaries will only worm their pigs if routine examination of fecal samples shows a presence of parasites in the pig population. Fecal samples/fecal float tests are an easy and inexpensive alternative to the expensive and time consuming process of routine worming with chemicals.
– The two primary anti-parasitics for use in pigs are: Ivomec and Dectomax. Both are excellent products, cost about the same, and have identical dosing instructions. So far, parasites have not shown a tendency to build up an immunity to either product. Both products can be given via injection (intramuscular or subcutaneous) or orally, if the recommended injectable dose is doubled. Oral administration requires that the products be applied to some good tasting vehicle (peanut butter & jelly sandwich, fruit pie, etc.) to camouflage the bitter taste. Pour-on wormer products are not approved for use in swine.
– The question of vaccinations is another hotly debated topic both among pig caretakers as well as within the veterinary community. Given that most vaccines are “bacterins,” they have only a limited period of efficacy in pigs. Consider vaccines good for 3-4 months…or six months if you booster. Commercially available vaccines are produced for the commercial swine industry. As such, they are designed to protect only against the primary diseases found in confined factory-farming environments. These vaccines may or may not protect your pigs from pathogens they may encounter in the environment. Pigs have a remarkably robust immune system. If allowed to function properly and encouraged by providing the pigs a healthy environment of sunlight, fresh air, exercise, and a good diet, pigs will remain remarkably healthy animals.
– There is no rabies vaccine approved for pigs.
Anyone wishing any additional information on any of the topics covered here or anyone who wishes to discuss any other pig-related issue, feel free to contact us at The Pig Preserve at 931-397-4051 any time of the day or night.