Caring for pigs
Pigs are social and intelligent animals. They are a sub-species of the wild boar, and can live up to 15 years! Before you decide to care for pigs, it is important to consider whether you have the time, resources, and knowledge, as well as the right environment to care for your pigs properly.
Pigs are omnivores and will eat a variety of meat and vegetables. Your pigs should have a balanced and varied diet consisting of a combination of pig nuts (commercial pig pellets) and a variety of specific types of fruit and vegetables e.g., leafy dark greens, zucchini, cabbage, squashes and cucumber. It is important to be aware of all the types of foods pigs should and should not eat. We recommend talking with your veterinarian to put together a comprehensive list of what not to feed your pig.
Note: Foods that contain apple/pear seeds, cassava, wild mushrooms and green/raw potatoes, unripened tomatoes are toxic to pigs and can be very harmful.
Note: There are rules that prohibit feeding pigs with any food wastes that contain, or have come in contact with meat – unless certain requirements are met that reduce the risk of spreading diseases. Therefore, you should be aware of the requirements and check MPI’s website for further details (https://www.mpi.govt.nz/processing/pet-food-inedibles-animal-feed-and-supplements/animal-feed-and-disease-prevention/feeding-food-waste-to-pigs-and-preventing-disease/).
Be careful to make sure that your pig does not overeat. If a pig becomes too large, they are prone to conditions, such as arthritis. Pasture can help supplement your pig’s diet and provide natural foraging behaviour, which is great for their mental and physical welfare.
Provide your pigs with fresh, clean water at all times. In the summer months, pigs need extra water to help keep them cool, as they have a limited ability to sweat. The best way to provide water is in a sturdy and specialised drinking station that they can’t flip over or get dirty. Ensure there is enough space and drinking places for all of your pigs.
Pigs are sensitive animals, and need to be able to keep cool during the summer and warm and snug during the winter, therefore they need shade and shelter. Unlike humans, pigs have very few sweat glands; this is why you will often see pigs wallowing in mud or keeping cool in shady spots, and it is important that they are given the opportunity to do this. It also helps prevent sunburn on their sensitive skin.
Providing pigs with a den or an arc in which they can sleep comfortably is important. Ensure that there is clean, fresh deep bedding such as straw or hay in the sleeping area, and don’t forget to top the bedding up, and clean it out when needed. Be aware of behavioural signs that your pigs are too hot or too cold.
Pigs are social animals and therefore they should be housed in at least pairs that get on well or a small group of compatible pigs.
A pig’s environment should have:
- A waterproof and sheltered sleeping area. Adding vents at the back of the pigs’ shelter will help keep them cool and will provide airflow. Metal or corrugated iron is not recommended as shelter material as it can cause pigs to overheat.
- Bedding made of a material that is comfortable, absorbent and maintains an appropriate temperature.
- A large shelter space, big enough to house multiple pigs. Flooring must provide a solid and stable footing for pigs. Non-slip surfaces should be provided.
- Pig proofed areas e.g. no sharp edges.
- Securely fenced paddock or field area.
Pigs need regular exercise to maintain good health and avoid issues such as obesity, constipation and overgrown feet. Pigs should have regular health checks with a veterinarian.
Please contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about the health or welfare of your pigs.
Pigs are very intelligent animals; they can be taught tricks and are able to respond to their name! They are also very curious and love to forage and play. They will spend a large part of the day exploring their environment, rooting and foraging at the earth (which will quickly make all the vegetation disappear). It is important to provide lots of enrichment, e.g. toys, games, complex environments, for your pigs to keep them entertained and provides opportunities to perform normal behaviours.
- Fill containers, tubs or scrunched-up paper with vegetables, so they have to use their snout to uncover the delicious delicacies.
- Treat balls or dispensers: You can buy special treat balls from a pet store or you can make your own homemade treat dispenser.
- Freezing blended vegetables in the summer, this will help your pigs to cool down while eating this treat.
- Hide treats and toys around the pigs’ paddock and come up with new creative ideas to keep varying their enrichment so that the pigs aren’t prone to becoming bored.
Visit the SPCA Kids’ Education Portal (www.spca.nz/kids) for more information, enrichment tips and helpful videos on caring for your companion pigs!