SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

How to care for pigs

Whether you are looking to welcome a new pig into the family, or are just interested in our smart farmyard friends, we have put together a guide on what pigs need to be happy, healthy beings.

A very familiar farmyard animal that all ages know and love, pigs have been domesticated for thousands of years, and are a sub-species of their wild relatives, wild boar. While it may be a given that pigs adore their grub, it’s best to be careful about what types of food and treats they get their snout into. Essentially, pigs will eat anything and everything they can find. Pigs are omnivores and incredibly have 15,000 taste buds where humans only have 9000; this may explain why they are such fiends for food! Pigs will graze on grass and hay, but cannot survive on this alone, and just like us, some prefer not to graze, so ensure this isn’t the sole component of their diet.

The best nutrition for pigs should include a combination of pig nuts (commercial pig pellets) and a variety of specific fruit and vegetables. Healthy vegetables that are full of goodness for pigs include leafy dark greens, asparagus, kumara and parsnips. Generally, avoid fish and meat, and be warned of foods that are toxic (such as apple/pear seeds, cassava, wild mushrooms and green potatoes, as these all contain toxins that can be harmful to pigs, such as cyanide). Be very careful to make sure that your pig does not overeat. If a pig carries too much weight, they can be prone to conditions such as arthritis. Talk to your veterinarian about portion sizes for your pig and keep treats to a minimum.

Don’t forget water, water, water. Pigs will drink all day round, so it is vital that they have a fresh and clean supply of water at all times. In the summer months they especially need extra water provisions to help keep them cool, as they cannot sweat. The best way to set up a supply for them is in a sturdy and specialised trough that they can’t flip over; pigs are cheeky and will find a way if they can! Also, ensure there is enough space and drinking stations for all your pigs.

A Palace For a Pig

Pigs are sensitive creatures, and need to be able to keep cool during the summer and warm and snug during the winter. 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 imperative that they have the ability to do this. It also helps prevent sunburn on their sensitive skin. Provide pigs with a den that they can make their own and sleep in, such as an arc and barn or a shed, and layer this with cosy, fresh bedding such as straw or hay. Don’t forget to keep topping this up or cleaning it out when needed.

Studies have shown that pigs have dreams when they sleep, just like we do! Pigs are incredibly clean animals, despite their reputation. Contrary to popular belief, pigs will not roll in their own filth or waste, and will need completely separate areas to sleep and to toilet, and then another area to play and forage. An ideal set-up for pigs would include sleeping quarters, and a paddock where they can forage, eat and drink and find a secluded spot to toilet. Pigs are smart and can even be toilet-trained, and will absolutely not soil where they sleep, when they are given chance and have enough space to live in. When setting up the pigs’ accommodation, remember these important facts:

  • Is their ‘sleeping’ area made of a material that will be waterproof and not get too hot in the sun? Adding vents at the back of the pigs’ shelter helps to keep them cool and provides good even airflow. However, metal is not a suitable material to make the shelter from as it gets too hot in the sun and can cause pigs to overheat.
  • If you have multiple pigs, is it big enough for them to snuggle together? Pigs love being affectionate with each other.
  • Be sure the pigs’ barn has secure flooring, as they can become stressed if their four hooves aren’t kept firmly on the ground.
  • Make sure there are no sharp edges that might hurt your pigs, and make sure they can’t chew any treated timber surfaces.
  • Make sure their paddock or field area is secure with fencing. If there is a way out, they will find it, so you will need to be certain that their area is piggyproof.

Social Butterflies

Did you know that pigs are as smart as a three-year-old human? So much so that they have even been known to learn and respond to their own name, and can be taught tricks (being food-driven animals plays a part here). Pigs are extremely sociable animals, and love spending time with their own kind, so consider keeping them in pairs or small groups of compatible animals.

Pigs also tend to do well around many other companion animals, including, cows, dogs and sheep, and bond well with their human whanau. There are many different kinds of pig breeds, and these animals can vary in size quite dramatically: domesticated pigs usually weigh anywhere between 200–400 kg. With their heightened intelligence often comes an intense desire to investigate; it’s fair to say that pigs are profoundly curious and love to forage and play. For this reason, a secure home for them is a must, as is providing them with lots of entertainment. Their natural behaviours include rooting around in plants and grass, foraging for yummy goodies, and socialising and communicating with other pigs.

Enrichment

Here’s the fun part: start making your own treats and toys for your pigs. Fill containers, tubs or scrunched-up paper with vegetables, so they have to use their snout to uncover the delicious delicacies. Or try freezing blended vegetables in the summer – this will help your pigs to cool down while eating this treat. You can provide pigs with fun and noisy toys, but just make sure the toys are safe and that the pigs don’t upset your neighbours while having fun with their noisy toys. 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. Keeping them entertained doesn’t have to break the bank.

Most of the items you need to create great pig enrichment can be found around your house and repurposed. In their natural environment, pigs spend 75% of their time during the day in activities, such as rooting, foraging and exploring. Pigs love to forage for roots, insects and other tasty titbits, so it’s good to remember that your land won’t stay in perfect condition when your pigs are out ranging.

Pigs don’t just use their snouts for sniffing out food or foraging, they also use it to communicate. They make a range of different noises, such as squeals. These noises can be as loud as 115 decibels, which is louder than the sound of a plane! Research has shown that pigs can make as many as 20 different sounds, which include grunting, snorting and barking. All these have slightly different purposes: squealing means they are happy, and grunting is usually expressed by a mother pig when feeding her babies. Most owners will tell you that their pig also makes unique sounds, just like a cat or a dog may.

A Forever Friend

Pigs can live for up to 15 years, so be sure you are prepared for their needs and are ready for a long-term commitment. In summary, pigs require lots of secure space with a weatherproof, well-ventilated shed or arc that contains fresh, deep beds of hay or straw. They need enrichment, the right amount of healthy, yummy food and the good company of other pigs. If you are prepared for their needs, pigs are a joy to be around and make a wonderful addition to your family. They are smart cookies who will constantly surprise you with their cheeky antics, quirky sounds and ability to make friends with all kinds of beings.

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